US President Jimmy Carter rides with Liberia’s president Williams R. Tolbert, Jr. in Monrovia in 1979.
Reflection on factors leading to the Coup d’Etat of 12 April 1980 which assassinated Liberia President William Tolbert.
After the death of President William Tubman in July 1971, the sitting Vice President William Tolbert, acceded to the Presidency of Liberia so as to serve out the balance of President Tubman’s last 4yr term. President William Richard Tolbert (WRT) was on his own one term of 8yrs – beginning January 1975 – when he was assassinated on 12 April 1980. Note that the change from unlimited four-year terms to one eight-year term was actually a Tubman amendment implemented by Tolbert.
“…If WRT was serving his own one and only 8-year term when he was terminated with extreme prejudice… why couldn’t they wait?…”
Considering that I was Liberia President William Tolbert’s emissary with functionaries of the United States national security apparatus, I beg to leave to offer you cogent nuggets as to specific factors swirling around President Tolbert by April 1980.
Even though I believe that the Coup of April 1980 was a year overdue for implementation by the authority granted to Calvin Mehlert (US Embassy Political Officer) and Capt. William Stevens (US Embassy Air Attaché), we should examine some interesting factors in the late 1970s struggles between the United States Government (USG) and the Government of Liberia (GOL).
Note that by March 1980, President Tolbert, President Ahmed Sékou Touré (Guinée) and President Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal) – following the tacit agreements reached at the Monrovia Ducor Hotel during the January 1980 confab of Africa Finance Ministers – Africa’s leaders were poised to consolidate Africa’s natural resources in a “commodity cartels” combine which would have managed/administered/regulated prices & outputs of ALL Africa’s mineral and other natural resources, a la OPEC.
Tolbert/Touré/Senghor was also envisaging an international economic order – sustained by the ongoing GATT Uruguay Round – which would have been along parallel lines with the Non-Aligned Movement. As a counter offer, US President Jimmy Carter was offering President Tolbert (WRT), very quietly, over 100 USD Million for WRTs wide-ranging social projects such as Group of 77, as well as asking for an extended US military and expanded intelligence oversight of Libya Muammar Gaddafi and other Arab League elements. Additionally, US President Carter also wanted the placement of a US Military facility in Liberia which would have essentially negated the need for the current AFRICOM.
Observe that Guinée President Touré was one of the premier political strategists amongst Africa’s leaders, and was slated to become the first Organization of African Unity (OAU) Executive Chairman and, alongside Liberia President Tolbert, would be managing Africa’s commodity cartels.
We must highlight that President Tolbert, as Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), was scheduled to depart Liberia on Monday, 14 April 1980 for Harare, Zimbabwe ostensibly to celebrate the inauguration of the “State of Zimbabwe” from the former “Southern Rhodesia”. Several other Africa Heads of State were to join President Tolbert at this celebration, and it was at this gathering that President Tolbert, Senegal President Senghor (Vice Chairman of the OAU), and Guinée President Touré were to initiate the countdown to Africa’s management of its natural resource commodities by August 1980.
Summary – US President Jimmy Carter and the US national security apparatus panicked.
President Tolbert had refused every deal put by his Baptist brother US President Jimmy Carter. So, especially, and understandably so, in the wake of the US experience of the Arab Oil Embargo, President Carter – under national security dictates – unleashed the will of the US national security apparatus in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of US national economic/political structures.
Incidentally, on Wednesday 9 April 1980, before the 2 AM Saturday morning 12 April 1980 coup, President Tolbert dispatched me to Calvin Mehlert (US Embassy Political Officer) so as to receive “updates” re the US thoughts on the ongoing matter between Uses Carter and Pres Tolbert. Calvin Mehlert so calmly relayed to me the elements of a pending coup. I went back and shared the elements with President Tolbert and his response was: “Ijoma, I will not give them what they want – not as long as I am President of Liberia and Chairman of the OAU. Tell them I am ready.” I returned that message to Mehlert.
In hindsight – very chilling.
Essentially, US President Jimmy Carter panicked when he realized that come August 1980, Africa – by the dictates of Liberia President Tolbert – would be determining the economic fortunes of the United States of America.
Liberia President William Tolbert had to be “terminated with extreme prejudice” – with urgency – before August 1980.
US President Jimmy Carter: 12 April 1980 – “CHECKMATE”.
About the Author:
Mr. Ijoma Flimister is a distinguished Liberian.