Samuel Doe was the 21st president of Liberia. He came to power in 1980 in a military coup. In 1985, he held a promised democratic election, but only won due to election rigging. While he was originally popular because of his birth status as one of Liberia’s “country people,” it quickly became clear that he was favoring his own ethnic group and his popularity declined. Doe held office until 1990, when he was captured and killed by a rebel faction allied with Charles Taylor.

Charles Taylor worked in Doe’s administration until he was removed for embezzlement in 1983. He fled to the U.S. and then to Libya where he trained under Muammar Gaddafi. In 1989, he led a group of fighters into Liberia and began to overthrow Doe’s administration. He won the 1997 general election with 75% of the vote. By 2003, Taylor had been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and had lost control of much of the Liberian countryside. In 2012, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.


“In April of 1987, I received a call from my good friend James Bishop, the US Ambassador to Monrovia. Jim explained that the technical team…had been failing to implement any of the reforms and new budgetary structures…[Doe] was unable to change his practices, which were tied to tribal and family loyalties. Jim asked me to come to Monrovia to leverage my position in the White House to talk sense to President Doe.

I agreed without hesitation…We went to see Doe together, and I made my pitch about the need for discipline and fairness to the Liberian people. Doe listened politely and affirmatively. He promised to do the right thing. At the end he asked for a special favor. He said that he was completing studies for a master’s degree in political science at the University of Liberia and wondered if I would be his academic sponsor for his thesis. I agreed wholeheartedly. It was rather satisfying to be the mentor of a head of state.

A month later, Ambassador Bishop informed me that my last-minute appeal had failed. Doe was incorrigible. He continued to consider all sources of state revenue to be commingled with his own.” (Page 161)

“Ambassador Bishop recommended that American military attaches at the embassy be deployed with Liberian army units as observers to discourage human rights violations. I agreed. I did not, however, anticipate the political storm that would erupt when this action become public in the United States. The entire Liberian diaspora started calling their congressional representatives to accuse the US government of sending “advisors” to help Doe stay in power. There was no way we could convince anyone that our purpose was only to help avoid atrocities. When we began receiving angry congressional phone calls, we withdrew the military attaches from the Liberian army units.” (Page 162)

“I asked Ambassador Bishop to talk to Doe about the need to evacuate, since there was no way he could stop Taylor by military means. I also spoke to Doe on the phone. I proposed sending a US military cargo plane to take him and his family to Togo. Doe said that he might be willing to leave, but he had some pre-departure demands. First, he wanted a full scholarship to Oxford University. Secondly, he wanted to take his entire stock of Coca-Cola on the aircraft along with his family and luggage. We told him that the Coca-Cola transport was approved, but we could not guarantee admission to Oxford.” (Page 164)

“We found Taylor sitting in his tent in a throne-like chair. Behind him, hanging on a curtain, was a large photograph of President John F. Kennedy and his family…Taylor demonstrated strong deference to high-level officials of the United States government.” (Page 166)

“Taylor wanted to know why the United States was so passive (continued to p. 167) in view of Liberia’s terrible situation. He said that if the United States sent in a battalion of US Marines, ‘We would all surrender.’ …The United States was the natural father and mother of Liberia and could solve Liberia’s problems. …I asked Taylor if he would be willing to have a cease-fire with ECOMOG leading to negotiations. He said yes. …From Abidjan, I informed Washington that Taylor said he was ready for a cease-fire with ECOMOG, to be followed by negotiations. The response was a slap on the wrist. ‘We told you not to take charge of the Liberia problem…the war continued.’” (Page 166-167)

Doe's Background

  • Doe was born in 1951 in Tuzon.
  • He completed elementary school and junior high school before enlisting in the armed forces to try to get a scholarship to high school.
  • In 1979, he was promoted to Master Sergeant.
  • In 1980, he led a military coup that overthrew and killed President William R. Tolbert, Jr.
  • A draft constitution was issued in 1983 and approved in 1984.  Elections were held in 1985. Doe won 51% of the vote, just enough to avoid a run-off, through heavy election rigging.
  • In 1989, Charles Taylor led a rebel force through the country. Doe was captured and killed by Prince Y. Johnson, an ally of Taylor.

Taylor's Background

  • Taylor was born in 1948.
  • He earned a degree from Bentley College in Massachusetts in 1977.
  • He supported Doe’s coup in 1980 and began working for Doe’s administration.
  • In 1983, Taylor was fired for embezzlement. He fled to the United States.
  • In 1984, he was arrested by US Deputy Marshals.  He fought extradition and escaped from detention in 1985.  He fled to Libya and trained under Gaddafi.
  • In 1989, Taylor led a rebellion into Liberia.  One of his allies successfully captured and killed Doe.
  • In 1997, Taylor ran for president and won with 75% of the vote.
  • In 2003, amidst political unrest and charges of crimes against humanity, Taylor fled to Nigeria.
  • In 2012, the Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled that Taylor was guilty on 11 counts of "aiding and abetting" war crimes and crimes against humanity.