Samuel K. Doe

Samuel K. Doe
Credit: Executive Mansion

Samuel Kanyan Doe

Term 21th President: 1980 – 1990
Born May 6, 1950 (or 1951), Tuzon, Grand Gedeh County, Liberia
Died September 9, 1990, Monrovia, Liberia
Race/Ethnicity Black, Krahn
County of Origin Grand Gedeh
Profession Military Soldier
Political Party National Democratic Party of Liberia


Doe was born in the small town of Tuzon, Grand Gedeh County, and was from the Krahn tribe. Like many native Liberians, his parents were poor and uneducated.


Doe had an elementary school education before joining the army. He and other military men took night classes at the Barracks before the coup. Amos Sawyer was one of the teachers at the night school. was taking night classes at the Barracks on UN Drive when According to Kraij, “He was in his 4th high school grade and attending night school classes when he and a group of soldiers seized power…” (Kraij).

Edward J. Perkins, former US diplomat to Liberia, reflecting on his meeting with Doe less than a year after the coup, notes that Doe was not highly educated. He might have had a high school diploma from the Marcus Garvey High School in Monrovia. The large desk in his office and tons of paper on it were merely a show as he could not read any of them. He seemed to speak in memorized phrases and quotes (Perkins, 2006).

During his presidency, Doe attended the University of Liberia (LU), taking night classes and private lessons. He earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree from LU. He was also awarded an honorary PhD in Political Science from the University of Seoul during one of his foreign visits.


Doe joined the Liberian Army at age 18 and graduated from the Tubman Military Academy in 1970. A year later, he earned a diploma from the Ministry of Defense Radio and Communications School in 1971 (Africa Now, 1985). Rising in the ranks of the military, he became a master sergeant in 1979. He was also trained by the US Special Forces in Liberia and had a passion for the military (Perkins, 2006).

After Doe and other military personnel ended the Tolbert Administration and took power, Doe headed the governing body called the People’s Redemption Council and became the Head of State. In returning the nation to civilian rule, Liberia held national elections in 1985. Doe won the election which many believed were rigged. He was sworn in as Liberia’s 21st president in January 1986.

Rise to Power

Like a majority of the indigenous Liberians, Doe disliked the power, privilege and dominance of the Americo-Liberians who had ruled the nation since the early 1800s. On April 12, 1980, he led a coup d’etat that unseated the last True Whig administration. Master Sergeant Doe and 16 other military men killed President Tolbert and 26 others that were at the Executive Mansion. A few hours later, they announced on national radio that the Tolbert government was over.

A young and unknown 28-year-old along with his colleagues had drastically changed Liberia’s history.
People sang and danced in the streets because a native had risen to power in a land with a 95% native population. The coup leaders quickly formed the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) to govern the nation with Doe as its Chairman and Head of State since he was the highest ranking officer in the group.

About 90 officials from the Tolbert administration were arrested or turned themselves in and were jailed at the Barracks in Monrovia. The PRC set up a special military tribunal to try some of those arrested on charges of corruption and human rights abuses. They were denied council and after a speedy trial, 13 rank and file members of the Tolbert regime were found guilty and publicly executed on April 22 via firing squad on South Beach in Monrovia.

On the whole, however, the balloon of Americo-Liberian power burst in one loud bang. … The rejoicing in Monrovia and elsewhere was spontaneous and reflected the general relief that the oppression of the Whig aristocracy had come to an end.

-J. Gus Liebenow

Head of State and Presidency

With the PRC administration, the military was in charge of major financial entities but this was a coalition government with a cabinet that included civilians, members of other political parties and a few people from Tolbert’s regime. The constitution was suspended until 1984 when a new one representing the entire nation was approved.

Initially, the PRC had to focus on restoring law and order, and controlling members of the military that were unrestrained and harassing citizens and business. The government and businesses resumed regular operations not long after the coup. Nevertheless with the PRC in constant fear of their security, an 11pm to 6am curfew was in effect for more than 2 years following the coup.

The PRC had promised to return Liberia to civilian rule but didn’t have elections until 1985. Doe changed his age to 35 in order to meet the age requirement to run for the Presidency. He won the election and remained in power and began his presidency on January 6, 1986. Many claimed the election was rigged and Jackson F. Doe was the true winner.

Shortly after the elections, Former PRC member, General Thomas Quiwonkpa led a coup to overthrow the Doe government seeing they had stolen the elections. Tired of Doe and seeing this as a relief, the nation rejoiced over the coup. However, it failed and Quiwonkpa was killed. Political opposition leaders were arrested and detained and it was clear that Doe’s regime would be extremely difficult to unseat. Jackson F. Doe and Quiwonkpa were both from Nimba County and following these events, there was news of Krahn soldiers killing people of the Gio and Mano tribes in Nimba.

[In the latter part of his term Doe focused on promoting agriculture, encouraging people to grow their own food with the “Go back to the soil” campaign. His ministers and other government officials were encouraged to establish farms in their home towns. This was an attempt to alleviate Liberia’s reliance on imported food, especially rice.

There was also the family planning/population growth and clean environment initiatives. He also started some development projects in the later 1980s. The SKD stadium was built and expansion at the UL Fendall Campus. Other projects like the Health Ministry and Defense Ministry buildings were under construction when the war began. The goal was to have government owned office buildings instead of paying rent as many government ministries were housed in rented properties. -LiberiaInfo]

Charles Taylor and his rebels called “freedom fighters” started the civil war on Dec 24, 1989 stating that their intention was to remove Doe from power and free the Liberian people from an oppressive regime. During the heat of the war, President Doe was lured to the Freeport of Monrovia in September 1990 under the guise that he and his men would leave the country on a ship. This setup landed him in the hands of then warlord and current Nimba County senator, Prince Johnson of INPFL. Johnson and his rebels brutally killed Doe and mockingly laid him in state for residents of the Freeport community to see.

In his Truth and Reconciliation Council testimony, Johnson claimed Doe’s remains received a 25 year embalmment. To quell rumors that he and his men had eaten the former President, he invited foreign journalists to his base and had the remains exhumed. They later burned Doe’s remains and threw his ashes in the river close to Johnson’s rebel base at Caldwell.

Post Presidency

With Doe’s demise, many rejoiced thinking the war was over and Taylor would become president. Perhaps they should have heeded Doe who predicted that there would be papers in the streets and many would die at the hands of the rebels. The war lasted 13 more years after Doe’s death and claimed many more lives (about 250,000) than anticipated.

An ECOWAS peace agreement in Banjul installed Amos Sawyer as the nation’s interim leader in October 1990. However, Liberia was divided into 2 with Charles Taylor claiming to be the president of the areas under his NPFL rebels. Liberia basically had 2 governments, 2 currencies and it was difficult to move between the two regions.


Ciment, James. Another America : the Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It. 1st ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 2013. Prin

Dash, Leon. “Liberian Soldiers Taunt, Shoot 13 Former Leaders”. Washington Post Foreign Service. 23 Apr. 1980.

Dunn, D. The Annual Messages of the Presidents of Liberia 1848-2010 : State of the Nation Addresses to the National Legislature : from Joseph Jenkins Roberts to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Berlin;New York: De Gruyter, 2011. Print.

Liebenow, J. Liberia : the Quest for Democracy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Print.

Perkins, Edward J. Mr. Ambassador : Warrior for Peace. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006. Print.

Samuel K. Doe. Encyclopedia Britannica. 11 May 2012. Web.

Van Der Kraaij, Fred. President Samuel K. Doe (1980-1990). Liberia’s Past and Present. Web.