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Samuel Doe
Samuel Kanyon Doe.jpg
21st President of Liberia

In office
12 April 1980 – 9 September 1990
Vice President Harry F. Moniba
Preceded by William R. Tolbert, Jr.
Succeeded by Amos Sawyer
Personal details
Born (1951-05-06)May 6, 1951
Tuzon, Liberia
Died September 9, 1990(1990-09-09) (aged 39)
Monrovia, Liberia
Political party National Democratic
Religion Baptist

Samuel Kanyon Doe (May 6, 1951 – September 9, 1990) was the leader of Liberia from 1980 to 1990. He served as chairman of the People's Redemption Council and de facto head of state from 1980 until his election as the 21st President of Liberia in 1985. He was the first indigenous head of state in Liberian history.

Doe was a part of a rural tribe in inland Liberia. The Krahn are a minority ethnic group but part of the large majority of the Liberian population that are of indigenous descent. These groups faced economic and political domination 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 Canadian, Chinese and European ships, which 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 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. 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.

A civil war began in December 1989, when rebels intent on toppling Doe entered Liberia through Côte d'Ivoire. Doe's forces were defeated. He was captured and overthrown on 9 September 1990. Following his capture, he was tortured before being executed, and his body was dismembered and eaten by his captors.

Early lifeEdit

Doe was born in Tuzon, a small village in Grand Gedeh County.[1] At the age of sixteen, he finished elementary school and enrolled at a Baptist junior high school in Zwedru. Two years later, he enlisted in the AFL, 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.[2]

1980 coup, new governmentEdit

On April 12, 1980, Doe led a military coup, killing President William R. Tolbert, Jr., in the Executive Mansion. Twenty-six of Tolbert's supporters were also killed 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.[3] 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. One of Doe's first acts after seizing power was to order 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. 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."[4] Suspension of the Constitution allowed 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. Thus 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, although persons with no 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.

Theories on the genesis of the coupEdit

In August 2008, before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Monrovia, Doe's former justice minister, Cllr. Chea Cheapoo — who contested the 2011 Liberia Presidential elections — 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".[5] 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".[6] 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 century-old one-party 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.[7]


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.[2] 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.[8]

Relations with the United StatesEdit

Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger - Samuel K. Doe

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 electionsEdit

A draft constitution providing for a multi-party republic was issued in 1983 and approved by referendum in 1984. On July 26, 1984, Doe was elected President of the Interim National Assembly.[9] He had a new constitution approved by referendum in 1984 and went on to stage a presidential election on October 15, 1985. According to official figures, Doe won 51% of the vote—just enough to avoid a runoff.[10] 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.[11] 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 January 6, 1986.

Increased repressionEdit

Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa, who had been a leader of the 1980 coup along with Doe, attempted to seize power on November 12, 1985; the attempt failed after fighting in Monrovia and Quiwonkpa was killed. Doe's corrupt and repressive 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 relatively peacefully.


Charles Taylor, a former ally of Doe's, crossed into Liberia from Côte d'Ivoire on December 24, 1989, to wage a guerrilla war against Doe. Taylor had broken out of a jail in the United States, where he was awaiting extradition to Liberia on charges of embezzlement. By mid-1990 most of Liberia was controlled by rebel factions. Doe was captured in Monrovia by faction leader Prince Y. Johnson on September 9, 1990. Doe had been visiting ECOMOG peacekeeping headquarters in Monrovia when Johnson arrived with his forces and seized Doe after a bloody gun battle. Doe was taken to Johnson's military base and tortured before being killed and exposed naked in the streets of Monrovia. His ears were cut off, then some of his fingers and toes; the next day his body was buried in a mass grave; but later exhumed. The spectacle of his torture was videotaped and seen on news reports around the world. The video shows Johnson sipping a Budweiser as Doe's ear is cut off.[12][13][14]

Personal lifeEdit

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 December 1, 1985.[15]


  1. "Hail to the Chief: Happy Birthday!" Express Special 1982-05-06: 1.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Happy Birthday!! Dr. Doe is 34 TODAY" Sunday Express, 1984-05-06: 1/6-7.
  3. White, Robin (April 26, 2012). "My Verbal Sparring with Charles Taylor". BBC News. Retrieved 26 April 2012. 
  4. "LIBERIA: After the Takeover, Revenge". 1980-04-18.,9171,924057,00.html#ixzz0dsadsRgy. 
  5. The News (a Liberian newspaper), August 6, 2008 (retrieved 6-8 Aug.) CIA Agents Executed 1980 Coup
  6. The News, August 7, 2008 (retr. 7-8 Aug.) Harry Greaves, Tom Kamara, Others Linked
  7. Victoria Tolbert, Lifted Up Macalester Park Publishing Company |(retrieved 2010-10-12)
  8. "Congrats Mr. President!" Monrovia Tribune, 1989-05: 1/12.
  9. Europa World Year Book 1985
  10. Moran, Mary H. Liberia: The Violence of Democracy. 1st paperback ed. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, 120.
  11. Gifford, Paul. Christianity and Politics in Doe's Liberia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 22.
  12. "Meeting the hard man of Liberia," BBC
  13. Akam, Simon (September 28, 2011). "The Comeback". New Republic. 
  14. Ellis, Stephen (1999, 2007). The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of African Civil War. London, UK: Hurst & Company. pp. 1–16. ISBN 1850654174. 
  15. "Doe Joins Providence Baptist Church Here". SunTimes, 1985-12-02: 1/7.
Political offices
Preceded by
William R. Tolbert, Jr.
Head of People's Redemption Council
President of Liberia

Succeeded by
Dr. Amos Sawyer
Preceded by
President of the Interim National Assembly of Liberia
Succeeded by

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