On the 9th of September 1990, Samuel Doe who staged a violent coup and took power from the Americo-Liberians (freed slaves from the United States), became the first world leader to be tortured on camera before being executed.
The nation of Liberia was founded in 1822 as a colony for the repatriation of freed slaves from the United States, and it existed for more than a century under the government of an elite society of ‘Americo-Liberians’ who essentially replicated the American South in Africa, but with themselves in the place of white people.
They pursued a deleterious policy of shutting out native Liberians usually called “country people” from both the political and economic sphere of the nation using the usual methods of marginalizatiom and Nepotism. This lasted until 1980, when Samuel Doe staged a violent and bloody millitary coup that left him de facto head of state.
Samuel Doe was born in Tuzon, a small town in south-eastern Liberia, situated in Grand Gedeh County on May 6 1951. His family belonged to the Krahn people, a minority indigenous group in Liberia.
At the age of 16, he finished elementary school and then two years later, he enlisted in the Armed Forces of Liberia. He eventually rose through the ranks to become a master sergeant in 1979.
Like other indigenous Liberians, Doe detested the fact that Americo-Liberians controlled the government and economy of Liberia, but unlike others, Doe acted on his displeasure. In April 1980, he staged a violent coup d’état and ended up killing then-president William Tolbert and much of the True Whig Party leadership.
The coup set off a wave of elation among Liberia’s native population, thousands poured into the streets chanting anti tolbert songs.
Many well meaning Liberians welcomed Doe’s takeover as a shift that would ultimately favour the indigenous population that had largely been marginalized since the establishment of the country by Americo-Liberians in 1822.
After the coup, Doe suspended the constitution and established a military regime called the People’s Representative and headed the country’s military junta for the next five years. In 1985, he ordered an election albeit fraudulent and officially became the 21st President of Liberia ending 133 years of Americo-Liberian political domination.
Prior to the election Doe had 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.
After the general election, Thomas Quiwonkpa, a general who had been a leader of the 1980 coup along with Doe, attempted to seize power from Samuel Doe, but the attempt failed after fighting in Monrovia in which Quiwonkpa was killed.
Samuel Doe was later sworn-in as the twenty-first President Liberia on 6 January 1986 becoming Liberia’s first president of “exclusive indigenous heritage”.
The period after Doe was sworn-in saw an increased in human rights abuses, corruption, and ethnic tensions, ultimately leading to the start of the First Liberian Civil War.
Liberian Civil War
The Liberian civil war began in December 1989, when National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebels led by CIA sponsored Charles Taylor, entered Liberia through Ivory Coast to wage a guerrilla war against Doe.
The NPFL fighters were mostly drawn from the Gio and Mano ethnic groups of northern Liberia who were persecuted under Doe’s regime.
Taylor launched a large scale guerrilla war against Doe such that by 1990, most of Liberia was under the control of NPFL rebels. In Taylor’s camp, a group calling itself the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) would eventually break away from Charles Taylor’s NPFL. The newly formed militia group was led by Prince Johnson.
Prince Johnson’s ragtag militia would later gate crash a supposed hushed meeting between Samuel Doe and General Quinoo, the head of ECOMOG at the ECOMOG headquarters in Monrovia on September 9, 1990 and violently captured Doe, killing all his team members numbering over 80 and shooting him on his legs.
Doe was taken to Johnson’s military base where he was stripped to his bloodstained white underwear. The rebels tortured him by cutting off his right ear, and amputating parts of his toes and fingers. While all these was happening, Prince Johnson sat and watched while drinking a can of beer. His torture and execution was videotaped by his captors and seen on news reports around the world.
After 12 hours of torture, Doe was finally murdered; his naked corpse which had cigarette burns all over was displayed naked in the streets of Monrovia and was guarded by rebels to protect it from being taken away by his Krahn supporters.
Samuel K. Doe’s body was later hacked into pieces, burnt and his ashes thrown into a river.
Samuel Doe who staged a televised execution of the Tolbert government became the first world leader to be tortured on camera before being executed.
Till this day many Liberians still blame Doe for introducing ethnic politics into the country’s governance.