I. Liberia’s First Civil War
The most comprehensive account of Liberia’s first civil war is Gabriel Williams’s Liberia: The Heart of Darkness (2002). The excerpts below are taken from the overview offered from pages 22-38.
“The modern state of Liberia was founded in 1822. Its founders were freed men and women of color from America. Their passage was paid for by the American Colonization Society (ACS), a philanthropic organization created in 1816, whose members included Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe…
“Independent since 1847 as Africa’s oldest republic, Liberia’s stability and ties to the U.S. made her a haven for international trade and commerce. Endowed with minerals and other natural resources, Liberia became a world leader in the registration of foreign-owned ships by charging low fees and making no inspections. But the country enjoyed economic growth without development. Most of the country’s wealth and all political power were controlled by Americo-Liberians or Congos, as the tiny group descended from the original settlers who founded Liberia are generally referred to by Liberians…
“Amid ostentatious display of wealth by the Americo-Liberians or Congos, indigenous Liberians, who make up the vast majority of the population, endured poverty and neglect. Indigenous Liberians are generally referred to as “country people.”
“The Americo-Liberians, who compromise 5% of the population, maintained a kind of a feudal oligarchy, exclusively controlling political power from 133 years. Americo-Liberian rule violently ended on April 12, 1980, when a group of lower-rank soldiers, led by Master Sergeant [Samuel K.] Doe, seized power. Amid popular jubilation, a new era had begun in Liberia…
“It was not long before Liberians realized that far from the peace and progress eagerly anticipated in the new era, the country had embarked upon a course of chaos. State sanctioned violence and murders became commonplace as Doe set out to consolidate and maintain power by eliminating his opponents, real or imagined… Mismanagement, corruption and abuse of human rights became rampant at an unprecedented level…
“The authoritarian nature of Doe’s regime brought about the armed rebellion, which led to the collapse of his government and his brutal death…In July 1990, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) entered Monrovia, where three-way battles raged with remnants of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) for control of the city. So bloody was the fight for Monrovia, which was effectively divided into three zones, that decomposed bodies littered the streets for months. Hundreds of thousands of the city’s residents were caught in the fighting, and several thousand died form starvation, diseases, and the violence, particularly bullets and rockets that flew about…
“With U.S. Endorsement, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), was formed [and a transitional government was put in place led first by Dr. Amos Sawyer, then David D. Kpormakpor, Wilton G.S. Sankawulo, and Ruth Perry]…
“From the seven years of war [1990-1997], it became obvious that none of the factions was strong enough to subdue the others and impose its rule on all…This is why Taylor – who for example, unsuccessfully led three attempts to seize Monrovia by force of arms resulting to massive destruction of life and property – and the other warlords finally gave up trying to acquire power through the barrel of a gun…
“With ECOMOG assuming full control of security in Liberia following the dissolution of the armed factions in early 1997, the stage was set for a political process that would usher in a democratically elected government…
“Taylor, the pre-eminent warlord, the man blamed most for Liberia’s ruin and the death of hundreds of thousands of people, won a landslide victory…It was a victory that shocked the world…”Liberians have chosen a strange way to end the seven years of civil war…” reported the Washington Post… Most of the voters believed that unless Taylor got what he wanted – Liberia’s Presidency – he would continue to wage war…
* Additional Resources *
- [The only documentary I know of that offers a complete overview of Liberia’s modern history is Nancee Oku Bright’s invaluable “Liberia: America’s Stepchild” (2002). It is distributed by DER.]
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II. Liberia’s Second Civil War
The following is a brief summary adapted from Wikipedia:
The Second Liberian Civil War began in 1999 when a rebel group backed by the government of neighboring Guinea, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), emerged in northern Liberia. In early 2003, a second rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, emerged in the south, and by June-July of 2003, Charles Taylor's government controlled only a third of the country. The capital Monrovia was besieged by LURD, and that group's shelling of the city resulted in the deaths of many civilians. Thousands of people were displaced from their homes as a result of the conflict.
The United States of America sent a small number of troops to bolster security around their embassy in Monrovia, which had come under attack. The U.S. also stationed a Marine Expeditionary Unit with 2300 Marines offshore while Nigeria sent in peacekeepers as part of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) force.
President Taylor resigned on August 11, 2003 as part of a peace agreement and was flown into exile in Nigeria. An arrest warrant for Taylor for war crimes committed by his rebel allies in Sierra Leone was later issued by Interpol.
Vice-President Moses Blah replaced Taylor prior to the installation of a transitional government on October 14, 2003. However, the transitional government exercised no real authority in the country, 80% of which was controlled by rebel groups.
On September 11, 2003, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended the deployment of the peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Mission in Liberia, to maintain the peace agreement. The UN Security Council approved the mission on September 19. UNMIL was made up of over 15,000 personnel, including both military and civilian troops.
* Additional Resources *
- [For a frontline look at the manner in which Charles Taylor was driven from power see Jonathan Stack and James Brabazon’s courageous “Liberia: An Uncivil War” (2003), distributed by Gabriel Films.]
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III. The Election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
The Harvard trained economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was inaugurated as President of Liberia on January 16, 2006. Shortly after, Charles Taylor was arrested and charged with crimes against humanity.
* Additional Resources *
- Some of the best writing about post-war Liberia has come from New Yorker staff writer, Jon Lee Anderson. See The New Yorker Archives for a Q&A with the author. Also, see Anderson’s “After the Warlords”, which appeared in the 3.27.06 issue of the magazine (sadly, it is not available for free on-line).
- An interview with President Johnson-Sirleaf can be found here.
IV. The Place of David D. Kpormakpor in Liberian History
Former law professor and Supreme Court Justice David D. Kpormakpor served as Interim President of Liberia between 1994-1995, during its disastrous civil war. He was appointed by a handful of warlords who had been searching for a neutral person – uninterested in power - to chair the Council of State.
Kpormakor was an ideal choice. Born far from the capital, he was the first member of his family to read or write. As a young man, he impressed a missionary from Mississippi who secured him a place at the prestigious College of West Africa. He finished third in his class and won scholarships to San Francisco State University and UCLA. He returned home, became a professor of law, and was appointed to the Liberian Supreme Court. His reputation as incorruptible, and perhaps a bit naïve, made him a superb candidate for the warlords who were looking to install an uncomplicated figurehead for the government.
As Interim President, he had little power beyond the capital; and even there one of his generals seized the mansion in what amounted to a failed coup. Ultimately, Kpormakpor left office with nothing. He spent the next two years living on a military based guarded by African peacekeepers who broke into his home twice, stealing everything he owned.
In 1997, with his health declining and the ruthless dictator Charles Taylor coming to power, Kpormakpor returned to America. He settled in a housing project in Park Hill, Staten Island, where nearly 6,000 Liberians had sought refuge from war and poverty. He has lived here alone, on welfare, for nearly a decade.
-From the Voiceover Narration
The circumstances that lead to Kpormakpor being named Interim President are best explained in Gabriel Williams’s Liberia: The Heart of Darkness (2002). The excerpts below are taken from the overview offered from pages 176-186.
COTONOU ACCORD BEGINS FINAL DIFFICULT JOURNEY TO PEACE
“The 16th Summit of ECOWAS began in Cotonou, July 22, 1993, with high hopes that the West African heads of state and government in attendance would witness the signing of a new cease-fire and peace accord…
“On the political question, the parties [three main political parties vying for power in the war-torn Liberia—the NPFL, ULIMO, and IGNU] agreed to establish a Liberia National Transitional Government (LNTG) to replace the interim government of National Unity led by Dr. Sawyer. The LNTG’s authority was to extend throughout the territorial limits of Liberia with executive powers vested in a five-member Council of State….
“The Cotonou agreement was seen as yet another attempt to appease Taylor, whose key demands, which included the formation of a new transitional government excluding Sawyer as the possible head, were met. For his part, keen not to be seen as holding on to power after Taylor agreed to dismantle his military empire based on the afford mentioned, Sawyer accepted to step down. One of Sawyer’s key accomplishments in the agreement was that the seating of the Council of State transitional government would be “concomitant with the commencement of the process of disarmament.” Disarmament of the warring factions was a focus of Sawyer’s politicies, and it was on that basis that he opted to relinquish power… Amid thunderous applause, Sawyer told the nation that the warring parties’ demand to share leadership of the country was accepted with the condition, to which they agreed, to lay down their arms and ECOMOG taking full control of security throughout Liberia. Sawyer noted that this was to ensure that “our people” would not continue to live under the state of terror, which had prevailed for the past several years…
“Following several weeks of negotiations, a five-man council was formed in Cotonou on August 15, 1993. The following names were agreed upon by the three parties as members of the Council of State: Bismark Kuyon, speaker of the interim legislative assembly in Moonrovia, and former supreme court of Liberia associate justice David Kpormakpor, for IGNU; Dr. El Monahmmed Sheriff, a Mandingo, and Thomas Ziah, a Kahn, for ULIMO; and Ms D. Musuleng Cooper, a Taylor crony and education minister in Taylor’s Gbarnga-based NPRAG, for the NPFL. The parties agreed for IGNU to appoint the chair of the Council of State, a responsibility that easily fell in the lap of speaker Kuyon, who was seen as a close ideological associate of Sawyer. Rancor amongst the three parties on the distribution of government ministries and agencies once again brought to the fore what is found to be one of the greatest ills in the Liberian society, which is self-interest… Most of those involved with the political process became more concerned with securing or enhancing their standing in the new political order that crucial issue of disarmament was relegated.
“Apparently eager to have the LNTG installed and to establish his own authority in the new political order, Kuyon soon began relating more closely and favorably to Taylor and publicly differing with IGNU on some critical policy issues such as disarmament… That was his undoing. IGNU promptly replaced him from the Council of State and this chairmanship post… ULIMO, NPFL, and most of the political parties and interest groups that made up IGNU protested the action to remove him. Kpomakpor was subsequently appointed chair of the council…
“As the struggle for power within the new government gained intensity, the NPFL and ULIMO called for the seating of the Liberia National Transitional Government, even though the process of disarmament had not gotten off the ground… With no tangible support for their insistence on full adherence to the Cotonou accord, Sawyer and his supporters caved in, allowing the seating of the LNTG on March 7, 1994, without any accomplishment in the disarmament. Elections were scheduled to be head by September 7, within the six-month duration of the LNTG.
BREAKDOWN OF COTONOU CEASE-FIRE
[Kpormakpor’s tenure as Interim President began in the wake of the breakdown of the Cotonou Cease-Fire. Two new arm factions emerged – the Liberia Peace Council (LBC) and the Lofa Defense Force (LDF) – to contest the NPFL, ULIMO, and IGNU for shares of power. Hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes to escape the pillaging, raping and murderous fighters. In December 1993 and January 1994 a fresh batch of ECOMOG troops arrived from East Africa. By mid-1994, the nation was ablaze in fierce intra-factional fighting, particularly in Lofa County and Gbarnga.]
“Monrovia was not spared the turmoil prevailing throughout Liberia. Amid sporadic shooting form the AFL led by Charles JULU, seized the Executive Mansion and announced the overthrow of the LNTG, chaired by David Kpromakpor. Having failed to seize a radio station to announce his coup, JULU, a Krahn who was also known to be responsible for numerous killings during the Doe era, telephoned the BBC form the president’s office. Julu used his BBC interview to inform Liberians and the world in general that he had seized power, and was forming what he called the “Liberia New Horizons Government.” [Julu] had fled to the US in 1990 as rebel forces marched closer to Monrovia. He had secretly returned to Monrovia days before the coup, about which the AFL top brass including chief of staff Hezekiah Bowen and commanding general Moses Wright, both Krahn, were known to be knowledgeable but did nothing to forestall.
“ECOMOG attacked the mansion and flushed out Julu and his followers, after an ultimatum for their peaceful surrender was ignored. There were some casualties, but Julu escaped from the mansion unharmed… LNTG chair David Kpormakpor, using the power invested in him as commander-in-chief of the national army, fired Bowen and Wright from their positions. The decision was condemned and disregarded by Gen. Bowen and the Krahn dominated AFL. Support for JULU within the AFL eventually led to a series of fighting between ECOMOG and the AFL.
“With Nigeria engulfed in political turmoil, Ghana’s President Jerry Rawlings, then chairman of ECOWAS, assumed central stage in spearheading the Liberian peace process. Unable to implement the Cotonou accord, Rawlings started a series of Akosombo peace conferences so as to convince the warlords to subscribe to disarmament and then election. The first accord signed September 12 in Akosombo, a beautiful city in Ghana, gave the NPFL, ULIMO-K and the AFL leading roles in the military dominated administration which were not in proportion to their support on the ground. The accord left out NPFL dissidents led by Tom Woiweyu, ULIMI-J led by Roosevelt Johnson, and LPC led by George Boley, who refused to recognize the accord’s validity. Outgoing LNTG chair David Kpormakpor and a majority of the civilian politicians, who argued that it gave too much power to the warlords and completely ignored the interests of the civilians, opposed the accord. The six-month mandate of the LNTG expired in September, and Taylor demanded for the formation of a new transitional government.
The accord left out a handful of dissidents. Outgoing LNTG chair David Kpormakpor and a majority of the civilian politicians, who argued that it gave too much power to the warlords and completely ignored the interests of the civilians, opposed the accord. The six-month mandate fo the LNTG expired in September, and Taylor demanded for the formation of a new transitional government.
[Regretfully, there has been very little, if anything, written about Kpormakpor’s biography, including his role on the Liberian Supreme Court, where he believes he made his greatest contribution.]
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V. Related Links
Liberia: America’s Stepchild (2002):
Liberia: An Uncivil War (2003):
Liberia: Heart of Darkness (2002)
by Gabriel Williams
The Graves Are Not Yet Full: Race, Tribe, and Power in the Heart of Africa (2001)
by Bill Berkeley
Beyond Plunder: Toward Democratic Governance in Liberia (2005)
by Amos Sawyer
The Emergence of Autocracy in Liberia: Tragedy and Challenge (2002)
by Amos Sawyer
Two popular online newspapers:
List of Liberian Presidents:
“African Refuge”, non-profit based in Park Hill Staten Island:
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