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Africa Last Updated: Nov 12, 2021 - 3:57:35 PM

Liberia : Samuel Doe, death washed down with a Budweiser
By Anna Sylvestre-Treiner, Africa Report, 10 November 2021
Nov 12, 2021 - 3:56:33 PM

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Today we visit the death of Liberia's Samuel Doe, tortured to death in front of a camera on 9 September 1990.

The president is almost spent, but the worst is yet to come. He is shirtless, with no trousers, his white underpants soaked in blood. His gris-gris has been ripped off. His eyes are wide open and his legs are already gone: a round of Kalashnikovs severed them from his body. Doe lies on the floor of this dingy office, surrounded by overexcited soldiers, begging. He is ready to give up everything: his fortune, the caches where his relatives are hiding, his bank account numbers and even his power – if he has any left.

The soldiers bully him, we don’t even know what they really want. Is it Doe’s pleas or the sneers of his torturers? You can’t hear anything in the small room at the Bushrod Island clinic in Monrovia. Amidst the hubbub, one journalist hands a microphone to the head of state, another films the scene. It lasts 14 minutes. The next day, 9 September 1990, the recording became a best-seller in Monrovia’s markets. It is not often that one witnesses the killing of a president.


The former president of Liberia Samuel Doe is executed by the rebel troops of “Prince Johnson”. His ears are said to have been cut off, cooked and served with rice to his victorious opponent

Blood and hate

In a fake leather armchair, facing his victim, Prince Johnson is impassive – or maybe a little amused. From time to time, he gets excited, gets up and sits down again. A woman in a nurse’s coat fans him. We must remain calm, the hour is serious. Perhaps it is the hour of victory. He takes a sip of Budweiser. Doe has been whimpering in front of him for almost 15 minutes. Enough is enough. His men rush to the president: they cut off one of his ears. More Budweiser. The beer is so good: it has the bitter taste of blood and hate.

[…] In my county of Nimba [in the north of the country], years before, he and his men killed 300 babies. Just before they were executed, they were screaming, but Doe did not hear their pleas.

Sunday’s fury began as the church bells in the Liberian capital rang out. The masses had barely ended, when the head of state suddenly ordered his guards to leave Mansion House. It’s all hands on deck. For weeks, everyone had been vegetating in the courtyard of the presidential palace, where Doe was holed up. The rebels of Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson, who had launched the offensive nine months earlier were now at the gates of Monrovia. It felt like the end.

For once, he wasn’t drunk

Did the appointment at the Economic Community of West African States Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) headquarters reassure Doe? Was he given any guarantees? What did he have to negotiate? In any case, witnesses say the president was in his right mind.

Doe arrives at the headquarters, with sirens wailing. He has an entourage of 100 men, his ministers of information and defence, as well as journalists. He goes to the first of two floors of a small building and, without even announcing his arrival, enters the office of the head of the ECOMOG, Ghanaian General Quainoo, who was deployed less than a month earlier.

Shortly afterwards, Prince Johnson arrives. The leader of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) is agitated and his soldiers heavily armed. They have machine guns and rocket launchers. Johnson is sweating, and shouting. The tone rises between his men and Samuel Doe’s guards. “Open fire!” he says. It is about 2pm. It is a massacre, 78 corpses.

“This time we’re going to take him,” says Prince Johnson. It is his turn to climb the stairs of the small building. He rushes into the office of General Quainoo. The Ghanaian tries to calm down both sides, but there is little he can do in the face of the hateful rants: he can only be a spectator. One of Prince Johnson’s men strafes Doe’s legs.

Genital mutilation

A few moments later, the rebels take the president to the Bushrod Island clinic. Doe has no lower limbs, then his genitals are crushed and, after a sip of Budweiser, his ears are cut off. Why? No one really knows, and it goes on for hours. The exact moment of the president’s death is not filmed, but for several days afterwards, the president’s body is displayed by Prince Johnson’s rebels. They parade the body through the streets of Monrovia in a wheelbarrow. Crowds scream with delight, reports say, as if horror has become the only source of joy.

At that time, it was the only thing in the air in Liberia. A decade earlier, the young Sergeant Doe had taken over the country, promising revenge for the ‘natives’ against the ‘Congos’, the African-American minority that had taken power, honours and money since the country’s independence in 1822. In the guise of revenge, there was terror. In place of freedom, there was violence.

Doe was only 29 years old when he and his men picked up the then President Tolbert from his palace room one morning, in April 1980, and executed him. A few days later, they lined up 13 ministers of the deposed government on a beach in Monrovia and shot them. Onlookers were warned: this was how enemies would be treated from now on.

The scene foreshadowed the deranged and inhuman reign that was to follow. Doe had decided not to let go of power. In 1990, it was like 1985, when on the eve of the presidential election, he promised to crush anyone who stood in the way of his re-election. He won with 51%.

Thus, at the end of 1989, when Charles Taylor raised his rebellion to overthrow him, he was not criticised, since some Liberians and foreign countries – Côte d’Ivoire and the United States, in particular – wanted to get rid of this uncontrollable sergeant.

Everyone knew the former presidential adviser, who had been accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars, and had spent several years in exile in the United States. However, no one cared about the methods of the rebels, the villages of ‘enemy’ ethnic groups razed to the ground or the children recruited. It was war, after all.

Not an ounce of remorse

“You know why I did this to Samuel Doe? In my county of Nimba [in the north of the country], years before, he and his men killed 300 babies. Just before they were executed, they were screaming, but Doe did not hear their pleas. So I cut off his ears,” Prince Johnson told us in 2018, from his posh Monrovia office. Liberia’s most notorious murderer has never expressed an ounce of remorse.

He still hasn’t made it to the top. After assassinating Doe, he battled his former comrade, Charles Taylor, for seven years before losing the war. Forced to flee in 1997, he returned to Nimba County as a hero and returned to politics in 2004.

Elected as a senator two years later, he came in third in the 2018 presidential election, which turned him into a go-to guy. Alongside President George Weah, he now occupies a central position in the Liberian regime. In May, the former warlord, who has never been tried, was even appointed to head the Senate defence committee. Prince Johnson is now one of the most powerful men in Liberia, but perhaps he should remember the end of Doe and the lesson it taught him: you die as you live.

Source:Ocnus.net 2021

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