President Kabbah was born in Pendembu, Kailahun District, in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone, on 16 February 1932. His family, educational and religious backgrounds reflect the diversity and high level of tolerance that generally characterize the people of his West African homeland.
Born of Moslem parentage and a devout Moslem himself, he received his secondary education at St. Edward's, the oldest catholic secondary school in the country. He also married a Catholic, the late Patricia Kabbah, nee Tucker, who hailed from the Southern Province. He received his higher education at the Cardiff College of Technology and Commerce, and University College Aberystwyth, Wales, in the United Kingdom, with a Bachelor's degree in Economics in 1959. He later studied law, and in 1969 he became a practicing Barrister-at-Law, member of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, London.
The President has spent his entire career in the public sector, as a national and international civil servant. He served in the Western Area and in all the Provinces of Sierra Leone. He was a District Commissioner in Bombali and Kambia (Northern Province), in Kono (Eastern Province) and in Moyamba and Bo (Southern Province). He later became Permanent Secretary in various Ministries, including Trade and Industry, Social Welfare, and Education.
He was an international civil servant for almost two decades. After serving as deputy Chief of the West Africa Division of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in New York, he was reassigned in 1973 to head the Programme’s operation in the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho, as Resident Representative. He also headed UNDP operations in Tanzania and Uganda, and just before Zimbabwe's independence, he was temporarily assigned to that country to help lay the groundwork for cooperation with the United Nations system.
After a successful tour of duty in Eastern and Southern Africa, Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah returned to New York to head UNDP’s Eastern and Southern Africa Division. Among other things, he was directly responsible for coordinating UN system assistance to liberation movements recognized by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), such as the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, and the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) of Namibia.
Before his retirement in 1992, President Kabbah held a number of senior administrative positions at UNDP Headquarters in New York, including those of Deputy Director and Director of Personnel, and Director, Division of Administration and Management.
Following the military coup in 1992, he was asked to chair the National Advisory Council, one of the mechanisms established by the junta to facilitate the restoration of constitutional rule, including the drafting of a new constitution for Sierra Leone.
In March 1996, Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, leader of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), was elected President of Sierra Leone in the first multi-party elections in twenty-three years. Guided by his philosophy of "political inclusion" he appointed the most broad-based government in the nation's history, drawing from all political parties represented in Parliament, and ‘technocrats’ in civil society. One minority party did not accept his offer of a cabinet post.
The President's first major objective was to end the rebel war which, in four years had already claimed hundreds of innocent lives, driven thousands of others into refugee status, and ruined the nation's economy. In November 1996, in Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire, he signed a peace agreement with the rebel leader, former Corporal Foday Sankoh of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
The rebels reneged on the Agreement, resumed hostilities, and later perpetrated on the people of Sierra Leone what has been described as one of the most brutal internal conflicts in the world.
In May 1997, a military coup forced the President into exile in neighbouring Guinea. His democratically elected government was restored nine months later when the military-rebel junta was removed by troops of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and loyal civil and military defence forces.
Once again, in pursuit of peace, President Kabbah signed another peace agreement with the RUF rebel leader Foday Sankoh in July 1999. Notwithstanding repeated violations by the RUF, the document, known as the Lomé Peace Agreement, remained the cornerstone of sustainable peace, security, justice and national reconciliation in Sierra Leone. On 18 January 2002, at a ceremony marking the conclusion of the disarmament and demobilization of ex-combatants under the auspices of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), he declared that the rebel war was over.
President Kabbah, as Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone holds an honorary doctor of laws degree of the University. In September 2001 Southern Connecticut State University in the United States awarded him with an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, in recognition of his effort to bring peace to his country.
The President is Grand Commander of the Order of the Republic of Sierra Leone.
A widower, he has four children and two grandchildren.
Source: Sierra Leone State House, September 2005