Though the presidency is the first elected office held by Kabbah, he has proven to be a savvy and resilient politician. Upon assuming office, he moved to secure a broad power base by establishing an unusually large cabinet which sought to accommodate as large a number of interest groups as possible. In the first few months of his presidency, Kabbah took several steps to end the civil war, which had raged since 1991. He continued peace talks with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) that had been initiated by his predecessor. Kabbah ended the government's reliance upon South African mercenaries—instead counting on Nigerian military aid, his own army, and Kamajor militias to turn the tide against the RUF.
Despite this promising start, on 25 May 1997, his government was unseated in a coup led by Johnny Paul Koroma, who was backed by both the Sierra Leonian military and the RUF-confirming suspicions that there had been extensive cooperation between the army and the rebels. Kabbah fled the country and called on the international community to aid in the removal of Koroma and the return of Sierra Leone to democratic rule. Koroma's government, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), soon became an international pariah, failing to earn recognition from a single nation or international body. Further, Koroma's government soon found itself in conflict with a West African ECOMOG (Economic Community Monitoring Group) force charged with returning Kabbah to power. On 15 February 1998, after months of unsuccessful negotiations, the ECOMOG forces, joined by Kamajor militias still loyal to Kabbah, launched a concerted attack. Within two weeks, ECOMOG had seized the capital and was making arrangements for the return of Kabbah. On 10 March 1998, Kabbah was reinstated as president.
After seven years in power, Kabbah can claim to have led the country to a negotiated peace, backed by international support with mechanisms such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the UN Special Court in place for to sustain the effort. He has made good on his promise 'to deliver the peace.' He has also overseen the development of a professional military, a restructured police force, and the partial restoration of a functional public bureaucracy. He once said he would retire early and go into farming. If so, he likely will leave the reins of power in the hands of his vice-president. Although critics have dismissed him as weak, inept, indecisive, unpredictable, and aloof, history may prove that he was the right leader at this difficult moment in Sierra Leonean history.