The Liberian Civil War, which was one of Africa's bloodiest, claimed the lives of more than
200,000 Liberians and further displaced a million others into refugee camps in neighboring countries.
Elections are scheduled for 1991. But late in 1989, severe communal violence broke out after a failed coup attempt
against Doe. Several hundred members of the Gio and Mano tribes, that had been ill-treated by Doe, revolted in the
On December 24, 1989, a small band of Libyan-trained rebels led by Charles G. Taylor, invaded Liberia from the Ivory
Coast. Taylor, Doe's former procurement chief, is an Americo-Liberian of both indigenous and Americo-Liberian ancestry.
He graduated from Bentley College in Massachusetts and is said to have tastes that run to fine suits and silk ties. With
explicit support from neighbouring African nations and a large section of Liberia's opposition, Taylor's National
Patriotic Front rebels rapidly gained the support of Liberians because of the repressive nature of Samuel Doe and his
government. Various unpredictable events, like the Gulf war and the consequent US disengagement from Liberia, coincided
to turn this into a protracted civil war, with ultimately west African ECOMOG intervention. A final cease-fire and peace
accord in 1996 was followed by the installation of a transitional government of all factional leaders.
Liberian troops and provincial security forces were dispatched to Nimba County to counter the insurgency and
indiscriminately killed Liberian civilians without regard to the distinction between combatants and noncombatants. In
response to this insurgency, President Doe launched an unrelenting wave of violence against the inhabitants of Nimba
County. Media reports and international human rights organizations estimated that at least 200 persons, primarily members
of the Mano and Gio ethnic groups, were killed by troops of the Government of Liberia during the counterinsurgency
When the cold war was over and Charles Taylor's band of rebels--some of them children--clashed with government forces and
other ethnic militias in the streets, the resulting conflict was so frighteningly gruesome that for many it was almost
impossible to understand. Between December 1989 and mid-1993, Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL)
is estimated to have been responsible for thousands of deliberate killings of civilians. As NPFL forces advanced towards
Monrovia in 1990, they targeted people of the Krahn and Mandingo ethnic groups, both of which the NPFL considered
supporters of President Doe’s government.
ECOMOG troops, predominantly from Nigeria and Ghana, entered Monrovia -- and prolonged the war by aiding Doe's troops.
This resulted in a daily massacre of non-Khran Liberians in Monrovia by Doe's Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) men.
Although the sources of the Liberian conflict are complex, on one level it represents an attempt by Americo-Liberians to
re-establish themselves as the dominant political force in Liberia. The war was not about tribes seeking dominance over
one another. Charles Taylor led the invasion into Liberia in the name of trying to right the wrong for the Gios and
Manos. This was the motivator for the two ethnic groups who joined the movement. When the Taylor rebels entered Nimba
County, their home, the conflict quickly drew in the Mandingoes, who are mostly Muslims. The Gio tribe soon formed their
own separate rebel forces under Prince Johnson, and a bloody three-way civil war began.
Sam Dokie and other prominent individuals of Nimba County initially welcomed the Taylor/Sirleaf-Johnson rebel incursion
into Liberia to resist Doe’s Khran ethnic fighters. The County leaders rapidly mobilized young men to join the rebel
forces believing that Taylor was sincere when he said the sole purpose of his attack was to remove the tyrant, Samuel K.
Doe from power. After discovering Taylor’s plans for the Liberian people, Dokie and others separated themselves from the
National Patriotic Front of Liberia [NPFL]. Dokie along with his wife and two others were brutally murdered by Taylor’s
NPFL-controlled Security forces.
As the fighting escalated into civil war, three distinct factions became engaged in a national power-struggle: forces
loyal to Doe, and two mutually opposed rebel groups led by Charles Taylor and Prince Yormie Johnson. Taylor, a former Doe
aide, and Johnson had started their campaign under the same banner, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).
Tribal affiliations played a key role in the split between the Krahn, to which Doe and most of his adherents belonged,
and the Gio and Mano people, who formed the bulk of the rebel forces. Fighting between Doe’s troops and the
Taylor/Johnson axis began at the end of 1989. Johnson assumed the presidency temporarily during September 1989, after
which it passed through several hands, settling for a time in those of Amos Sawyer, who managed to pacify some parts of
Libya may have used the Liberian civil war to undermine US influence in Liberia, since the CIA had reportedly used
Liberia as a base to attempt the overthrow of Gadaffi's regime. Burkina Faso's president Blaise Campaori, another Libyan
protege, provided foreign mercenaries and training bases for Taylor. Military supplies and manpower from Libya and
Burkina Faso were transported by road through the Ivory Coast to Liberia.
One of the factors that drove the warlords to reject a transition to normalcy was their exploitation of Liberia's natural
resources. Once the war started, Taylor found wealth, and the war was increasingly about maintaining that fortune. The
warlords were wantonly exploiting their country's resources to keep themselves and their ragtag forces in weapons with
virtual impunity, and in some cases complicity. The primary sources of revenue for these warlords were Liberia's
diamonds, timber, rubber, gold, and iron ore. Timber and rubber are among Liberia's main export items. Liberia earns more
than $85 million and more than $57 million annually from timber and rubber exports, respectively. Alluvial diamond and
gold mining activities also account for some economic activity.
Barely 6 months after the rebels first attacked, they had reached the outskirts of Monrovia. Liberia has been marked by
intermittent civil war ever since. Although many Liberians were glad to see Doe's repressive regime removed, no group
that emerged from the civil war was powerful enough to replace the Doe government. As a result, the Republic of Liberia
was plunged into a state of chaos from which it has yet to emerge.
Despite a cease-fire agreement signed in Bamako, Mali, in 1990, the civil war never really ended.
Prince Johnson, who had been a member of Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) but broke away because of
policy differences, formed the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL). Johnson's forces captured and
killed Doe on September 9, 1990.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened and succeeded in preventing Charles Taylor from
capturing Monrovia. An Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) was formed in Gambia under the auspices of ECOWAS in
October 1990 and Dr. Amos C. Sawyer became President. Sawyer was backed by a Nigerian-led peacekeeping force, known as
ECOMOG (ECOWAS Monitoring Group). Taylor refused to work with the interim government and continued the war.
The war spilled over into Sierra Leone in 1991, when Foday Sankoh led a mixed group of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans into
Kailahun in eastern Sierra Leone. President Momoh's troops attempted to train a fighting force from amomg the 250,000
Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone. The ex-Liberian Broadcasting Corporation head, Alhaji Kromah, organised Mandingo
Muslims and Krahn refugees in Freetown to form the United Liberation Movement of Liberia (ULIMO).
The Krahns and Mandingoes became the direct targets of Taylor's NPFL group. In neighboring Sierra Leone, refugees of
these two tribes led other tribes in organizing the ULIMO faction and returned to Liberia. It was this group in 1992 that
helped the West African ECOMOG peacekeeping force stop the takeover of Monrovia by Taylor’s NPFL rebels.
With the escalation of violence that began in August 1992 it seemed as if even the limited peace Liberia possessed had
been completely shattered. The re-emergence of overt civil war threatened to return Liberia to the state of terror and
brutality that prompted Africa Watch monitors to call Liberia a "human rights disaster." By 1992, several warring
factions had emerged in the Liberian civil war [all of which were eventually absorbed in the new government]. Roads
leading out from Monrovia were not open for travel except for very limited pre-approved trips into Cape Mount and Bomi
counties. Travelers, including US citizens, had been detained, harassed and delayed by forces of the National Patriotic
Front of Liberia (NPFL). Five US citizen nuns were killed in Gardnersville by NPFL Troops in October 1992. Roberts
International Airport outside of Monrovia was closed. Limited air service existed only between Spriggs Payne Field in
Monrovia and Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire, and Freetown, Sierra Leone. No major international air carrier served Spriggs Payne
Field. Overland routes to other West African countries were not open.
In January 1993 a security buffer around Monrovia was re-established by forces of the West African Peace Monitoring
Group. The authority of the interim government never extended beyond Monrovia's suburbs. ECOMOG defended the city, which
became a civilian safe haven with as many as a million people at some points.
Taylor and his NPFL guerrillas – mostly from the Gio and Mano peoples who are historic rivals of the Krahn – kept
fighting. To complicate matters further, at least three new guerrilla formations appeared as both Taylor’s NPFL and its
main opponents split into factions. A peace accord signed in the Beninois capital, Cotonou, in the spring of 1994 was
The United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia split in 1994 between ULIMO-J (mainly Khran ethnics headed by
Roosevelt Johnson) et ULIMO-K (mainly Mandingo ethnics headed by Alhaji Kromah).
Liberia's seven warring factions -- including the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), the United Liberation
Movement with two wings referred to as ULIMO-J and ULIMO-K, the Liberia Peace Council, NPFL-CRC, the Lofa Defense Force
and remnants of the Armed Forces of Liberia loyal to former president Samuel K. Doe -- continued to fight. In September
1995, after failing to honor more than 13 signed peace accords, under the auspices of the Economic Community of West
African State, a Liberian Council of State comprising the seven warring factions was formed under the Abuja Peace Accord.
Throughout January and February 1996, the deployment of UNOMIL and ECOMOG forces to monitor the peace process is stalled
due to a lack of funding and political will.
During the first week of April 1996, the failure of the Council of State to resolve internal power struggles led to a
resumption of fighting in Monrovia. In April 1996, the Liberian Council of State sent police-militia to arrest Prince
Johnson on murder charges. As a direct result, fighting erupted in Monrovia between 'government forces' and LPC, AFL and
ULIMO-J fighters loosely allied under Johnson and based at Barclay Training Centre. Johnson's forces took 600 civilians
as 'human shields'. Some 1,500 people were killed in the clashes that lasted seven weeks.
On 17 August 1996, after 134 days of killing and mayhem, Nigeria and other West African states brokered a cease fire
between the warring factions. Taylor emerged the dominant power, winning the 1997 presidential election. ECOMOG was
dominated by Nigerian forces. General Sani Abacha, the corrupt ruler of Nigeria, enjoyed a good rapport with Taylor.
Abacha persuaded Taylor to agree to the ceasefire and to participate in the election. But Taylor was not as popular with
other military leaders in Nigeria as he had been with Abacha.
It took seven years of intertribal warfare and of repeatedly broken cease-fires, for the combined efforts of neighboring
African countries and of the UN to impose a settlement and to organize elections. Disarmament in January 1997 was
followed by democratic elections in July, which were won by Charles Taylor with 75% of the vote.
President Taylor firmly established lasting peace internally and, once achieved, has started increasingly to welcome back
to the country opposition of all kinds, including most former warlords. He undertook a constructive role in the Sierra
Leone conflict, which had been started more or less simultaneously, proposing that all sides involved should be given a
fair chance of participating in future elections. These efforts had resulted in the present UN-monitored disarmament
process in Sierra Leone and a general return of peace in the sub-region. It also earned Liberia credit and
re-establishment of diplomatic relations, as well as a constructive review of the economy by Washington institutions.
While President Taylor's first two years in office demanded strenuous efforts to reconcile different factions, maintain
peace, avoid post war excesses, and establish dialogue with Nigerian-led ECOMOG who were still fighting rebels in Sierra
Leone, the tide had clearly turned since mid 1999. With the UN peace mission in Sierra Leone, the sub-region seemed
finally set to recover after the decade of unrest which followed ten years of steep decline. Having achieved
'sustainability' of government, the time had finally come for sustained economic development.
The 1989-1996 civil war had a devastating effect on the country's economy. Most major businesses were destroyed or
heavily damaged, and most foreign investors and businessmen left the country. Iron ore production has stopped completely,
and Liberia depends heavily on timber and rubber exports and revenues from its maritime registry program. Relatively few
foreign investors have returned to the country since the end of the civil war due to the depressed business climate and
Liberia is still trying to recover from the ravages of war. Six years after the war, pipe-borne water and electricity are
still unavailable, and schools, hospitals, roads, and infrastructure remain derelict. As a result of the civil war, there
were 157,000 IDP's in approximately 36 camps in 1997. International agencies and the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and
Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) have been able to resettle approximately 126,243 displaced persons since 1998. In October
2000 fighting in northern Lofa county further increased the number of displaced persons. There were an estimated 15,000
to 20,000 IDP's in the country at the end of 2000.
Young persons were victimized during the civil war of the mid-1990s. An estimated 50,000 children were killed; many more
were injured, orphaned, or abandoned. Approximately 100 underfunded orphanages operated in and around Monrovia; however,
many orphans lived outside these institutions. The National Military Families Association of Liberia (NAMFA) tried to
provide for orphaned military children; it registered hundreds of street children. These institutions did not receive any
government funding, but relied on private donations. Nearly all youths witnessed terrible atrocities, and some committed
atrocities themselves. Approximately 21 percent (4,306) of the combatants who were disarmed under the provisions of the
Abuja Peace Accords were child soldiers under the age of 17. Many youths remained traumatized, and some still were
addicted to drugs. The number of street children in Monrovia and the number of abandoned infants increased significantly
following disarmament. Although pressured by the Government to cease their programs, international NGOs and UNICEF
continued retraining and rehabilitation programs for a limited number of former child fighters. These children were
vulnerable to being recruited in subregional conflicts, since most had no other means of support.