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Sekou Damate Conneh Jr. Biography - Joined The Armed Struggle, Became A Rebel Leader

taylor liberia lurd liberian

1960—

Liberian rebel leader

As leader of the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), Sekou Damate Conneh Jr. takes credit for bringing about the removal of dictator Charles Taylor from his position as president of Liberia. Taylor's resignation on August 11, 2003, came after 13 years of civil war. Taylor left office for exile in Nigeria only when LURD forces laid siege to the Liberian capital of Monrovia; he was later placed on Interpol's "Most Wanted" list. In his attempts to wrest political control from Taylor, Conneh is also thought to have overseen some of the most bloody and destructive battles ever enacted on African soil. Thousands of "child soldiers" served on both sides in the civil war, and LURD forces were responsible for rape, torture, and other atrocities as they fought in the name of democracy and freedom.

Conneh's determination to remove Taylor from power, and his willingness to risk his own life in doing so, made him a popular rebel leader, but his links to massacres and extreme violence weighed heavily against him in the run-up to Liberia's long-hoped-for elections in 2005. In January 2004 his continuing attacks on the capital led his wife Asha Keita-Conneh to declare herself leader of LURD in the first of a series of challenges to Conneh's authority that suggested deep divisions in the organization and eventually led to its collapse as a unifying opposition force. Despite his stated aims to bring peace and democracy to Liberia, observers feared that if Conneh was to take power his hold over the country would be both authoritarian and divisive. Nevertheless without his determination and strength of will, Charles Taylor's tenure as one of Africa's most brutal leaders would not have come to an end.

Sekou Damate Conneh Jr. was born in 1960 in Gbarnga, Liberia. His father, Sekou Damate Conneh Sr., and his mother, Margaret (Makay) Conneh, owned a rubber plantation and farmstead in Bong County. His wealthy father was a chieftain of the Mandingo ethnic group. Though the family was Muslim, Conneh started his education at the St. Martin's Cathedral School in 1966, going on to the William V.S. Tubman Methodist High School, where he graduated with a high school diploma in 1979. Conneh's political allegiances forced him to flee Liberia in the early 1980s, but he returned in 1985 and began studying for a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration (BBA) at the University of Liberia in 1986. His studies ended the same year when he became a revenue agent working for the Liberian Ministry of Finance. He held this position, working in Rivercess and later Montserrado Counties, until the assassination of President Samuel K. Doe in 1990 and the outbreak of civil war.

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