Abstract: The rise and fall of Samuel Doe in Liberia was neither shocking nor without precedent. After decolonization swept through Africa in the mid 20th century, many states that formed in sub-Saharan Africa were left with weak political institutions, struggling economies, and deep societal divisions. Using the case of Liberia, this article analyzes the factors that led up to military takeovers of civilian governments and their outcomes. Liberia began its life as a colony for freed slaves from the Americas, but did so by oppressing the indigenous peoples. Liberian politics since its conception was dominated by the Americo-Liberians, those who descended from the freed slaves. The deep ethnic divisions between the Americo-Liberian urban areas and the indigenous rural areas led to the rise of Samuel Doe. Doe, a military officer, headed the military takeover of the Liberian government in 1980, becoming the first leader of Liberia to have come from an indigenous background. Coming to power on promises of ridding the country of pre-coup vices and creating a government responsible to the people, Doe developed Machiavellian tendencies to hold power, eliminating opposition from within his own party and rigging national elections. He would fall from grace just ten years later at the hands of those who once supported him, ultimately dying during the civil war that marked the end of his time as the leader of Liberia. The fall out of the Liberian Civil War was mitigated by the efforts of peacekeeping forces provided by the Economic Commission of West African States, but Liberia served as a warning to other African leaders who did not heed the voices of their own citizens.
Keywords: Liberia, Africa, Decolonization