April 12, 1980, will forever be remembered in Liberian history. Thirty-eight years ago, on this day, Liberians woke up to life-changing news of the assassination of who would be Liberia’s last Americo-Liberian President, Rev. Dr. William R. Tolbert.
The execution of Tolbert was led by Mst. Sergeant Samuel K. Doe who launched a military regime under the People’s Redemption Council (PRC). More devastating events occurred after the April 12 Coup, drastically altering Liberia’s history. After the murder of President Tolbert, many of his cabinet members were staged for trail and subsequently sentenced to death in military tribunals. On April 22, exactly ten days after the coup, 14 high ranking government officials were all lined-up, tied to light poles, and publicly executed at South Beach, Monrovia. A jubilating audience, who were mostly native Liberians, all cheered at the mass slaughtering of fellow Liberians.
The coup d’etat marked Doe’s ascension to power as Liberia’s first native president, this was monumental considering that Americo-Liberians had ruled Liberia since before its independence in July 1847. Doe’s strategy for systematic change was assassinating Tolbert and sentencing his cabinet members to death; suffice to say, the extermination of an entire regime was meant to bring an immediate end to all the problems that disadvantaged native Liberians and privileged Americo-Liberians. Some of these problems were: corruption, nepotism, injustices, the single party system, the elite system, and most importantly, discrimination against the indigenous people of Liberia. History even recorded President Samuel Kanyon Doe’s speech as he defended the Coup in his first Policy statement saying:
“The coup was most necessary because of uncontrolled corruption, failure of the deposed government to be meaningfully responsive to the problems of the Liberian masses, as well as its disregard of the civil, human and constitutional rights of the Liberian people.”
As the first native president with an urge to prioritize indigenous Liberians, President Samuel Doe instituted policies that enforced an ethnic form government. However, we live to see that Doe’s dreams for Liberia did not manifest as planned. Liberia subsequently experienced two civil wars which destroyed infrastructures, killed millions, and left our future a difficult one.
Being a Liberian who has seen the unfortunate events that unfolded as a result of the Coup d’état and has lived through the prolonged struggles of post-war Liberia, I believe that the coup was a complete veering from its intended purpose. Not only did the coup result in the deaths of the allegedly corrupt government officials, but it also marked the unfortunate deaths of many and hugely contributed to the first and second Liberian civil wars. Those events marked the sudden birth of the demise of Liberia and the myriad of happenings that forever changed the future of generations and generations of Liberians.
Looking back on this day, we find it easy to ask ourselves, Was the coup worth it? Is Liberia today any better than it was before the coup? Did the Coup improve Liberia politically or did it create room for institutional failure? I believe that the 1950 Coup d’état was inherently never about the masses because it didn’t in any way impact or change the lives of indigenous Liberians. I stand to be corrected, but before you make any attempt to nullify my point, kindly examine our current educational system, the political climate, and our medical institutions. According to the PRC, the Coup was meant to eradicate the system of corruption, nepotism, injustices, and discrimination but these did not happen. Today, Liberia remains on the list of the most rampant corrupted nations, justice is yet to be served to the weak and vulnerable population, Nepotism exists and thrives in our social institutions and sexual discrimination persists.
I am one of the many prospects of Liberia who remembers April 12 as a terrible day for Liberian people. This day brings sorrow and pain to the hearts of many who still suffer the losses of families and loved ones as a result of the decisions of a few men. But as Liberians, we must learn to embrace the ugly and work together to form part of a better Liberia. Thus, we must find the good in the day and prepare to fight any future threat these memories may pose.
We, as a people, must never forget the memories, lessons, and horrors of April 12. More importantly, we must learn to forgive our unfortunate past; cling to a reminder that wars will never stop corruption, injustices, cruelty, discrimination or segregation and only love, truth, and hard work can fix our faults. We should celebrate our survival and invest in our prospects (the children and young people of Liberia). If you were born on April 12, I am you. You’ are not unfortunate to be born on Liberia’s D-day; you were born for a reason to be the change you wished to see. We must make the difference to change the notions associated with April 12. Let us re-write our history.