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John Karefa-Smart

John Karefa-Smart




John Albert Musselman Karefa-Smart was a Sierra Leonean politician, medical doctor, and university professor who played a prominent role in Sierra Leone's political and academic spheres. He was born on June 17, 1915, and emerged as a key figure in the early years of Sierra Leone's independence. He was educated at the EUB Primary School in Moyamba District and the Albert Academy in Freetown. Karefa-Smart then pursued higher education at Fourah Bay College in Freetown, where he earned his BA in 1936. He went on to study in the United States, obtaining a BS from Otterbein College in Ohio in 1940. His academic journey continued at McGill University in Montreal, where he earned an MD and CM in 1944 and a Diploma in Tropical Medicine in 1945. Karefa-Smart later received his MPH from Harvard University in 1948.

As an academic, Karefa-Smart had a distinguished career as a fellow and professor at various institutions worldwide. He taught at Bunumbu Union Teachers Training College in Sierra Leone from 1936 to 1938 and then worked at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria from 1949 to 1952. In the United States, he served at Xavier University of Louisiana, Columbia University, Harvard University, Boston University, Wellesley College, and Howard University.

Karefa-Smart's political career began with his election to Parliament in 1957, representing Tonkolili District until 1964. He was one of the founding members of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) in 1951 and served as a close advisor to Prime Minister Sir Milton Margai. During his time in politics, he held various ministerial positions, including Minister of Lands, Mines, and Labor, Defense, and Foreign Affairs. He also occasionally served as acting Prime Minister.

After the death of Sir Milton Margai, Karefa-Smart vied for the SLPP leadership but lost to Albert Margai, prompting him to leave the party and politics for some time. He moved abroad to work for the World Health Organization (WHO) as Assistant Director-General from 1965 to 1970.

In 1996, Karefa-Smart returned to Sierra Leonean politics by founding the United National People's Party (UNPP). He ran as the UNPP candidate in the 1996 and 2002 presidential elections, but both times he was defeated by Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Karefa-Smart also faced challenges within the UNPP, as reports suggested he was replaced as leader in 2006, although he refuted these claims.

Karefa-Smart's contributions extended beyond politics and academia. He was also an ordained Elder of the United Methodist Church, reflecting his commitment to community service and faith.

In his later years, Karefa-Smart lived in the United States, but in late July 2010, the Sierra Leonean government arranged for him to return to Freetown when he was given a month to live. He passed away on August 26, 2010, leaving behind a legacy of dedication to Sierra Leone's development in politics, medicine, and education.


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