President William Richard Tolbert Assassination: What Was The Rush?


Reflection on Liberia Coup D’état of April 12, 1980 which removed 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 4-year term.

President William Richard Tolbert (WRT) was on his own one term of eight years – beginning January 1975 – when he was assassinated on April 12, 1980. Note that the change from unlimited four-year terms to one eight-year term was actually a Tubman amendment implemented by Tolbert.

So,… we ask:

“…If WRT was serving his own one and only 8 year term when he was terminated with extreme prejudice… why couldn’t they wait?…”

I answer:

Considering that I was Liberia President William Tolbert’s emissary with functionaries of the United States national security apparatus, I beg leave to offer you cogent nuggets as to political 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 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 January 1980 at the Africa Finance Ministers confab – Africa’s leaders were poised to consolidate Africa’s natural resources in a “commodity cartels” combine which would have managed/administered/regulated prices and outputs of ALL Africa’s mineral and other natural resources, a la OPEC.

Tolbert/ Touré/Senghor were 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, U.S. President Jimmy Carter was offering President Tolbert (WRT), very quietly, over US$100  Million to WRT for his PERSONAL use as well as asking for an extended US military and expanded intelligence oversight of Libya Muammar Gaddafi and other Arab League elements.

Additionally, U.S. President Carter also wanted 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 the premier political strategist 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, April 14, 1980 for Harare, Zimbabwe to ostensibly 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 – U.S. 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 US national economic/political structures.

Incidentally, the Wednesday before the Friday night coup, President Tolbert dispatched me to Calvin Mehlert (U.S. Embassy Political Officer) so as to receive “updates” re the US thoughts on the ongoing matter between U.S. President 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 he told me “…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, U.S. President Jimmy Carter panicked when he realized that by 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.

U.S. President Carter: April 12, 1980 – “Checkmate”

Ijoma Robert Flemister, Contributing Writer