Samuel Doe

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Samuel Doe
Samuel K Doe portrait.webp
Presidential portrait
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
Spouse(s)Nancy Doe
(married c. 1968–1969)[1]
Alma materSeoul National University
University of Liberia
OccupationPolitician, Dictator
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 Liberian leader from 1980 to 1990, first as a military leader and later as a civilian.[2] While a master sergeant in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Doe staged a violent coup d'état in April 1980 that left him de facto head of state.[2] During the coup, then-president William Tolbert and much of the True Whig Party leadership were executed.[2] Doe then established the People's Redemption Council, assuming the rank of general.[2]

Doe suspended the constitution and headed the country's military junta for the next five years.[2] In 1985, he ordered an election and officially became the 21st President of Liberia. The election was marked by controversy as there was evidence of election fraud.[2] Doe had support from the United States; it was a strategic alliance due to his anti-Soviet stance taken during the years of the Cold War prior to the changes in 1989 that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The first native head of state in the country's history, Doe was a member of the Krahn ethnic group from the South Eastern region of Liberia. Before the 1980 coup, natives had often held a marginal role in society, which was dominated by the descendants of the Americo-Liberian Pioneers; composed primarily of free-born North American blacks and freed slaves, the Pioneers were the immigrants who had established Liberia in the 1820s and led the country beginning with independence in 1847.

Doe opened Liberian ports to Canadian, Chinese and European ships. This brought in considerable foreign investment from foreign shipping firms and earned Liberia a reputation as a tax haven.

Doe attempted to legitimize his regime with passage of a new constitution in 1984 and elections in 1985. However, opposition to his rule increased, especially after the 1985 elections, which were declared to be fraudulent by most foreign observers. For political reasons, the U.S. continued to support him. Thomas Quiwonkpa was murdered due to a failed coup.[citation needed]

In the late 1980s, as the U.S. government adopted more fiscal austerity and the threat of Communism declined with the waning of the Cold War, the U.S. became disenchanted with the entrenched corruption of Doe's government and began cutting off critical foreign aid. This, combined with the popular anger generated by Doe's favoritism toward Krahns, placed him in a very precarious position.

A civil war began in December 1989, when rebels entered Liberia through Ivory Coast, capturing and overthrowing Doe on 9 September 1990. Doe was then tortured during interrogation and murdered by his captor, Prince Johnson, a one-time ally of Charles Taylor.[3]

Early life[edit]

On 6 May 1951 Doe was born in Tuzon, a small inland village in Grand Gedeh County. His family belonged to the Krahn people, a minority indigenous group important 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, but instead he was assigned to military duties. Over the next ten years, he was assigned to a range of duty stations, including education at a military school and commanding an assortment of 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, which position he occupied for eleven months.[5]

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

President Tolbert had become very authoritarian in recent 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 to 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, 11 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 participation in government since the establishment of the country.

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 the Libya diplomatic mission and the forced reduction of staff from fifteen to six at the Soviet embassy, was 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 in 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".[citation needed] 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.[13]


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.[14]

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.[citation needed] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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 actually won.[17] Also, prior to 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 in order 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 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 in the first they played a majestic orchestra.[18]

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 cast in the elections, although outside observers alleged widespread fraud.[citation needed]

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.[19][20]

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.[citation needed] Taylor had broken out of a jail in the United States, where he was awaiting extradition to Liberia on charges of embezzlement.[citation needed] The conflict quickly flared into full-fledged civil war. By mid-1990, most of Liberia was controlled by rebel factions.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]


Doe was captured in Monrovia on 9 September 1990, by Prince Y. Johnson, leader of INPFL, a breakaway faction of Taylor's NPFL. General Quinoo, the head of ECOMOG, had invited Doe to the ECOMOG headquarters for a meeting and assured him of his safety from the rebels.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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 that all 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.[citation needed] 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 execution[edit]

Doe was taken to Johnson's military base. To prove that he was not protected by black magic,[21] Johnson ordered Doe's ears be cut off in his presence.[22] 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 also amputated, and there were attempts to mutilate the middle finger. After 12 hours of torture at Johnson's hands,[23] 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[24] and seen on news reports around the country. The video shows Johnson sipping a beer as Doe's ear is cut off.[25][26][27][28][29]

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.[30] 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 10 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.[31][32][33]


  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 f g "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. ^ Victoria Tolbert, Lifted Up Macalester Park Publishing Company |(retrieved 12 October 2010)
  14. ^ "Congrats Mr. President!" Monrovia Tribune, 1989-05: 1/12.
  15. ^ Europa World Year Book 1985
  16. ^ Moran, Mary H. Liberia: The Violence of Democracy. 1st paperback ed. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, 120.
  17. ^ Gifford, Paul. Christianity and Politics in Doe's Liberia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 22.
  18. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "president doe". YouTube.
  19. ^ "LIBERIA SAYS IT FOILED COUP ATTEMPT (Published 1985)". The New York Times. 13 November 1985.
  20. ^ "Liberian Troops Kill Leader of Attempted Coup". Los Angeles Times. 16 November 1985.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The Execution of former Liberian President Samuel K Doe YouTube". YouTube.
  23. ^ "6 Assassinations of African leaders (that were caught on film)". 4 March 2015.
  24. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The Execution of former Liberian President Samuel K. Doe". YouTube.
  25. ^ "Meeting the hard man of Liberia," BBC
  26. ^ Akam, Simon (28 September 2011). "The Comeback". New Republic.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ "Exhibition of Samuel Doe's Body During the Civil War in Liberia".
  29. ^ "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.
  30. ^ "Doe Joins Providence Baptist Church Here". SunTimes, 2 December 1985: 1/7.
  31. ^ "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.
  32. ^ "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.
  33. ^ 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