Thirty Years of the Sierra Leone Constitution – Reflections on its Past and Future

2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the enactment of Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution – the fourth since independence. The Constitution was a watershed moment since it reintroduced political pluralism and multi-party democracy, thereby opening up the space for political competition. It sought to limit executive abuse of power that characterised the previous 23 years by introducing term limits to the presidency, a system of checks and balances borrowing from the American presidential system, separating the Executive from the Legislature and introducing multi-party democracy. 

Sierra Leone is now at the axis of constitutional crossroads and needs to define its constitutional future. It has struggled to adhere to the culture of constitutionalism that is based on adherence to the Constitution. While the intent in 1991 was to develop a constitutional state, the country descended into a neo-patrimonial system and modern organs, nomenclatures and trappings of state are mimicked but do not really exist. This book examines some of the reasons for this. Questioning or deviating from customs and long-held traditional practices is taboo. This system is driven by poverty and a lack of accountability. Personnel are aware that dismissal from employment will result in untold suffering for themselves and their families without the right to redress. The system is driven by fear. This system perpetuates a sub social contract, perhaps the real social contract, whereas the Constitution, institutions, structures and norms are empty shells that revolve around the whims of big (mostly) men. The political elite has exploited this system. Perhaps too many presidential powers in the previous one-party Constitution found their way into the 1991 constitution, just as the excessive limitations on human rights did. Therein lies the problem with the governance system.  

Sierra Leoneans must come to terms with their context and determine how the social contract should be shaped. In so doing, the nation needs to engage in uncomfortable discussions. A purposive choice should be made as to whether we are content with an elected neo patrimonial emperor from whom all power flows and think through the inevitable destruction that such a system is bound to bring, as was the case with the eleven years of civil war. On the other hand, the choice of an accountable leader requires a meritocratic approach to key identified positions devoid of party officials and the depoliticisation of the public service. New, innovative and contextual methods of executive and political accountability must be identified as the country thinks through constitutional reforms. Changes to the Constitution can make a substantial difference by engaging the public and using dialogue to build consensus on a vision for the future.

This book seeks to reflect on Sierra Leone’s constitutional dilemma and offer some solutions. The volume is divided into three parts. The first part is introductory and sets the tone for the discussion. The second part relates to issues of democracy and human rights and the third part addresses critical human rights issues. The contributors include former President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, Rhoda Nuni, Sierra Leone’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Geneva, Switzerland, Lansana Gberie, Anti-Corruption Commissioner, Francis Ben Kaifala, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative (Legal Affairs), Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations in New York, Michael Imran Kanu, the head of the Department of Law at Fourah Bay College and Executive Director, Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI), Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, a member of the Constitutional Review Committee, Aminata Sillah, Senior Rule of Law and Human Rights Officer UNDP Sierra Leone, Cheryl Eugenia Angela Sembie and the Founder and head of ILRAJ, Basita Michael. The preface was written by the chair of ILRAJ, Martin Michael.

The book is available 

in paperback  and 


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published.