Samuel Doe

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Samuel Doe
Doe in 1982
21st President of Liberia
In office
6 January 1986 – 9 September 1990
Vice PresidentHarry Moniba
Preceded byHimself (as Chairman of People's Redemption Council)
Succeeded byAmos Sawyer (interim)
Chairman of the People's Redemption Council
In office
12 April 1980 – 6 January 1986
Preceded byWilliam Tolbert (as President)
Succeeded byHimself (as President)
Personal details
Born(1951-05-06)6 May 1951
Tuzon, Liberia
Died9 September 1990(1990-09-09) (aged 39)
Monrovia, Liberia
Cause of deathTorture murder
Resting placeBody lost or destroyed
Political partyNational Democratic Party
Spouse(s)Nancy Doe
(married c. 1968–1969)[1]
Alma materUniversity of Liberia
Military service
Allegiance Liberia
Branch/serviceArmed Forces of Liberia
Years of service1969–1985
RankMaster Sergeant
Battles/warsFirst Liberian Civil War

Samuel Kanyon Doe (6 May 1951[2] – 9 September 1990) was a Liberian politician who served as the 21st president of Liberia from 1986 to 1990. He ruled Liberia as Chairman of the People's Redemption Council (PRC) from 1980 to 1986 and then as president from 1986 to 1990.[2]

Doe was a master sergeant in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) when he staged the violent 1980 coup d'état that overthrew President William Tolbert and the True Whig Party, becoming the first non-Americo-Liberian leader of Liberia and ending 133 years of Americo-Liberian rule.[2] Doe suspended the Constitution of Liberia, assumed the rank of general, and established the PRC as a provisional military government with himself as de facto head of state.[2] Doe dissolved the PRC in 1984 and attempted to legitimize his regime with a new constitution and being elected president in the 1985 general election, which he won despite evidence of election fraud.[2] Doe opened Liberian ports to Canadian, Chinese, and European ships, which brought in considerable foreign investment and earned Liberia's reputation as a tax haven. Doe had support from the United States due to his anti-Soviet stance during the Cold War.

Doe's rule was characterized by totalitarianism, corruption, and his favoritism towards ethnic Krahns, which led to growing opposition to his regime from the Liberian public and the United States. The First Liberian Civil War began in December 1989 when the anti-Doe National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast to overthrow him. Doe was captured and executed by Prince Johnson on 9 September 1990.[3]

Early life[edit]

Samuel Kanyon Doe was born on 6 May 1951 in Tuzon, a small inland village in Grand Gedeh County. His family belonged to the Krahn people, an important minority indigenous group in this area.[4] At the age of sixteen, Doe finished elementary school and enrolled at a Baptist junior high school in Zwedru. Two years later, he enlisted in the Armed Forces of Liberia, hoping thereby to obtain a scholarship to a high school in Kakata. Still, instead, he was assigned to military duties. Over the next ten years, he was assigned to various duty stations, including education at a military school and commanding various garrisons and prisons in Monrovia. He finally completed high school by correspondence. Doe was promoted to the grade of Master sergeant on 11 October 1979 and made an administrator for the Third Battalion in Monrovia, a position he occupied for eleven months.[5]

1980 bloody coup d'etat and new government[edit]

President Tolbert had become very authoritarian in later years

Commanding a group of Krahn soldiers, Master Sergeant Samuel Doe led a military coup on 12 April 1980 by attacking the Liberian Executive Mansion and killing President William R. Tolbert Jr. His forces killed another 26 of Tolbert's supporters in the fighting. Thirteen members of the Cabinet were publicly executed ten days later. Shortly after the coup, government ministers were walked publicly around Monrovia in the nude and then summarily executed by a firing squad on the beach. The convicted were denied the right to a lawyer or any appeal.[6] Hundreds of government workers fled the country, while others were imprisoned. After the coup, Doe assumed the rank of general and established a People's Redemption Council (PRC), composed of himself and 14 other low-ranking officers, to rule the country. The early days of the regime were marked by mass executions of members of Tolbert's deposed government. Doe ordered the release of about 50 leaders of the opposition Progressive People's Party, who had been jailed by Tolbert during the rice riots of the previous month.

U. S. Ambassador to Liberia William L. Swing presenting credentials to Commander-in-Chief Samuel K. Doe, head of state and chairman, People's Redemption Council

Shortly after that, Doe ordered the arrest of 91 officials of the Tolbert regime. Within days,

Eleven former members of Tolbert's cabinet, including his brother Frank, were brought to trial to answer charges of "high treason, rampant corruption and gross violation of human rights."[7] Doe suspended the Constitution, allowing these trials to be conducted by a Commission appointed by the state's new military leadership, with defendants being refused both legal representation and trial by jury, virtually ensuring their conviction.

Doe abruptly ended 133 years of Americo-Liberian political domination. Some hailed the coup as the first time since Liberia's establishment as a country that it was governed by people of native African descent instead of by the Americo-Liberian elite. Other persons without Americo-Liberian heritage had held the Vice Presidency (Henry Too Wesley), as well as Ministerial and Legislative positions in years prior. Many people welcomed Doe's takeover as a shift favoring the majority of the population that had largely been excluded from government participation since the country's establishment.

However, 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.

In the first alleged plot against his government, nine military personnel arrested two months after the original 1980 coup were reportedly jailed for life.

In June 1981, his government denounced another alleged coup in which thirteen members were executed behind closed doors.

Months later, Thomas Weh Syen, an outspoken critic of some of Doe's policies, including the closure months before of the Libyan diplomatic mission and the forced reduction of staff from fifteen to six at the Soviet embassy, was beaten and arrested on 12 August of that same year, along with four other officers. They were promised a defense attorney, but none was given, and in three days, they were executed, which caused panic among the citizens of the capital.[8][9][10]

Theories on the genesis of the coup[edit]

In August 2008, before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Monrovia, Doe's former justice minister, Councillor Chea Cheapoo — who contested the 2011 Liberia Presidential elections — alleged the American CIA had provided a 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".[11] 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".[12]

Some facts of the 1980 coup are still clouded by reports of an "Unknown Soldier".[13] It is reported that an "unknown soldier" was one of the "white" mercenaries who would have staged the 1980 military takeover of the state. According to the autobiography of Tolbert's wife Victoria, the First Lady witnessed a masked man with a "white" hand stabbing her late husband.[14]


During his rule, Doe portrayed himself as an enlightened leader whose actions were intended to bring "relief to many". He styled himself "Dr. Doe" starting in 1982 after making a state visit to Chun Doo-hwan in South Korea and being awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Seoul.[5] After seven years of calling himself a doctor, Doe announced in 1989 that he had completed a bachelor's degree from the University of Liberia.[15]

Relations with the United States[edit]

Doe with then Secretary of Defense of the United States Caspar W. Weinberger outside the Pentagon in 1982

During his first years in office, Doe openly supported U.S. Cold War foreign policy in Africa during the 1980s, severing diplomatic relations between Liberia and the Soviet Union.

The United States valued Liberia as an important ally during the Cold War, as it helped to contain the spread of Soviet influence in Africa.[16] 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.

New constitution and 1985 elections[edit]

A draft constitution providing for a multi-party republic was issued in 1983 and approved by referendum in 1984. On 26 July 1984, Doe was elected President of the Interim National Assembly.[17] He had a new constitution approved by referendum in 1984 and went on to stage a presidential election on 15 October 1985. According to official figures, Doe won 51% of the vote—just enough to avoid a runoff.[18] The NDPL won 21 of the 26 Senate seats and 51 of the 64 seats in the House of Representatives. However, most of the elected opposition candidates refused to take their seats.

The election was heavily rigged; Doe had the ballots taken to a secret location, and 50 of his own handpicked staff counted them. Foreign observers declared the elections fraudulent and suggested that runner-up Jackson Doe of the Liberian Action Party had won.[19] Also, before the election, he had more than 50 of his political opponents murdered. It is also alleged that he changed his official birth date from 1951 to 1950 to meet the new constitution's requirement that the president be at least 35 years old. Doe was formally sworn in on 6 January 1986. On the day of his inauguration as the twenty-first president, in the stadium, a show with several Liberian girls danced artistically in his honor with various hoops. Later, the dancers danced with maracas. Finally, the army paraded in line and the first they played a majestic orchestra.[20]

Doe publicly declared that if he lost the elections, he would not hand over power, and the army would carry out another coup in less than two weeks, a position that was harshly criticized by the international community and the political parties participating in the elections. Official results showed that Doe received a narrow majority of the votes in the elections, although the US State Department alleged widespread fraud.[21]

Increased repression[edit]

General Thomas Quiwonkpa, who had been a leader of the 1980 coup along with Doe, attempted to seize power on 12 November 1985; the attempt failed after fighting in Monrovia in which Quiwonkpa was killed. Doe also announced in a radio and television broadcast that anyone found on the streets after a 6 p.m. curfew would be considered a rebel and executed immediately.[22][23]

Doe's corrupt and totalitarian government became even more repressive after the attempted coup, 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 (Quiwonkpa was an ethnic Gio), resulted in divisions and violence among indigenous populations who until then had coexisted peacefully.

Civil war[edit]

Insurgent forces in 1990 in Mamba Station

Charles Taylor, a former ally of Doe, crossed into Liberia from Ivory Coast on 24 December 1989 to wage a guerrilla war against Doe.[24] Taylor had broken out of a jail in the United States, where he was awaiting extradition to Liberia on charges of embezzlement.[25] The conflict quickly flared into full-fledged civil war. By the mid-1990s, most of Liberia was controlled by rebel factions.[26]

Approximately 600 civilians were killed at the church in the Sinkor section of Monrovia on 29 July 1990. The massacre was carried out by approximately 30 government soldiers loyal to President Samuel Doe.[27] The perpetrators were of Doe's Krahn tribe while most of the victims were from the Gio and Mano tribes, which were in support of the rebels.[28]


Doe was captured in Monrovia on 9 September 1990 by Prince Y. Johnson, leader of INPFL, a breakaway faction of Taylor's NPFL. General Quainoo, the head of ECOMOG, had invited Doe to the ECOMOG headquarters for a meeting and assured him of his safety from the rebels.[29] On the morning of 9 September 1990, Doe arrived at a precarious time during an ongoing change in guard duty from the well-armed and better equipped Nigerian team of peacekeepers to the weaker Gambian contingent.[30] The Nigerian team had just withdrawn from the scene when Doe's convoy of lightly armed personnel arrived. Doe was escorted to General Quinoo's office, where he was formally welcomed while most of his team of aides and guards waited outside. Johnson's rebels surprised everyone by suddenly arriving on the scene uninvited and heavily armed, overwhelming and disarming the entirety of Doe's team while encountering no resistance.[31] They then started shooting Doe's team individually and later in groups. Upon hearing the gunshots from outside, Doe expressed concern to Quinoo, who assured him everything was fine. Quinoo later excused himself to check on what was happening outside and was followed by his aide, Captain Coker of the Gambian contingent. Both men took cover upon assessing the situation. Johnson's men moved indoors, finished off Doe's remaining team, shot him in the leg, and took him captive.[32] When the dust settled, over 80 of Doe's men lay dead. Coker characterized the incident not as a fight but a brutal massacre. Remarkably, none of the ECOMOG personnel were shot in the carnage.[citation needed]

Torture and murder[edit]

Doe was taken to Johnson's military base. To prove that he was not protected by black magic,[33] Johnson ordered Doe's ears be cut off in his presence.[34] Shackles were also placed around Doe's legs and something strange was tied around his glans, as can be seen in the recording. At the end of the recording, Doe was forced to get up, some of his fingers and toes were amputated, and there were attempts to mutilate the middle finger. After 12 hours of torture at Johnson's hands,[35] Doe was finally murdered; his corpse had its head shaved and was exhibited naked in the streets of Monrovia with cigarette burns. Doe's body was later exhumed and reburied. The spectacle of his torture was video-taped[36] and seen on news reports around the country. The video shows Johnson sipping a beer as Doe's ear is cut off.[37][38][39][40][41]

Personal life[edit]

Doe was a Baptist. At one time, he was a member of the First Baptist Church in the town of Zwedru in Grand Gedeh County. He changed his church membership to the Providence Baptist Church of Monrovia on 1 December 1985.[42] Doe was a passionate football fan, and the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex bears his name.


In November 2000, at a religious rally representing the Doe family, Doe's son Samuel Kanyon Doe Jr, accompanied by his mother Nancy, President Doe's widow, told a conference that he had feelings of hatred and resentment against "a certain person in particular", thoughts of revenge against his father's murderer for the past ten years and that he intended to cleanse his sins and feelings of hatred and revenge against his father's executioner. Both parties were reconciled at the hand of the Nigerian Reverend Pastor T. B. Joshua.[43][44][45]


  1. ^ Dunn, Elwood D.; Beyan, Amos J.; Burrowes, Carl Patrick (20 December 2000). Historical Dictionary of Liberia. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9781461659310.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Samuel K. Doe | president of Liberia". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Liberia : Samuel Doe, death washed down with a Budweiser". The Africa 10 November 2021. Retrieved 20 December 2021.
  4. ^ "Hail to the Chief: Happy Birthday!" Express Special 6 May 1982: 1.
  5. ^ a b "Happy Birthday!! Dr. Doe is 34 TODAY" Sunday Express, 6 May 1984: 1/6-7.
  6. ^ White, Robin (26 April 2012). "My Verbal Sparring with Charles Taylor". BBC News. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  7. ^ "LIBERIA: After the Takeover, Revenge". TIME Magazine. 18 April 1980. Archived from the original on 28 September 2008.
  8. ^ Dash, Leon (15 August 1981). "Liberia Executes 5 Members of Ruling Council". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  9. ^ "Liberian Criminal Justice System: In Retrospect and Reforms". Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  10. ^ "Liberia's Truth Commission Holds First Public Hearings in the US | Voice of America - English". Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  11. ^ The News (a Liberian newspaper), 6 August 2008 (retrieved 6–8 Aug.) CIA Agents Executed 1980 Coup Archived 10 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ The News, 7 August 2008 (retr. 7–8 Aug.) Harry Greaves, Tom Kamara, Others Linked Archived 10 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Sherman, Frank (2010). Liberia The Land, Its People, History and Culture. New Africa Press. p. 61. ISBN 9789987160259.
  14. ^ Victoria Tolbert, Lifted Up Macalester Park Publishing Company |(retrieved 12 October 2010)
  15. ^ "Congrats Mr. President!" Monrovia Tribune, 1989-05: 1/12.
  16. ^ Bueno, Bruce; Smith, Alastair (2011). The Dictator's Handbook. PublicAffairs. p. 57. ISBN 9781610390446. Retrieved 11 October 2022.
  17. ^ Europa World Year Book 1985
  18. ^ Moran, Mary H. Liberia: The Violence of Democracy. 1st paperback ed. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, 120.
  19. ^ Gifford, Paul. Christianity and Politics in Doe's Liberia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 22.
  20. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "president doe". YouTube.
  21. ^ Dennis, Peter (May 2006). "A Brief History of Liberia" (PDF). The International Center for Transitional Justice.
  22. ^ "LIBERIA SAYS IT FOILED COUP ATTEMPT (Published 1985)". The New York Times. 13 November 1985.
  23. ^ "Liberian Troops Kill Leader of Attempted Coup". Los Angeles Times. 16 November 1985.
  24. ^ Duyvesteyn, Isabelle (2004). Clausewitz and African War. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781135764845.
  25. ^ Onwumechili, Chuka (1998). African Democratization and Military Coups. Praeger. ISBN 9780275963255.
  26. ^ Press, Robert. "Candles in the Wind: Resisting Repression in Liberia". Africa Today. JSTOR 27666982.
  27. ^ Draman, Rasheed (2003). "Managing Chaos in the West African Sub-Region: Assessing the Role of ECOMOG in Liberia" (PDF). Journal of Military and Strategic Studies. 6 (2).
  28. ^ Blair, Robert; Morse, Benjamin (12 May 2021). "Policing and the Legacies of Wartime State Predation: Evidence from a Survey and Field Experiment in Liberia". Journal of Conflict Resolution. 65 (10): 1709–1737. doi:10.1177/00220027211013096. S2CID 236587010.
  29. ^ "The Politics and Diplomacy of Peacekeeping in West Africa: The Ecowas Operation in Liberia". The Journal of Modern African Studies. 33 (4). 11 November 2008.
  30. ^ Ojoko, Israel (31 August 2021). "On a momentous note, what has befallen our military?". The Cable. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  31. ^ "Remembering the savage rise and Fall of Master Sergeant Samuel Doe of Liberia". The Maravi Post. Malawi 24.
  32. ^ Ellis, Stephen (2006). The Mask of Anarchy Updated Edition. NYU Press. pp. 8–10. ISBN 9780814722381.
  33. ^ Vick, Karl. "Liberian Strife Is Traced To Turbulent Past: Some Blame Turmoil On Its American Roots" Archived 10 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Washington Post, Foreign Service, 10 August 2003.
  34. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The Execution of former Liberian President Samuel K Doe YouTube". YouTube.
  35. ^ "6 Assassinations of African leaders (that were caught on film)". 4 March 2015.
  36. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The Execution of former Liberian President Samuel K. Doe". YouTube.
  37. ^ "Meeting the hard man of Liberia," BBC
  38. ^ Akam, Simon (28 September 2011). "The Comeback". New Republic.
  39. ^ Ellis, Stephen (2007) [1999]. The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of African Civil War. London, UK: Hurst & Company. pp. 1–16. ISBN 978-1850654179.
  40. ^ "Exhibition of Samuel Doe's Body During the Civil War in Liberia".
  41. ^ "Scooper - Nigeria News: A TYRANT FALLS: Gruesome Story Of How The First Indigenous President Of Liberia Was Tortured To Death On Video And Laid Naked In State". Retrieved 20 December 2021.
  42. ^ "Doe Joins Providence Baptist Church Here". SunTimes, 2 December 1985: 1/7.
  43. ^ "How TB Joshua Reconciled The Son Of Liberia's President With The Man Who Murdered His Father". FrontPageAfrica. 18 November 2019. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  44. ^ "TB Joshua the peacemaker: How SCOAN leader reconciled the son of Liberia's president with the man who murdered his father | Malawi 24 - Malawi news". Malawi 24. 17 November 2019. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  45. ^ Njoku, Ihechuwku (18 November 2019). "Nigeria: How TB Joshua Reconciled the Son of Liberia's President With the Man Who Murdered His Father". Retrieved 20 February 2021.

External links[edit]

Military offices
New creation Chairman of the People's Redemption Council
12 April 1980 – 6 January 1986
Office abolished
Government offices
Preceded by President of Liberia
6 January 1986 – 9 September 1990
Succeeded byas President of the Interim Government