Reflections on the October 15, 1992 Operation Octopus Military Invasion of Monrovia

Charles Taylor

Today October 15, 2021, a date of infamy in the history of Monrovia as well as the history of Liberia for this date makes it twenty-nine (29) years since the Charles Taylor led NPFL launched a savage, brutal and massive military assault on Monrovia and the West African Peace Keeping Force, dubbed Operation Octopus.

The leadership of the West African Peace Keeping Forces (ECOMOG) having been lulled into complacency by Charles Taylor’s charms further sealed their fate when they removed their heavy weapons from Monrovia at the urging of President Jimmy Carter. 

Carter, echoing Taylor’s claims, charged that ECOMOG’s deployment of heavy weapons in Monrovia posed a threat to peace. Caving into such suggestions, the Peace Keeping force withdrew their heavy weapons from Monrovia.

But no sooner had they done so Taylor, whose preparations for war was well known to the Sawyer led Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) as well as to the ECOMOG leadership, struck, drawing first blood on October 15, 1992.

The invasion of Monrovia was indeed massive. Thousands of people were either killed, wounded or internally displaced, especially those in suburban areas such as Gardnerville, Barnesville, Logan Town and Dorleh-La (Douala).

Politics in Liberia would never be the same again because the 1992 invasion simply marked a new phase in the civil war which broke out in December 1989 and which did not finally end until August, 2003, although there was an intermittent period of 6 years of civilian rule under a despotic leader, Charles Taylor.

In the wake of Taylors’ forced exit from power in 2003 following the brokering and signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Accords (ACPA), a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up under the terms of the ACPA.

It was a transitional justice mechanism setup to examine root causes of the 14-year civil conflict, probe past abuses and make recommendations for accountability, reparations and institutional reforms.

The TRC submitted its Final Report to the National Legislature in 2010 containing over 200 recommendations covering the above listed subject areas.

 Under the TRC Act/law, those recommendations are binding and it requires the Head of State to make quarterly reports to the National Legislature on progress being made in its implementation.

For the record, former President Sirleaf was notably remiss by not submitting regular quarterly reports to the Legislature as required by law. At one point she referred the matter to the 54th Legislature for suggestions and guidance on the way forward.

 The Legislature responded by curtly reminding her that it was hers and not theirs to implement the recommendations contained in the TRC Report. In a similar stance, President Weah has requested the Legislature to provide guidance on the way forward.

Unlike the 54th Legislature, the Senate has recommended the establishment of a Transitional Justice Commission which has come under harsh criticism from the public at large. It appears unlikely that the House of Representatives may concur with the Senate on this issue.

This is because already, a little over 50 Representatives have signed a resolution calling for the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia a development which renders full concurrence with the Senate improbable at least for now.  

The make-up of the current Legislature includes former warlords of members of warring factions accused of committing egregious human rights abuse during the conflict. Amongst them are Nimba County Senator Prince Johnson and Grand Gedeh Representative, George Boley.

Prince Johnson is listed as the most notorious individual perpetrator although his rebel Independent National Patriotic Front (INPFL) accounts for 2,588 violations constituting two percent of total violations.

George Boley’s rebel Liberia Peace Council(LPC) although one of the smallest faction, ranks third behind the Charles Taylor rebel National Patriotic Front (NPFL) and the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) in the number of violations, 18,797 accounting for twelve percent of total violations.

And it is they who have, by their signing of a resolution calling for the casting aside of the TRC report, demonstrated an abiding interest in promoting and maintaining the culture of impunity. 

But twenty-nine (29) years later, it appears that we as a nation have learnt no lessons at all from the infamous October 15, 1992 Operation Octopus as well as the entire civil conflict.

Operation Octopus, in the opinion of a retired security official, clearly demonstrates the extent and depths of depravity to which obsession for power can drive an individual. 

Charles Taylor, enjoyed impunity for some time and perhaps eventually came to believe he was not accountable to anyone. And this emboldened him to embark on several misadventures at great cost to the sub-region the security official maintained.  

Further, according to him, the fact that the Liberian Senate would approve a committee report calling, in effect for the scrapping of the TRC report suggests that the Liberian Senate is encouraging impunity.

A civil society activist(name withheld) agrees and questions why President Weah appears to have consistently dodged the issue of the establishment of a war and economic crimes court for Liberia although he had previously declared support for accountability.

The thousands of people who lost their lives during Operation Octopus, it appears have faded into the recesses of our collective memory.

A large percentage of the current youth population was not even born and would therefore have no appreciation of those difficult moments of our history.

This is why it becomes important not only to reflect but to also document that history for the benefit of posterity. As our legislators return from their break, we hope that they will reconsider their decision to scrap the TRC report.

We also urge that they open for public vetting the various proposed concession agreements and not rush to approve without thorough due diligence. 

They are therefore urged to remain mindful of the gravity of their obligations, duties and responsibilities as they return to duties.