Musu Kpaka’s harrowing escape from the Liberian civil war

Jo-Musulyn Banks

The Liberian Civil War was one of the deadliest events that occurred in Liberia, West Africa from 1989 to 2003. Liberia was under attack by the rebels who overthrew the Liberian government.

War criminal, Charles Taylor, was the person who was responsible for starting Liberia’s first ever civil war — a war that took the lives of over 200,000 Liberian citizens. Musu Kpaka is one of the many people who experienced the Liberian Civil war and live on to tell her story.

 Prior to the Liberian civil war, Musu Kpaka lived an ordinary life, a life that was peaceful. “I grew up in a very big family, life was good. There are still positive things that I remember from my childhood and teenage years,” Kpaka says as she smiles to herself.

Kpaka attended a polytechnic high school where she graduated with a degree that prepared for a job as an administrative assistant. After high school, she went on to work at a local company in the city of Monrovia, Liberia as a secretary. At this time, Kpaka’s life was going smoothly, but little did she know that a year later her life would change forever.


Musu Kpaka when she was a baby 

December 24, 1989 was the start of the Liberian civil war, just a day before Christmas. A year later, 1990, Charles Taylor and his group of rebels killed the President of Liberia at the time, Samuel Doe.

“No one expected this to happen,” Kpaka says, “Liberia was doing great, then all of sudden a war breaks out. We had no choice but to escape.”

The Liberian Civil War forced many Liberians to flee to other countries in search of refuge. Kpaka and her family fled to Ghana.

The journey from Liberia to Ghana wasn’t easy for Kpaka and her family. They walked for days and nights to reach the boat that would take them to Ghana.

“It was a long journey, it took us five days to reach the Bulk Challenge boat,” Kpaka reflects. She vividly remembers having to sleep in multiple forests at night, the sounds of gunshots ringing in her ears. Terrified not only for her life, but also the life of her only daughter at the time, Jenice. 

 “I was ten years old at the time the war started, so I was very aware of what was going on,” says Janice. 

At one point of the journey to the boat that would take them to Ghana, Musu Kpaka and her family were stopped by rebels who almost killed her brother.


Musu Kpaka at her high school graduation

“They almost killed my uncle Baisuru right in front of us because they mistook him for another person,” Janice stated. “Seeing your family member on the ground with a gun pointed to their head is an image that is still engraved in my memory. No child should ever experience that.”

Eventually, Kpaka and her family arrived at the dock where the Bulk Challenge boat was. Their lives depended on this boat to get them to Ghana, a safer place unlike Liberia.




From 1996 to 2000, Kpaka and her family would stay at Buduburam refugee camp located in Accra, Ghana. During this time at the refugee camp, Kpaka gave birth to another daughter in 1998, Jo-Musulyn.

The Bulk Challenge boat carried thousands of Liberians seeking refuge.

  Living in a refugee camp wasn’t the best, but for Musu Kpaka she felt blessed to be in a safer environment. 

 “We had to sleep in a small white tent, there were no beds, so we slept on cardboard,” Kpaka tells.

“Food was also scarce but at least we were away from the brutality that was going on in Liberia and for that I was greatful.”

In the year of 2001, Musu Kpaka’s life would change again, but this time for the better. Kpaka and her two daughters were one of the few Liberians who were given the chance to come to the United States on a permanent stay.


Musu Kpaka (right) and her daughter Jenice (middle) at the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana

 “At first, I was hesitant because I didn’t want to leave my family behind,” Kpaka admits, “but my family encouraged me to go, to take my daughters with me and live a better life.”

 Kpaka and her daughters Janice, and Jo-Musulyn, arrived in the United States during July of 2001. 18 years later, they now reside in the state of Delaware. Her older daughter, Jenice, is a registered nurse, Jo-Musulyn is a sophomore at Delaware State University.

“There was a high chance that I would have been killed during the Liberian Civil War but miraculously, I am alive today and so are my daughters, along with my entire family.”



Musu Kpaka with her daughters, Jenice and Jo-Musulyn 

Categories: Crime, Features, politics

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