Samuel Kanyon Doe (May 6, 1951 – September 9, 1990) was a Liberian politician who served as the Liberian leader from 1980 to 1990, first as a military leader and later as a civilian. While a master sergeant in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Doe staged a violent coup d’état in April 1980 that left him de facto head of state. During the coup, then President William Tolbert, and much of the True Whig Party leadership were executed. Doe then established the People’s Redemption Council, assuming the rank of general.
Doe suspended 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 had 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 dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The first native head of state in the country’s history, Doe was a member of the Krahn ethnic group, a largely rural people. Before the 1980 coup, natives had often held a marginal role in society, which was dominated by the descendants of the America-Liberian Pioneers; composed primarily of free-born American blacks and freed slaves, the Pioneers were the immigrants who had established Liberia in the 1820s and led the country beginning with independence in 1847.
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.
Charles Taylor, a former ally of Doe, 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 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, none of whom were anticipating any trouble. Doe was escorted to General Quinoa’s office where he was formally welcomed, while most of his team of aides and guards waited outside. Johnson’s rebels surprised everyone by suddenly arriving on the scene uninvited and heavily armed, overwhelming, and disarming the entirety of Doe’s team while encountering no resistance.
They then started shooting Doe’s team individually 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 on what was happening outside and was followed by his aide, Captain Coker of the Gambian contingent. Both men 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 lay dead. Coker characterized the incident not as a fight, but a brutal massacre. Remarkably, none of the ECOMOG personnel were shot in the carnage.
Doe was taken to Johnson’s military base. To prove that he was not protected by black magic, Johnson ordered that his ears be cut off in Johnson’s presence, and he chewed one of them, then some of Doe’s fingers and toes were also cut off. After 12 hours of torture at Johnson’s hands,
Doe was finally murdered; his corpse was exhibited naked in the streets of Monrovia where they spilled dirty water on his head. Doe’s body was later exhumed and reburied. The spectacle of his torture was video-taped and seen on news reports around the world.
The video shows Johnson sipping a beer as Doe’s ear is cut off.