Bush's call for Charles Taylor to step down as Liberia's president
is just the latest development in a personal story that includes
accused gun-running, war crimes and leading an army of child soldiers.
He has also been credited with helping break the long Americo-Liberian
political dominance of the country.
McArthur Ghankay Taylor was elected president of Liberia in July
of 1997, garnering over 75 percent of the vote in an election
that international observers deemed fair. Taylor's ascent to power,
and the election of fellow National Patriotic Party candidates
to a majority of legislative seats in the National Assembly, marked
what many hoped would be the end of seven years of civil strife.
one of seven children, was born on January 28, 1948 in Arthington,
near Liberia's capital of Monrovia. His father, Nelson, worked
as a teacher, sharecropper, lawyer, and judge and was an Americo-Liberian,
a group of descendents from Liberia's original nineteenth-century
settlers. His mother, Zoe, was a native Gola tribeswoman.
showed signs of his rebellious ways at an early age. As a teen,
he was expelled from a private preparatory school outside Monrovia.
he grew older, he appeared drawn to the history of Liberia and
its connections to the United States. By 1972, the 24-year-old
Taylor arrived in Boston through a student visa to study.
had long been captivated by the history of New England because
many freed slaves had left on ships from New Bedford, Massachusetts
to colonize Liberia," according to a biographical piece released
by Gale Research in 1998.
worked as a security guard, truck driver, and mechanic while attending
Chamberlayne Junior College in Newton, Massachusetts. He later
transferred to Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, and
graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics in 1977.
his undergraduate years at Bentley, Taylor joined the Union of
Liberian Associations (ULA). He rose through the ranks of the
organization to become its national chairman.
was while he chaired the ULA that Taylor emerged as a political
force. In 1979, then-Liberian President William Tolbert visited
the United States. Taylor led a demonstration outside the Liberian
mission in New York City to protest Tolbert's policies.
than ignore the rally leader, the Liberian leader asked Taylor
to debate him. Taylor outshined the president during the debate
and declared that he would take over the Liberian mission in New
York. But he had overreached. He was arrested and jailed. Instead
of pressing charges, however, Tolbert invited Taylor to return
returned in the spring of 1980, on the eve of great changes that
would change Liberia and his fortunes. Americo-Liberians had dominated
the nation's political life from its founding in 1847 by freed
American slaves. The economic and social disparity between the
ancestors of the Americans and the native people created feelings
of resentment amongst Liberians. It was this anger that helped
spark a bloody coup that ultimately brought Taylor to power.
April 12, Tolbert, an Americo-Liberian, was murdered during a
military coup led by army sergeant Samuel K. Doe. Through a personal
declaration, Doe became the first indigenous president of Liberia.
Months of bloody retribution by native Liberians against Americo-Liberians
his connection to Tolbert, Taylor's political skill and economics
background earned him a key position within the Doe government.
As head of the General Services Agency, Taylor directed the purchasing
of the Liberian government. He was later ousted from the post
in May of 1983, accused of embezzling more than $900,000 in government
funds to a Citibank account. That October, Taylor fled to the
was arrested in May of 1984, and a court in Boston determined
that there were sufficient grounds to detain him while Liberia's
request to send the fugitive back were considered. In September
of 1985, while awaiting extradition, Taylor escaped from the Plymouth
House of Corrections.
still exists as to Taylor's movements over the next four years.
Liberian and American authorities place him in Libya, where it
is believed he received shelter and military training from Muammar
is certain is Taylor returned to Liberia on Christmas Eve in 1989,
at the head of a guerilla force of 100 to 500 men called the National
Patriotic Front of Liberia [NPFL]. The NPFL settled in Gbarnga,
some 100 miles northeast of Monrovia. Taylor said he had returned
to topple the government, reportedly declaring, "The best
Doe is a dead Doe." During the next seven months, Taylor's
forces gained ground and recruits, battling back an increasingly
forces entered Monrovia in July of 1990. During the battle for
Monrovia, the NPFL split into two factions, one led by Taylor,
and the other by Prince Johnson. By September, both divisions
of the NPFL declared victory over Doe's regime, but the Johnson-led
group had secured and occupied the city of Monrovia. Doe was captured
and executed by Johnson forces as he attempted to leave the country.
civil war between Taylor and Johnson forces followed. In 1995,
a peace agreement was signed, eventually leading to the election
of Taylor as president in July of 1997. Taylor garnered 75.3 percent
of the vote, while his nearest competitor, Ellen Johnson of the
Unity Party, received just 9.6 percent.
his presidency, Taylor continued to battle insurgents who opposed
his rule. He also reportedly began selling arms and other supplies
to rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone. Taylor reportedly traded
the weapons for diamonds. The rebels Taylor purportedly aided
continued their war against the Sierra Leone government, conducting
brutal sweeps through civilian areas, chopping off the arms, legs
and noses of thousands of suspected government supporters, including
women and children. On June 4, 2003, Taylor was indicted for war
crimes by a United Nation's tribunal in Sierra Leone.
with growing international pressure to resign, Taylor has repeatedly
said he will leave and accept an offer from Nigerian President
Olusegun Obasanjo for temporary asylum. Taylor gave no indication
of when he would relinquish control, but said he will resign "only
after a peacekeeping force is deployed to prevent chaos and anarchy."
Compiled by Terence Burlij for the Online NewsHour