And So They Came

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Upon reaching their Caldwell base on Bushrod Island, outside Monrovia, Johnson and his fighters, embracing each other, laughing, dancing, and singing at the top of their voices, erupted into a festive burst of gunfire. From the military jeep in which they had brought him the rebels dragged President Doe, bleeding profusely from his legs, and threw him onto the ground. He was then stripped of his Five-star General’s uniform, including the badges he had on. These Johnson took and began to decorate himself while his men applauded, exchanged wisecracks, and burst into laughter. In an ammunition can found in one of the vehicles in Doe’s convoy were a few bars of gold, and Johnson ordered one of his men to take them away. Then Doe’s arms were twisted behind him and bound tightly with nylon ropes till his chest seemed to collapse from the pressure. Then the fighters began to beat him with the butt-ends of their rifles, raining kicks and punches onto his body, and dragged him into a building nearby where he was made to sit on the floor. Because it was believed that Doe had charms that could make him invincible instantaneously and that this could be prevented if one held on to him as closely as possible, one of the rebels stood by grasping the president by his undershirt, which was torn and stained with Doe’s blood.

Stripped to his undershirt and a pair of undershorts, wounded, sitting on the floor, his legs stretched out in front of him, exhausted from the agonizing pain he felt with his arms bound so tightly as much as from the beatings he had received earlier, it was all Doe could do to keep his sanity as glimpses both real and imagine flashed through his mind. But as much as he would have liked to revolve in his mind the events leading up to his capture, so immense was his sorrow, so intense his suffering and so great humiliation that his thoughts, like an optical illusion, eluded him, .

He was struck on the head with the butt-end of a rifle and voices shouted at him to look up at Prince Johnson, who was sitting behind a desk and sipping leisurely from a can of Budweiser. Doe raised his head, the sad expression on his face, with one eye swollen shut, made even more grief-stricken by his bloated features.

The room was crowded with rebel fighters, the air hot and stifling. A dark-complexioned, slim young woman dressed in a nurse’s outfit stood next to Johnson, fanning him with a piece of cloth and wiping the sweat from his forehead. A Pakistani journalist (Tahseen or Tasim by name), who would film Doe’s torture and was believed to be from the Doha-based Aljazeera Media Network, sat on the floor next to Doe, holding up a microphone to the president’s mouth. The film, which would become famous across Africa, could almost have been a shocking reminder on a sunny beach in Monrovia of the gruesome public execution of thirteen Liberian government officials, televised by Doe and his fellow coup-makers, following the 1980 coup d’état.

“I want to say something,” Doe said finally, his throat patched, tears streaming down his face, his voice barely above a whisper.

But Johnson pretended not to have heard and turned to one of his men, saying, “Cut off his ear.”

A group of rebels grabbed Doe. As the president struggled they pinned one side of his head to the floor. With an army knife that flashed in the glare of the video cameras, one of the fighters cut off Doe’s right ear. Doe’s screams filled the room and could have torn off the corrugated iron roof. Then he was made to sit up again, crying and pleading for his life, as blood streamed down his head.

“What did you do with the Liberian people’s money?” Prince Johnson asked, taking another casual sip from the can of Budweiser on the table in front of him and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I have five hundred American dollars in a bank account in Monrovia,” Doe said.

“Almost ten years you been in power and you say only five hundred?”

“I’ve more money in an international bank account.”

“How much?”

“I’m not sure.”

The rebels burst out laughing.

“You think we came here to joke with you, eh?” Johnson said, pointing a threatening finger at Doe sitting on the floor in front of him, and added, “Y’all cut off the man’s other ear.”

Again Doe’s head was knocked to the floor and his left ear was severed.

Inquiring about one thing and another, the rebels tortured Doe for a few more hours. The president’s face had swollen so badly from the beating that even to close his eyes was unbearable. The gunshot wounds in his legs, swollen till they looked a little like stumps, seemed only to increase his agony. Sitting on
the floor half-naked, smeared with his own blood, his pain vast, eternal and beyond bearing, Doe had such an urge to die that literally he seemed to embrace death. But for hours the rebels would deprive him of this one privilege. And although his end would come only after the following day, he would be forced to watch himself die slowly and painfully.

Later, they took him along the bank of the Stockton Creek, and there they continued to abuse and interrogate him. Convinced that indeed he could disappear, having discovered a small horn of an amulet hidden between his buttocks, all through the torture one of the fighters held tight on to the president.

At the bank of the creek a young mulatto man squatted next to Doe, pushing the barrel of his pistol against the president’s head while another fighter held up a tape recorder to the president’s mouth. “I want you to repeat this after me,” said the young mulatto man. When the president, already in extreme agony, nodded his head slowly, he went on: “I, President Samuel Kanyon Doe of the Republic of Liberia, have been overthrown. I am asking all my loyalists to surrender the country immediately to Field Marshall Prince Yormie Johnson.”

Barely able to speak, Doe repeated the phrase verbatim. The rebels then took him into a house nearby and locked him up. The next day he died.

Having early that morning driven the president’s corpse to the Redemption Hospital nearby, the rebels brought the body outside in a wheelbarrow and laid it onto one of the hospital’s stretcher. Aiming the muzzles of their guns at the naked corpse in front of them, they stood around to take pictures. They had cut off not only both of Doe’s ears but his fingers and toes also. The gruesome torture to which they had subjected him seemed to accelerate putrefaction of the body. Doe would be buried in an unmarked grave, like a stray dog.

Just as Liberians had jubilated and stoned the bodies of the thirteen government officials shot and killed following the overthrow of President Tolbert, so too the news of Doe’s death brought thousands of people into the streets of Monrovia. Soon they were crying with tears of joy, chanting, dancing and shouting in triumph:

“Doe is dead!”

“The war over!’

“Peace at last!”

But they were mistaken, for Doe’s death was only the beginning. The Liberian Civil War, which began in December of 1989, would last for four years and ten. The deaths of about two hundred and fifty thousand Liberians and foreigners, with about a million of the population having fled the country, would come
by the time the war had ended.

End of Book One

About the author: Saah Millimono is the author of Broken Dreams, which was awarded the Short Fiction Prize of the Sea Breeze Journal of Contemporary Liberian Writings. His first novel Boy Interrupted was awarded 2nd Place for the Kwani Manuscript Project, a one-off writing prize for African writers across the continent and in the Diaspora. He is currently at work on his second novel and pursuing a BA degree in Mass Communication at the African Methodist Episcopal University. He has written for the Daily Observer and The Guardian (UK).

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