On April 12, 1980, a group of soldiers led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe executed a bloody coup that put an end to the Americo-Liberian minority regime in Liberia, transforming Africa’s first republic into a military dictatorship. In Liberia under Samuel Doe, 1980-1985: The Politics of Personal Rule, Yekutiel Gershoni examines the evolution and effects of Samuel K. Doe’s reign in Liberia. Gershoni shows Doe’s path to absolute power, corruption, and dictatorship and the economic crises and political turmoil that ensued, even after his murder in 1990. Liberia under Samuel Doe also examines the role of the United States as Liberia’s closest ally, detailing how Doe managed to attract American diplomatic and military support due to U.S. interests in the Cold War. Through in-depth research, primary sources, and interviews with diplomats, politicians, and activists, Gershoni carefully details the timeline of Doe’s rise to power and the lasting effects of his dictatorial legacy.
Yekutiel Gershoni is professor emeritus of African history in the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University.
Part 1: Holding on for Dear Life
Chapter 1: In the Cause of the People
Chapter 2: Sacrifice and Survival
Chapter 3: Getting Foreign Aid
Part 2: The Beginning of Personal Rule
Chapter 4: From Primus Inter Pares to the Head of the Pyramid
Chapter 5: Travels Abroad, Austerity at Home
Chapter 6: Tightening Control
Chapter 7: Bungles
Part 3: A Façade of Democracy
Chapter 8: Completion of the Draft Constitution
Chapter 9: Circumventing Com Con
Chapter 10: Pressing Forward and Holding Back
Chapter 11: A Terrible Betrayal
Part 4: The Battle for the Presidency
Chapter 12: Clearing Obstacles to the Presidency
Chapter 13: The Persecution and Ouster of Sawyer
Chapter 14: Assault on the Rival Parties
Chapter 15: Constrained Campaigning and Rigged Elections
Gershoni’s volume is an exceptional piece of scholarship which provides rigorous analysis of an African autocratic regime. This impressive scholarship on Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, bequeaths important insights into antecedents of civil conflicts and the broader political economy of development.
The book serves as a biography of Samuel Kanyon Doe, as it chronicles the autocrat’s rise to presidential power and his abuses of such power, including his persecution of political opponents; the killing of an army general in the aftermath of a failed counter-coup; and fraudulent elections and media censorship. Gershoni brilliantly unpacks how political maleficence, ineptitude, and economic mismanagement converged and provide a fertile ground for civil unrest and anarchy in Liberia.
Gershoni takes the reader through relatively uncharted archival excursions in an attempt to juxtapose historical events with contemporary socio-economic and political developments in Liberia. He interrogates salient missteps in Liberia’s developmental processes and interweaves them into larger global geopolitical processes. The volume captures key junctures in Liberia’s political trajectory.
This book by Yekutiel Gershoni is a most welcome contribution to the study of military regimes and their impact on states and societies not only in Liberia and Africa. It is based on thorough and meticulous research using a variety of sources, both written and oral. Transcending theories, he tells a story of evil, greedy humans and their devastating impact on their society. While presenting the story even-handedly, his moral judgment is clear. Gershoni, who had to cope with severe physical handicaps throughout his academic life, passed before he could see the fruit of his endeavor come to light. This book is a testimony to his intellectual achievements and to the invincibility of the human spirit.
A fascinating and detailed account of Samuel Doe’s skillful, but often brutal, five-year transition from coup leader to Liberia’s president after a rigged election. Yekutiel Gershoni weaves a comprehensive, well-documented account drawing from published contemporary accounts as well as interviews and correspondence with key participants. He includes a compelling account of the maneuverings and dynamics between Doe and the National Constitution Commission. Gershoni dispels the frequent portrayal of Doe as an unsophisticated, uneducated soldier, showing him as a complicated, talented, but fatally flawed coup leader, who used his intelligence, cunning, and political skill while willing to lie, manipulate, betray his allies and friends, and use violence in order to consolidate and grow his power. Doe’s lust for power, overweening ambitions, and failure to grasp that he was often a pawn for international powers manipulating him for advantage in Cold War and Middle Eastern politics ultimately led to his violent downfall.