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On This Day, Where Were You?- Nov. 12, 1985

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Where were you on November 12, 1985 when Liberia was invaded to topple the military government  of Samuel K. Doe led by  General Thomas G. Quiwonkpa, former Commanding General of the Arm Forces of Liberia, AFL and  one of the main   17  enlisted noncommissioned officers of the Arm Forces of Liberia that brutally overthrew  President William R. Tolbert ending  a century and the half rule of a minority class over the  rest of the country.

General Quiwonkpa

Sure, Liberians of every stripe have their own tale about  the 1985 invasion and the subsequent mayhem which followed  decimating families, friends, relatives, counties, ethnic groups,  professionals, and the  entire nation.

General Thomas G. Quiwonkpa, “strongman” as he was called was a close friend to then Master Sargeant Samuel K. Doe,  leader of the coup and Head of State of the People’s Redemption Council government who  felled out on policy differences, he fled the country  along with his family for safety for fear of  his life and family .

On the morning of November 12, 1985, Liberia woke up to the playing of the National Anthem thinking it was the regular playing of the anthem for the beginning of   a normal radio day programming but only  to hear the voice of the former Commanding General of  the Arm Forces of Liberia, General  Thomas G. Quiwonkpa announcing the fall and overthrown of the Samuel K. Doe  government  by his  National Patriotic Forces under his command and assured the nation everything was under control, that  President Samuel K. Doe was in hiding but no escape, promising a nonviolent coup and no blood would be shed.

The Liberian people,  barely a month after the October 15, election frustrated with the outcome of the election result which they believed was rigged  by Doe and his military government, saw the coup as  a relief and soon sprang on the streets rejoicing that Samuel Doe and his despotic military regime had been dismantled. The entire country was on the streets, from Cape Mount to Maryland and the Manos and Gios of Nimba County felt they had been liberated from the repressive hands of Samuel Doe and his henchmen, whom had mounted a campaign of systemic prosecution of the Nimba people because General Quiwonkpa was from that County and as the culture of African politics and  leaders dictate,  collective guilt was a fair game to include the families, friends, tribesmen, and county in clamping down on a perceived enemy.

November 12, as it is referred to in the annuals of Liberian political chronology, was masterminded by several key Liberian opposition politicians with the help of foreign powers, something which according to the late General’s wife, Talorh Quiwonkpa in her many public publications that her husband was reluctant to take part in the coup but bought into it after then opposition leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, now President of Liberia showed him an  inhumane photo of a woman  at the Baltimore harbor which she told General Quiwonkpa was his mother and that she was ordered raped by his former friend, Head of State Samuel Doe. That photo finally lured the General into  joining the coup, a scheme masterminded  through,by, and with the help of  his best friend, Harry Nyuan, now a public official in President Sirleaf government.

Samuel  Doe is  Back

At about 2:00 pm that November 12 afternoon, again the airwaves beamed with the National Anthem, the nation expecting some sort of speech from General Quiwonkpa as he and  his Patriotic Forces were now in charge of the country, the nation was stunt and dumb-founded only to hear the voice of Samuel  K. Doe announcing he was back in power and that the coup had failed and General Quiwonkpa and his patriotic Forces were on the run.

Captain Edward Slanger

Captain Edward of Arm Forces of Liberia, Slanger later appeared on national television displaying the body  of the late General  Quiwonkpa whom he said was captured and killed in the Du Port Road area, Paynesville  after he leaading an eleven man  strong using all available power of the army but now says he  can not account for what happened to the General’s body after. It is believe that General Quiwonkpa body was dismantled and parts shared among  soldiers and eaten but Senator Prince  Y. Johnson,  former leader of the

Edward Slanger

breakaway group of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, INPFL who escaped after the coup failed during his appearance at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said he believes the  General was not killed as captain Slanger had claimed on television but   backtracked  later at his TRC hearing in 2008   that  rather General Quiwonkpa took pills and died something they do when staging coup to avoid caputre and  torture while alive.  Prince  Johnson version corroborates  Dr. Henry Fahnbulleh’s account of  General  Quiwonkpa’s death. Fahnbulleh  was close associate to Samuel Doe and the last to fallout with him after all of his  fellow progressives fell out with Doe and left his government and many fled into exile. Eating the General’s body, Prince Johnson said meant all who ate him are dead because the pills blackened his body and anyone who might had eaten him would die.


The violence inflicted by the Doe government after the aftermath of the failed coup on the nation is still fresh in the minds of Liberians and the scar and nightmare hunt the psychic of the nation, the incentive which set the stage for the brutal civil war and the obliteration of the fabric of the sociological wholesomeness of  the  Liberian society.

The coup failed, and General Quiwonkpa was killed. The masterminds and his band of revolutionaries fled the country back into exile to plan yet a bigger  and ambiguous destructive strategy to remove Doe and his henchmen from power. And indeed they succeeded, this time waging an all out war which took down the Doe regime but destroyed the entire country. They abandoned him and left their own on the battle field. Worst of all, they deserted his young and innocent family including his young kids. They never turned their back including his best friend Harry Nyuan, a revelation well documented in the late General’s many public publications.

Where I Was, Nov 12

I too , can recall where I was on the day of November 12 just as every Liberian  can who had reasonable memory to the fully developed. I woke up that fateful morning and as a child  who had to do my choices before getting to school, meaning I had to fetch some water from the creek for daily house and home activities including cooking. That was  the only source of water available being in the countryside  because  in Liberia  and most African countries no other source of  water is available. I passed through the premises and home of the Commissioner of  our township on my way to the creek because the road went through his yard, to my astonishment, this time and for the first time, I didn’t see the Commissioner on his porch and I began to puzzle and develop my own theories to prove why the Commissioner didn’t  do  his usual morning ritual of being on his porch as he did daily. I completed fetching water and got on the road  along with  other class and schoolmates for school, a journey which took one hour plus one way to complete. Just as we could approach the edge of entering the town to climb Mount Nitealu to the school, we heard war drum beating, echoing  around the circumference of the town. Curious and shocked, we asked each other but what is going on? We knew though it must be something out of the ordinary, because the war drum just doesn’t beat for trivial situation or issues. Beyond our human imagination, getting closer into the town to find out what was going on, we saw a man coming towards us from the town  on his way to teach in our town,  jumping and shouting and saying something we couldn’t get clear. We then rushed closer and quickly, we asked in one sequence, what is happening? Doe is overthrown he shouted in exuberance. We quickly rushed towards the town to join the celebration whose meaning  we just didn’t know but was only interested in the fragrance  and taste of the celebration obtaining at the time, common logic and curiosity of children. One of our friends suggested we go back to our town and get the town’s band since we realised the Commissioner might had run away and his children being among us would give us the band so we  could march to join with the celebration. We did and we got the band and march joining the celebration, it was then I knew why I didn’t see the Commissioner on his porch that morning as he did ritually.

As we got ready and organize the  band to march to the town, a Ghanaian  elementary teacher at the Catholic school, I can remember ever so vividly,  told us to  leave the streets and go home to our houses. He said this thing could turn around and the coup could fail. When the coup fail, he continued, it will be very bloody and bad and anyone on the streets rejoicing could be targeted. He insisted, I speak from experience, similar thing took place in Ghana and when the coup failed, lot of people in the streets died. Later, the older people came out too and advised we leave the streets because no one knew what could happen; things could change and the coup aborted.

We took the advice and left the streets and went home. Few hours later at about 2:00 pm we were glued to the radio for the 2:00 pm news, and then rather than the usual news gingo before the news cast, we heard the National Anthem,  and after that  the voice  of Samuel K. Doe, announcing he was back in power, the coup had failed.

Few hours  after Doe  announcement, hell broke loose, just as it was like around the entire country, mayhem took over the country with soldiers rounding up every and anyone one they perceived to had been against the government, President and were rejoicing in the streets. Despite the vast distance between our town and Monrovia where the coup took place, soldiers took over the township  and begin to round up everyone, fortunately, children being what they are, we  got the hint before the soldiers  could arrive, we fled into the mountains.

We  ran into the mountains for fear of our lives to avoid the soldiers . We could creep at midnight and come to the edge of the town to have an idea about what was happening and the condition of our parents. We spent a week in the mountains and only came back after huge  ransoms were paid by each of our parents and intense negotiation.

Not Re-litigating the Past

To conclude, I appeal to all Liberians who will find this article uneasy or provoking.  This article is not meant to re- hatch old and painful memories, rekindles  tribal tension, or put people against each other.  What I intend to put across on this important day is that we  reflect our minds on the past and soberly reflect on all we have gone through and how far we have come as a nation and people. Think about  the  pains, sufferings, lost, and  destruction. We must reflect soberly, take stock and don’t lose sight about all we have gone through. On this day, we all have a tale ever occupied in our minds.  We must be sensitive and not fall prey to the same games for personal gains used by other selfish Liberian politicians and outside forces  who created and exploited every unfortunate differences might had existed between people. It is time we cultivate a new frame of mind, a mind that will put our country first forging a renew sense of purpose to transform our country for the better where those who destroyed the country are not rewarded with the running the affairs of the public trust and all the prestige and privileges which go with the nobility of  public trust. We are exerted as a people and country. Fed up and fatigued with decades of destructive politics masterminded  by politicians who had nothing to loose because they had no investment or programs in the country but are now in power after several years of destruction for the sake power and are even not performing different from all the previous government they valified and destroyed

We will not acheive the meaning of our purpose of this article if we fail to pay tribute to all our fallen beloved countrymen as the result of November 12, 1985 coup. We pay special tribute  to an outstanding and very bright young Liberian journalist, Charles Gbeyon who was killed on this by the Doe government for doing nothing wrong but his noble responsibility, covering the events of the coup as they were  unfolding but instead met his untimely death.

On this day, every Liberian can recall where they were on November 12, 1985. Where were you?  Share your memories in the comment box below.



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