Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor
Credit: AP

Charles Ghankay Taylor

Term 22nd President: 1997 – 2003
Born January 28, 1948, Arthington, Montserrado County, Liberia
Tribe/Ethnicity Congo
County of Origin Montserrado
Profession Civil Servant
Political Party National Patriotic Party


Charles McArthur Taylor was one of seven children born to Nielson and Zoe Taylor. Nielson was from an Americo-Liberian family of humble means. His grandparents were freed slaves from the United States and settled in Liberia in the 1890s . Zoe was from the Gola tribe and worked as a young maid in the Taylor household. When she became pregnant for Nielson, the two were married. Neilson held several jobs including teacher, sharecropper, lawyer and a judge.

Their son Charles was born in 1948 in Arthington. Prior to his first birthday, he was adopted by Martha Cisco, a family friend, who raised him in an Americo-Liberian family. Taylor grew up in the countryside of Montserrado County in very poor conditions. Waugh relays Taylor’s account of his childhood in this manner:

No, no, no, you were lucky even to get a clean glass of water… I was brought up in a mud house covered with something we called tarpaulin. No, there was no running water. We went to the creek to draw our water. We took our baths in the same creek… and did fishing in the same creek. No, there was no light and running water.

-Charles Taylor (Collin Waugh)


1977: BA in Economics, Bentley College, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA

Charles Taylor was initially taught at home and started school at age 7 in Arthington. In his early teens, a scholarship from a local businessman facilitated his transfer to the esteemed Ricks Institute where many of the students were from notable families. From his early years, he was known to be rebellious. His bad conduct and attitude led to his expulsion from Ricks.

He then entered a teaching program and upon completion, started teaching in Bomi Hills, Bomi County. He also taught in Arthington before relocating to Monrovia. While working at the Ministry of Finance in the early 1970s, he had a chance to travel to the US for further studies. In the US, he worked menial jobs and paid his way through school. He graduated with a Bachelors in Economics in 1977 from Bentley College.

During his studies in the US, he was a member of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), and later became its national chairman. Taylor and other members of the group protested President Tolbert’s policies and acts of arresting and jailing dissidents when the President visited the US in 1979. Tolbert talked to some of the protestors and heard their concerns. Taylor debated Tolbert and outperformed him. However, overreaching in his discourse landed him in jail. Taylor returned to Liberia in the spring of 1980 before the coup that ousted Tolbert.


1980 – 1983 Director of General Services Agency (GSA)
1989 – 1997 Warlord (Rebel Leader)
1997 – 2003 President of Liberia

Vice Presidents
1997 – 2000: Enoch Dogolea
2000 – 2003: Moses Blah

Back in Liberia, Taylor worked at the GSA during the Doe administration for a few years. He was fired in May 1983 for embezzling over $900,000.00 from the Liberian Government. He returned to the US in October 1983 and was arrested in May 1984. While his extradition to Liberia was being considered, Taylor supposedly escaped from the Plymouth House of Corrections in Boston, Massachusetts in September 1985 (Burlij). Some accounts claim he escaped from jail, while others assert that it was with the help of people who wanted him to return to Liberia and overthrow the Doe government (BBC, 2012).

The Warlord

Taylor then went to Libya where he trained in guerilla warfare with the help of the Moammar Qaddafi. It is also believed that he spent some time in Burkina Faso during that period. On Christmas Eve, December 24,1989, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor, entered Liberia through Nimba County from the Ivory Coast. The NPFL successfully recruited many from the Gio and Mano tribes because of their conflict with the Doe administration. To connect with the natives, he changed his middle name to “Ghankay”, a native name from his mother’s Gola tribe.

Taylor and his rebels branded themselves as freedom fighters, and most of Liberia welcomed them and wanted Doe removed from power. The rebels captured most of the nation by August of 1990 except central Monrovia. As they advanced towards the capital, they shot and killed tens of thousands of people, looted and robbed the citizens, and controlled the population through their guns. Many especially children died because of famine and epidemics. People were displaced all over the country and those that could leave, fled to other countries.

As the war progressed, other warlords graced the scene with their own warring factions; all of them using child soldiers and arming them to kill and harass the civilians. It could be argued that the continuous emergence of new rebel groups and their wrangling, hindered the peace process and extended the war that killed over two hundred thousand Liberians and displaced many more.

Throughout the war, the ECOWAS nations and international entities held peace talks with the various warlords and signed numerous peace deals. Most of these agreements were eventually broken and the fighting would recommence. The accords created the interim governments of the 1990s and 2003. One of these interim governments, The Council of State, established in August 1995, included the various warring factions and was headed by Professor Wilton Sankawolo. Based on this arrangement, Taylor came to Monrovia for the first time since the war began. Before then, he had used Gbarnga, Bong County, as his self-proclaimed government capital.

The Parties agree that during the transitional period leading to the inauguration of an elected government, the executive powers of the Republic of Liberia shall be vested in a six-member Council of State to be composed as follows:

(a) National Patriotic Front of Liberia Mr. Charles Ghankay Taylor
(b) United Liberation Movement of Liberia for LTG. Alhaji G. V. Kromah Democracy (ULIMO)
(c) COALITION Dr. George E. S. Boley Sr.
(d) Liberian National Conference (LNC) Oscar Jaryee Quiah
(e) Chief Tamba Tailor
(f) Mr. Wilton SankawoloThe Chairman of the Council shall be Mr. Wilton Sankawolo.

All other members of the Council shall be Vice-Chairmen of equal status. In case of permanent incapacitation a new Chairman shall be appointed within the framework of the Economic Community of West African States


With another battle outbreak in Monrovia in April 1996 and a subsequent interim administration, Liberia finally held national elections on July 19, 1997 with Taylor winning 75% of the vote. His party won a majority of the seats in the national legislature. This election was deemed free and fair and Liberians cast their votes for Taylor with the rationalization that it would finally end the war. They actually chanted: “you kill my ma, you killed my pa, I will vote for you” (Call).


Charles Taylor was inaugurated Liberia’s 22nd president on August 2nd, 1997. He took over from interim leader Ruth Perry who was the first African female head of state. He began his term with a message of national reconciliation, and brought some people from the opposing warring factions and political parties into his administration. He also toured the country along with other dignitaries, promising total peace and reconciliation. Liberians were expected to forget the war, and move on with no justice for the thousands of deaths, human rights violations, or looting of the citizens’ property and of the nation’s resources.

Indeed, avoiding accountability also seemed to be the mantra of the incoming Taylor administration: it quickly became clear that his government did not intend – perhaps not surprisingly – to hold anyone responsible for the officially estimated 150,000 deaths and – even less surprisingly – the wholesale looting of the country’s resources of iron ore, gold, diamonds, rubber and timber over the preceding seven years.


The persona from warlord to statesman was seen in appearance but not action. There were a series of political killings during his early presidency, some considered revenge or Taylor’s way of eliminating his rivals. A few months after he took office, his former deputy turned rival turned supporter, Sam Dokie of Nimba County, along with his family, were killed and burned by Taylor’s forces while traveling to Sanniquellie.

Having used the nation’s resources to enrich himself and fund the war, Taylor now had access to its coffers. Using his business mindset that had propelled him to connections in and outside of Africa, he transformed the Liberian Maritime Agency that at the time accounted for about half of the government revenue. The new agency named Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR) was run by one of Taylor’s American associates, Lester Hyman. This setup allowed diversion the registry’s funding into accounts of Taylor’s choice.

About two years after Taylor became president, Liberia was again at war. The Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group attacked the country from neighboring Guinea. By 2003, another group called the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) attacked from the Ivory Coast through Maryland County. Fighting between Taylor’s forces and these two groups intensified as both groups controlled most of the country, and Taylor was mainly confined to Monrovia. As these groups closed in on Monrovia with the goal of removing Taylor from power, the international community called for Taylor to resign and leave the country. Nigeria’s Obasanjo granted him asylum, and Taylor resigned and left Liberia on August 11, 2003 for Nigeria.

Taylor arrives at RIA from Nigeria and is boarding the helicopter for Sierra Leone
Taylor arrives at RIA from Nigeria and is boarding the helicopter for Sierra Leone
Credit: UN

In spite of his atrocities on the Liberian population, Taylor’s final downfall came from his connection to a parallel rebel group that had trained in Libya and destabilized neighboring Sierra Leone.

His initial plan of attacking Liberia from Sierra Leone was derailed by President Momoh’s refusal to meet with him. Sierra Leone had also allowed ECOMOG to launch their airstrikes on the NPFL from its capital. These led to Taylor’s anger and desire to take the war to Sierra Leone.

When charged with war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, he tried to flee and evade arrest while in Nigeria. However on March 29, 2006, he was caught and returned to Liberia, and immediately arrested and sent to Sierra Leone to the war crimes tribunal. Kraaij sums up Taylor’s presidential term with the following observation:

… Charles Ghankay Taylor had earned a place in history as Liberia’s most criminal President, responsible for the death and mutilation of tens of thousands of people, accused of the embezzlement of large sums of money, serious human rights violations, war crimes, abuse of power, even cannibalism.

–Van der Kraaij

Post Presidency

Charles Taylor was tried in the Hague by the U.N Backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. He was found guilty of several war crimes charges, and is currently serving a term of 50 years in a UK prison. His ex-wife, Jewel Howard Taylor, is the current Vice President of Liberia under President George Weah.


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