|Excerpts from the
LIBERIA: Legacy of an American Dilemma
Narrative of the Reigns of Presidents Tolbert & Doe
By Alhaji G. V. Kromah
(BA, LL.B., LL.M., MA,, MAIR, SJD-cand.}
Posted July 20 2008
Written in 2003
Events preceding the early morning of April 12 , 1980, had just about everyone goosey in Monrovia, the capital. Government security agents were chasing perceived "enemies of the state" everywhere. Another in the series of anti-government agitation was offering a specious excuse to make a clean sweep of all known opposition to the Administration of William R. Tolbert, 19th President of the Republic.
Tolbert came to power in l971, having served as Vice President for 19 years under William V.S. Tubman. Dubbed by some historians as the "benevolent dictator," and yet by others as a brutal and intolerant leader, Tubman himself literally ruled the nation for 27 years until his death. The drama of expectations soon erupted under Tolbert, whose smooth assumption of office gave evidently false impressions of political stability. A politician, businessman and Baptist preacher, Tolbert introduced some changes in the political modus vivendi upon assuming office as President. He sent signals that although he was a prominent member of the country’s minority class which had ruled since independence in 1847, he was prepared to respond to the yearning for reform. He attempted loosening the grip of the ruling True Whig Party, threw away the cassock, tail coat and top hat, dislodged the elitist Masonic craft from politics, and preached a doctrine of self-reliance and democracy. His presidential aircraft donned the inscription: "Speedy One," with himself being called "Speedy, " supposedly for his impatience in achieving his reform programs.
It was now 1980, and the high-energy crusade had Tolbert in more trouble than when he started. He was caught between the demands of the conservative diehards he inherited and half-heartedly encouraged, and the rebellious intellectuals and street politicians he involuntarily motivated. The latter wanted power in the name of the people, while the others felt the minority hegemony was fading. In the process, the nation was left in economic hodgepodge, general insecurity, and repulsive social practices. The citizenry was now stranded in a vehicle without brakes. In the early morning hours of April 12, while imprisoned opponents faced threats of physical elimination, a group of 17 young soldiers climactically stepped in, and Tolbert was left a fatal victim. The nation had indeed begun a rough course of rebirth in its old age.
........... The TWP had ruled the country since 1869 (except for two years) effectively turning Liberia into a de facto one-party state. It was now glaring that the institution and its contents needed overhauling in order to avert national catastrophe. The man, who seemed designated to do the job by succeeding Tubman, was "trying to run and scratch his foot at the same time" as a Mandingo parable would describe the President's dilemma.
As the news of the mass arrests spread, the post stockade in Monrovia was again living up to its notoriety, next only to its parent Belleh Yella maximum security prison deep in the northern Liberian jungle. As if its mere presence in the already heavily guarded Barclay Training Center (BTC) barracks was not enough, the stockade was bustling with military and para-military personnel around the clock. Inmates at the facility usually faced three options: either be taken surreptitiously and murdered at midnight, whisked off to Belleh Yella; or by an act of "divine intervention" set free through amnesty granted by the President of Liberia. In other cases, some special prisoners spent months or years simply because the government in power could not decide exactly what to do with them. The stockade was originally established for the detention of military and para-military personnel.
Political activists mainly from the People's Progressive Party (PPP) had been assembled at the stockade, awaiting the outcome of government-orchestrated street demonstrations for their trial and execution. No trial had taken place. President Tolbert was wagging his finger in stern display of how he was fed up with the troublemakers, and would this time be "rough, tough and mean." Baccus Matthews was leading the list, along with fellow PPP partisans Oscar Quiah, Sam Jackson, D. Karn Carlor and Chea Cheapo. George Boley was packed together with them in jail.. As far as we his friends were concerned, Boley did not have any formal links with the PPP.
On the evening of March 7, Matthews and his men had congregated near the Ministry of Information, about 500 yards from the Executive Mansion. From there they began distributing leaflets in which they demanded the resignation of President Tolbert, and called for a nationwide strike until the President stepped down. The Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) was allowed to register as the PPP late l979, becoming the first opposition party to the True Whig Party Government in more than thirty years. ........ Matthews and his followers were now alleging that the Tolbert regime had failed to solve the country’s economic, political and social problems. The opposition party proposed that after the resignation of Tolbert, a provisional administration would be set up, comprising the PPP and the True Whig Party. Several members of the rival Movement of Justice in Africa (MOJA) had been thrown in along with the PPP, inciting criticism from a MOJA spokesman that PPP provocation was "discrediting progressives" in the country.(West Africa Magazine, March/April, l980).
The standoff between the PPP and the government sparked another in the saga of public anxiety. Lebanese and Indian businessmen, who run Liberia's commercial sector, immediately shut down their stores the next day, while Liberian marketers scarcely turned out. The Matthews group began sporadic demonstrations in isolated spots of the Monrovia area. On the Sinkor Oldroad, party thugs overpowered two police officers and set their vehicle on fire. At the Liberia Telecommunication office downtown, PPP agents succeeded with the workers in momentarily but critically disrupting communication services.
The government alleged that the PPP action was part of the activists' plan to assassinate the President and install themselves in power. Justice Minister Joseph J. F. Chesson said the government was prepared to be rigid with the firebrands. Labor Minister Estrada Bernard assured workers of Government protection and requested them to ignore the PPP call for the boycott. Hundreds of workers remained home for fear of being harmed while others actually stayed home as part of the strike. President Tolbert himself drove around the capital sampling opinions in places where he spotted people. At the Waterside Market, he assured the few marketers there that the government was prepared to take forceful action against violators of the law.
In a combined para-military operation the next day, government agents stormed the Gurley Street headquarters of the PPP in the heavily populated central district of Monrovia. The PPP leadership was in a meeting, and a huge crowd of supporters had already thunderstruck the office. The crowd provided the buffer for Matthews and his top aides needed to escape. The security forces arrested a few of the unlucky officials and confiscated all documents and just about everything that could be taken. Matthews' escape angered the Justice Minister, who immediately issued an arrest warrant for the PPP leaders. He warned the pubic not to shelter any of the men wanted, and posed up to $2,500 as a reward for information leading to their arrest. He threatened a house to house search if the accused did not give up.
Justice Minister Chesson was on familiar grounds operating against alleged plotters. He was Solicitor General and one of the ardent Tubman loyalists who vigorously pursued sympathizers of S. David Coleman in the l955 presumed assassination plot against President Tubman. (Footnote). The l955 incident ended in the shooting death of Coleman and his elder son in what the government said was an exchange of gunfire between the Coleman group and state security forces. A Coleman family source told me Coleman was apprehended and carried to the Mansion to meet Tubman, and was killed afterwards. The Tubmans deny this.
The Chesson threat to conduct a house to house search for Matthews did not go unheeded. Matthews was said to have taken refuge at the Vatican diplomatic mission, but the Catholics were not prepared to risk the relations between the two governments. The prelate accepted to escort Matthews, who also did not want to cause any further problem for the Vatican. It had become standard for prelates to bring in fugitives to protect them from heinous treatment. It was also an opportunity for mediation.
By the end of March, more than seventy PPP members and sympathizes had been arrested all over the country and brought to Monrovia. It took that much time for the security to apprehend PPP executives D. Karn Carlor, Sam Jackson and Richard Gaye. Another partisan, J. Alieu Swaray proved the most mystical. He remained in hiding in Monrovia until the coup d'etat occurred.
The PAL and its PPP offshoot were a running "thorn in the flesh" of the government, having organized the April 14 rice riots in l979. The PPP spearheaded the massive rally against a government-proposed hike in the price of rice, the nation’s staple food. More than 40 persons died from clashes between the rioters and security forces amidst widespread looting and property destruction. The unprecedented challenge to the Tolbert administration sent the government wobbling. Matthews and his collaborators were arrested and subsequently released. In less than a year, here was Matthews again, this time demanding that the government deletes itself.
Peter Naigow and I visited the residence of George Boley that early morning, a day after he was arrested. The visit appeared only to have reinforced government’s suspicion about us. We met National Security Agency (NSA) agents at the house torridly searching everywhere. The scene resembled a classic movie scene of gangsters sniffing for narcotic drugs hidden by double-crossing buddies. "What are you doing here," the agents kept asking us. We defiantly assured them that we were not only friends but also "brothers" of George Boley. And they began scribbling notes on their pads to make record of our "confessions." Then their movie act crashed. One of the agents’ pen gave up, and he had the guts to ask whether he could borrow mine. I mockingly reminded him that giving him the pen could be considered a bribe. We were supposed to be intimidated by the ferocious NSA search and left terrified that the government was serious about the crisis. Maybe later, but these comics, as we saw them, were in no position to stop us from our drive to get a colleague freed. Several days after our encounter with the security agents, Naigow and I decided to meet with President Tolbert. Naigow and I were from the Ministry of Information, where he was Deputy Minister and I served as Assistant Minister for Public Affairs.
Meeting Tolbert in Bentol
We set out to Bentol on the second Wednesday in March, a national holiday legislatively designated as Decoration Day to commemorate the dead. The shy city was renamed from Bensonville when Tolbert became President of Liberia. The 'ville' was dropped, to give way to 'Tol' in the President's surname. In ceaseless efforts to avoid the refulgent lifestyle of his predecessor, President Tolbert chose to live at his private home in Bentol, about 40 miles outside of Monrovia, and came to work at the Executive Mansion every morning. Once in a while, he would spend the night on the eight-floor residence of the Mansion, where First Lady Victoria David Tolbert and at least a dozen grandchildren lived.
Naigow and I arrived early in Bentol without appointment, and were initially fortunate to meet the President outside. He was expectedly somber and reflective, and clad in his usual white safari suit, otherwise known as the "swear-in-suit." (The simple outfit was made famous by Tolbert when upon being informed on his farm that President Tubman was dead, he wasted no time coming to Monrovia where he was immediately sworn in as President. He was still wearing the blue, flat-collar, short-sleeve shirt, with matching pants. This was a total contrast to the Western coat suit religiously worn during the Tubman administration. From there, Tolbert threw away not only the "tail coat and top hat" legacy, but also set out a new official dress code that was less expensive and convenient for the hot tropical weather......
Without saying a word to us, Tolbert went on hymning what sounded like the favorite Liberian Church pastime, "Amazing Grace." Tolbert then moved on slowly next to the family plot, and stood before the grave of his younger brother, Steve. The controversial self-made millionaire was not only his elder brother’s first Minister of Finance, but was generally seen as the key decision-maker in government. The President evidently never stopped mourning his brother’s fatal plane crash along the southeastern shores of Liberia in April, l975. Least did the President expect that his own demise would occur in another April, having gone through a damaging rice riot a year earlier also in April. What a month!
We quietly followed the President as he laid wreathes on the grave. It was the first time I saw the much-talked about tomb that the President erected for himself. A full human-size portrait with wings, often portrayed in the West as an angel, was carved in white marble and mounted on the platform of the tomb. A month later, the majestic structure would stand empty, even though the anticipated resident was no longer alive.
When we gauged Tolbert was ready to talk, we appealed for the release of Boley, knowing that the President had publicly promised to be rough in the matter. We told him our friend was innocent and was not a member of Baccus Matthews’ PPP party as alleged by the government. Tolbert turned around and gave us a look that made us wish we had not taken the trip. For the first time I heard Tolbert talked about the personal relation between him and Boley. The President said he was disappointed that someone like Boley whom he personally sponsored in high school and college could undermine his government. He angrily told us he would not release Boley, and that the "law has to take its course." Boley some time later told me that contrary to what the President was claiming, it was President William V.S. Tubman who paid his school fees in l968 and '69, through the Tubman Goodwill Scholarship. He said he traveled to the United States for college with less than five dollars in his pocket, and worked his way through to graduate studies. Boley said at Rick's Institute, a Tolbert-Baptist supervised mission school near Monrovia, he was once so pressed for tuition he had to travel to Grand Gedeh, where his father, a local commissioner, could hardly rescue him. Boley however acknowledged a relationship with the Tolbert family, but could not tell me the precise nature.
Tolbert was not in the mood of detailing his relationship with Boley other than the school fees he told us about. Neither did we have the luxury or the interest in judging his claims. Tolbert's countenance was now beaming with unmistakable anger. After telling us what the law would do to Boley, he had something else that left us in cold sweat. "Even you standing here," Tolbert quipped, pointing his forefinger at us. "How do I know you’re not mixed up with this thing," referring to the purported conspiracy against his administration.
The observation effectively brought the meeting to an end, at least for the Boley topic. The President sat, staring at us without saying anything, a behavior totally uncharacteristic of the man. He could not be more direct in letting us know it was just a matter of time, and we would be joining our dear friend at the stockade. We were happy when the President granted our request "to take leave of Your Excellency." The trip from Bentol to Monrovia was probably the longest forty-minute drive I have ever endured. Indeed we reached Monrovia with the self-assurance that our days outside of prison were numbered.
By the end of March, l980, few people in Monrovia needed a lecture to realize that the government was indeed on the verge of rupture. President Tolbert was at the zenith of his unpopularity, and it was pathetically evident in Monrovia. One incident arranged by the government itself was perhaps the most graphic illustration that it was about time the President strategically planned his exit in grace before he was forced into disgrace by foes and friends. The Ministry of Education hastily organized a children’s parade in honor of the President to show that he was still popular with his "precious jewels." At the end of the parade, a program was held in the backyard of the Executive Mansion, with Tolbert himself in attendance.
Children ranging from the ages of 10 to 14 actually jeered the President when he started talking. They didn’t stop there. Some of them actually had the courage to throw paper scraps at the President. To the utter chagrin of the organizers, the children kept on booing Tolbert until his speech became inaudible. I had never seen anything like that. The event turned so sour until the Minister of Information, in classic press censorship, promptly "advised" that the portion of the event mocking the President should never be publicized. Journalists at the program were unanimous that there was little political hope for the President. It was hard believing this was the same William R. Tolbert, Jr., who many people admirably called "speedy" for his maverick reform agenda when he first became President in 1971.
The capital was simultaneously inundated with whispers that conservative hard-liners in the government were planning to overthrow their own government in order to save the minority political dynasty. Besides watching the unpopularity of the President, they felt he was too weak to handle the bellicose opposition. Flamboyant and burly Justice Minister Joseph "Perry Mason" Chesson was said to have been behind the internal plot. His co-sponsor was said to be Reginald Townsend, the all-powerful Tolbert confidante and Chairman of the ruling True Whig Party. According to the grapevine, the Chesson-Townsend coup would have taken place on Thursday, April 17; a day after Tolbert left for the independence celebrations of Zimbabwe as Current Chairman of the Organization of African Unity. According to the story, the Police forces under the Ministry of Justice would be used for the operation. The police became notoriously powerful from their unsparing treatment of demonstrators on April 14.
The Oldguard concluded that tough action was overdue. They argued that Tolbert should have gotten rid of the agitators during or immediately after the April 14 Rice Riots. The solution therefore was to take hold of the government and slay the detainees while Tolbert was away. It was not clear whether the plan had the President’s endorsement. Some analysts hypothesized that the news of such a critical plan could not have been circulating in Monrovia with the President totally ignorant about it. In all of this, it should not be forgotten that Liberians are well known as insatiable rumormongers. My colleagues and I could not access any conclusive evidence that Chesson and Townsend actually had such a plan, even though there was plausible motive. Family members of the two officials brushed off the entire story.
Two years into the Tolbert regime, global rise in the prices of critical commodities like petroleum products, had begun inflicting a grinding effect on the import-dependent Liberian consumers. The l973 global oil crisis astronomically hiked the prices of essential and non-essential commodities in Liberia. Imported inflation continually heaved the cost of living, despite the occasional increase in salary and fringe benefits. Personnel financial outlay combined with the huge cost of certain development projects to raise government expenditures from about $130 million in l975 to about $265 in l978. (Van der Kraj, 353). The decline in both domestic and external revenue performances produced a budget deficit of $100 million in the fiscal year before the coup. (Ibid.)
Despite the financial trouble, Liberia decided to host a costly OAU Summit in l979, involving a vast array of construction projects. The conference committee chose a site in Virginia, about 25 miles west of Monrovia to build a five-star Hotel Africa with more than fifty villas and a conference complex. In the south of Monrovia, the 37-mile route to the Roberts International Airport was resurfaced and with new streetlights installed. A new terminal building was the hallmark of the airport project. Back in Monrovia, a completely new bridge was erected across the Mesurado River to double the access to the adjacent Bushrod Island. Another bridge at the north end of the Island over the St. Paul River was completely rehabilitated to help with traffic flow to the conference center.
The Administration resorted to huge and risky borrowings to finance the nearly $200 million OAU projects as early as l976. Repayment grace periods for the loan were short, and no grants were obtained to offset the burden. Development and other OAU unrelated projects remained active, equally requiring substantial finance. In l978 alone, about a quarter of a billion dollars was borrowed to support the budget (Vander Kraaj). The repayment crunch in the next few years would have had to force the government to severely cut its personnel and infrastructure expenditure as well as reschedule its external debt in order to salvage the economy. Revised tax incentives and a conducive atmosphere also had to obtain in order for investors to return. For the government, reducing salaries that had been previously increased to relieve high cost of living was a fertile ground for political blowup. The personnel cost could not be sliced without a political backlash.
The OAU ended leaving the Administration with huge debts, deficits, and a virtually bankrupt treasury. Prospects for investors remained bleak with the degenerating political climate. The Administration was now delinquent in the payment of civil servant salaries.
This financial backdrop came several years after Tolbert stopped the ‘Public Relations Officer’ system of his predecessor, drying up the "free money" loophole in the government. The PRO arrangement under William V. S. Tubman was a network of individuals who served virtually as spies for the President in all Liberian communities. Becoming a PR Officer did not require any training or experience. The PRO’s were mostly found among the unemployed, the elderly, and ultimately just about anyone who could be recommended by any known official of government. These individuals became notorious for lying and were a major facet in Tubman’s political grip over the citizenry. Other PRO’s simply took salary at the end of the month without reporting anything. This way, the system was serving as a de-facto welfare program for the elderly and women. The gratuitous policy endeared the President to a sizeable portion of the population.
The PR system only reinforced the culture of laziness in urban Liberia, a condition that was topical in the works of reputed Liberian scholars like Edward Wilmot Blyden and Abayomi Karnga. With the abolition of the PR system, older Liberians used to the system became nostalgic when frustration set in from the escalating cost of living.
The turnabout was a sad story, given the fact that the Liberian economy had promising features in the beginning. Tolbert began with a conscious policy of creating an adept work force, which was expected to ward off the effects of the global price problems. As the most prestigious employer, the government attracted young Liberian professionals from the United States and Europe. Finance Minister Stephen Tolbert, brother of the President, was behind the inflow of qualified Liberians. He spurred productivity in the revenue and tax management system by bringing in young Liberian professionals mainly from the United States and motivated those already in the country. The professionals included Tax Specialist Byron Tarr and Rudolph Johnson.
The Tolbert policy created a new and burgeoning financial middle class. The added purchasing power worked as a viable support base in the African extended family system, where the more fortunate takes care of the others. But by late l977, the growing economic burden had shattered that financial cushion. Common people soon saw the middle class leaders as part of the "system" of exploitation, or had themselves become active sympathizers of the movement for change. In the latter's case; their employer and source of income, the government, no longer saw them as loyal partners.
The stakes got high, further irritating the Administration's political headache. The opposition groups knew the bad economic condition and the attrition rate of government professionals were a platform ripe for political exploitation. While the government kept talking in sophisticated economic language, the activists were adding the disgruntled technocrats to the starkly impoverished urban communities that were already on board. A parallel message to the subterranean economy was that it was right to evade taxation and smuggle things out because Tolbert, his families, and government officials in general were utterly corrupt. The opposition continuously preached that every government decision was taken to help the financial interest of the ruling clique, and management /labor relations was crass example of "Monkey work baboon draw."
William R. Tolbert, the innovator, was now on the defensive. His entourage for progress was disintegrating, and the Oldguard could not salvage it. The President had lost in his efforts to press Liberians into a mentality of individual self-reliance and embrace the virtue of earning one’s livelihood. Instead, he remained depicted as a mean-spirited leader who had no heart for his compatriots living under severe financial hardship.
Last Days with America
Liberia’s diplomatic, political and urban social culture fell short of the African character it was supposed to portray as the oldest republic on the continent. The historical ties to the United States did not only influence the outlook, nomenclature and functions of the institutions of government, but reflected in the behavior of "educated" Liberians. Foreign policy conduct was tailored to match that of the United States, giving a clear image to Africans that Monrovia was a political and cultural satellite of Washington.
President Tolbert’s leadership attempted to change that outlook, as nominal as it may have appeared. He changed the style and names of cabinet institutions from the American name "Department" to "Ministry" to match the European trend in Africa. He expanded permanent diplomatic representation beyond the West into the Soviet Bloc countries. His administration even flirted with the idea of radically amending the concession agreement with Firestone Rubber Plantation, the cornerstone of American economic and diplomatic interest in Liberia.
While the nomenclature and other cosmetic changes remained, the United States never actually ceased to be the fulcrum of Liberian domestic and foreign policy orientation. Tolbert took actions to convince Washington that commitment to US friendship was a priority. In the throes leading to l980, it was particularly crucial to know the disposition of the United States government.
Officials of the Ministry of Information struck an opportunity to examine US inclination when they received an invitation for "tea" from the Americans. The venue was a US diplomat's residence near the Executive Mansion. It was actually one of the routine tete-a-tete diplomats often had in Monrovia in their opinion search. As an Assistant Minister, I was invited along with my bosses, Minister Johnny McClain, Deputy Minister Naigow and Deputy Minister for Culture, the late Bai T. Moore. The setting was casual enough to delude a new comer. Our host soon had us comfortably seated on leather covered cushions around a floor level round table. With his legs spread out signaling that all present should make themselves similarly comfortable, the diplomat and two of his colleagues from the embassy initiated an exchange of undeserved compliments whose bareness made us actually restless.
With the political turbulence that was rocking the country, we all knew there was a catch to the diplomat's invitation and niceties. He threw out a question and specifically asked for our individual response. "What would happen outside Monrovia if more demonstrations took place in the capital?" It was obvious he was trying to find out how the rural populace would react if Tolbert were overthrown. The embassy seemed to have known as most people in Monrovia, what the urban reaction would be. The question in my mind was whether Tolbert would fall during his interior tours or would it happen to him in Monrovia.
It became transparent that the diplomat was in a fact-finding exercise to gather the genuine opinion of officials of government who were moderate and accessible. I had no idea how our assessment of rural action would have impacted American embassy opinion, but we did a poor job at it. We talked in generalities with no specific evidence to show that people in non-urban Liberia would be angry about a coup. Our limitations were unavoidable. We were all officials from the Ministry of Information, but had different political opinions. Second, no one was prepared to appear as a "traitor" to the government and be branded as decrying the government in front of the Americans. After hours of talk with the plates of cheese cubes, potato chips and mixed nuts exhausted, we were all in the same spot we began. Then by some coincidence, my seniors and I decided to deploy journalistic tactics by turning into interviewers. We wanted to know what the Americans thought.
Near the end, we were convinced that the United States had decided to become simply political with the restless state of affairs in the country. They evidently concluded that change was inevitable. Our host was lured into exposing his hitherto veiled opinion that the political situation was bound to get worse. It appeared they were only curious about the potential of a chaotic backlash to a military takeover.
The embassy personnel’s inquiries about the interior were understandable. In a l978 Human Rights report to the American legislature, the U.S. State Department wanted their government to believe that "The Liberian government is strongly committed to extending direct assistance to the country’s poor." The report indicated that "President Tolbert has repeatedly stated his firm dedication to a government responsive to the needs of his people. He has enthusiastically adopted the new direction concept in U.S. aid with its emphasis on assistance to the rural poor in the past several years. Liberia’s budget has been increasingly structured toward this end." (Footnote page 66).
Until l979 when the political heat began spewing flames, the U.S. government was copiously praising the Tolbert government as holding one of the best human rights records in Africa. In the same l978 State Department report, the Jimmy Carter Administration submitted: "Torture is neither sanctioned nor practiced in Liberia… and arbitrary arrest or imprisonment has not taken place in recent years. There are no known political prisoners in Liberia. …Access to the protection of the legal system is available to all. Trials are fair and public." (Foot note page 65)
The United States was reciprocating Tolbert's goodwill. Since the death of the independent minded Steve Tolbert almost eight years past, his brother, the President, adopted unequivocally friendly policies toward the United States. The Tolbert government went to length in showing that the United States had nothing to do with the deteriorating political climate in the country. In the eyes of the government, the Soviet Union was the culprit.
In the rice riot episode, the government accused the Soviets of supporting opposition groups to overthrow the government. The administration ordered an immediate reduction in the number of diplomats at the Soviet embassy from six to three. Alexander Krylovich, correspondent of the Soviet news agency, TASS, was given 48 hours to leave Liberia earlier for "activities incompatible with his status as a diplomat and a foreign correspondent." The then Deputy Minister of National Security, Wilfred Clarke, once called to "advise" me against any serious friendship with Krylovich, who, he said, was getting too close to me.
Why then in all of this the US government, at least through impressions gleaned from our encounters with its diplomats in Monrovia, seemed resigned to the fall of the Tolbert regime?..............
The OAU Outlet
The Americans were important in the measure of foreign relation conduct for the government in Monrovia, but Tolbert had another international opportunity to salvage his political standing. The President had just taken on the mantle of "Current Chairman" of the Organization of African Unity. This title conferred on the incumbent authority to serve as chief spokesman and ceremoniously as the premier leader of the continent. The occupant traditionally uses this prestigious status to promote his standing in regional and international relations, among other things.
The position was particularly useful to Tolbert. He needed the opening not only to pursue his international agenda, but also as a conduit to bolster his dwindling domestic image. Having frequently hosted various African liberation leaders since his incumbency in l971, Tolbert was now poised to reap diplomatic reward from the attainment of independence in Zimbabwe, known previously as Rhodesia. As OAU chairman, Tolbert was speaking in the name of Africa against any attempt to stall the discussions for Zimbabwe independence. The former colonizing state, Britain, was hosting the conference in London. Black Africa was against a transitional leadership arrangement headed by Bishop Abel Muzorewa and backed by the white racist erstwhile Prime Minister, Ian Smith. The Liberian government, as chair of the OAU, wasted no time in condemning the interim authority, which the OAU considered as a puppet of the white racist establishment. After a successful diplomatic campaign for majority rule, Tolbert was now headed for the Zimbabwe independence celebrations on April 16 in Harare, the capital.
In West Africa, Tolbert’s personal relation with Guinean President Sekou Toure and Ivorian leader Felix Houphouet-Boigny was an asset for the Liberian leader. He mediated a long-standing dispute Toure had with Boigny and the Senegalese leader Leopold Sedar Senghor. Guinean troops sent to help Tolbert shortly after the rice riots gave him hope that a bigger help would come from Africa if he were in political trouble again.
All was not rosy in assuming the continental leadership. The Tolbert government’s account of how nearly $200 million was used to host the l979 OAU conference became a matter of public debate. Foreign Minister Cecil Dennis, chairman of the conference implementation committee, was having difficulty explaining how the money was used amidst widespread rumors that the money was a victim of corruption. From workers on the site to a cross-section of the population, there were complaints about how the money was used, threatening to undermine the government’s plan to exploit the super-political leadership of Africa. Finance Minister James Philips and his staff became subject of a financial scandal hovering over a leased hotel boat brought in to accommodate OAU guests. The boat contract was officially put at $2.2 million, an amount said to have been inflated by the government officials. Philips resigned later, denying any wrongdoing but wanted to maintain his integrity. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Deputy Minister at Finance, did not only remain in the Finance Ministry, but was elevated to replace Philips. Gerald Padmore, the principal deputy, resigned in apparent protest over the move. It was the second time Padmore was being sidelined for the post, the first being the placement of Philips who was brought in from the outside while Padmore was the senior deputy.
At the government owned Liberia Broadcasting Corporation, my colleagues and I in the news department were equally under public pressure to "say something" about the overall financial credibility of the OAU project. The ELTV ‘Commentary After the News’ program became the ideal television forum. Although we were a government institution, we tried putting through our individual or collective political opinions. I knew that as head of the news department and presenter of the news and its commentary, I would have been directly held responsible for any negative comment on what was becoming an OAU Summit financial infamy. In the resulting commentary, which the news department thought was balanced, I suggested that the government should audit the OAU conference hosting accounts in order to bring the speculations to rest. The audit was never carried out, and the suspicion of corruption lingered on. That was the last of the ‘commentary after the news.’ We received instructions to remove the program off television.
With all known government opponents either in jail, wanted, or placed under surveillance in the aftermath of the PPP demand that the Tolbert administration should resign, it was anyone’s guess whether the government or its adversaries would survive the next several weeks. The compass pointed more to the irrecoverable collapse of the century old rule of the "settlers," who make up about 3 percent of the population.
Liberia’s political spiral before the military coup was in cadence with a certain social practice considered not only an absolute taboo, but also a curse in the African culture. Homosexuality was streaming down from the upper echelon of the government into the general urban society. At least two senior ministers, an associate justice of the Supreme Court and heads of several public corporations were almost openly running a homosexual syndicate. In one of the government ministries, being a ‘punk’, as Liberians call homosexuals, was almost the only certain way of aspiring to higher positions among young professionals.
The associate justice and his friend, a legislator from the southeast of the country, set up what was called ‘The Blue Room’ in the eastern Monrovia suburb of Gardnersville. Besides archconservatives like House Speaker Richard Henries, Reginald Townsend and other officials like the President’s son-in-law and Defense Minister Burleigh Holder, who were totally against homosexuality, the Blue Room hosted most of the government’s who is who. As a supplementary activity, the senior punks occasionally enlisted both men and women into steamy orgies lasting entire weekends.
Young boys were recruited, kept in houses in various communities, waiting to respond to their patrons’ instant demands. This produced a high incidence of high school dropouts. The frustrated wives of these homosexual patrons either decided to become 'gay' too or chased "free" young men all over town. Productive young men abandoned their work or education to become parasites. This quickly introduced Liberians to the word "pimp," used in the United States to generally refer to men who sexually exploit women for their livelihood.
Homosexual habit in Liberia was first identified with four men in Monrovia. Two were in government and the others were wealthy businessmen. They had all been to school in England and where almost always quietly ridiculed whenever seen in Monrovia, despite their positions. The assumption was that they were supposed to be demented with such a conduct, given the traditional West African cultural setting. It was assumed that their influence on other men in the community was severely inconsequential. By the end of nearly a decade of the Tolbert Administration, however, these men had succeeded in multiplying their flocks not only among boys across the capital but well into the layers of government upper crust. Instead of homosexuality being an exception, it had now ironically risen to a criterion for being "in tune" and getting lucrative jobs in some government workplaces. The religious community at large and traditional cultural leaders gave their verdict: the country was cursed.
Chapter II –Toppling the Regime
The uncertainty that swallowed up the nation on the eve of the military takeover had an ironic twist. People confusingly speculated some sort of coup was in the making, but the military was hardly the focus. The Police Force had become notoriously powerful from their brusque behavior during the l979 rice riots. Their 'morale' was high, and they appeared unconquerable. Justice Minister Joseph Chesson was out on radio assuring President Tolbert that everything was under control and the President should "sleep."
The hesitant stance of the army in the protest painted them powerless and untrustworthy in the sight of the establishment. The public was understandably swayed by that portrayal, not realizing the refusal of the soldiers to stop the crowd on that day was more an act of solidarity with the rioters, and not weakness. Besides, Tolbert seemed to have galvanized his control over the Armed Forces by placing his aviator cousin, Lt. Gen. Franklin Smith, as Chief of Staff. When the soldiers finally struck on the night of April 12, l980, few could honestly claim they knew that the enlisted men could have actually tried and succeeded.
How it Happened
........ When the shooting started at the Mansion on April 11, the various scenarios I mapped out to satisfy my curiosity could not just match with unfolding events. I kept asking Peter Naigow on the phone whether he had any further concrete information. Naigow told me to give him five minutes. I was sure he would have something on the unfolding saga. And for sure, the phone rang in less than five minutes. "GV, serious shooting is going on in the Executive Mansion yard. We don’t know who is doing the shooting, but I’ll get back to you." At about 1:00 a.m., he called and said Brigadier Charles Railey had been shot and killed. Railey was the commander of the elite Executive Mansion Battalion, a branch of the Liberian military that was responsible for the military security of the President. Up to that point the identity of the attackers was still not known, but we began to conclude that it might not have been the Chesson-Townsend coup scenario. According to the Monrovia rumor mill, these officials were supposed to have moved only after the President had left for Zimbabwe. Firefight on the Mansion ground was not necessary as they would have already been in charge of the Mansion upon the departure of the President. At about 1:40, Naigow called me to say Tolbert had been killed. It was amazing how Naigow was sitting home but knew exactly what was happening about 12 miles away in the dark Executive Mansion compound. He indeed had connections.
I could not control my nerves. Even though one time or the other we had been agitating or advocating for change, and had actually visualized where Tolbert would be peacefully removed, but only if he would live and be replaced by his Vice President Methodist Bishop Bennie Warner, I did not know how to handle Tolbert being actually killed. After all, this was a novelty in the life of Liberians that a sitting President was being killed. But the key question at that point was the identity of the coup makers.
Tolbert’s decision to spend the night of his death at the Executive Mansion instead of his private residence in Bentol was partially couched in the advice of an apparently concerned wife who was worried that a trip that late to Bentol was dangerous. It was better to pass the night at the Mansion. (Footnote Lifted UP) Victoria David Tolbert, the First Lady, lived with a dozen or more grandchildren on the eight floor residential quarters of the Executive Mansion, and met with the President during work days or on Sunday at their Baptist Church in Bentol. The President's occasional overnight stay at the Mansion was not scheduled. Depending on his daily program, he would take an abrupt decision to stay in the capital.
President Tolbert was solemnly performing his role as the leader of Liberia's Baptist Church during the climax of a weeklong multi-denominational church revival at the Centennial Pavilion in downtown Monrovia. The program ended shortly before midnight, and Tolbert had already taken the advice of his wife not to risk traveling the winding and bushy road to his hometown that night. He returned to the Mansion and never made it out.
Events unfolded rapidly as soon as the President arrived at the Mansion. In writings preceding this book, there has been no detailed account of how the President was assassinated. For sometime, individual members of the group that overthrew the government were tightlipped about the April 12 operation. It was several years later that one of them developed trust to share his experiences with me. In my search earlier, however, I discovered accidentally that the answer had always been within my immediate reach. A boyhood friend and personnel of the Special Security Service (SSS) since l976, was in the midst of the crisis at the Mansion with the Tolbert family, and miraculously survived. In an exclusive discussion with me, JCK described the incidents step by step, including the actual shooting of the President and how he himself almost lost his life as a security duty officer that night. JCK narrated the circumstances in anecdotes that for the first time revealed the details and put the missing pieces together: He said...................................
US and USSR Puzzle
A puzzle that has haunted April 12 is whether the soldiers were alone or had external collaborators. It has always been quietly but widely speculated in Liberian circles that masked Caucasians did the actual killing of the President. Some bluntly believe the Americans sponsored the coup. As often the case in these matters, it has been difficult to establish hard evidence. Circumstances and isolated individual accounts of the event are the best sources for any conclusion at this moment.
KCK's account of the incident clearly points out that............... was the individual who shot Tolbert. In her book, "Lifted Up," Mrs. Victoria Tolbert said the men who entered the eight floor and killed her husband were wearing masks. But she said these masks were actual painting on the faces of the men, some of whom were half-naked. This tends to contradict the popularly held notions that the killers of Tolbert were wearing actual masks used in commando operations or bank robberies. Some Liberians believe the masked gunmen were American marines.
The speculation further loses ground with KCK’s account. He said he saw only black people on the residential eight floor of the Mansion that night. All of those he recognized became members of the ruling People's Redemption Council the next day. The cynic could hypothesize that the Americans involved were black people and had been asked to mark their faces in order to look like their Liberian partners.
The KCK and Victoria Tolbert detailed descriptions of what physically happened on the eight floor are similar. They both talk about black people, and even mention Ma Mona, the Tolbert family maid, as well as an assigned loyal soldier nicknamed, 'Railroad.' The two narrators were however confined to the eight floor and only came out at specific times before and after a series of events. There was another story of what was happening outside of the eight floor, and an even bigger story about activities connected with the actual planning of the coup...........
From the start, it was clear that the main organizers of the coup were Podier, Weh Syen, Quiwonkpa, and Fallah Varney. The four men sent for Doe after the first two meetings. In confirming this later, Doe said he was at a private diamond mining project in Mano River, Cape Mount County, when his friends asked he return to Monrovia and join them. In their strategy, the five men were to coordinate the entire operation, deciding precisely when to hit........
......"Maj. Dee", my contact, revealed something that I thought was crucial to maintaining the confidentiality of the secret plan. He said at no time did the 17 men have a meeting together. They would have meetings in numbers of five and seven, but always convened with the presence of Podier, Weh Syen, Quiwonkpa or Doe. Dee then said he was convinced that the four men were seeing some people outside of their military arrangement. He said the five organizers were tightlipped and believed their colleagues did not suspect outside linkage. Dee said he cannot speculate who the patrons were, but they were certainly there.
The political picture was complicated. While the known coup makers received their regular military training from Americans as the bulk of their colleagues in the Liberian army, leading coup figures liked Thomas Weh Syen, were bona-fide members of Matthews' PPP. There was no public knowledge of PPP financial backers in the government or in the business community. On the surface and in government’s perennial descriptions, the PPP was mostly a collection of agitators with no money. Yet the group’s leaders were surviving, had access to vehicles and rented decent building for their party headquarters.
The government several months' back publicly pointed to the Russians as being in the vanguard for Matthews and other opponents. Though the Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Ulanov in Monrovia during the period of the coup had endeared himself to top Liberian government officials and members of the press, it was still a reality that his country had been publicly humiliated during the rice riots. And at the height of the cold war, the Soviet Union did not seem ready to relinquish its quest for influence in countries like Liberia. As one of the two superpowers along with the United States, plus their cumulative experience in Monrovia, the Soviet Union had motive to be interested in the outcome of the power struggle in Liberia..................
Coup Within Coup
Some fears that something serious must have been going on during the night at the Mansion was validated by the failure of the state owned ELBC radio to come on as scheduled at 5:30 a.m. The shooting throughout the night added credence to the speculation that the detainees were either being killed or the alleged Chesson Coup was taking place.
Once again on the line, Peter Naigow and I already concluded it was a coup, but still had no idea who might have been the perpetrators. The answer came few minutes after 8:00 a.m. Liberians first heard some fumbling with what seemed to have been an equipment in the radio studio, and then some incomprehensible voices and then finally an audible order to the studio personnel. "Play it now," a gasping but authoritative voice commanded. Then the Liberian national anthem was aired, followed by the unforgettable statement announcing the coup. The spokesman identified himself and then informed the anxious radio audience that the "The True Whig Party government of William R. Tolbert has been toppled by the Armed forces of Liberia because of rampant corruption."
Doe disclosed that the soldiers were now on their way to free Matthews, Boley, and the rest of the political prisoners at the BTC barracks post stockade. But that was not true. I learned much after that the inmates had been freed at about 4:00 a.m., four hours before the ELBC radio announcement. Thomas Quiwonkpa and Larry Borteh led the troops that liberated the activists, following a brief gun battle that claimed the life of the feared Post Stockade Commander, Maj. Caephart. George Boley told me Thomas Weh Syen had earlier slipped by and informed them in Krahn that Tolbert was dead, and inmates at the stockade would be released shortly. The liberated men immediately moved to the Mansion where Matthews and Oscar Quiah drafted the statement Doe read on the radio. Boley told me he left Quiah and Matthews typing the statement on an old manual typewriter found at one of the huts in the backyard of the Mansion, where the work was done. Boley went out briefly to undo the notorious Belle Yella prisoner haircut the guards had given him three days before the coup.
In preparing the radio statement, the soldiers and their partners actually staged a coup within a coup when it was declared that no enlisted man from the Armed Forces should take orders from commissioned officers (from lieutenant upward). In one stroke, the young soldiers had unseated a government of a century old minority dynasty, freed all political prisoners, and nullified the authority of their military bosses. From what ensued later, the coup against the military top brass was the most strategic and effective move that consolidated the takeover. Most of the soldiers serving as bodyguards to the officers quickly disrobed their bosses and incarcerated them. It emasculated the potential for an officer' countercoup.
Soldiers in Liberia were living below the nadir of the economic ladder, and were among the most illiterate in the society. The absence of external and internal war and the proliferation of civilian security agencies drastically reduced the usefulness of the military. In the last two decades of the Tubman and Tolbert era, the soldiers were misused as personal security guards and errand dispatchers in the service of top government officials. They were unintentionally exposed to the wealth of their civilian bosses, and yet remained financially stranded. They depended on outside handouts to augment their meager and scarcely paid salaries. The trend encouraged many soldiers, like Samuel Doe, to frequently desert their posts in search of revenue at the alluvial diamond mines up country.
The morale of the Liberian army was simply at its lowest ebb in history. The men could no longer match their active and feared predecessors that operated at different historical periods. The early army was mostly a reserved militia occasionally brought out to defend the settlers and maintain civil order among them. Europeans and Americans were brought in to experimentally head a formally organized armed forces, but those experiences did not augur well for the settlers. (Footnote). Liberians organized the Liberia Frontier Force, which used a large number of indigenous people to help suppress their own people in wars and hinterland administration. The fate of fierce battles in the Kru, Grebo, Gola and Dei wars was determined through the use of the army from Monrovia. For better or worse the soldiers saw their Fabian victories in some of these wars as reason to be proud.
The lack of roads and urbanization created atmosphere in the hinterland for individual soldiers to exact material benefits and unearned treatment from the inhabitants. This practice was particularly pervasive in the early l950’s in Upper Lofa County, where the Gbandi Town of Sevalahun was a classic victim of soldier exploits. My elder brother and I were sent to this culturally rich area of the Kolahun District to study institutional Liberian culture while at the same time undergo Koran studies with Alhaji Lansanah Kromah, the Imam and our paternal uncle (footnote). There was hardly a month we did not hear about the arrival of a soldier who had arrived and was demanding he be given any number of domestic animals, bags of rice and even fruit from the townspeople. This was totally strange to me as our residence in Monrovia was on Camp Johnson Road, near the BTC military barracks. In Monrovia, we saw soldiers everyday with and without sergeant and corporal stripes go about their business without harassing people. I could not understand why the soldiers coming to places like Sevalahun even without stripes presented themselves as the epitome of government authority. Town Chief Boakai Nehma was usually courteous to the soldiers and fed them, as any visitor would be treated. The chief, a father in law to my uncle, however never allowed the rogue soldiers to abscond with people’s properties. The Sevalahun spirit took time to spread in other areas, but together with urbanization, it eventually inspired a rebellion against soldier exploitation of rural dwellers.
Over the years the military were confined to their detachment headquarters in deplorable mud huts and under conditions that clearly indicated that they in turn were now the victims of change. Yet as one of the sources of massive government employment that did not require educational standards, many rural people enlisted. The army also became attractive to young indigenous people who saw their grandparents suffer at the hands of their indigenous brethren from Monrovia. The Lorma, Krahn, Kru, Gio and Kpelle ethnic groups accounted for the largest enlistment in that order. Mocking urban Liberians ungratefully described as cowardice the Lorma’s exemplary discipline in the army. (Footnote)....................
The government put together a small band of individuals at the Defense Ministry to administer the military as privileged officers. Once in a while, an indigenous officer would sprout in a key function, but usually after being tested for long and unquestionable loyalty to the system. Henry Koboi Johnson, a Lorma from Lofa rose to Lieutenant General and became AFL Chief of Staff. Tolbert promptly replaced him after the uncooperative performance of the army during the rice riots. His successor, Col. Franklin Smith, was formerly head of the unarmed AFL aviation unit. The President's cousin remained irrelevant when the enlisted soldiers pulled off their feat on April 12.
The overthrowing of the government lasted only four hours with virtually no battle. AFL senior officers were caught with their pants down, as were all security agencies and government officials. The Doe radio order to his fellow enlisted men sealed the fate of the senior officers. The men jubilantly complied in rounding up their deposed top brass.
By daylight, Liberians had awoken to a change they generally wished for, but were still shocked that it actually happened. The unknown identities of the coup makers generated more mystery in the event. The unanswered questions were just too many for the analysts at that point. Most people were concerned about their safety. In two hours, Monrovia was literally "upside-down." The jubilant crowds were chanting songs and slogans all over the city, and soldiers were brandishing weapons, riding in confiscated or looted vehicles. The oligarchy of 133 years finally disintegrated, or at least appeared that way.
Finding a Cabinet
Some time back, a fellow professor at the University of Liberia school of Communication and I conceptualized that those individuals who rely on various strategies and tactics short of arms in rebelling against a system or concept should be appropriately labeled as ‘white-collar rebels.’ Those whose tactics involve armed struggle are ‘blue-collar rebels.’ The agitator of the first order could conceivably transform into the latter, and the change would be irreversible. Similar to a soldier whose assumption of a non-military assignment does not negate his military experience, so can the blue collar rebel perform white collar functions without shedding his blue-collar experience. Along this reasoning, the coup makers performed the ultimately functional task of the blue-collar rebels. White-collar rebels like Matthews and Tipoteh stimulated the environmental foundation for the blue-collar mission.
The new cabinet lineup prioritized those who had rebelled against the TWP regime through open opposition or as silent collaborators. In the marriage, the soldiers saw the WC rebels as competent agents who knew how a government should work to achieve the prosperity everybody was urging. So they put together a cabinet that included Baccus Matthews as Foreign Minister and George Boley as Minister of State for Presidential Affairs. Oscar Quiah was named Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and Urban Reconstruction while Chea Cheapo was appointed Justice Minister. Our military insider said these four cellmates were present during the selection of the cabinet and were instrumental in the appointment of their MOJA rivals who had not been arrested before the overnight fall of Tolbert. MOJA leader Togba-Nah Tipoteh was given the Planning and Economic Affairs portfolio while his colleague H. Boima Fahnbulleh became Education Minister. Another MOJA leader, Dew Mason, was later appointed as Chairman of the National Investment Commission.
Some political observers believed it was unselfish for the PPP members to have influenced the inclusion of their MOJA rivals in the cabinet. But others said it was not praiseworthy because the PPP had taken the best jobs. The four positions given to the PPP members and their unconfirmed sympathizer Boley are generally seen as the most important cabinet posts, in addition to the Finance Minister.
In rationalizing the individual appointments, the Foreign Ministry became the most contentious. Supporters of MOJA argued that Boima Fahnbulleh who had a Ph.D. in Political Science was the best choice to handle international relations, and not Baccus Matthews. They said Boley who obtained a doctorate in Educational Administration and was Assistant Minister of Education before the arrest, belonged to his former Ministry. They said Baccus Matthews should have been given the Presidential Affairs portfolio or sent to the Ministry of Local Government since he said he was the champion of the grassroots and common people. The Matthews allies pointed to the fact that besides having a university degree in political science, Matthews had practical experience from his previous diplomatic assignment at the Liberian Consulate in New York. There was no serious debate over the appointment of the lawyer Cheapo as Justice Minister.
The debate over the cabinet apportionment remained basically an intellectual exercise as the young soldiers had already finalized the list and made it public. Only the distant future and the return of calm would provide opportunity to revisit the debate. And it did come to past a year later when Baccus Matthews was dismissed. The PRC transferred Fahnbulleh to Foreign Affairs and Boley went back to Education.
Another feature of the cabinet selection was that once the PPP and MOJA Ministers were listed, the coup makers allowed no further interference in the apportionment of the remaining posts. The soldiers distributed their share of the top jobs on the basis of who was a friend, ethnic relative, or who they admired. Major Perry Zulu, a Krahn and a financial officer at the Defense Ministry, was decisively appointed to the critical Finance Minister position. In certain cases, the soldiers rewarded individuals for special acts of friendship or support rendered during the coup operations. This determined the selection of Gabriel Nimley as Information Minister and Maj. Samuel B. Pearson as Minister of Defense. A broadcast journalist at ELBC, Nimley was the one helping Doe and his colleagues open the radio station that morning. The soldiers were not interested in knowing whether Nimley was a college graduate. They knew him as a popular newscaster and more importantly, he was there to help them. That decision was final despite a friend’s recommendation to the soldiers that Peter Naigow be appointed Information Minister because he was already a deputy at the Ministry with a doctoral degree, and Nimley was only a high school graduate.
Maj. Pearson, (Maryland County) the new Defense Minister, was said to have endeared himself to ordinary soldiers by being lenient whenever they were to be punished. He was always advocating their cause. He became the unanimous choice for Minister of Defense. Two senior army officers, originating from Sinoe County, were included for similar reasons. Col. Fred Blay and Maj. Joseph Douglas were appointed Minister of Labor, Youth & Sports, and Minister of Commerce, Industry & Transportation respectively. Lt. Alfred Suah from Bong County, an officer in the Engineering Battalion, was selected for the Agriculture Minister post.
The military surprised the public when the names of several Tolbert Ministers were announced among the new officials. The new regime retained Tolbert’s Public Works Minister Gabriel Tucker, Health Minister Kate Bryant, and Minister Loseni Donzo of the Action for Development & Progress (later renamed Ministry of Rural Development.) The soldiers admired these officials, particularly Tucker, who they said was only concerned about national development and was not corrupt. Another story behind the Tucker passion was linked to Doe, who like many of his ethnic people, had great reverence for their fellow south easterner from Maryland County, President William V.S. Tubman. The late President’s daughter, Coocoo, was married to Tucker. Fellow Easterners cherished Tubman for breaking the monopoly over the presidency by persons from Monrovia and the outlying counties in the West and South West of the country.
Doe was fond of pointing to the retention of Tucker, Bryant and Donzo in his cabinet as an example of how liberal the military regime was. Two months after their reappointment, Tucker and Donzo left for official trips to the United States and never returned. Health Minister Kate Bryant endured a full year before resigning due to "health reasons."
In the cabinet and its supplemental post distributions, the southeastern region was predominant, with Head of State Doe specifically carrying the lion’s share for the Krahns. Out of 17 cabinet ministers, only five were not from the southeast: Fahnbulleh, Suah, Kate Bryant, Donzo and Matthews. In addition to Boley, the heads of the ministries of Finance, Lands & Mines, Post & Telecommunications, as well as the positions of Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces were Krahn/Sarpo. So were the Commissioner of Immigration & Naturalization, the National Director of Police and the Director of the Special Security Service. Chea Cheapo and Gabriel Nimley were from Grand Gedeh, but were Greboes.
Lofa and Nimba counties, the two largest and the most populous counties besides Montserrado had no one in the cabinet. Neither did the Bassa speaking people. Bong carried a single slot. The matter quietly became an issue as the new political dispensation was expected to reflect the nation’s demographics in its leadership configuration. Though partially addressed, it never stopped haunting the government. Emmanuel Gbalazeh, the local TWP chairman of Nimba county and Assistant Justice Minister dismissed by Tolbert, was brought in much later as Chief Justice of the re-instituted Supreme Court. Moses Duopo, another Nimbiain, took on the new portfolio of Minister of Labor, when the Ministry of Labor, Youth & Sports was split in the wake of labor unrest. Col. Fred Blay retained Youth & Sports. A health administrator from Nimba, Martha Sandolo Belleh, was given the Health & Social Welfare garment, when Kate Bryant resigned.
Lofa remained stagnant until Sumo Jones became Minister of Commerce and Alfred Fromoyan, Minister of Agriculture. The Lofa delay probably stamped from the early death of its most powerful member among the Councilmen, Lt. Col. Fallah Varney, a Kissi from the Foya District. Varney was probably the most literate member and was accordingly designated by his colleagues as Secretary General of the PRC. He played a critical role in the coup as one of the five initial organizers. His fatal accident near Monrovia brought despair to Lofa citizens who felt that along with Capt. Abraham Kollie, Varney would have forcefully represented the interest of the largest county in the country.
The cabinet figures were mostly southeastern, but the soldiers did not lose sight of a crucial element. Most of the key cabinet positions were given to the intellectuals or those who had been in the lead for political change. Only six soldiers were included in the 17-member Cabinet. It was expected that the stage was set for a complete overhaul of the system and all of the reforms advocated by the activists would have materialized.
The regular OAU summit was due to convene on Liberia's doorstep and it would have spelt total disaster if Liberia were again sidelined. The legitimacy of the new government was in limbo in West Africa, even though countries like Libya, Cuba, and Ethiopia had already heartily expressed their support for the Doe military regime. It was important that government assert itself strategically to get hold of its rightful place in the comity of nations as an independent country, despite the bloody uprooting of the old system. Part of the strategy was to inform the Liberian populace, who were getting mixed signals about the claims of an acceptable leadership by the military.
Foreign Minister Matthews came out with an official statement indicting opponents of Monrovia as governments that were insecure in their domestic settings. Matthews said," many are afraid of an evolving trend, that is, a coup led by a lieutenant in Ghana, by a master sergeant in Liberia and just, a few days ago, a corporal attempted a coup in Nigeria." In emphasis particularly intended for the Liberian audience, and spiteful of Presidents Shagari, Stevens and Boigny, the Foreign Ministry statement maintained that, "some heads of states find the prospects for the future to be rather frightening. They see Master Sergeant Doe as being popular with the African masses. He is a very fine symbol of noncommissioned officers everywhere." Matthews said heads of State at the ECOWAS uncooperative because they were afraid that Doe would inspire the master sergeants in their countries. ( - Baccus speech on May 29, l980 live on TV)
As a demonstration of its anger and a nation of equal standing in the regional organizations, the Liberian government announced that it was requesting a reduction in the diplomatic staff of the Nigerian Embassy in Monrovia from nine to two, to match the Liberian figure in Lagos. Liberia was also suspending all of its due payments to ECOWAS until relations were normalized. The Liberian ambassadors in Lagos, Freetown and Abidjan were immediately recalled, and the Liberian Secretary General of the Mano River Union, Earnest Eastman, was asked to return home without delay.
The Liberian government position was unattractive to President Toure. He had already begun laying the groundwork for a compartmentalized conciliation between Liberia and its two other neighbors. He was also maneuvering to utilize the forthcoming OAU summit in Freetown as the next opportunity of putting the diplomatic quagmire behind. The Liberian authorities assured the Guinean leader that they were committed to his agenda, and the step taken in Monrovia would assert Liberia's rightful position and strengthen his hands. Toure eventually arranged a goodwill and conciliation visit to the Ivory Coast where all of the antagonists, except Nigeria, convened. At the behest of President Toure, Doe made a brief visit to Sierra Leone the weekend before the Ivorian mini summit, and attempted harmonizing with President Stevens. The redeployment of the recalled Liberian Ambassador and the Mano River Union boss on the same day Doe visited Sierra Leone were illustrative.
The June 16 meeting in Yamoussoukro, Boigny's birthplace turned political capital of the nation, the leaders of Togo, Sierra Leone and Guinea met with one crucial item on the agenda. The visit to the Ivory Coast confirmed Monrovia's assumption that the security of the Tolbert family was the cornerstone of the Ivorian disposition toward the military regime. The return visit of Boginy, Stevens, Toure and Eyadema to Monrovia smacked of a diplomatic victory, but the tension was no less calmer. Boigny was specific in his demand and ensured that the other heads of state prioritized the security and release of the Tolberts, a goal that was not immediately achieved.
Fate of the Indigenous Big Shots
One of the recurrent themes of the struggle against the overturned government was the monopoly of political and economic power by the same minority group. The positions of Vice President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate were all off limits for indigenes. Key cabinet posts like Foreign Affairs, Justice, Finance and Defense and the newly created Presidential Affairs were also an exclusive domain for the ‘hegemony.’ The establishment brought in indigenes in relatively unattractive cabinet positions to counter the criticism.
Tolbert had the most liberal record of political tokenism. He appointed Harry Greaves, Sr. as the first Indigenous Minister of Defense.. He also brought in indigenes in the cabinet for Education, Local Government, and Information, all of which were rarely given out. Tolbert characteristically fell short of breaking the chain around the exclusive echelon posts. His Vice President, Bennie D. Warner, was selected for the post before the latter’s Mamba Bassa origin was discovered. Bishop Warner had perfectly assimilated from presiding over Liberia’s Methodist Church, which became prestigious for being home to the long reigning President Tubman. Everything was done to ensure that the three branches of government were headed by the settlers, along with Foreign Affairs, Finance, Justice and Presidential Affairs.
TWP officials of indigenous background used this platform to stay harsh treatment from the new military government. Even high profile TWP officials like Jackson F. Doe, Edward Kesselly and Sumo Jones were seen no where near the tribunal. Kesselly was held only briefly at the Military Police headquarters at the BTC, where his father served as a renowned officer rising to the rank of a brigadier general and served Commanding General of the Armed Forces.
The officials had competed for upward mobility in the TWP and made enemies among some of those leading the PRC cabinet list. Yet they were confident that nothing would happen to them because they were excluded from real power in the dethroned government. . Their ethnic connections with PRC members further enhanced their confidence and were to play a major role in the changing character of the military government.
Dismissal of the 'Strongman'
Quiwonkpa and Doe were at odds for several months over the latter's political ambivalence. The CG was upset and made that known to everyone who came in touch with him at his BTC residence. On that memorable Saturday morning, October 15, l983, I was already in the living room of the general at 7:30 sharp. He had overnight sent out private invitations to a few young government officials, apparently staggered our individual meetings with him on Saturday. I did not see any other official when I arrived. He came out of his bathroom with a rather stern face, obviously up over something. He remained standing and began saying he wanted some of us to know he was unhappy about continued Doe insistence against returning to the barracks as all the PRC members had agreed. He said it was betrayal of the revolution, and he was not going to encourage it. He gave me a verbal message to deliver to Doe the next day.
Sunday came, and I decided to visit Doe in the afternoon. As I was arriving, I saw Quiwonkpa getting in his car with the gloomiest face I had ever seen the "Strongman of the Revolution" display. Fire was clearly in the hole. When I inquired from the security in charge whether I could see the Head of State, he nervously told me, "the Chief say he ain't seeing anybody." I left to pursue Quiwonkpa to the Barracks, and he too had ordered his men to stop all visitors. I learned from the Mansion that a special PRC meeting had convened for more than three hours, and some critical decisions had been taken.
I rushed to the ELBC radio station to find out if my colleagues there knew anything new. I came in time. An SSS officer from the Mansion brought in a press release announcing the appointment of Brig. Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa as the new Secretary General of the PRC. The awkward title of Deputy Vice Head of State was created for Abraham Kollie, to render the Secretary-General post vacant. Insider information revealed that that during the PRC meeting, Quiwonkpa bluntly told Doe to abandon his bid for the presidency. Doe first argued out the advantage of his presidency to all of the PRC and military. When the plea was getting nowhere with the General, Doe told him he was a citizen with the right to vie for any public office. Doe then revealed that he wanted to make some changes in the Council to bring more discipline, and that it was timely that Quiwonkpa be appointed Secretary General of the PRC. The CG was surprised at the revelation but did not reject the position. . The general had always made clear to his colleagues that the Head of State had the authority to appoint or dismiss anyone in the government. It would have been contradictory for the same fine soldier to reject their leader's decision. Doe disclosed later in a press release that Quiwonkpa had in fact recommended a successor, Morris Zeze.
Details of the PRC meeting were soon out in the street as usual. People knew the chaos a split between Doe and Quiwonkpa was likely to cause. Doe was Head of State and CIC and had several key areas in the military manned by Krahn officers. Quiwonkpa had emerged as a national hero, popular among the "masses" and the enlisted soldiers as well. In the press release from the Mansion, Doe said in his new position, Quiwonkpa would be useful in the national development program. He said the General would also be able to deal with unruly behavior in the PRC at first hand. To show he meant business, Head of State simultaneously appointed Col. Morris Zeze of Lofa County to replace Quiwonkpa as AFL Commanding General. A respected officer of more than 20-year experience in the army, Zeze was quickly commissioned, closing any immediate possibility of Quiwonkpa's return to the post. Zeze's appointment was critical as a significant number of the AFL soldiers were from Lofa. Any abrasive move by Quiwonkpa could have been interpreted to mean an affront to his successor's people. Also from Lofa County, Abraham Kollie in the same stroke had been elevated, at least in title, to the position of Deputy Vice Head of State.
What happened in the one week following the appointments was difficult to know. I tried seeing the Grigadier to no avail. He was only seeing few selected personal friends. He stayed away during officials functions and never took the Secretary General position. The Quiwonkpa appointment as secretary general meant he would have had to work at the Capitol Building physically and relinquish what was seen as housing rights belonging to the Commanding General. His supporters said the transfer was intended to undercut his relations with the foot soldier. They said once that was done , it was anybody's guess what would happen to him next, using the Weh Syen incident as hindsight. On the Doe side, insiders told us that people were pushing Quiwonkpa to turn against the Head of State. They said the friendship between the two men should not be reason for the commanding General to defy the Commander in Chief, and "embarrassed" him publicly.
Quiwonkpa eventually sent a message to Doe that he would take up the new appointment only if all PRC members, including Doe, return to the barracks after elections. Doe was already decided on the matter, and decided to sack the Commanding General and discharge him from the army as well. Doe said Quiwonkpa's refusal to take up his appointment was an act of indiscipline and could not be allowed to take root in the Armed Forces. Doe striped his colleague of all military benefits officially due a retired soldier.
Another Gio from Nimba and original coup maker, Col. David Kameh, was appointed as Secretary general. Since the coup, the colonel had been serving as commander of the Executive Mansion Battalion in charge of security for the Head of State. In order to present the matter as a non-issue, Doe traveled to Europe for a donor meeting. But the problem was not one to evaporate. Doe would return to face a nation of tension.
The small circle of politicians and friends of the two coup figures retreated into small opposing garrisons, spewing out bargaining conditions that only heightened public fears. As a compromise, some of Brigadier Quiwonkpa's supporters proposed he be promoted to a Lieutenant General (three stars) and made Defense Minister. The proposal died when others argued that the Defense portfolio was relatively nominal, and would have still removed the General away from the soldiers.
Elders and traditional chiefs attending the ceremonies for the presentation of the draft constitution at the Unity Conference Center, appealed to the Head of State to reinstate Quiwonkpa in the AFL and the PRC. Doe converted the mammoth gathering to an occasion for reporting on what had transpired between him and his colleague, and asked for free comments from the chiefs. Quiwonkpa was not present. The elders clearly reechoed the nervousness of the nation. Chief Zanga of Grand Bassa County added new meaning to the old adage that "when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.". Doe insisted that Quiwonkpa should submit a formal letter of apology acknowledging that he made mistakes by refusing to accept his appointment. Quiwonkpa rejected the demand, and Doe ordered him to leave the Barracks.
The former commanding General took the advice of moderates and moved to an aunt on Carey Street, a Monrovia thoroughfare. Moving to downtown Monrovia removed the military barrier that always stopped large civilian visitation to the General. Carey Street became a rallying ground for grass roots supporters, besides the multitude of soldiers that were now parading the house in muftis of all colors. The Nimba Gio and Mano political community in Monrovia was all too cognizant of the protection Quiwonkpa provided for them in the government, and they too joined the stream on Carey Street. That drew in the wrath of an already fidgety Doe. The Head of State came out with an order banning officials, civil servants, and the military from visiting Quiwonkpa. Without saying whether violators would be put on trial, the Head of State warned that any official of government visiting the area would serve three years in jail, while military personnel would be sent to Belle Yella, the maximum security prison. He said foreign diplomats were also prohibited from seeing the General.
The influx of people to the see Quiwonkpa did not only dramatize the popularity of the young soldier, but also provided a rally ground for some public action against Doe. Taxi drivers passed by honking and chanting supportive slogans. After the visit banning order, Doe attempted putting Quiwonkpa on the defensive by showing him as an arrogant officer who did not want to end the entire episode by writing the letter of apology. Doe also began a brief tour of strategic military camps like Schieffelin where his cousin, Col. Moses Wright, was heading the first battalion. The CIC assured soldiers that their salary arrears would soon be paid and that high schools would be built on the camps to provide opportunity who were interested.
Negotiations at all levels broke down, and the Head of State's meeting with the Chiefs did not bring any resolution. It was now difficult to predict exactly what would have happened, as Quiwonkpa, the "Strongman" had obeyed all of the orders from the Mansion. He was out of the barracks and government officials and soldiers had stopped visiting him at his Carey Street lodging. The area was an open and busy street, and the diplomatic community had an eagle's eye on the developments. It was a classic standoff. It was probably in the best interest of the population in Monrovia that Quiwonkpa slipped out. Albeit there was concealed sigh of relief in the capital, the escape baffled the government. It had maintained its own crowd of covert and overt security at the dismissed General's temporary residence. The government blamed the Catholic Church in Monrovia for smuggling Quiwonkpa out. The accusation gave impression that the general was under house arrest or had been banned from leaving Monrovia. All of the press releases we received from the government had placed no ban on the movement of the former PRC official.
Replacing the PRC
Upon assuming power, the military men quickly aligned themselves into two major spheres, led by Head of State Doe on the right, and his leftist rival and deputy in the government, Weh Syen. It was generally figured that with the execution of Weh Syen, the Doe camp would have at least remained companionable. It was even expected that with the kind of unflinching backing Quiwonkpa gave Doe, the Commanding General would have been the main power broker for a Doe presidency. This was not the case. The two friends kept claiming that people were putting a wedge between them. Quiwonkpa said Doe had abandoned his soldier colleagues and surrounded himself with his Krahn ethnic people and others that knew nothing about the plan to replace the Tolbert regime. In their confessions before the trial in Monrovia, accused plotters arrested in connection with Quiwonkpa ghastly revealed how they would have immediately executed Chief of Staff Henry Dubar, Minister of State John Rancy and Defense Minister Gray Allison. According to the Nimba men, the three individuals undermined the relationship between Doe and Quiwonkpa. Allison was not Krahn, but never visited the Mansion without Dubar.
Doe on the other hand complained about Gio and Mano politicians minimizing the support he was getting from his friend, the CG. That accusation became official when the Alfred Gayflor Military Tribunal trying the Nimba group specifically found Harry Yuan, Augustus Weh Dorliae, and Kolonko Luo guilty of influencing Quiwonkpa against accepting his appointment as PRC Secretary General. The impressions left was that without their newfound civilian friends, the soldiers, especially Doe and Quiwonkpa, would have maintained their friendship to the end. According to George Boley, another Krahn erstwhile buddy of Doe, civilian political rivals also engineered the split between Weh Syen and Doe.
The Quiwonkpa side, which was evidently interested in political power, knew it would have been awkward for the general to present himself as a presidential candidate like Doe, although he was nationally popular. The alternative was to create a plain level field where the chances of all ethnic groups would be determined by truly democratic elections. The creation of the field implied Doe had to recluse himself from the elections and be an impartial supervisor of the process.
The group behind Doe was urging him to run for the presidency against what initially seemed to have been his reluctance and the reported advice of his wife, Nancy against the candidacy. The Doe faction consisted of two classes. There were some who worked and hoped to be endorsed by Doe for the Presidency, but would certainly gave unswervingly support to him if he decided definitively to run. Kekura Kpoto was a leading proponent in this category.
When I began making public remarks that as long as I was Minister of Information that the Ministry would not be used as a propaganda instrument for any political party, Kpoto invited me to a midnight private meeting. I found the residence in a place called Airfield Old Road, or simply, the "Transformer." Sitting on his physical therapy machine as part of his recovering effort from an accident, Kpoto advised that I should cooperate with Doe without hesitation. He confessed that he himself wanted to run for the Presidency, but could not do so with the interest Doe had shown. "The man has the leadership of the country right now; he has money; and he also has the guns. When he says he wants the Presidency, how can you stop him. We have to be realistic. Let him go the first round, and after that, we will know what to do." Kpoto said he was advising me because he and I were from Lofa County, and Doe had complained about my statements in his presence. He said as a friend of my father's, he was properly placed to admonish me. Another tacit Doe supporter from Lofa was Edward Kesselly, who broke away to form his own party when it became clear that Doe had drawn closer to Kpoto in preparation for his presidential project.
With Podier and Doe left in Monrovia as the remaining members of the organizing Five, ordinary people were hoping the violence would stop. The solidarity had eroded. For reasons fundamentally coming out of connections, a number of the PRC members felt they were more comfortable without a Doe presidency, wanted the military to return to the barracks as a matter of principle, or simply wanted power for themselves. Whatever the case, Chairman Doe told members of the PRC they would be given emoluments after the return to civil society, and they would certainly be honored for their sacrifices in bringing about change.
The dissolution of the PRC and its replacement by a civilian dominated Interim Legislative Assembly did not give them a taste of that heavenly manna. Maj. General Nicholas Podier was made INA speaker, one grade down from his previous Vice Head of State portfolio. Podier was placed under the leadership of the civilian vice president of the Assembly, Harry Moniba. Since the Weh Syen case, Podier was used to having only one boss, Doe. All other PRC members were immediately retired from the army and also included in the INA as regular members representing on equal footing with civilians their various counties of origins. As such, they had to wear civilian clothes. There was no longer the powerfully exclusive PRC club which military handled everything. Worst, the former councilmen who could virtually walk into the CIC's office without prior appointment, were now taking weeks to see the 'Chief' if lucky. Civilian politicians were now freely parading and had effectively replaced them.
The placement of Harry Moniba next to Doe in the hierarchy of the new governing Interim National Assembly was the handiwork of Kekura Kpoto, who failed to secure the position for himself. It was almost certain that the civilian deputy for Doe in the new arrangement would have become running mate for a Doe ticket in the elections. Without emphasizing the ethnic and geographic relationship between him and Moniba, Kpoto convinced Doe about the advantage of having someone like the unassuming diplomat Moniba serve as the number two man at the moment. With a Ph.D. in political Science from the United States, Moniba could be depicted as one of the intellectually qualified indigenes. At 45 and a Gbandi from the northwestern county of Lofa, the largest and most ethnically numerous county in Liberia, he was an excellent balance with Southeasterner Doe at the age of thirty five. Besides, Moniba was a new face on the national scene, having previously been assigned as a junior diplomat in Washington DC and with other low-key postings of the Foreign Ministry. The political historian fitted in well with the pro-American stance Doe had adopted for the elections, and was therefore the ideal and harmless person Doe could accommodate as the second in command.
Arrest of Amos Sawyer et al
...............Security interrogators sent to the Ministry of Information recordings of their interaction with Nyenplu. The election commissioner confessed that his cousin, Speaker Podier, informed him that Sawyer, Borteh and Jorwely wanted Podier to get involved in their plot to overthrow the government. Nyenplu said it began shortly after Doe left for Germany, Austria and Romania. The commissioner said he reported the matter to the security board, and expected that Speaker Podier would have done the same.
Within hours of Sawyer and Kieh's detention, students and faculty began a protest boycott of classes at the University of Liberia. Doe invited the President of the University, Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown-Sherman and Dr. James Tarpeh, vice President for Academic Affairs. They came to the Mansion and waited for more than three hours, and Doe was still not ready to meet them. The Head of State this time had sent for me to be present when he met the University officials. I was also a part-time faculty member in the School of Communication, besides being Minister of Information. When I finally got into his office, I discovered that Doe had not been told about the presence of the two professors in the waiting room. It remained a mystery to me why the aides kept the invitees waiting for that long even though they had been "urgently" sent for by the Head of State himself.
When we finally met Doe together, he accused Brown-Sherman and Tarpeh of inciting the students. Commenting on a letter the University authorities had sent asking for the release of their colleagues, Doe said it was out of protocol to have made the letter public instead of sending it to him directly. He said he expected the University President to have asked about the details of the coup plan instead of jumping to conclusions about the innocence of Sawyer and pleading for his release. For her part, the university president said they came out with the position statement before the government disclosed the specific charges against Sawyer. The meeting ended with a strong warning from Doe that the university authorities do everything in calming the students. Doe seemed to have been convinced it was the end of the uncontrollable situation that was developing on campus, which was also located right across the street from both the Mansion and the Capitol Building. The meeting ended with the two academics, but another session reopened five hours later at 9:30 p.m. at the Mansion.
It had been an exhausting day, and there was nothing better for me then even a single pillow and my mattress. The phone rang again converting my bedtime hopes into a complete fantasy. Another meeting was taking place at the Mansion. I arrived and met James Tarpeh sitting in classic interrogation scenario in the office of the Minister of State. I entered and met Doe standing without his jacket, the tie loosened, and Tarpeh sitting about a foot away with his hands voluntarily clasped. Minister J. Bernard Blamo was in the office along with two other aides. My entry did not interrupt the INA President. He was expressing how disappointed he was in Tarpeh who he said allowed a female, Mrs. Antoinette Brown-Sherman to, "mislead" him. "How can an educated and respected indigenous man like you sit there and allow a woman, 'Congo' Woman, hold you by the nose and undermine the government," Doe went on. He told Tarpeh if the name 'Tarpeh' could not be found in the English dictionary, the professor 's behavior should be accordingly guided.
The matter on Sawyer's actual involvement in the coup plan apparently had been visited before my arrival. Doe saw the need to bring it out again, emphasizing the government had concrete evidence to show Sawyer was indeed culpable. Tarpeh's bravery was outstanding. In the Executive Mansion without any of his colleagues, nearing midnight, in the midst of a national security crisis, he was risking to put his "neck on chopping board" to prove that Sawyer could not have been involved in a coup plot. Doe told him his head would certainly be cut off because the evidence was overwhelming.
Doe at that point started looking around the room in support of his views, even though everybody in the room was not privy to the evidence he mentioned. I chose to comment on the responsibility of Tarpeh at the University. I indicated to the Head of State that he could not blame Tarpeh as he knew very well as a military man that there was a hierarchy which Tarpeh was not heading. His role as vice president for academic affairs at the university was subordinate to that of the President. Until Tarpeh was made President, he could not be expected to use an indigenous or any other background to take decisions outside of his authority. Albeit I did not say what Doe wanted to hear, we all seemed to have felt in the room that Doe was somehow relieved that something was said to redeem Tarpeh for the moment. Instead of getting angry, we saw Doe smiling, and told Tarpeh he should return and play his role in the student uprising. When the professor left, Doe laughed out and mocked how the "educated man was so stupid to put his neck on the chopping board on mere assumption of what he knew Sawyer to be." He said if Tarpeh were to see the documents he would never have given up his neck. In all, Tarpeh took the ultimate gamble on his life to protect the life of a friend in jail. That impressed everyone in the room, including Doe himself. If Sawyer had only one sincere friend on earth, James Teah Tarpeh was that one.
Out of Prison, Out of MICAT
Trials were promised for the Sawyer/Podier detainees but never took place. Head of State Doe found himself caught between maintaining the government and public doubts mounted against the prospects for the scheduled elections. General student unrest never ceased since the coup, and heightened with occasionally intruding crisis. Doe wanted to put the university student crisis behind him, and hopefully quell along with it the secondary student disturbances around the country. Stabilizing the atmosphere required the resolution of the latest coup problem, which had major Liberian players residing at the Post Stockade.
Doe attempted sidestepping the critical political issue by introducing some economic sweeteners. The government reduced the price of the rice staple by $1 for a 100-lb bag of rice while gasoline went down by 10 cents per gallon, and kerosene 25 cents down per gallon. Government also signed an oil exploration agreement with an American petroleum company, AMOCO, to work off the shores of Cape Mount County. The oil news raised hopes that Liberia would be an oil producing country, providing desperately needed foreign exchange and broad employment opportunities. The Liberian News agency announced the details of the agreement signed by government Ministers and the AMOCO president, Roy Stewart. The contract entailed the usual royalty and income tax revenue advantages for the government.
The clergy, education and political parties continued to hold down the national focus on the risk of political disarray if Podier and the others were not discharged. With his National Democratic Party now fully registered with the Emmett Harmon Special Elections Commission, Doe finally ordered the release of the post stockade stars and associates. Besides Podier, Sawyer, and Kieh, the government had also incarcerated former Electricity Corporation head, Harry Yuan, who was doing a comeback to the stockade after the Quiwonkpa Nimba episode. Dusty Wolokolie of Sawyer's Liberian People's Party was held for violating the dreaded Decree 88A, which forbid telling "lies" against officials of government and individuals. Journalist Tom Kamara, Patrick Weah and Nepe Manning, all associates of Sawyer, were also released. Doe also set free former PRC members Borteh, Jorwely, and John Nyumah. The Head of State said he was taking the action because the nation needed peace and unity as it moved towards the l985 elections. He however retired Podier and Jorwely from the government will full emoluments, but dismissed Borteh and Nyumah for "administrative" reasons.
A week after regaining his freedom, Sawyer sent a message that he wanted to meet me discretely to discuss "things of interest." It was strange as the MOJA man and I had no political dealings, even though I had been linked to him by one of my deputies at the Ministry of Information. Sawyer arrived at my Duport Road residence east of Monrovia the following evening few minutes after ten. He was thoroughly camouflaged in a taxi, and I put the lights off around the house to help him out. After sittling down in a backroom, Sawyer said he was told in jail that I was doing everything to help out with the return of civilian government, and he thought it would be good for us to work together. Sawyer was clearly on a recruitment mission for his party. I had received a similar visit from William E. Dennis, Jr., Commerce Minister under Tolbert. He wanted me in a party he was associating with.
Two months after my September 19 dismissal, I began to realize that Doe might have been under intense pressure to get rid of me. When I asked Ed Okeke Davis to open the envelope and read the letter sacking me, I expected to hear a charge that would send me to prison. Podier, Sawyer, and several original members of the erstwhile PRC were in jail, and there I was speaking against dictatorship and rubber stamp government in the Second Republic. It was my second time making the statement in three weeks. On September 7, while commissioning James Eesiah as Press Counselor to our embassy in Israel, I thought it was relevant at the moment to point out that Liberians would never accept dictatorship indefinitely, whether it was a capitalist, socialist, Americo-Liberian or indigenous leadership. It took 48 hours for Doe to have summoned me to his office on the matter.
The CIC also invited a confidante, Finance Minister Gao Alvin Jones and the Minister of State, Bernard Blamo. Doe stood up and remained so for a full hour in his office, warning me to realize that the Military government was dictatorial in nature and any comment about dictatorship implied reference to his government. As I was entering the Head of State's office, I met a number of his NDPL partisans, including Acting Chairman Kekura Kpoto, exiting. I could not conclusively link them to the interpretation Doe was giving my statement. As Chief spokesman of the government, I believed the admonition on de facto one party rule was not only appropriate on the eve of the elections year, but was a wake up call for those who had forgotten why the coup occurred. Doe had accused those in jail of plotting to install a Communist/socialist government, which espouses dictatorship in practical terms. People were also admittedly saying without free and fair democratic elections, the nation would be reverting to the one-party status quo ante. Doe had apparently been convinced to consider my statement as a direct reference to the latter school. He totally excluded possible reference to the socialists.
At the end of the session, Gao Jones pleaded with Doe to understand that "we are all young and liable to make mistakes." Again, Blamo played to the President by expressing surprise that I would make such a statement as Minister of Information. Doe asked for my reaction, and I told him I did not know whether he was preparing for a one party second republic. I only felt the need to caution all political parties as the Spokesman of a government that was supervising the democratic process. I told Doe that was my personal conviction, and I would repeat the statement if it became necessary.
With the ban lifted and Liberians gleefully organizing and joining political parties, Doe felt the need to ensure that no one in government was involved in double deals. He summoned us to a cabinet meeting to disclose his decision to enter the presidential contest after he made the initial statement at Schieffelin. He said he was giving us one week to declare our choice of party, and if it were not the NDPL, we had to resign. The meeting produced an unusual drama that made Doe more doubtful. The CIC informed us about the military's support for his candidacy and said he had already organized the NDPL. Among us in the cabinet, only Gray Allison, Boley, and AFL Chief of Staff Dubar were privy to the organizing. The expected chorus began with the pledging of loyalty by each Cabinet member. I passed when my turn came, and made no further comment.
At the end of the pledges, Allison chose to remind the entire group that I had said nothing. Doe stared along with everyone else, anticipating some response from me. The officials had been pledging their "100 percent support" until it came to Allison, who said he was "behind" Doe "1000 percent." Allison was particularly trying to convince everyone that his loyalty to Doe was more entrenched than anybody could imagine. As a journalist observing what was happening with the concept of loyalty and sincerity since the beginning of the Tolbert Administration, I was unimpressed with the performance at the Doe meeting. I was also uncomfortable with the reality that despite my portfolio as Minister of Information and supposedly a friend of Doe, I knew nothing about the organizing of his party. And yet, he was demanding loyalty from all of us. I began by asking permission from Doe to physically illustrate a point. I then asked Doe whether he could see anyone standing 'behind' him. He turned around and said no. Was it possible for someone standing behind him to be shot if someone fired at the Head of State? Again he responded in the negative, and demanded that I make my point and stop asking him. Well, I indicated that if I decided on entering party politics in his favor, I would be on his "side" and not "behind" him as Minister Allison. I indicated it was easier to observe someone on your side than behind. It became necessary to point that out. For years, hypocrisy had become the hallmark of relationships in Liberian political society. Leaders have been led into misconduct and national decisions taken on the basis of what people thought were sincere advice. The coup was a collective derivative of this pattern. Strangely, CIC Doe openly declared that it made more sense to trust people on your side than those behind. That left Allison and those who used the word "behind" nervous.
As I saw it, Doe executed no contract with any official that if he decided to run, those individuals would have to side with him or be dismissed. I considered his demand unfair, and therefore did not feel the need to commit myself nor plan to resign. Two months later I was dismissed but not for refusing to resign. Other officials of government took the simple outlet and resigned. Solicitor General James Laveli Supuwood and Assistant Planning Minister Dusty Wolokolie resigned. Deputy Land and Mines Minister Joe G. Richards also stepped down to meet the deadline, but said he did not have sufficient information to choose any party.
CIC Doe said he had requested officials interested in choosing other parties to resign as a move designed to keep the government working. He said government officials actively involved in other parties could undermine the Administration in their effort to gain politically. In a press release sent to the Information Ministry, Doe repeated that launching the political schedule could not be allowed to interfere with the normal functions of government. "It was only reasonable to insist on the resignation of government officials who belong to other parties in order to avoid a conflict of interest that will harm the productivity of government," the release quoted Doe as saying. ( Executive Mansion Press Release, 8 August l984). The Head of State insisted that he had given officials the opportunity to freely pick a party of their choice without intimidation, and that no one was being forced to join his party. He said only cabinet and junior Cabinet Ministers as well as heads of government agencies and public corporations and their deputies were included in the exercise.
Doe was being only practical in the hypocritical world of realpolitik, as everyone knew that his party members remaining in the government would also be prioritizing party and not government activities. Opposition leaders Amos Sawyer, Edward Kesselly and Tuan Wreh asked Doe to abide by his own request that government officials resign in order to preserve the sanctity of the government during the election period. William Gabriel Kpoleh was the first to ask for the Head of State's resignation when Doe made his presidential ambition public. Kpoleh said Doe should have stepped down as leader of the Interim government in order to create a plain-level field.
The outspoken character of the opposition was impressive, but invited more trouble as the NDPL was determined to prove that the best way out of the transition was to let the master sergeant complete a historical designation as the first indigenous Head of State and President of the Republic of Liberia. The opposition parties expectedly remained under toiling conditions up to the Elections and the announcement of the results. They did not have the luxury of helping or despising each other. The only two existing blocks consisted of them and the NDPL, which was already displaying features of a ruling party. The Doe group fully utilized the privileges and power associated with a military government. The Interim National Assembly, whose selected members were subject to dismissals by their President, Doe, continued the functions of the dissolved PRC. When necessary, they passed decrees to they considered as "protecting" the public.
A Decree, named 88A, was promulgated to curtail the enthusiastic opposition challenge. The decree barred anyone from "the spread of rumors, lies and disinformation." Under the new law, it was an act of felony for one to defame a government official or any other individual, and the offender could be jailed without bail. Justice Minister Jenkins Scott insisted the decree was intended to protect all Liberians from being maligned, and to prevent anarchy in the society. The law was virtually a gag order that opposition politicians could only risk violating in being critical about the conduct of the government. After the arrest of Podier and Sawyer, the Liberian Council of Churches joined various politicians in demanding the abrogation of the decree.
The Doe regime came out with the decree to respond to the underground anonymous leaflet politics that had resurfaced. It was usually difficult to know the specific authors of these writings, but it was generally associated with the University of Liberia from where students criticized government behavior. The publication usually indicted the government officials for grave acts of corruption and abuse of human rights. Doe was not used to this type of hide and seek and got visibly infuriated. Those who ignored the decree and also frustratingly condemned the government for its conduct could be unfortunate and secure a jail term. While some politicians censored themselves, most thought it was not only necessary to speak out against unbalanced arrangements, but also to invite the attention of the international community.
Members of the Liberian People Party became the first victims of 88A. In late August, the Justice Ministry publicly requested the party's Vice Chairman Dusty Wolokolie and Member Anthony Kesselly to surrender or would be arrested. They were charged wit violating the decree when the LPP published a leaflet rejecting the coup accusations the government made against fellow partisans Amos Sawyer and George Kieh earlier in the month. They had signed the statement demanding the immediate and unconditional release of their colleagues. The Montserrado County Attorney office obtained an indictment which alleged that the two men "maliciously, and fallaciously exposed to public hatred, ridicule, and contempt, and vilified and defamed the head of state by unlawfully and wickedly publishing" the leaflet. Wolokolie turned himself in through the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, Ronald Diggs. Kesselly remained elusive in familiar terrain in his home Quardu-Gboni Mandingo Chiefdom in Lofa County. Wolokolie was tried separately and sent to Belleh Yella, where he spent nearly eight months before he was given presidential clemency. The government further incarcerated another batch of LPP members, including Ezekiel Pajibo, Lucia Massallay, James Fromoyan, and Dempster Yallah, along with Alaric Tokpah. Wolokolie did not last long out of jail after the court acquitted him innocent of violating Decree 88A. He and his party chairman, John Kanwieh, were arrested on the same charges after issuing a statement against the conduct of the government in the election process.
Amos Sawyer was banned from political activities until he could give account of what the government claimed was $1.2 M given to him for the work of the now dissolved Constitution Drafting Commission. Edward Kesselly was similarly charged, but never banned or suspended from political activities. Baccus Matthews kept on fighting for the Secom suspension on his party to be lifted.
While the proposed LPP and UPP were gasping under the government, LUP, LAP and the UP were angrily accusing Doe's NDPL of coercing people to join their ranks or face dismissal or humiliation. In Lofa, where Dr. Edward Kesselly's UP had a strong natural following, a County Commissioner and a deputy Agro project were arrested and detained. LAP was particularly concerned about how the military should resign from all active duties in the government to ensure fairness. They said it was not right for someone to be holding military rank and serving as officials of government, particularly in the rural areas.
As expected, the NDPL was the first party to be fully registered and probated. UP, LAP, LUP, LPP and the UPP went through a series of protests against their registration with Secom and the probation of their documents with the court. The protest vehemence prompted Doe to attempt making political capital out of his opponents' dilemma. The NDPL candidate, in his position as Head of State, made a public appeal for all protesters to drop their opposition to the registration of the parties. The call fell on deaf ears without surprise, as it was generally believed that the NDPL orchestrated the hiccup. At best, Doe's intervention was intended to cover only the UP, LAP and the LUP. He was still determined to ostracize the MOJA and PAL political groupings, whom the NDPL never ceased calling socialists and even communists.
The omen finally dropped. Following a tortuous year of doing everything to meet the various requirements for registering as political parties, the Sawyer LPP and the Matthew UPP were banned outright from operating as political parties. The Interim National Assembly gave the directive, providing that the LPP was "detrimental to the state," and the UPP had objectives that were "not only alien but detrimental to the peace and stability of the state."
Maj. Gen. Gray D. Allison, Minister of Defense, a founding executive of the NDPL had paved the way for the socialist indictment. He never seemed to have exhausted the already tired phrase of "foreign ideology" in referring to what he claimed the Tipoteh and Matthews groups wanted to dump on the Liberian populace. He warned that the two men, together with H. Boima Fahnbulleh, had used the early enthusiasm of the change of government to send young people out to Ethiopia for training in socialist methods of sabotage. Allison said Doe had frequently rejected suggestions from the three men that undermined the free enterprise system, among other things.
It was difficult believing that it was coincidence when a year earlier on July 4th, America's Independence Day, Fahnbulleh was dismissed Minister of Foreign Affairs for what the PRC described as "ideological differences." Though Fahnbulleh had not resigned and therefore gave no indication he wanted to be a part of any opposition political party, he seemed to have wanted to demonstrate he would not be with the anticipated Doe team when party politics began. He started playing to the old student constituency by castigating the flamboyant lifestyle of the military. Doe got increasingly suspicious that Fahnbulleh, through his activities and views in government, was returning to his old activist role.
It was now political season, and the Gray Allison line that Fahnbulleh and others sent people to Ethiopia to train as professional saboteurs could resonate with the electorate if left unchallenged. It was not surprising when a beneficiary of the Ethiopian literacy program, Joe Wylie, also an LPP member, came out with a press release defensively explaining the trip as a truly literacy program. He said the Liberian government had spent about $26000 for transport and other associated expenses. Wylie disclosed that from the Liberian side, the then Foreign Minister Baccus Matthews and his Education counterpart, Fahnbulleh, arranged the visit. Except mentioning that the arrangement was "official," Wylie's effort did not significantly invalidate the Gray Allison campaign to portray the Ethiopian program as a brainchild of two "socialists" that conspired against the government.
Wylie was later arrested, along with 13 other students, for allegedly conspiring with spies at the Soviet embassy in Monrovia. The government said the students were arrested outside the embassy compound immediately after a meeting between the students and soviet diplomat on ways to sabotage the Liberian government. Wylie escaped from the NSA detention center, and Minister Allison declared him a wanted and dangerous man. The Liberian authorities said the alleged Soviet involvement was a pointer to accusation that they have all along made that there was a socialist plot to subvert the government in Monrovia. A final decision was taken to break diplomatic relations with the USSR while Wylie and the others were whisked off to detention at the National Security Agency headquarters. The soviet ambassador had already been expelled on similar charges, and the holdovers at the embassy were given one week to leave the country. .............. Allison said Wylie had used his training from Ethiopia to break out of jail, and he would be arrested. That never happened. Wylie would leave the country later and return with Quiwonkpa as skilled military personnel attempting to topple Doe. People wondered where he was trained.
Nevertheless, it was difficult concluding that Matthews and Fahnbulleh harmoniously connived to send people for military training. Though the two were generally predisposed to socialist oriented leaders such as the Ethiopian leader, Mengistu, Matthews was seen as the non-intellectual grassroots organizer, while Fahnbulleh and his colleagues at the University considered themselves more sophisticated in political affairs. Even in the PRC cabinet, MOJA and UPP activists related to Vice Head of State Weh Syen, but had little to do with each other. Only through ethnic connections did Tipoteh of MOJA and Oscar Quiah of the PPP interact.
For the emerging NDPL, the specificity of the truth was not a critical factor. The management of images and perceptions would be the most useful political tool. Connecting the concept of socialism to the names Ethiopia, Fahnbulleh and Matthews was all Allison needed to drive home his point. Not even when the Ethiopians closed their embassy in Monrovia after the Minister's accusation did he bulge. The preceding Tolbert Administration had spent a lot of time attempting to convince the population that the socialism preached by MOJA and PPP was aimed at confiscating their properties and distributing them. The TWP politicians, as every other group in the country, had found their way into the new political arrangements, and the foreign ideology scare was one thing they believe could be handy in electing their military partner.
Chapter XI - The Return of Quiwonkpa
Nearly a month had gone by, and the bitter experience of the elections was still taking its toll. The opposition parties were still up for taking the election commission to court, while they warned their partisans not to violate the legislative boycott. For his part, Head of State Doe maintained a reconciliatory theme in his public pronouncements, still asking the parties to join the NDPL in running the country. Repeating the call paid off. Some prominent members of the clergy in Monrovia took the pulpit to advocate reconciliation. A senior member of the Liberian Council of Churches, Episcopal Bishop George D. Brown, appealed to LAP, UP and LUP to take their seats in the national legislature. Providence Baptist Church Pastor Peter Amos George, Sr., concurred with his colleague and said taking up the seats would show appreciation to their supporters who braved the intimidation to vote for them. Bishop Brown was however troubled by the role of SECOM, who he said created a confidence crisis by admitting there were irregularities. The churchmen admonition penetrated a fabric of the opposition, and some cracks began to appear. A LUP candidate for the House, James Kiahon, announced that he would accept his seat won from Margibi County for the sake of peace and national unity. He in turn appealed to officials of his party and the other two to see the wisdom of listening to the preachers.
The reconciliation was crudely interrupted on the early morning of November 12. An announcement reverberated from the government ELBC radio claiming that Samuel Kanyon Doe had been overthrown. For the moment, reconciling with the NDPL had been rendered irrelevant. The involuntarily retired Brigadier Thomas G. Quiwonkpa was in Monrovia with a fully equipped contingent of soldiers to also force the retirement of his one time boss and confidante, Samuel Kanyon Doe.
The Ultimate Gamble
It was nearly a replay of the April 12 radio drama that revealed a coup was in progress to unseat the Tolbert government. The only difference was that the November 12 dawn broadcast announcing the overthrow of the Doe turned out to be a prerecorded message repeatedly played on the radio stations. It took several hours for listeners to realize it was actually a recording. As usual, the delayed signing on of ELBC radio sent an alarming signal that something might not be right, with a vivid memory of what happened in the Tolbert case.
Molley, a cousin ward whom I relied on for taking care of my residence in my absence, ran to wake me up at about 6:00 that morning, shouting that Quiwonkpa had taken over the government. He said the announcement was on radio, and that Head of State Doe was in hiding. It took me weeks to realize that my first verbal reaction was, ' Oh God, they should not kill him.' I had mixed feelings to the coup message. It was almost two months since I was dismissed by Doe as Minister of Information, and had not left my house, which was kept under 24-hour security surveillance on Duport Road. Ordinarily, I should have been relieved to hear that Doe was gone, but I somehow had an apprehensive sensation. I felt if Doe had been killed during the operation, his soldiers would have been difficult to control and that would mean massive destruction of life and property. On the other hand, Quiwonkpa was a friend and I believed him to be a descent officer who would not encourage mayhem and undue violence. Within an hour of my awakening, some distant neighbors ran to my house chanting and celebrating the supposed fall of Doe. "Mr. Kromah, da your God saw the man. Why did he dismiss you for talking the truth," one of them breathlessly said. I pleaded with the group to return home, remain indoors and watch the situation.
As a broadcaster and sensitive as a freshly dismissed government official, I observed that the repeated radio announcement was most probably pre-recorded. It did not have any interfering noise in the background and the voice of the former Commanding General was normal and calm. From my calculations, it was unlikely that the work was done in ELBC studios. It must have been done from wherever the brigadier was coming from. The Quiwonkpa message was well written in select vocabulary that rang a bell. In the short recording, the brigadier said:
(Footnote- transcribed from broadcast recorded from ELBC radio on Nov. 12, l985).
On the basis of wording and the superb sound recording, I concluded it was a prerecorded tape. I also concluded that the Quiwonkpa operation was far from over. The same announcement was now in its third hour of running without any interruption. While some neighbors must have come to the same conclusion and remained indoor, my Gio and Mano neighbors continued openly celebrating. I was in a "catch-22" situation. Tell them to stop celebrating and provoke their anger that I was unhappy with the coming of Quiwonkpa, or remain silent with a troubled conscience that you did not alert your neighbors of the risk. I could only tell those who came near me to return home and cautiously watch the situation.
Besides what was on radio, I had no other source of analyzing what was happening. I had cut off telephone lines out of rage, and the residence was removed from the main Duport community street. From neighbor Alonzo Thompson, whose house was adjacent to the main Duport Road, we could all see petit vehicles loaded with oversized government officials fleeing from Monrovia. The forest in our area was an ideal temporary sanctuary, about 28 miles away from central Monrovia. Alonzo and I counted more than a dozen-overloaded vehicles streaming down the far rear of the zone. I told the neighbor things were definitely unsettled. It was approaching 12:00 midday, and no other announcement had been heard except the first one still talking about "Doe in hiding."
There was another problem compounding my personal state of unease. The Quiwonkpa recording had named several AFL officers as part of the new structure. With things unsettled, my fear was that he was probably in the process of naming his cabinet. Having been recently dismissed and perceived as a Doe antagonist at the moment, I speculated my name could be called on radio prematurely among the next set of government officials. I was praying not to be given that honor at that time. One of my neighbors actually mentioned the possibility of such an appointment, further aggravating my worries. The more we kept glued to the radio sets, the greater the anxiety over the indefinite state of the coup operation. We were tuned in to both ELBC and the ELWA religious station, whose transmission coverage, unlike ELBC, spanned the entire nation and the neighboring countries.
From ELWA came not only the break in the monotony, but concrete evidence that Doe had not been overwhelmed. A few minutes after 12:00 Noon, one Jaja Massaquoi spoke as the first live communication to the Liberian public. He said Quiwonkpa was indeed in the country and was now in control of the government. Massaquoi's warning to apparently non-cooperating units of the AFL immediately exposed that the coup had run into serious trouble. In disjointed comments with his breathing heavier than the speech, Massaquoi said the invading forces had the situation under control on the ground, and they were on the sea and prepared to move in the sky. At the same time, he wanted for the AFL soldiers, whom he called "rebels," to surrender, telling them that they won't make it as the Quiwonkpa forces were in complete control. Monrovians were perplexed to hear the first live announcement from Jaja Massaquoi, who was well known in Monrovia as small-time operator of an eat-all-you-can restaurant.. He had never been known to be a soldier, an activist or official of government. Here he was giving the first live command to resisting soldiers in inconsistent comments.
The airing of a senior commander of the Quiwonkpa forces, Col. John Nuahn, only confirmed in detail that the coup was not only in limbo, but the statement that Doe was in hiding was unreliable. The claim of being in control was indeed further jeopardized when Nuahn revealed through his radio orders that the elite Executive Mansion Battalion and the top-notch forces of the First Infantry Battalion in Schieffelin were standing in stiff resistance. Nuahn was also warning the forces to remain calm or his troops would invade these two battalion areas. Doe in hiding implied that the Executive Mansion, the official residence and offices of the Head of State, had been taken over and Doe had fled. But Nuahn was still talking about forces attacking the Executive Mansion troops and Schiefellin. As we learned later, Doe was actually holding a press conference at the Executive Mansion at about the same time Nuahn was speaking on radio, some 28 miles away. The Quiwonkpa forces were based at the ELBC radio compound at the Liberia Broadcasting System in Paynesville, and in the BTC barracks near the Mansion. Doe was telling journalists who were fortunate and brave to find their way into the Mansion, that the coup had failed. He said since about 5:00 in the morning, his enemies had been trying to take over the Mansion, but could not. He also claimed that the rebels had been miserably defeated with at fatal casualties.
The odds were multiplying for the Quiwonkpa forces as soldiers in camps around the country begin to realize that Doe was still at the Mansion and a strong unit like the First Infantry Battalion was in fact putting up a fight. Nuahn changed to a version of April 12 tactics used to muster the loyalty of the common solider, but apparently it was too late. He called on soldiers not to take orders from their commanders, except the officers named in the Quiwonkpa tape. The command was illitimed and came as an afterthought in the face of losing the battle. The April 12 announcement was part of the initial message and did not point out a list of senior officers with ranks to be obeyed. While there were certainly advantages for naming his staff, Quiwonkpa had to face the consequences of excluding others by naming some. Worst still, there was no revision or addition during the day, a move that could have at least injected confusion among the government commanders.
Slightly more than hour after the Nuahn announcement, we realized government forces had made tremendous progress. They had taken over the powerful ELWA radio station, which was about five miles from the Quiwonkpa base at ELBC. The commander of the loyal forces from Schieffelin, Col. Moses T. Wright, took the microphone at ELWA to assure listeners that the station had been recaptured, and his next move was ELBC. He said they were out for peace. Wright, a cousin to the Head of State, countered the Nuahn announcement by calling on soldiers at the Executive Mansion to take orders from "Officer Doe," a reference to President-elect. Within an hour of the ELWA announcement, a captain Wilson declared on ELBC that the radio station was now in the hands of loyal government forces and the coup attempt had completely failed. From our Duport Road homes two miles away, we could still hear firing sound as Wilson spoke. All of the chanting in our area had long stopped with Jaja Massaquoi radio fiasco.
A Quiwonkpa supporter linked up with the BBC Focus on Africa program to say the coup had not failed, and the situation would be contained. The caller identified himself as Richard Williams, but our investigations showed he was Archie Williams, a one time Deputy Managing Director of the Roberts International Airport in Liberia. In response to a question on the Focus Program, Williams confirmed that Doe was still in the Mansion because the Patriotic Forces considered capturing the Mansion irrelevant. This was after Nuahn had already warned soldiers at the Mansion to give up.
The Liberian people for the first time since he morning ordeal heard the voice of Doe in an official broadcast at 7:00 in the evening. He repeated his commanders' declaration that Quiwonkpa had failed in his operation, and that he Doe was still the Commander Chief. He was still entreating the Armed forces and all security personnel to be loyal to the government. He reconfirmed all officers in the army and other armed organizations before the coup attempt was made, charging them to carry on their work under his command. The television version of the statement was aired on ELTV, and that brought doubts to my mind. Being familiar with nearly all of the official gathering places in the Mansion, I could not recognize the painting in the background. Cynically, I began to guess that Doe might not have been in the Mansion, even though his forces had taken over the radio station. But that was not the real fear. Worries had switched, as it was now being said that Quiwonkpa was in hiding. The government practically reconfirmed Quiwonkpa's dusk to dawn curfew by imposing its own official curfew covering the same hours, but more exacting. Doe said anyone found one minute after six in the evening would be shot, and warned all Liberians against harboring any of the invaders.
The public being familiar with the military skills of the brigadier, people in the country remained unsettled and wary. People were worried that a more dangerous standoff between the two forces was afoot, and civilians identified with the two groups could be fatally victimized. Despite the danger, civilian supporters were hoping their man would succeed. Quiwonkpa supporters wishfully concluded he had retreated further away from the immediate Monrovia environment to undertake a new attack. The former commanding general had vacated the BTC barracks as his forces were expelled from ELBC. The anxiety was reflected in the statement delivered by Doe, who evidently had no indication of Quiwonkpa's whereabouts after the momentary failure of the coup.The next day hardly brought relief to any of the group supporters...........................
Chapter XII - Induction of the Second Republic
January 6, 1986, Inauguration Day, should have been a happy occasion for 97 percent of the population, and even for some of the remaining 3 percent settler group. It was supposed to be a celebration of the first truly democratically elected leadership of the nation. It was supposed to begin a renaissance where Liberians would have the opportunity of freely fulfilling their individual and collective potentials. The nation was in want of genuine democracy and justice from 133 years of minority rule, and risky endeavors of change advocates ought to have been paying off now. And somehow, Inauguration Day reflected most of this outline. Samuel Kanyon Doe was to be inaugurated as the 20th President of Liberia, the first indigenous President, and the first President of the 2nd Republic. His legitimacy could not be questioned if compared to how all of his predecessors had been "elected." Real opposition political parties were now in existence, replacing the mono system.
In reality, however, the day was only another ............ The nation was still in a rough transition. People were anguishing in and out of jail over what they saw as an abortion of democracy and justice. It was not difficult to realize that change advocates of all categories had omitted something critical along the way. Something had gone seriously wrong ............
Foreign dignitaries including those from the United States, Europe and Africa nearly literally fought for seats among their hosts at the jam-packed Centennial Memorial Pavilion. The venue had hosted the inauguration of all Presidents of Liberia, only that this occasion had several unique dimensions. Even with all of the military fortification and abundant paramilitary arrangements, the first indigenous President to-be was still not sure the occasion was not a dream. People close to the Samuel Kanyon Doe told me they expected anything to happen on the day, and they were prepared for it. The fear and the excitement combined to show an unusual humility about Doe when he took the oath of office from Chief Justice Emmanuel Gbalazeh, a Mano from Quiwonkpa's Nimba County. The last word of the oath, broadcast live all over the nation, was greeted with cannon fire from the BTC, jubilantly reminding everyone that the military was still in the vanguard of the soldier turned civilian president. Monrovians swarmed the pavilion and congested the outlying streets. Traditional leaders and hundreds of delegates, relatives and friends had traveled from all of the country's thirteen counties to witness the festivities.
An overwhelmed Doe promised in his inaugural speech to be "a good shepherd" and asked Liberians to help him "be a good leader of his flock." He said he was offering the olive branch of peace to the opposition. He admonished his compatriots to stay away from " whatever may have divided us in the long and difficult road of the last 5 years." He added that "whatever may have disturbed our peace during almost a century and half of trials and tribulations in our search for national cohesion, let us forever depart from them now." ( Inaugural Speech, Jan. 6, l986, Monrovia). Doe told his compatriots to reaffirm that all of them were Liberians no matter what part of the country they came from. The new President said he had a vision that the Second Republic would be free of conflicts.
Now transformed into a civilian Chief Executive, Doe thought it was useful to ameliorate the sweepingly harsh stance he adopted after November 12. He was now on top on several counts, and did not have to worry, with Quiwonkpa now relegated to the past. As a confirmation of his olive branch offer, Doe made a presidential pardon for the several hundred Liberians arrested in connection with the aborted coup. The Liberian Action Party had reasons to be happy. The presidential act set free senior executives Byron Tarr, Peter Johnson, David Farhat, Harry Greaves, Sr., and several other LAP partisans. Publisher Momolu Sirleaf and journalists Isaac Bantu and Nathaniel Williams were also released along with more than 100 soldiers and security officers. The Doe political machinery moved on to announce LAP Chairman Tuan Wreh as Senior Senator from Grand Kru. A legislative spokesman said the Senator had polled more votes than his other colleague from the county, and as such was constitutionally entitled to the conferral. Under the same provision, Wreh would also serve for nine years, while the junior senator would serve six. The inauguration had been pulled off without any security problem.
The first cabinet lineup carried the reconciliation tone as well. Mary Antoinette Brown of University of Liberia repute was named Minister of Education, and from the extreme, the son of executed Speaker Richard Henries, George Henries, was made Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. A week later, UP Chairman Carlos Smith got appointed Deputy Minister while LAP Executive David Farhat accepted assignment at the Foreign Ministry as Deputy Minister for Administration, a position outside his finance turf. The soft-spoken Farhat would later climb in the Doe Administration to become Minister of Finance and then head of the Commerce Ministry.
In their books, the ruling NDPL had taken the appropriate steps to consolidate civilian power and show the Liberian people that their offer of national conciliation was sincere. Doe's vision of a conflict-free Second Republic seemed to be taking root. But history would repeat itself. President Tolbert believed he took decisions to match expectations that came with his assumption of power from the archconservative Tubman. As radical as they appeared to him, Tolbert's policies were defeated by the failure to make a real breakaway from the past. Half-hearted decisions only incited and bolstered his challengers. President Doe freed nearly three hundred people from prison, but left behind Jackson F. Doe and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf probably as a form of punishment or fear of the perceived havoc the two could cause outside. The press union of Liberia was still under government restriction and could not meet. So were students still prohibited from carrying on campus politics and even simple meetings. Though Doe had shredded the military outfit, his civilian administration immediately fell short of the rudimentary expectations.
The key word was civilian. Civil society, including the political parties, suddenly resurrected to further test the character of the Second Republic Civilian Samuel K. Doe. Antoinette Sherman and George Henries declined their appointments. The violent campus incident of August 22 was apparently lingering in the mind of the former university president. George Henries, who shared an office complex with me at the time, had served under Tolbert as Associate Justice. As son of the most prominent Tolbert official executed, George thought it was little too early to splash back into the government. He was intensely apolitical and had no compelling reasons to accept the post.
Another unusual challenge to the civilian government baffled the public and the administration itself. David Vinton, the extremely unassuming president of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment and unknown for any type of constituency in the country, mustered courage to challenge the new government. He refused to give up his post to NDPL Vice Chairman Francis Chuchu Horton, whom Doe appointed a few days earlier as President of the bank. Horton was a vice president at the family owned Bank of Liberia, which the Doe military government declared insolvent and then closed it. Horton decided to join the Doe train since he could not fight and put the vast family property in Monrovia at further risk. When he turned up at LBDI to take up the new assignment, Vinton bluntly told him to leave the building. He told Horton that the government was a minority shareholder and could not singularly change the head of the bank.
At the opposition level, freshly released Byron Tarr spearheaded LAP to insist that the Party would still boycott the legislature, despite the cooperation Party Chairman Tuan Wreh was giving the NDPL government. Tarr said in a press interview that Wreh took a personal decision in assuming his seat in the Senate, and declared further that the party would expel anyone who went against the party's boycott..( BBC Focus interview - January 8, l986.). Wreh in turn suspended Byron Tarr and the Party's Vice Chairman, Harry Greaves, Sr. The mudslinging finally made LAP to realize it was hurting itself more than the ruling NDPL. They had meetings to mend their fences. The truce was only for public consumption. Tuan Wreh resigned from the party and Greaves disclosed he was leaving the party and politics altogether.
The NDPL observed the olive branch had withered, and decided to isolate Johnson-Sirleaf, Robert Philips, and Jim Holder, presumably as settler descendants who were resolute in their hate for indigenous rule. Jackson Doe was promptly released and later appointed, without his prior consent, as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the viable National Social Security Welfare Corporation. The Justice Ministry announced it would prosecute Ellen and the others for treason. The public was for several years generally doubtful about the involvement of Philips and Holder in the Quiwonkpa plot until the revelation by H. B. Fahnbulleh Jr,, who confirmed his own involvement. Fahnbulleh disclosed that he and the "martyred" Philips and Holder were waiting among the Quiwonkpa contingent at the Mano River Bridge to enter Monrovia.
The Byron Tarr-led LAP agitation was internal, though the implications undermined the government's effort to effect a comprehensive co-option of the opposition. The most defiant test to the new administration came from the Press Union of Liberia, which gave an ultimatum for the government to lift the ban imposed on its activities. The Mansion remained mute, and the PUL openly held a meeting, recommencing its activities. The National Teachers Union, NULT, which was also stopped from operating before the elections, unilaterally announced resumption of official activities. The two organizations cited the Constitution, which guaranteed freedom of association. While freshly installed President Doe pondered the dilemma, the United People's Party of Baccus Matthews also declared it was resuming political activities. Acting Chairman Wesley Johnson said it was their constitutional rights as well. Matthews had left for the United States during the month of the elections, and was said to have been undergoing treatment from injuries sustained in a motor accident in Monrovia. He told pressmen that he was about to return to Liberia when he heard Doe had sent armed security men to await his arrival.
Grand Coalition Challenge
The government and the opposition cast aside the pretense of democracy honeymoon and began a series of bitter confrontation that included whipping up intense anti-Doe sentiments. The officially recognized opposition political parties - UP, LAP, and LUP - organized under a loose umbrella they called the Grand Coalition of Political Parties. Gabriel Kpolleh became Chairman, while Kesselly and Jackson Doe became Vice Chairmen. UP's Peter Bonner Jallah became spokesman and Secretary General. The Coalition invited the UPP, which had resumed functioning with the ban still in place. The UPP under Wesley Johnson joined the Coalition surprisingly without interference from the government.
Within two weeks of their formation into the Grand Coalition, the parties again insisted that the elections were fraudulent and should be rescheduled. They accused the government of failing to meet public expectations, besides violating the Liberian constitution by arbitrarily changing laws and illegally locking up opponents. The parties had belatedly realized the strength of collectivity and were all out exploiting the assumption that the military had given up power.
Sensing the impact the Coalition defiance could have on the ever-ready student community, among other hot groups, the NDPL sought a momentary truce. There was sad laughter when the Monrovia-based opposition declined to attend a meeting President Doe arranged in the central Liberian town of Gbarnga. The politicians said they could not accept such a suspicious arrangement, as they could not see legitimate reason behind convening the meeting outside Monrovia when they and President Doe were all based in the capital. The truce was off, setting the stage for yet another round of national outburst.
Not too long after the National Union of Liberian Teachers under Saa Philip Joe resumed operations despite a government ban, teachers at the Monrovia Consolidated School System began striking. The educators complained about salary delays, and their eager students immediately jumped in to dramatize their backing. The Executive Mansion attempted convincing the teachers to return, but it was by then late. The MCSS students had taken over from their mentors and called for an all out boycott of both public and private schools in the Monrovia area. They were out to enforce their demands on campuses unwilling to join. The Grand Coalition openly supported the teachers and students in their demand for the settlement of salary arrears. The government reacted by closing all schools in Monrovia, except the University of Liberia. Students at the university had simply resumed campus politics, ignoring a decree to the contrary.
With the school closure, the Coalition decided to replace the students on the streets. The leaders planned a mass rally to protest government practices they were condemning. The planned action triggered big time shivers within the ruling party. The two sides saw the moment as a replay of the rice riot that would bring the government to its knees, except this time it was a career soldier in power. The Justice Ministry filed to the Supreme Court for the issuance of a writ of prohibition against the rally, charging that it was intended to cause chaos and anarchy. The opposition denied the characterization, but not enough to convince Justice Elwood Jangaba that the issuing of the prohibition was not the right thing to do.
The Coalition seemed determined to wear out the Doe regime. The group told the media that the government was planning a fake coup as a scheme to get rid of opposition leaders. The public believed the statement, putting the government on the defensive. Justice Minister Jenkins Scott shocked people when he argued that the Coalition should have reported the alleged coup plan to his Ministry for investigation.
The Administration was humiliated, prompting a final action against the life of the Grand Coalition as an organization. The Election Commission declared that the functioning of the Coalition was not allowable under the laws. He said the parties had to first dissolve before qualifying for merger. The Commission found it timely to remind the UPP that it had not been restored to legal status. The UPP was told to take up the matter with the courts or the legislature, whose predecessor, the INA, decreed the party's ban. The UPP ignored the warning and organized a separate rally. More than 175 UPP senior executives and members were arrested and jailed. Matthews was still in the United States. Acting Chairman Wesley Johnson found a way to escape, leaving fellow party executives Blamo Nelson, Alphonso Kawah and Nathaniel Beh for the security grab. Minister Scott joined the Election body to explain that the coalition had not fulfilled the legal requirements to function as an entity. He said the Coalition had created division among the people, a split he said would "destroy or undermine the basic economic and political fabric, frustrating all efforts to bring about a true democracy." (Scott's statement read on ELBC, April 4, l986).
President Doe at the same time decided to reverse public opinion by asking the Coalition to prove that there was a fake coup plan. He set up a committee, headed by Bishop Alfred Reeves to investigate the claim. Coalition Chairman Gabriel Kpolleh, who made the accusation for his group, refused to respond to a citation of the commission for investigation. The Reeves Commission disappointed its creator. Despite the rejection by Kpolleh, the Commission asked the government to abandon the charges against the LUP Chairman. The commission said Kpolleh was speaking in the name of the Grand Coalition and therefore should not be individually held liable. The investigating group even suggested that if the request for dialogue and conciliation were unacceptable to the government, the courts would be a good forum to pursue the matter. A furious Doe ordered the arrest of Kpolleh on charges of sedition. He was released on bail after another public uproar in the media. By mid year also, Ellen Johnson and all others still in jail for the failed Quiwonkpa "invasion" were released from further detention.
The Coalition leaders' headache was not over yet. The Supreme Court fined each of them $7000 for violating the court's order that they do not operate under the name "Grand Coalition" until they officially merged. The trouble quickly exploded with Kesselly, Jackson Doe, and Kpoleh whisked off to Belle Yella and their wives staging open protest in Monrovia. Mrs. Lorpu Kpolleh told the rousing gathering in Monrovia that she would have divorced her husband if he had paid the fine. Equally angry, Dr. Kesselly's American wife, Adeline Kesselly, demanded the immediate release of her husband and colleagues. Jackson's wife, Mary Doe, joined her colleagues to petition the Supreme Court for a writ of Habeas Corpus to secure the specific whereabouts and release of their husbands. The ladies organized a demonstration, which never fully took place, but people strolled along the streets to reach the Supreme Court where the writ was requested. The Justice Ministry had declared the march illegal.
UPP's Wesley Johnson dodged going to prison again, but this time by paying the Supreme Court fine. Baccus Matthews had returned home and decided his party would be conciliatory with the government. He led his party leaders in meetings with President Doe, and then went over to the Capitol to spread his message to Vice President Moniba and NDPL senior legislators. When Coalition leaders' wives planned the demonstration, the UPP sided with the government in rejecting the demonstration. The UPP had earlier declined proposal from the Coalition that they all dissolve their parties and come up with one legally recognized party.
Matthews's return from the United States was timely for his party. Doe had special problems dealing with people he was not personally acquainted with. Wesley at the head of UPP carried this baggage, and could not understand why his party was left out of reconciliation meetings held with the other at the Executive Mansion. The UPP did not miss much from the meetings, which failed as a result of media squabbles between the government and opposition involved. While Doe hailed the meetings as a sign of cooperation between the two groups, the opposition argued that the President had violated the protocol of the discussions, which they claimed concluded with a proposal to set up a technical committee that would draw up an agenda. Matthews capitalized on the bitter experience and distanced his party from the rest of the Coalition. He found a willing Doe who was eager to run a wedge among his opponents. The move paid off for the UPP, at least temporarily. The government quietly dropped its objection to the UPP operating as an "illegal" party............
CHAPTER XIII - PROGRESS UNDER DOE
From the start, the drastic political change from civilian and minority rule to military and indigenous rule continued to be pervasively hectic. The post-True Whig Party journey had gone through so many waves, it made turbulence look normal and sometimes cynically anticipated. Several months without crisis seemed to be boring moments not only for the administration, but also for the trouble-prone citizenry. Concluding, however, that the Doe decade in power was nothing but decadence would be a deceitful distortion of history. Besides being the first indigenous to become Head of State and President of the century-old Republic, the grass-roots background of the young leader and his fellow new power holders automatically triggered a number of government activities that benefited the country. These were to have beneficial results not only in physical development of the country, but personally individual progress for young Liberians in human resource development and sports, among other areas.
The New "Middle Class"
It is expected that every new administration, whether in the public or private sector, will bring along new faces in the hierarchy. But when a political administration, whose official portfolio listing is nearly half of the civil servants, is dislodged, the filling of the huge vacuum has deep implications. In the case of the replacement of the True Whig Party by the indigenous and military regime, the entire government hierarchy was completely reconstituted. The civil service was additionally bloated to accommodate the new comers.
The new government consisted almost entirely of people from the lowest economic stratum. Their category represented more than 95 percent of the population. With the emergence of the Doe regime, a new middle class sprouted. The new class was politico-social, and had to productively validate its existence to qualify as a real economic middle class. As in the previous era, control of political power also meant supervision of the economic power structure. The purchasing power of the new government officials and their relatives increased. For the first time, the monopoly over government amenities had been broken and passed on to a completely new group. In Liberia, as in many countries around the world, government has always been the main source of legitimate and illegitimate income. Officials obtained money from peddling their influence or directly got involved in business as sole owners or partners with expatriates. With the introduction of Liberia's first local monetary denomination in 75 years, the artificial middle class expanded under Doe. New homes sprouted all over Monrovia and personal mansions were constructed in many parts of the country.
In the ten years of the Doe military and civilian administrations, hundreds of indigenous citizens accessed economic opportunities, married or had outside-marriage children with female relatives of the deposed minority clan. The expanded income enabled them travel to the United States, Europe, Asia and other global business and social resorts. More indigenous people obtained scholarships to do undergraduate and graduate studies in the United States, Europe and Asia. The social and economic barriers haunting the nation substantially diminished...........................
More topics on the Tolbert and Doe regimes are covered in the Book, expected to be published before the end of 2008.