Liberia: Thomas Quiwonkpa and the Coup That Failed, This Day in History

Monrovia — Liberians woke up in the early Tuesday morning hours of November 12, 1985 to the voice of Thomas Quiwonkpa who announced that he had toppled the government of Samuel Kanyon Doe.

Quiwonkpa was one of the original members of the successful April 12, 1980 coup d'etat that brought Master Sargeant Samuel Kanyon Doe to power and ended decades of Americo-Liberian rule - and the reign of late President William R. Tolbert.

One month after the coup, Doe announced the arrest of AFL commander-in-chief Edwin Lloyd and other military leaders on charges of planning a counter-coup and by May Quiwonkpa was proclaimed a major general and made the new AFL commander.

Quiwonkpa would later change his rank to Brigadier General which paved the way for his fallout from Doe. In 1983, Quiwonkpa was demoted and subsequently charged with an attempt to overthrow the Doe administration, forcing him to flee the country.

Two years later, on 12 November 1985, one month after Doe won a disputed elections that completed his transition from a military man to a civilian president, Quiwonkpa, supported by about two dozen heavily armed men, covertly entered Liberia through Sierra Leone, and launched a coup against Doe.

The coup was shortlived as many accused Quiwonkpa of waving a white flag in a bid to oust Doe. Others pointed to the lack of support and the strongman's unorthodox methods as key reasons why Doe was able to regroup and foil the coup.

Quiwonkpa was captured and on November 15 was and mutilated by soldiers loyal to Doe. His killers reportedly dismembered and publicly exhibited the remains on the grounds of the Executive Mansion in Monrovia soon after his death.

Born in the town of Zurlay in 1955, Quiwonkpa was the son of a subsistence farmer. At the age of sixteen, he joined the AFL. After finishing high school in 1978 through a programme at the Barclay Training Center, he received an assignment to the AFL's records department.

In a campaign of retribution against the coup plotters and their supporters, Doe's government launched a bloody purge against the Gio and Mano ethnic groups in Quiwonkpa's Nimba County, raising alarm about a possible genocide. Doe's slaughter of an estimated 3,000 people provoked ethnic rivalries that later fuelled the First Liberian Civil War.

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