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Samuel Kanyon Doe (May 6, 1951 – September 9, 1990) was the President of Liberiamarker from 1980 to 1990. His regime was characterized by ethnically-based dictatorship and the suppression of political opposition.

Trained by U.S. Army Special Forces, Doe was an ethnic Krahn, part of a rural tribe in inland Liberiamarker. The Krahn were part of the large majority of the Liberian population that was of native African descent, which had long been repressed and suppressed by the Americo-Liberian elites, who were descended from free-born and formerly enslaved blacks from America who founded Liberia in 1847.

Under Doe, Liberian ports were opened to Canadianmarker, Chinesemarker and European ships, which brought in considerable foreign investment from foreign shipping firms and earned Liberia a reputation as a tax haven.

In the late 1980s, as fiscal austerity took hold in the United States and the threat of Communism declined with the waning of the Cold War, the U.S. became disenchanted with entrenched corruption in Doe's government and began cutting off critical foreign aid to Doe. This, combined with the popular anger generated by Doe's favoritism toward his native Krahn tribe, placed him in a very precarious position.Doe attempted to legitimize his regime with a new constitution in 1984 and elections in 1985. However, opposition to his rule only increased, especially after the 1985 elections which were declared to be fraudulent by the U.S. and other foreign observers.

1980 coup, new government

On April 12, 1980, Doe led a military coup, killing President William R. Tolbert, Jr. in the Executive Mansion. Many claim that Doe and some of his men disemboweled President Tolbert in his bed while he slept. Twenty-six of Tolbert's supporters were also killed in the fighting. Thirteen members of the Cabinet were publicly executed ten days later. Hundreds of government workers fled the country, while others were imprisoned. The early days of the regime were marked by mass executions of members of Tolbert's deposed government.

Thus ended 133 years of Americo-Liberian political domination. This coup marked the first time since Liberia's establishment as a country that it was governed by people of native African descent instead of the Americo-Liberian elite. Many people welcomed Doe's takeover as a shift favoring the majority of the population that had been excluded from power. The new government, led by the leaders of the coup d'état and calling itself the People's Redemption Council (PRC), lacked experience and was ill prepared to rule.Doe became head of state and suspended the constitution, but promised a return to civilian rule by 1985.

Theories on the genesis of the coup

In August 2008, before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Monrovia, Former Justice Minister under Samuel Doe, Cllr. Chea Cheapoo alleged the American CIA had provided the map of the Executive Mansion, enabling the rebels to break into it; that it was a white American CIA agent who shot and killed Tolbert; and that the Americans ‘were responsible for Liberia’s nightmare.’ However, the next day, before the same TRC, another former Minister of Samuel Doe, Dr. Boima Fahnbulleh, testified that ‘the Americans did not support the coup led by Mr. Doe.’

The mystery of the 1980 coup is clouded in the "Unknown Soldier". It is reported that the "Unknown soldier" was one of the "white" mercenaries who staged the 1980 military take over of the century long one party state. According to Mrs. Victoria Tolbert in her book, wife of the slain President William R. Tolbert, she saw a masked man with "white" hand stabbing her late husband.


Relations with the United States

During his first years in office, Doe quickly re-established relations with the United Statesmarker, especially during the administration of Ronald Reagan [34178]. He openly supported U.S. Cold War foreign policy in Africa during the 1980s (he even severed diplomatic relations with the Soviet Unionmarker), and once even challenged diplomats to a fistfight when they criticized the U.S. in his presence.

After Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, support for Liberia increased. Aid levels rose from about $20 million in 1979 to $75 million and then $95 million, for a total of $402 million between 1981 and 1985, more than the country received during the entire previous century. Ties with the Liberian army were strengthened; the military component of the aid package for this period was about $15 million, which was used for a greatly enlarged training program, barracks construction and equipment.

Doe quickly became an important Cold War ally, and Liberia served to protect important U.S. facilities and investments and to prevent the spread of Soviet influence in Africa. Doe closed the Libyan mission in Monrovia and reduced the staff of the Soviet Embassy. He also reestablished diplomatic relations with Israel. As part of the expanding relationship, Doe agreed to a modification of the mutual defense pact granting staging rights on 24-hour notice at Liberia's sea and airports for the U.S. Rapid Deployment Forces, which were established to respond swiftly to security threats around the world.

Repression and corruption

Soon after the coup, there were internal rifts, and Doe began to systematically eliminate Council members who challenged his authority. Paranoid about the possibility of a counter-coup, Doe began to favor people of his own ethnic background, the Krahns, placing them in key positions. Meanwhile, the economy deteriorated precipitously and popular support for Doe's government soon evaporated.

In August 1981, Thomas Weh Syen, who opposed moves by Doe that were perceived as pro-American, was arrested, along with four other members of the People's Redemption Council, for allegedly plotting to assassinate Doe; the alleged conspirators were executed a few days later. Despite two coup attempts in 1981, the government declared an amnesty for all political prisoners and exiles. Forty political prisoners were released in September of that year, and another twenty were released in December.

At the same time as the modification of the defense pact with the U.S. (see #Relations with the United States), Doe's government grew increasingly corrupt and repressive, banning political opposition and shutting down newspapers. Human rights violations were frequent. A portion of U.S. aid was suspected of landing in Doe's own pocket.

After tolerating a relatively free press immediately following the coup, the regime began to react more defensively, banning some editions of newspapers and jailing reporters. In early 1984, the government shut down the leading daily, The Observer, edited by Kenneth Best, one of Africa's best known journalists. The PRC also used a ban on political activity, enacted in the aftermath of the coup, to crack down on critics. Even after the ban was lifted at the time of the referendum, the authorities refused to let students engage in political activities.

New constitution and elections

A draft constitution providing for a multiparty republic was issued in 1983 and approved by referendum in 1984. On July 26, 1984 he was elected President of the Interim National Assembly . Doe had a new constitution approved by referendum in 1984 and went on to stage a presidential election on October 15, 1985, giving himself 51% of the vote. The election was heavily rigged, as he took the ballots to a secret location and had 50 of his own handpicked staff count them, and prior to the election he had murdered more than 50 of his opponents. It is also thought that Doe changed his official birthdate from 1951 to 1950 in order to meet the new constitution's requirement that the president be at least 35 years old. Thomas Quiwonkpa, who had been a leader of the 1980 coup along with Doe, attempted to seize power on November 12; the attempt failed after fighting in Monroviamarker and Quiwonkpa was killed. Doe was formally sworn in on January 6, 1986.

1985 elections

In the elections of 15 October 1985, nine political parties sought to challenge Doe's National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), but only three were allowed to take part. Doe was elected with 51% of the vote, and the NDPL won 21 of the 26 Senate seats and 51 of the 64 seats in the House of Representatives. Foreign observers declared the elections fraudulent, and most of the elected opposition candidates refused to take their seats.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker testified before Congress that the election was imperfect but that at least it was a movement toward democracy. He further justified his statement with the claim that, in any case, all African elections were known to be rigged at that time.

Doe's corrupt government became more repressive, shutting down newspapers and banning political activity. The government's mistreatment of certain ethnic groups, particularly the Gio (or Dan) and the Mano in the north, resulted in divisions and violence among indigenous populations who until then had coexisted relatively peacefully.

Unsuccessful coup attempt by Thomas Quiwonkpa

In November 1985, military leader Thomas Quiwonkpa and an estimated 500 to 600 people died in an unsuccessful coup attempt—the seventh since Doe took power. Doe then initiated crackdowns against rival tribes such as the Gios and Mano, where most of the coup plotters came from and where opposition to Doe was already widespread.


Charles Taylor, a former ally of Doe's, crossed into Liberia from Côte d'Ivoiremarker on December 24, 1989 to fight a guerrilla war against him. Taylor had broken out of a United States jail after Doe had accused him of embezzlement. By mid-1990, most of Liberia was controlled by rebel factions. Doe was captured in Monroviamarker by faction leader Prince Y. Johnson on September 9, 1990 and tortured before being killed. The spectacle was videotaped and seen on news reports around the world. The video shows Johnson sipping a Budweiser as Doe's ear is cut off.


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