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Stevens was born in Moyamba . He was the leader of the All Peoples Congress party. He was briefly prime minister in March 1967 before being deposed in a coup d'etat, but he returned to that office on April 26, 1968. He served as prime minister until April 21, 1971, at which point a new constitution made the country a republic and Stevens was made president.
In 1978, Sierra Leone became a one-party state under the All Peoples Congress. Stevens retired as president in favor of his successor, Joseph Momoh, on November 28, 1985. He died in the capital, Freetown.
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