On May 6, 1951 Doe was born in Tuzon , a small inland village in Grand Gedeh County . His family belonged to the Krahn people , a minority indigenous group important in this area.At the age of sixteen, Doe finished elementary school and enrolled at a Baptist junior high school in Zwedru .
Two years later, he enlisted in the Armed Forces of Liberia , hoping thereby to obtain a scholarship to a high school in Kakata , but instead he was assigned to military duties. Over the next ten years, he was assigned to a range of duty stations, including education at a military school and commanding an assortment of garrisons and prisons in Monrovia. He finally completed high school by correspondence. Doe was promoted to the grade of Master sergeant on 11 October 1979 and made an administrator for the Third Battalion in Monrovia, which position he occupied for eleven months.
*1980 coup, new government
Commanding a group of Krahn soldiers, Master Sergeant Samuel Doe led a military coup on 12 April 1980 by attacking the Liberian Executive Mansion and killing President William R. Tolbert, Jr. His forces killed another 26 of Tolbert’s supporters in the fighting. Thirteen members of the Cabinet were publicly executed ten days later. Other public demonstrations were made to show his power and humiliate Tolbert’s people before killing them. Shortly after the coup, government ministers were walked publicly around Monrovia in the nude and then summarily executed by a firing squad on the beach. Hundreds of government workers fled the country, while others were imprisoned.
After the coup, Doe assumed the rank of general and established a People’s Redemption Council (PRC), composed of himself and 14 other low-ranking officers, to rule the country. The early days of the regime were marked by mass executions of members of Tolbert’s deposed government. Doe ordered the release of about 50 leaders of the opposition Progressive People’s Party, who had been jailed by Tolbert during the rice riots of the previous month.
Shortly after that, Doe ordered the arrest of 91 officials of the Tolbert regime. Within days, 11 former members of Tolbert’s cabinet, including his brother Frank, were brought to trial to answer charges of “high treason , rampant corruption and gross violation of human rights . Doe suspended the Constitution, allowing these trials to be conducted by a Commission appointed by the state’s new military leadership, with defendants being refused both legal representation and trial by jury, virtually ensuring their conviction.
Doe abruptly ended 133 years of Americo-Liberian political domination. Some hailed the coup as the first time since Liberia’s establishment as a country that it was governed by people of native African descent instead of by the Americo-Liberian elite. Other persons without Americo-Liberian heritage had held the Vice Presidency ( Henry Too Wesley ), as well as Ministerial and Legislative positions in years prior. Many people welcomed Doe’s takeover as a shift favoring the majority of the population that had largely been excluded from participation in government since the establishment of the country.
However, the new government, led by the leaders of the coup d’état and calling itself the People’s Redemption Council (PRC), lacked experience and was ill prepared to rule. Doe became head of state and suspended the constitution, but promised a return to civilian rule by 1985.
*New constitution and 1985 elections
A draft constitution providing for a multi-party republic was issued in 1983 and approved by referendum in 1984. On July 26, 1984, Doe was elected President of the Interim National Assembly. He had a new constitution approved by referendum in 1984 and went on to stage a presidential election on October 15, 1985. According to official figures, Doe won 51% of the vote—just enough to avoid a runoff.The NDPL won 21 of the 26 Senate seats and 51 of the 64 seats in the House of Representatives. However, most of the elected opposition candidates refused to take their seats.
The election was heavily rigged; Doe had the ballots taken to a secret location and 50 of his own handpicked staff counted them. Foreign observers declared the elections fraudulent and suggested that runner-up Jackson Doe of the Liberian Action Party had actually won.Also, prior to the election he had more than 50 of his political opponents murdered. It is also alleged that he changed his official birth date from 1951 to 1950 in order to meet the new constitution’s requirement that the president be at least 35 years old.
Doe disbanded the constitution and headed the country’s military junta for the next five years. In 1985 he ordered an election and officially became the 21st President of Liberia . The election was marked by controversy as there was evidence of election fraud . Doe enjoyed decisive support from the United States ; it was a strategic alliance due to his anti- Soviet stance taken during the years of the Cold War prior to the changes in 1989 that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Doe, a member of the Krahn tribe from inland Liberia , was the first indigenous head of state in Liberian history. His people are a largely rural minority ethnic group and indigenous, like 95% of Liberians. Historically indigenous Liberians had been marginalized in the colonial-style society developed by the group known as the Americo-Liberians , made up of immigrants and their descendants. They were descended from the free-born and formerly enslaved black people, primarily from the United States, who founded Liberia in 1847 after it had been started as a colony in the late 1820s.
Doe opened Liberian ports to Canadian, Chinese and
European ships. This brought in considerable foreign investment from foreign shipping firms and earned Liberia a reputation as a tax haven .
Doe attempted to legitimize his regime with passage of a new constitution in 1984 and elections in 1985. However, opposition to his rule increased, especially after the 1985 elections, which were declared to be fraudulent by most foreign observers. For political reasons, the US continued to support him.
In the late 1980s, as the US government adopted more fiscal austerity and the threat of Communism declined with the waning of the Cold War, the U.S. became disenchanted with the entrenched corruption of Doe’s government. It began cutting off critical foreign aid to Doe. This, combined with the popular anger generated by Doe’s favoritism toward his native Krahn tribe, placed him in a very precarious position.
A civil war began in December 1989, when rebels entered Liberia through Ivory Coast with the intent of capturing Doe.
Charles Taylor , a former ally of Doe’s, crossed into Liberia from Ivory Coast on December 24, 1989, to wage a guerrilla war against Doe. Taylor had broken out of a jail in the United States, where he was awaiting extradition to Liberia on charges of embezzlement. The conflict quickly flared into full-fledged civil war . By mid-1990, most of Liberia was controlled by rebel factions.
Doe was captured in Monrovia on September 9, 1990 by Prince Y. Johnson , leader of INPFL , a breakaway faction of Charles Taylor’s NPFL . General Quinoo, the head of ECOMOG had invited Doe to the ECOMOG headquarters for a meeting and assured him of his safety from the rebels. On the morning of September 9, 1990,*Doe arrived at a precarious time during an ongoing change in guard duty from the well-armed and better equipped *Nigerian team of peacekeepers to the weaker Gambian contingent.*The Nigerian team had just withdrawn from the scene when Doe’s convoy of lightly armed personnel arrived, all cheerful anticipating no trouble. Doe was escorted to General Quinoo’s office where he was formally welcomed while most of his team of aides and guards waited outside. Johnson’s rebels surprised everyone by arriving on the scene uninvited, heavily armed, overwhelming and disarming everyone of Doe’s team encountering no resistance.
They started shooting Doe’s team in singles and later in groups. Upon hearing the gunshots from outside, Doe expressed concern to Quinoo who assured him that all was fine. Quinoo later, excused himself to check up on what was going on outside and was followed by his ADC Captain Coker of the Gambian contingent. They both took cover upon assessing the situation. Johnson’s men moved indoors, finished off Doe’s remaining team, shot him in the leg, and took him captive. When the dust settled, over 80 of Doe’s men laid dead. Coker characterized the incident as not even a fight but a brutal massacre. Remarkably, none of the ECOMOG personnel was shot in the carnage.Doe was taken to Johnson’s military base and tortured before being killed and exposed Unclad in the streets of Monrovia. To prove that he was not protected by black magic,his ears were cut off, then some of his fingers and toes, finally he was murdered by decapitation ; his body was later exhumed and reburied. The spectacle of his torture was videotaped and seen on news reports around the world. The video shows Johnson sipping a beer as Doe’s ear is cut off.
Watch the video of his arrest and interrogation