The Liberian Civil War

Political Background

A military leader, master sergeant Samuel Kenyon Doe, the first non-Americo-Liberian president, seized power in a coup 1980. Doe formed a large number of indigenous Liberian tribes, who had been excluded from power since Liberia had its independence in 1847. He invoked that he would change the way the country was run by the Americo-Liberians, but that did not happen after his victory. This brought a counter-coup attempt against him. Doe promised to return the country to civilian rule in 1985. However, the election, monitored by internationals, was widely condemned as fraudulent. Doe, with a narrow victory, claimed to be the winner.

The former commanding general of the arm forces of Liberia, Thomas G. Quiwonkpa, who fled the country after being demoted by president Doe to the neighboring Sierra Leon, came in a coup attempt to overthrow Doe’s regime. Unfortunately, the coup failed. Quiwonkpa who is from the north of Liberia (Nimba County from the Gio tribe), was killed. Crackdowns against the Gio and Mano tribes, who were in majority of the coup, followed his death. This caused increased ethnic tensions in Liberia.

The Civil War Began

Charles Taylor assembled the Gio and Mano tribes in Cote D’ivoire who felt persecuted by Doe. He formed a rebel group known as national patriotic front of Liberia (NPFL), and invaded Nimba County on December 24, 1989. The Liberian army retaliated against the population of the northern region by killing unarmed civilians and burning villages. Many people left for Guinea and Cote D’ivoire as refugees and inflamed opposition to Doe. Prince Y. Johnson, formally a member of the armed forces of Liberia, left to form part of NPFL’s fighters, creating his own guerrilla force called the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL).

Doe Captured and Killed

Later in 1990, the civil war was raging. Taylor took most of the north while Prince Johnson controlled most of Monrovia, the capital of the Republic of Liberia. The Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS), who was then in Monrovia, attempted to persuade Doe to resign and go in exile, but the president refused. While making a brief trip out of the executive mansion to the headquarters of ECOMOG, Doe was captured by Prince Johnson on September 9, 1990. He was tortured and later killed.

After Doe’s Death

After the death of Doe, everyone thought the end of the civil war in Liberia was coming, but peace was still far away as Johnson and Taylor both claimed power, at which point, ECOMOG declared an interim government of national unity (IGNU) with Amos Sawyer as their president. Taylor, again supported by Prince Johnson, attacked the interim government in 1992. With ECOMOG intervention, they negotiated the Cotonou peace agreement between NPFL, IGNU, and Doe’s remaining supporters called the united liberation movement of Liberia for democracy (ULIMO), at which a coalition government was formed in August of 1993. This was followed by so many peace agreements leading up to the 1995 Akosombo peace agreement. In April 1996, Taylor’s NPFL and ULIMO started fighting in Monrovia, leaving many dead and causing the evacuation of most of the international non-governmental organizations. The death estimate from BBC reports was around 250,000. The key tribes in the fighting were the Gio, Mano, Krahn, and the Mandingo. Most people were affected by intermarriages and ethnicity.

Taylor In Power

Later in 1997, the presidential election held with the people voting in favor of Taylor under durance with the slogan, “you kill my mom you kill my pa I will vote for you” due to the fear of being killed. Taylor took power, guns stopped firing, but killing was still going on in Liberia. Most people who fled from the war were afraid to return.

Today’s Fragile Peace

Liberians began to return gradually at the time of the fragile peace when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took over in 2005 along with the presence of United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the biggest operation of the UN in Liberia, hosting today over 15,000 peace keeping personal in the country.