The Fall of Samuel Doe

September 12, 1990

The tyrant of Liberia is dead. The people are no better off. Monrovia, the capital city, has ceased to function. Three armies are in the field, four if the little band of loyalists holed up in the presidential mansion is considered. Four men claim to be president. Fighting goes on.

When 28-year-old Sgt. Samuel Doe and a few privates seized power accidentally in 1980 and then murdered the cabinet, some revolutionary meaning could be attributed. The native peoples who were always held down, always second class, had overthrown the Americo-Liberian oligarchy, descendants of the Americans who had settled in Liberia in the mid-19th century.

But the Doe regime never lived up to any purpose. Mr. Doe's Krahn tribe was top dog, and that was it. Liberia descended into worse oligarchy and poverty. A revolution today against all that could have some purpose. But it does not appear that clear vision governs the rebel armies.

Charles Taylor, whose ancestry is partly Americo-Liberian, is a bureaucrat with a grievance who trained in Libya and formed a ragtag army that controls most of the country. He considers himself president. Prince Johnson, a former Taylor lieutenant whose force holds the capital and killed Mr. Doe, claims the job. The army of five West African regimes considers Amos Sawyer, chosen at a conference in exile on Aug. 30, the interim president. The Krahn soldiers loyal to the slain ruler call Brig. Gen. David Nimley the acting president.

The 3,000-man army of the Economic Community of West African States should offer sanctuary to any combatant. Liberia needs a period of public health, food distribution and the resumption of economic life. Liberia needs a fair shake for every ethnic group. ,, The Doe revolution made conditions worse. The men holding the guns today will be condemned by history if that also proves true of this revolution.

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