First Liberian Civil War

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First Liberian Civil War
Part of the Liberian Civil Wars
Date 1989–1997
Location Liberia

NPFL victory

Liberia Liberian Armed Forces
Liberia ULIMO
United Nations UNOMIL (September 22, 1993 - September 12, 1997)
Commanders and leaders
Liberia Samuel Doe   Charles Taylor
Prince Yormie Johnson
Total killed: 100,000[1] – 220,000

The First Liberian Civil War was an internal conflict in Liberia from 1989 until 1997. The conflict killed over 200,000 people and eventually led to the involvement of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and of the United Nations. The peace did not last long, and in 1999 the Second Liberian Civil War broke out.

Samuel Doe had led a coup d'état that overthrew the elected government in 1980, and in 1985 held elections that were widely considered fraudulent. There had been one unsuccessful coup by a former military leader. In December 1989, former government minister Charles Taylor moved into the country from neighboring Côte d'Ivoire to start an uprising meant to topple the Doe government.

During the civil war, factions formed around Taylor and those who supported his former soldier with the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, Prince Johnson. Johnson took the capital Monrovia in 1990 and executed Doe, while Taylor's forces, the Armed Forces of Liberia, and Johnson's forces battled for control of Monrovia.[clarification needed]

Peace negotiations and foreign involvement led to a ceasefire in 1995 that was broken the next year before a final peace agreement and new national elections were held in 1997. Taylor was elected President of Liberia in July 1997.


File:Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger - Samuel K. Doe.jpg
Samuel Doe with then Secretary of Defense of the United States Caspar W. Weinberger outside of the Pentagon in 1982.

Samuel Doe takes power in coup (1980)

Samuel Doe had taken power in a popular coup in 1980 against William R. Tolbert, becoming the first Liberian President of non Americo-Liberian descent. Doe established a military regime called the People's Redemption Council and enjoyed early support from a large number of indigenous Liberian tribes who had been excluded from power since the founding of the country in 1847 by freed American slaves.

Any hope that Doe would improve the way Liberia was run was put aside as he quickly clamped down on opposition, fueled by his paranoia of a counter-coup attempt against him. As promised, Doe held elections in 1985 and won the presidency by just enough of a margin to avoid a runoff. However, international monitors condemned this election as fraudulent.[citation needed]

Coup attempt by Thomas Quiwonkpa (November 1985)

Thomas Quiwonkpa, the former Commanding General of the Armed Forces of Liberia who Doe had demoted and forced to flee the country, attempted to overthrow Doe's regime from neighboring Sierra Leone. The coup attempt failed and Quiwonkpa was killed and eaten.[2] His body was publicly exhibited on the grounds of the Executive Mansion in Monrovia soon after his death.[3]

Crackdown on the Gio and Mano tribes (1985)

Large scale government crackdowns followed in Nimba County, Zuleyee in the north of the country against the Gio and Mano tribes where the majority of the coup plotters came from. The mistreatment of the Gio and Mano tribes fueled ethnic tensions in Liberia, which had already been rising due to Doe's preferential treatment of his own group, the Krahn.

Charles Taylor builds insurgent forces (1985-1989)

Charles Taylor, who had left Doe's government after being accused of embezzlement, assembled a group of rebels in Côte d'Ivoire (mostly ethnic Gios and Manos who felt persecuted by Doe) who later became known as the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). They invaded Nimba County on 24 December 1989. The Liberian Army retaliated against the whole population of the region, attacking unarmed civilians and burning villages. Many left as refugees for Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire, but opposition to Doe was inflamed. Prince Johnson, an NPFL fighter, split to form his own guerrilla force soon after crossing the border, based on the Gio tribe and named Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL).

First Liberian Civil War (1989-1997)

Charles Taylor's force attacks (1989)

Charles Taylor organized and trained indigenous northerners in Ivory Coast. During Doe's regime Taylor had served in the Liberian Government's General Services Agency, acting 'as its de facto director'.[4] He fled to the United States in 1983 amid what Stephan Ellis describes as the 'increasingly menacing atmosphere in Monrovia' shortly before Thomas Quiwonkpa, Doe's chief lieutenant, fled into exile himself. Doe requested Taylor's extradition for embezzling $900,000 of Liberian government funds. Taylor was thus arrested in the United States and after sixteen months broke out of a Massachusetts jail in circumstances that are still unclear.

Krahn vs Gio and Mano tribes

The NPFL initially encountered plenty of support within Nimba County, which had endured the majority of Samuel Doe’s wrath after the 1985 attempted coup. When Taylor and his force of 100 rebels reentered Liberia in 1989, on Christmas Eve, thousands of Gio and Mano joined them. While these formed the core of his rebel army, there were many Liberians of other ethnic backgrounds who joined as well. Doe responded by sending two AFL battalions, including the 1st Infantry Battalion,[5] to Nimba in December 1989-January 1990,[6] apparently under then-Colonel Hezekiah Bowen.[7]

The AFL acted in a very brutal and scorched-earth fashion which quickly alienated the local people. The rebel invasion soon pitted ethnic Krahn sympathetic to the Doe regime against those victimized by it, the Gio and the Mano. Thousands of civilians were massacred on both sides. Hundreds of thousands fled their homes.

By May 1990 the AFL had been forced back to Gbarnga, still under the control of Bowen's troops, but they lost the town to a NPFL assault on 28 May.[8] By June 1990, Taylor's forces were laying siege to Monrovia. In July 1990, Prince Yormie Johnson split from Taylor and formed the Independent National Patriotic Front (INPFL). The INPFL and NPFL continued their siege on Monrovia, which the AFL defended. Johnson quickly took control of parts of Monrovia prompting evacuation of foreign nationals and diplomats by the US Navy in August.

ECOWAS intervention force (August 1990)

In August 1990, the 16-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to deploy a joint military intervention force, the Economic Community Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), and place it under Nigerian leadership. The mission later included troops from non-ECOWAS countries, including Uganda and Tanzania. ECOMOG’s objectives were to impose a cease-fire; help Liberians establish an interim government until elections could be held; stop the killing of innocent civilians; and ensure the safe evacuation of foreign nationals.

ECOMOG also sought to prevent the conflict from spreading into neighboring states, which share a complex history of state, economic, and ethno-linguistic social relations with Liberia. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) attempted to persuade Doe to resign and go into exile, but despite his weak position – besieged in his mansion – he refused. ECOMOG, an ECOWAS intervention force, arrived at the Freeport of Monrovia on August 24, 1990, landing from Nigerian and Ghanaian vessels.[9]

Capture and killing of Samuel Doe (September 1990)

On 9 September 1990, Doe visited the barely established, newly arrived ECOMOG headquarters in the Free Port of Monrovia. Stephen Ellis says,[10] his motive was to lay a complaint that the ECOMOG commander had not paid a courtesy call to Doe, the Head of State, however, the exact circumstances that led to Doe’s visit to the Free Port are still unclear. Doe had been under pressure to accept exile outside of Liberia. However, after Doe arrived, a large rebel force led by Prince Johnson’s INPFL arrived at the headquarters and then attacked Doe's party. Doe was captured and taken to the INPFL’s Caldwell base. He was brutally tortured before being killed and dismembered. His torture and execution was videotaped by his captors.[11][12]

Johnson’s INPFL and Taylor’s NPFL continued to struggle for control of Monrovia in the months that followed. With military discipline absent and bloodshed throughout the capital region, members of ECOWAS created the Economic Community Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to restore order. The force comprised some 4,000 troops from Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, the Gambia and Guinea. ECOMOG succeeded in bringing Taylor and Johnson to agree to its intervention, but Taylor's forces engaged it in the port area of Monrovia.

Peace making attempts (1990)

A series of peacemaking conferences in regional capitals followed. There were meetings in Bamako in November 1990, Lome in January 1991, and Yamoussoukro in June–October 1991. But the first seven peace conferences, including the Yamoussoukro I-IV processes failed. In November 1990, ECOWAS invited the principal Liberian players to meet in Banjul, Gambia to form a government of national unity. The negotiated settlement established the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), led by Dr. Amos Sawyer, leader of the LPP. Bishop Ronald Diggs of the Liberian Council of Churches became vice president. However, Taylor's NPFL refused to attend the conference. Within days, hostilities resumed. ECOMOG was reinforced in order to protect the interim government. Sawyer was able to establish his authority over most of Monrovia, but the rest of Liberia was in the hands of various factions of the NPFL or of local gangs.


The United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) was formed in June 1991 by supporters of the late President Samuel K. Doe and former Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) fighters who had taken refuge in Guinea and Sierra Leone. It was led by Raleigh Seekie, a deputy Minister of Finance in the Doe government.

After fighting alongside the Sierra Leonean army against the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), ULIMO forces entered western Liberia in September 1991. The group scored significant gains in areas held by another rebel group – the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), notably around the diamond mining areas of Lofa and Bomi counties.

From its outset, ULIMO was beset with internal divisions and the group effectively broke into two separate militias in 1994: ULIMO-J, an ethnic Krahn faction led by General Roosevelt Johnson and ULIMO-K, a Mandingo-based faction led by Alhaji G.V. Kromah.

The group was alleged to have committed serious violations of human rights, both before and after its breakup.

Attack on Monrovia (1992)

Peace was still far off as both Taylor and Johnson claimed power. ECOMOG declared an Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) with Amos Sawyer as their president, with the broad support of Johnson. Taylor launched an assault on Monrovia on October 15, 1992, named 'Operation Octopus.'[13] which may have been led by Burkina Faso soldiers.[14] The resulting siege lasted two months.

By late December, ECOMOG had pushed the NPFL back beyond Monrovia's suburbs.


In 1993, ECOWAS brokered a peace agreement in Cotonou, Benin. Following this, on September 22, 1993, the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council established the UN Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL), to support ECOMOG in implementing this Cotonou peace agreement. UNOMIL in early 1994 deployed 368 military observers and associated civilian personnel to monitor implementation of the abortive Cotonou Peace Agreement, prior to elections originally planned for February/March 1994.

Renewed armed hostilities broke out in May 1994 and continued, becoming especially intense in July and August. ECOMOG, and later UNOMIL, members were captured and held hostage by some factions. By mid-1994, the humanitarian situation had become disastrous, with 1.8 million Liberians in need of humanitarian assistance. Conditions continued to deteriorate, but humanitarian agencies were unable to reach many in need due to hostilities and general insecurity.

Factional leaders agreed in September 1994 to the Akosombo Agreement, a supplement to the Cotonou agreement, named after the Ghanaian town where it was signed. The security situation in Liberia remained poor. In October 1994, in the face of ECOMOG funding shortfalls and a lack of will by the Liberian combatants to honor agreements to end the war, the UN Security Council reduced to about 90 the number of UNOMIL observers. It extended UNOMIL’s mandate and subsequently extended it several times until September 1997.

In December 1994, the factions and other parties signed the Accra Agreement, a supplement to the Akosombo Agreement. Disagreements ensued and fighting continued.

Ceasefire (1995)

In August 1995, the main factions signed an agreement largely brokered by Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings. At a conference sponsored by ECOWAS, the United Nations and the United States, the European Union, and the Organization of African Unity, Charles Taylor agreed to a cease-fire and a timetable to demobilize and disarm his troops.

At the beginning of September 1995, Liberia’s three principal warlords – Taylor, George Boley and Alhaji Kromah – made theatrical entrances into Monrovia. A ruling council of six members under civilian Wilton G. S. Sankawulo and with the three factional heads Charles Taylor, Alhaji Kromah and George Boley, took control of the country preparatory to elections that were originally scheduled for 1996.

Fighting in Monrovia (1996)

Heavy fighting broke out again in April 1996. This led to the evacuation of most international Non-governmental organizations and the destruction of much of Monrovia.

In August 1996, these battles were ended by the Abuja Accord in Nigeria, agreeing to disarmament and demobilization by 1997 and elections in July of that year. 3 September 1996, Sankawulo is followed by Ruth Perry as chairwoman of the ruling council, who served until 2 August 1997.

1997 Elections

Simultaneous elections for the presidency and national assembly were finally held in July 1997. In a climate hardly conducive to free movement and security of persons, Taylor and his National Patriotic Party won an overwhelming victory against 12 other candidates. Assisted by widespread intimidation, Taylor took 75 per cent of the presidential poll (no other candidate won more than 10 per cent) while the NPP won a similar proportion of seats in both parliamentary chambers. 2 August 1997, Ruth Perry handed power to elected president Charles Taylor.


Liberians had voted for Taylor in the hope that he would end the bloodshed. The bloodshed did slow considerably, but it did not end. Violent events flared up regularly after the putative end of the war. Taylor, furthermore, was accused of backing guerrillas in neighboring countries and funneling diamond monies into arms purchases for the rebel armies he supported, and into luxuries for himself.

After Taylor's victory, Liberia was peaceful enough so that refugees began to return. But other leaders were forced to leave the country, and some ULIMO forces reformed as the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). LURD began fighting in Lofa County with the aim of destabilizing the government and gaining control of the local diamond fields, leading to the Second Liberian Civil War.

In 1997, the Liberian people elected Charles Taylor as the President after he entered the capital city, Monrovia, by force. The implicit unrest manifested during the late 1990s is emblematic in the sharp national economic decline and the prevalent sale of diamonds and timber in exchange for small arms.


The 1989-1996 Liberian civil war, which was one of Africa's bloodiest, claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and further displaced a million others into refugee camps in neighboring countries. Entire villages were emptied as people fled. Child soldiers committed atrocities, raping and murdering people of all ages.

Liberia's civil war claimed the lives of one out of every 17 people in the country, uprooted most of the rest, and destroyed a once-viable economic infrastructure. The strife also spread to Liberia's neighbors, contributing to a slowing of the democratization that was progressing steadily through West Africa at the beginning of the 1990s and destabilizing a region that already was one of the world's most marginal.

Second Liberian Civil War

The Second Liberian Civil War began in 1999 and ended in October 2003, when ECOWAS intervened to stop the rebel siege on Monrovia and exiled Charles Taylor to Nigeria until he was arrested in 2006 and taken to The Hague for his trial. By the conclusion of the final war, more than 250,000 people had been killed and nearly 1 million displaced. Half that number remain to be repatriated in 2005, at the election of Liberia's first democratic President since the initial 1980 coup d'état of Samuel Doe.

The incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who initially was a strong supporter of Charles Taylor, was inaugurated in January 2006 and the National Transitional Government of Liberia terminated its power.


Armed groups that participated in the war

Peace agreements

Peace agreements signed included the:[15]

  • Banjul III Agreement (1990-10-24)
  • Bamako Ceasefire Agreement (1990-11-28)
  • Banjul IV Agreement (1990-12-21)
  • Lomé Agreement (1991-02-13)
  • Yamoussoukro IV Peace Agreement (1991-10-30)
  • Geneva Agreement 1992 (1992-04-07)
  • Cotonou Peace Agreement (1993-07-25)
  • Akosombo Peace Agreement (1994-09-12)
  • Accra Agreements/Akosombo clarification agreement (1994-12-21)
  • Abuja Peace Agreement (1995-08-19)

See also



  1. Edgerton, Robert B, Africa's armies: from honor to infamy: a history from 1791 to the present (2002)
  2. Dickovick, J. Tyler (2008). The World Today Series: Africa 2012. Lanham, Maryland: Stryker-Post Publications. ISBN 978-1-61048-881-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "How Quiwonkpa Was Killed". Daily Star 1985-11-18: 5.
  4. Stephen Ellis, The Mask of Anarchy, Hurst & Company, London, 2001, p.57, 67-68
  5. HRW, Flight from Terror, May 1990
  6. Charles Hartung, 'Peacekeeping in Liberia: ECOMOG and the Struggle for Order,' Liberian Studies Journal, Volume XXX, No.2, 2005
  7. Mark Huband, The Liberian Civil War, p.115, 118-119
  8. Hubard, p.115
  9. Adebajo, 2002, p.75
  10. The Mask of Anarchy, by Stephen Ellis, 2001, p.1-9
  11. Armon, Jeremy; Andy Carl (1996). "Liberia: Chronology". Conciliation Resources. Retrieved 2007-02-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Ellis, Stephen (2007) [1999]. The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of African Civil War. London, UK: Hurst & Company. pp. 1–16. ISBN 1850654174.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. See Ellis, Mask of Anarchy, 98-99.
  14. Herbert Howe, Ambiguous Order, 2005, 143.

Further reading

  • Gerdes, Felix: Civil War and State Formation: The Political Economy of War and Peace in Liberia, Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag & University of Chicago Press, 2013
  • Huband, Mark. "The Liberian Civil War". Frank Cass (1998). ISBN 0-7146-4340-8
  • Moran, Mary H. Liberia: The Violence of Democracy - University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008
  • Hoffman, Danny. "The City as Barracks: Freetown, Monrovia, and the Organization of Violence in Postcolonial African Cities." Cultural Anthropology. Volume 22 #3 August 2007. pp. 400–428.

External links