First Liberian Civil War

First Liberian Civil War
Part of the Liberian Civil Wars
Date24 December 1989 – 2 August 1997
(7 years, 7 months, 1 week and 2 days)

NPFL victory

Commanders and leaders
Casualties and losses
Total killed: 400,000[1]–620,000 including civilians

The First Liberian Civil War was an internal conflict in Liberia from 1989 until 1997. The conflict killed about 250,000 people[2] and eventually led to the involvement of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and of the United Nations. The peace did not last long, and in 1999 the Second Liberian Civil War broke out.

Samuel Doe had led a coup d'état that overthrew the elected government in 1980, and in 1985 held elections that were widely considered fraudulent. There had been one unsuccessful coup by a former military leader. In December 1989, former government minister Charles Taylor moved into the country from neighboring Côte d'Ivoire to start an uprising meant to topple the Doe government.

Taylor's forces, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) battled against Prince Johnson's rebel group, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) – a faction of NPFL – for control in Monrovia. In 1990, Johnson seized the capital of Monrovia and executed Doe.

Peace negotiations and foreign involvement led to a ceasefire in 1995 that was broken the next year before a final peace agreement and new national elections were held in 1997. Taylor was elected President of Liberia in July 1997.


Samuel Doe with then Secretary of Defense of the United States Caspar W. Weinberger outside of the Pentagon in 1982.

Samuel Doe takes power in coup (1980)

Samuel Doe had taken power in a popular coup in 1980 against William R. Tolbert, becoming the first Liberian President of non Americo-Liberian descent. Doe established a military regime called the People's Redemption Council and enjoyed early support from a large number of indigenous Liberian ethnic groups who had been excluded from power since the founding of the country in 1847 by freed American slaves.

Any hope that Doe would improve the way Liberia was run was put aside as he quickly clamped down on opposition, fueled by his paranoia of a counter-coup attempt against him. As promised, Doe held elections in 1985 and won the presidency by just enough of a margin to avoid a runoff. However, international monitors condemned this election as fraudulent.[3][citation needed]

Coup attempt by Thomas Quiwonkpa (November 1985)

Thomas Quiwonkpa, the former Commanding General of the Armed Forces of Liberia whom Doe had demoted and forced to flee the country, attempted to overthrow Doe's regime from neighboring Sierra Leone. The coup attempt failed and Quiwonkpa was killed and allegedly eaten.[4] His body was publicly exhibited on the grounds of the Executive Mansion in Monrovia soon after his death.[5]

Crackdown on the Gio and Mano ethnic groups (1985)

Large scale government crackdowns followed in Nimba County, Zuleyee in the north of the country against the Gio and Mano ethnic groups where the majority of the coup plotters came from. The mistreatment of the Gio and Mano ethnic groups fueled ethnic tensions in Liberia, which had already been rising due to Doe's preferential treatment of his own group, the Krahn.

Charles Taylor builds insurgent forces (1985-1989)

Charles Taylor, who had left Doe's government after being accused of embezzlement, assembled a group of rebels in Côte d'Ivoire (mostly ethnic Gios and Manos who felt persecuted by Doe) who later became known as the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). They invaded Nimba County on 24 December 1989. The Liberian Army retaliated against the whole population of the region, attacking unarmed civilians and burning villages. Many left as refugees for Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire, but opposition to Doe was inflamed. Prince Johnson, an NPFL fighter, split to form his own guerrilla force soon after crossing the border, based on the Gio tribe and named Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL).

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