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Liberia - Election and Coup Attempt - 1985

Thomas Quiwonkpa, a comrade of Samual K. Doe in the 1980 coup, fell out with Doe. Some analysts suggested that both the power struggle and the personal conflict between Doe and Quiwonkpa were rooted in the cultural and traditional differences between the Krahn and Dan/Mano ethnic groups. General Quiwonkpa and close allies Prince Johnson and Charles Taylor, fled the country in November 1983.

General Quiwonkpa went into exile to the United States, and many of his supporters, mainly, decommissioned security personnel, took refuge in neighboring Cote d'Ivoire where they began training to engage the Doe dictatorship. When the Gios and Manos of Nimba County - led by Jackson Doe and General Quiwonkpa -- ran into political conflict with the Krahn ethnic group -- led by the President Samuel K. Doe -- the conflict was quickly taken over by individuals in the United States who did not belong to these tribes.

Under pressure from the United States and other creditors, in July 1984 Doe's government issued a new constitution that allowed the return of political parties outlawed since 1980. The lifting of the ban on political activities on 26 July 1984 marked the beginning of a multi-party election campaign after more than four years of military rule in Liberia. Samuel Doe, the military Head of State, established a political party and presented his candidacy for the presidential elections. Doe's National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) was a constituency composed of ethnic groups and individuals who were dependent on him, such as his own ethnic group [the Krahn] and the Mandingo people. Both groups were small and lacked political influence. Another component in his constituency was the Americo-Liberian minority, which had been ousted from power in the April 1980 coup.

The presidential election of 15 October 1985 featured five different political parties, with televised debates involving all five candidates. The 1985 election commission said President Doe got 51 percent of the vote, and the opposition shared the remaining 49 percent. But many observers charged that President Doe stole the 1985 presidential election. The elections were characterized by widespread fraud and rigging. There were a variety of objections and road blocks used by Mr. Doe's Party (through the Monthly and Probate Court of Montserrado County) to prevent and/or delay the registration of other political parties. Amos Sawyer, the leader of the Liberian People's Party (LPP), who enjoyed great popularity because of his unwavering criticism of corruption and illegal actions, was prevented rom engaging in any political activities.

The period after the elections saw increased human rights abuses, corruption, and ethnic tensions. Some said that the resulting civil conflict was the reaction of the Liberian people to the rigging of the election. Some called for the United States to interve in Liberia to remove President Samuel Doe after he was elected.

On 12 November 1985, former Army Commanding Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa invaded Liberia by way of neighboring Sierra Leone. Quiwonkpa almost succeeded in toppling the government of Samuel Doe. Members of the Krahn-dominated Armed Forces of Liberia repelled Quiwonkpa's attack and executed him in Monrovia. Edward Slanger, at the head of a group of AFL soldiers, claimed on television that they captured and killed Thomas Quiwonkpa. They paraded his body parts around Monrovia in a grisly ritual that Liberians will remember for years. Others were put on trial, and many were summarily executed. When the Gio general was killed in the abortive coup, little was heard from his sponsors. Doe's government launched a bloody purge against the Gio and Mano ethnic groups in Quiwonkpa's Nimba County, raising alarm about a genocide against the Gio and Mano. Taylor, who was related by marriage to Quiwonkpa, benefitted from the alienation of the Nimba population, which later became willing recruits to his cause. Mano-Gio perceptions of the Mandingo alliance with the Doe regime put Mandingos in the category of the enemy at the time of the attempted 1985 coup. After the failed coup attempt, the Mandingos were accused of complicity in the anti-Mano/Gio witch hunting. The Mandingos did not accepted responsibility for the perceived persecution of the Mano and Gio people during Doe's regime.

The ruling National Democratic Party of Liberia captured 73 out of 90 seats in the National Assembly election of 15 October 1985, but some opposition members refused to occupy their seats. The remaining opposition members were expelled from their parties in 1986. All of the vacant seats were captured by the NDPL in the partial election in December 1986. Consequently, the National Assembly was without opposition in the end of 1986.

American aid spending on sub-Saharan Africa were at high levels through the mid-1980s due to the global competition with the Soviet Union. As the competition with the Soviet Union began to fade, and as efforts to reduce the US budget deficit intensified, there were overall reductions in assistance to the region. Policymakers increasingly focused on human rights and economic reform performance in making decisions on aid allocations. Aid to some African countries that had been major Cold War aid recipients -- notably Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Liberia, was sharply reduced. The reductions took place almost entirely within the security-oriented programs: military assistance and especially the Economic Support Fund (ESF).



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