2 minute read

Sekou Damate Conneh Jr.

Joined The Armed Struggle

Conneh began his active political life at the age of 19 when he joined the Progressive People's Party (PPP), founded in 1978, which campaigned for the democratic government and was at the time the only legal opposition party in the country. Much of the violence and destruction that ravaged Liberia between 1990 and 2004 stems from the uneasy relationship between the indigenous African Liberians and the minority "Americo-Liberians," descended from freed American slaves for whom the country was founded in 1847. But for most of its history Liberia enjoyed peace, prosperity, and stability. President William V.S. Tubman—an Americo-Liberian—took office in 1944 and remained in place until his death in 1971, presiding over improving trade relations, low unemployment, and relative wealth; his successor, William R. Tolbert Jr., was less successful. A sharp rise in food prices in the 1970s led to unrest among African Liberians, who saw the Americo-Liberians as holding power unjustly. Tolbert's government cracked down on the emerging rebel PPP in 1979 and it was banned in 1980. By then Conneh was serving as the party's senior coordinator in the Kokoyah District of Bong County and fled to Uganda. Tolbert was murdered by a rebel military group in 1980 and Samuel K. Doe, an army sergeant, was installed as president of the Interim National Assembly.

Conneh returned to Liberia in 1985 to stand in the forthcoming election. But the PPP remained an illegal party and he was forced to give up his political ambitions for a while. Doe later won the 1985 presidential election, though he was actually ineligible because of his age; he changed his birth date from 1951 to 1950 to qualify. After losing his job at the Ministry of Finance when Doe was assassinated, Conneh founded the Damate Corporation, a company that specialized in importing used cars from Europe.

The killing of Doe by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), led by Charles Taylor, triggered civil war that lasted until 1996. Divisions existed not only between African and Americo-Liberians, but between ethnic groups within the country. Deepening poverty caused by destruction of crops, a major refugee crisis, and escalating violence, made those divisions wider. In 1997 Taylor was elected president of Liberia and at first it seemed his election might bring stability to the country. Conneh resumed his work for the Ministry of Finance but quit soon after and moved to Conakry, the capital of neighboring Guinea, where he resumed his used-car trading, this time exporting cars from Guinea into Liberia. In 1998 he was arrested on the Liberian border by intelligence officers who accused him of smuggling and was moved to a jail in Monrovia, the Liberian capital. He was released when his wife, Aisha Keita-Conneh, petitioned the Guinean President Lansana Conteh to put pressure on Taylor. Conneh returned to Conakry on his release because Taylor's forces had begun to target various ethnic groups, including Conneh's own Mandingo people.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Ciara Biography - Wrote Out Goals to Elizabeth David (1913–1992) BiographySekou Damate Conneh Jr. Biography - Joined The Armed Struggle, Became A Rebel Leader