The Journal of Modern African Studies

From ‘warlord’ to ‘democratic’ president: how Charles Taylor won the 1997 Liberian elections

David Harris Masters graduate from the School of Oriental and African Studies and works as the Resource and Information Officer a1 1
a1 Africa Centre, London


For the best part of seven years, an increasing number of warring factions fought a vicious civil war for control of the West African state of Liberia. In August 1996, the fourteenth peace accord led to presidential and parliamentary elections in July of the following year. Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Party (NPP), formed out of the original invasion force, emerged victorious with a landslide 75 per cent of the vote. Given the international reputation of Taylor as a brutal warlord whose sole aim had never wavered from the capture of power in Monrovia, Taylor's across-the-board victory appears difficult to explain. Having concluded that, despite problems and allegations, the election did seem more free and fair than not, the article examines the factors that probably influenced the electorate's choices. The results of this research show an election heavily dependent on an uncertain security situation. However, it suggests that, although a former ‘warlord’ has been rewarded, the voting was a reasoned ploy by the electorate to maximise the possibility of improved living conditions.


1 The author would like to acknowledge the inspiration and assistance he has received in writing this article, particularly from Dr Richard Jeffries and Dr Max Sesay.