- This article is about the country in Africa; for the town in Costa Rica, see Guanacaste Liberia
The Republic of Liberia is a country on the west coast of Africa, bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d'Ivoire. It has recently been afflicted by two civil wars (1989–1996 and 1999–2003) that have displaced hundreds of thousands of its citizens and destroyed the Liberian economy.
Main article: History of Liberia
Settlers from America
The history of Liberia as a political entity begins with the arrival of the black American settlers — the Americo-Liberians, as they were to be known — who established a colony of “free men of color” on its shore in 1822 under the auspices of the American Colonization Society. The historical roots from which a majority present-day Liberians derive their identity, however, are found in the varied traditions of the several tribal groups of indigenous Africans whom the settlers confronted in their struggle to gain a foothold in Africa and, later, extend their control into the interior.
On July 26, 1847, the Americo-Liberians declared the independence of the Republic of Liberia. The settlers regarded the continent from which their forefathers had been taken as slaves as a “Promised Land,” but they did not intend to become reintegrated into an African society. They referred to themselves as “Americans” and recognized as such by tribal Africans and by British colonial authorities in neighboring Sierra Leone. The symbols of their state — its flag, motto, and seal — and the form of government that they chose reflected their American background and immigrant experience. The social customs and cultural standards of the Americo-Liberians had their archetypes in the antebellum American South. These ideals strongly colored the attitudes of the settlers toward the indigenous African people. The new nation, as they conceived of it, was coextensive with the settler community and with those Africans who were assimilated into it. A recurrent theme in the country’s subsequent history, therefore, was the usually successful attempt of the Americo-Liberian minority to dominate people whom they considered “uncivilized” and inferior.
The founding of Liberia was privately sponsored by American religious and philanthropic groups, but the colony enjoyed the support and unofficial cooperation of the United States government. Liberia’s government, modeled after that of the United States, was democratic in structure, if not always in substance. After 1877 the True Whig Party monopolized political power in the country, and competition for office was usually contained within the party, whose nomination virtually ensured election. Two problems confronting successive administrations were pressure from neighboring colonial powers, Britain and France, and the threat of financial insolvency, both of which challenged the country’s sovereignty. Liberia retained its independence but lost its claim to extensive territories that were annexed by Britain and France. Economic development was retarded by the decline of markets for Liberian goods in the late nineteenth century and by indebtedness on a series of loans, payments on which drained the economy.
Significant mid-20th-century events
Two events were of particular importance in releasing Liberia from its self-imposed isolation. The first was the grant in 1926 of a large concession to the American-owned Firestone Plantation Company; that move became a first step in the modernization of the Liberian economy. The second occurred during World War II, when the United States began providing technical and economic assistance that enabled Liberia to make economic progress and introduce social change.
In 1944 Liberian president William Tubman introduced the Unification Policy to bring tribal Africans into the mainstream of Liberian political life. The Open Door Policy, which he announced in his inaugural address that year, invited large scale foreign investment that further aided the transforming the economy. Liberia was relatively well-developed economically, at least compared to other African nations, but wide disparities in the distribution of income and public service were continuing sources of unrest. Despite the strides made during Tubman’s administration, his successor, William Tolbert, was unable to satisfy rising economic expectations and demands for greater participation in political decision-making by the indigenous majority. Opposition to the Americo-Liberian elite mounted, and dissatisfaction was expressed at every level over the corruption associated with the Tolbert administration.
1980 coup under Doe
On 12 April 1980, a successful military coup was staged by a group of noncommissioned officers of tribal origins led by Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe, and they executed the President of nine years William R. Tolbert, Jr. in his mansion. Constituting themselves the People’s Redemption Council, Doe and his associates seized control of the government and brought an end to Liberia’s "first republic".
Doe made strong ties with the United States in the early 1980s, receiving more than $500 million for pushing out the Soviet Union from the country, and allowing exclusive rights for the US to use Liberia's ports and land (including allowing the CIA to use Liberian territory to spy on Libya).
Doe continued his authoritarian policies, banning newspapers, outlawing opposition parties and holding staged elections.
1989 and 1999 civil wars
In late 1989, a civil war began, and in September 1990 Doe was ousted and killed by the forces of faction leader Yormie Johnson and members of the Gio tribe. The war ended in 1996, and a prominent warlord, Charles Taylor, was elected as President in 1997. Taylor's brutal regime targeted several leading opposition and political activists. In 1998, the government sought to assasinate child rights activist Kimmie Weeks for a report he had published on its involement in the training of child soldiers. Taylor's autocratic and dysfunctional government led to a new rebellion in 1999. More than 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the civil wars. The conflict intensified in mid-2003, when the fighting moved closer to Monrovia. As the power of the government shrank and with increasing international and American pressure for him to resign, President Charles Taylor accepted an asylum offer by Nigeria, but vowed: "God willing, I will be back."
Main article: Politics of Liberia
In 1998 Kimmie Weeks was forced into exile.
The Americo-Liberians had little in common with the tribal communities living inland. One of these tribes were the Krahn, to which Samuel Doe belonged. That was partly the reason for the 1980 coup.
The country is currently governed by a transitional government in preparation for elections that are due in October 2005.
See also: List of Presidents of Liberia
Main article: Counties of Liberia
Liberia is divided into 15 counties:
Main article: Geography of Liberia
Liberia is situated in Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean. The landscape is characterised by mostly flat to rolling coastal plains, which rise to rolling plateau and low mountains in the northeast. The climate is tropical: hot and humid. Winters are dry with hot days and cool to cold nights. Summers are wet and cloudy with frequent heavy showers.
Main article: Economy of Liberia
The Liberian economy depended heavily on the export of iron ore. Before 1990 Liberia also exported rubber. The long civil war has destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, and Liberia is dependent on foreign aid . The country currently has an approximate 85% unemployment rate.
Main article: Demographics of Liberia
The population of over 3 million comprises 16 indigenous ethnic groups and various foreign minorities. The Kpelle in central and western Liberia is the largest ethnic group. Americo-Liberians, who are descendants of freed slaves that arrived in Liberia early in 1821, make up an estimated 5% of the population. There also is a sizable number of Lebanese, Indians, and other West African nationals who make up a significant part of Liberia's business community. A few whites (estimated at 18,000 in 1999; probably fewer now) reside in the country.
Political upheavals and civil war have brought about a steep decline in living standards.
Cuttington University College was established by the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) in 1889; its campus is currently located in Suacoco , Bong County (120 miles north of Monrovia).
Main article: Culture of Liberia
Liberia was traditionally noted for its hospitality and academic institutions, cultural skills and arts and craft works.