Did Liberian Vice President Dogolea Die of Cancer or Foul Play?

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 18, 2002

After nearly two years of suspense, the government of President Charles Taylor has finally released a scanty version of an autopsy report purporting to certify that Taylor’s NPFL rebel confidante and Liberian Vice President, Enoch Dogolea, died of cancer and not by food poisoning or severe beatings by the state security apparatus, as widely rumored in Liberia at the time of the Vice President’s sudden death in June 2000. The government’s version of the autopsy report, made public late May, 2002 indicates that Dogolea’s death was "...a natural one, attributable to digestive hemorrhage resulting as a complication of hepatocarcinomia (CANCER) on a cirrhotic liver," and that "no element or arguments were found that could invoke the direct intervention of any person."

The autopsy of Vice President Dogolea was reportedly performed on July 14, 2000 by Dr. Helene Yapo Ette of the Treichville University Hospital in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast. It is not however clear why the doctor or hospital was chosen for the autopsy, but it is clear that as both the launch-pad and major support-base of Taylor’s NPFL rebel organization in its war to unseat the Liberian government of President Samuel K. Doe, the Ivory Coast may have been a fertile ground for an autopsy report that was bound to be favorable to the official government view that the Vice President died of “natural causes” and not by foul play.

But the government’s decision to make public only excerpt of the autopsy report that is supportive of its official position of death by “natural causes”, rather than publish the entire autopsy report, has rekindled speculations and suspicions that Dogolea was flogged to death by the notorious ATU or died from drinking a poisoned coffee during a visit to the President Taylor’s farm. Family sources had indicated that the Vice President had no known history of cancer, and that he had participated in the rigorous physical chore of cleaning up the science complex at the University of Liberia along with other government officials to underscore the NPP government’s commitment to education, only a week before his sudden and official death on June 23, 2000 at the Clinique Medical in Abidjan where he was supposedly rushed for treatment, by the government.

In fact, the Taylor government, apparently sensitive to rumors that Dogolea died at the President’s farm, went on a vigorous public relations offensive to sway public opinion toward the government’s position of "death by natural causes, " and to deny that the Vice President had died at the President’s farm. President Taylor went on radio to denounce persons spreading rumors about the Vice President’s death, insisting that Dogolea did not fall ill on his farm, nor did the ATU beat the Vice President to death. "These are evil fabrications calculated by detractors to tarnish my good image and destabilize this country", Taylor said, and called on the "rumor mongers to join my government in prayers for the Vice President's recovery". The Vice President never recovered.

"It is nonsensical to think that I killed Dogolea, considering the long-standing and intimate relationship that existed between us," President Taylor protested, and noted, "...Such rumors were the work of detractors trying to use the death of Dogolea to divide me and the people of Nimba County. This cannot happen," he warned. He then warned the Liberian public that "Even if it is said in a taxi (that he killed VP Dogolea), all occupants of such a taxi including the driver will be dealt with," the AFP quoted the President Taylor as saying.

The government’s PR campaign at damage control also included the appointment by President Taylor of a 15-member investigative commission, chaired by prominent Nimba County citizen and former Liberian Chief Justice Emmanuel Gbalazeh, with mandate to “ investigate, review and examine all medical records, reports and data, including the VP's autopsy” and report its findings to the President, Taylor's private paper, The Patriot, reported, quoting Taylor as saying "the commission was part of efforts to reconcile our citizens and to encourage an open government answerable to the people, thereby establishing peace and harmony amongst all our people."

But the Liberian public did not find the government’s PR efforts too convincing. And as the rumors persisted, the government started to change its story. First the Vice President’s wife, who had earlier allegedly confided to family members and close associates that her husband’s last words to her before dying was that he was “poisoned”, soon told journalists that her husband was in fact “critically ill”. The government subsequently confirmed her statement but added that the Vice President “was in a comma” and had been flown to Abidjan enroute to Paris for treatment. A day later, President Taylor announced to the Liberian people that his Vice President had died. He promised an autopsy to determine the cause of death, though the government’s vexing desire to quiet persisting rumors did not deter it from sending a large team of journalists to Abidjan to interview doctors who supposedly treated Dogolea prior to his death, in an effort to validate the government’s claims that the Vice President died of natural causes.

And before the autopsy was begun to determine the actual cause of death of the Vice President, Taylor and his health minister had gone on record to assure the Liberian people that everything would be done to prove to them that the Vice President died of “natural causes.” And true to this goal, the autopsy report released nearly two years after the fact late May 2002 confirmed the government’s position that the Vice President died of natural causes. But the government took no chances in its zeal to achieve the desired autopsy report. It silenced critical news reporting of the mysterious nature of the Vice President's death, posted a 24-hour guard around the Vice President’s grave, and downplayed a Dogolea Family request for a private autopsy. It was even rumored that some members of the Vice President’s security detail were “silenced” to prevent future disclosure of the embarrassing accounts of his sudden death.

By Liberian accounts, rumors remain the only available public source of information not censored by the government, and most Liberians continued to rely heavily on rumors, which have become highly reliable in unraveling inside dealings and other unpleasant mechanisms of the Taylor government. So it was no surprise that while announcing the untimely and mysterious death of his rebel comrade and Vice President, President Taylor noted that "Liberia has become a complicated society characterized by rumors, chaos and disharmony", and promised to make the Vice President's autopsy report public. But the rumors about Dogolea’s death at the President’s farm seemed to have won over the government’s claims that the Vice President was "recovering" after his suddenly falling “critically ill.” Of course, Dogolea was not expected to recover if he had already died on the President’s farm as the rumors had it.

Taylor and Dogolea were reported to have had close personal ties pre-dating their escapades in rebel training camps in the trenches of Libya and elsewhere in Africa prior to launching the devastating seven-year civil war in Liberia that saw a total destruction of the country’s infrastructure developments, the capture and execution of sitting Liberian President Samuel K. Doe, and the subsequent rise of the two men to the helm of power in Liberia. But if Dogolea thought the vice presidency was his shield and armor against the wrath of Taylor for his earlier betrayal in joining Prince Johnson and over 30 fellow Gio fighters to break away from Taylor’s NPFL and form the short-lived Independent NPFL, he was mistaken.

For in rebel doctrine, as in gangster doctrine, costly errors and betrayals are settled by elimination not by peace. And Dogolea was cognizant of the doctrine because Samuel Dokie, Cooper Teah, Elmer Johnson, Moses Duopu, and scores of other independent-minded NPFL stewards and supporters soon disappeared under mysterious circumstances. And Dogolea may have known he was marked for elimination the very time he and other INPFL leaders wrote a letter to their Libyan benefactors linking Taylor to the CIA, and requesting that Taylor be sidelined because he was no good for Liberia. Dogolea and his Gio kinsmen in the newly formed INPFL even refused to pledge loyalty to Taylor as head of the NPFL.

But Taylor and Dogolea regrouped, and Dogolea soon became Taylor’s Vice Presidential running mate under the banner of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) in the 1997 Liberian Special General Elections, intended to end the seven-year Liberian civil war. Dogolea and Taylor were declared winners of the special elections, and the stage was now set for the two men to outmaneuver each other in their unholy alliance. Taylor knew that if the NPFL-crossover party, the NPP, had any chances of winning the elections, he had to count on Dogolea since the majority of NPFL fighters were Dogolea’s kinsmen from his native Nimba County. And Dogolea may have counted on Taylor to eventually become the first indigenous President of Liberia after slain Liberian President Samuel K. Doe.

However, in his eulogy at the Vice President’s burial, President Taylor recalled that "the unique and special friendship between my late brother and me… saw a difficult and diverse path that we both shared in pursuit of our common cause," and described Dogolea as "a great man of dialogue and peace" whose death was "not a pretty sight for me to behold." Taylor also noted that "as a soldier, his (Dogolea’s) loyalty and commitment were never compromised. He was one of the first brave men to enter the country (1989) on our mission

But there are too many unknown variables surrounding Vice President Dogolea’s death, and the government’s handling of the autopsy report raise more questions than provide answers. But Taylor boasted back in 1997 that he was the “most mischievous” man in Liberia, and so the repeated sudden deaths and disappearances of his political rivals and critics shouldn’t be surprising.

"I have seen an attempt on the part of some political animals in the country to create division among the people of Liberia and we will not tolerate such", President Taylor said in reaction to a local newspaper report questioning the mysterious death of VP Dogolea, 48, and father of 36 children.

Taylor warned that ”the publication of such a story should be the end of such negative campaign only intended to sow the seeds of discord among the peaceful people of Liberia”, and assured NPP partisans gathered at the executive mansion to console him after official announcement of Dogolea’s death that” everything would be done to prove to the Liberian people that the Vice President died of Natural Causes”.

So the questions linger on. Did Vice President Dogolea die of “natural causes” induced by cancer as claimed in the autopsy report, or did he die of poisoned drink as confided to close associates by his wife? We may never know. And we may also never get to know if Dogolea died on the President's farm as widely rumored, or at a hospital in Abidjan as claimed by the government. But we may just be able to shift through the conflicting information and draw our own conclusions if the government's past record is any indicator!

Dozens of bodyguards of Vice President Dogolea were reportedly rounded up after the Vice President's death to ensure their silence. The full autopsy report is yet to be made public, and a team of church and opinion leaders appointed by the President to investigate the circumstances of Dogolea's death never met. A new Vice President is in office, and soon the nature of Dogolea's death will fade away as all others before him. And as the intriguing Liberian political drama moves on to new scenes, you will do well to brace yourself for more surprises before predicating any conclusions.

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