Liberia: Truth, Knowledge, History Of This West African Nation


(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Liberia

Introduction Settlement of freed slaves from the US in what is today Liberia began in 1822; by 1847, the Americo-Liberians were able to establish a republic. William TUBMAN, president from 1944-71, did much to promote foreign investment and to bridge the economic, social, and political gaps between the descendents of the original settlers and the inhabitants of the interior. In 1980, a military coup led by Samuel DOE ushered in a decade of authoritarian rule. In December 1989, Charles TAYLOR launched a rebellion against DOE’s regime that led to a prolonged civil war in which DOE himself was killed. A period of relative peace in 1997 allowed for elections that brought TAYLOR to power, but major fighting resumed in 2000. An August 2003, peace agreement ended the war and prompted the resignation of former president Charles TAYLOR, who faces war crimes charges in The Hague related to his involvement in Sierra Leone’s civil war. After two years of rule by a transitional government, democratic elections in late 2005 brought President Ellen JOHNSON SIRLEAF to power. The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) maintains a strong presence throughout the country, but the security situation is still fragile and the process of rebuilding the social and economic structure of this war-torn country will take many years.
History Indigenous peoples of West Africa

Anthropological research shows the region of Liberia was inhabited at least as far back as the 12th century, perhaps earlier. Mende speaking people expanded westward, forcing many smaller ethnic groups southward towards the Atlantic sea. The Deys, Bassa, Kru, Gola and Gissi were some of the earliest recorded arrivals. [3] This influx was compounded during the ancient decline of the Western Sudanic Mali Empire in 1375 and later in 1591 with the Songhai Empire. Additionally, inland regions underwent desertification, and inhabitants were pressured to move to the wetter Pepper Coast. These new inhabitants brought skills such as cotton spinning, cloth weaving, iron smelting, rice and sorghum cultivation, and social and political institutions from the Mali and Songhay Empires.

Shortly after the Manes conquered the region there was a migration of the Vai people into the region of Grand Cape Mount. The Vai were part of the Mali Empire who were forced to migrate when the empire collapsed in the fourteenth century. The Vai chose to migrate to the coastal region.

The ethnic Kru opposed the migration of the Vai into their region. An alliance of the Manes and Kru were able to stop the further migration of the Vai but the Vai remained in the Grand Cape Mount region (where the city of Robertsport is now located).

Littoral coast people built canoes and traded with other West Africans from Cap-Vert to the Gold Coast. Later European traders would barter various commodities and goods with local people, sometimes hoisting their canoes aboard. When the Kru began trading with Europeans, they initially traded in non-slave commodities but later became active participants in the African slave trade.

Kru laborers left their territory to work on plantations and in construction as paid laborers. Some even worked building the Suez and Panama Canals.

Another tribal group in the area was the Glebo. The Glebo were driven, as a result of the Manes invasion, to migrate to the coast of what later became Liberia.

Settlers from the United States

In 1822, the American Colonization Society established Liberia as a place to send freed African-American slaves. [5] African-Americans gradually migrated to the colony and became known as Americo-Liberians, where many present day Liberians trace their ancestry. On July 26, 1847, the Americo-Liberian settlers declared the independence of the Republic of Liberia.

The settlers regarded Africa as a “Promised Land”, but they did not integrate into an African society. Once in Africa, they referred to themselves as “Americans” and were recognized as such by local Africans and by British colonial authorities in neighbouring 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 diaspora experience. Lincoln University (founded as Ashmun Institute for educating young blacks in Pennsylvania in 1854) played an important role in supplying Americo-Liberians leadership for the new Nation. The first graduating class of Lincoln University, James R. Amos, his brother Thomas H. Amos, and Armistead Miller sailed for Liberia on the brig Mary C. Stevens in April, 1859 after graduation.

Indigenous Liberian women in 1910.

The religious practices, social customs and cultural standards of the Americo-Liberians had their roots in the antebellum American South. These ideals strongly influenced the attitudes of the settlers toward the indigenous African people. The new nation, as they perceived it, was coextensive with the settler community and with those Africans who were assimilated into it. Mutual mistrust and hostility between the “Americans” along the coast and the “Natives” of the interior was a recurrent theme in the country’s history, along with (usually successful) attempts by the Americo-Liberian minority to dominate what they identified to be savage native peoples. They named the land “Liberia,” which in the Romance languages, and in Latin in particular, means “Land of the Free,” as an homage to their freedom from slavery.

Historically, Liberia has enjoyed the support and unofficial cooperation of the United States government [6]. 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 during the Scramble for Africa, but lost its claim to extensive territories that were annexed by Britain and France. Economic development was hindered 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-twentieth 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 (limited) 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 a late night raid on April 12, 1980, a successful military coup was staged by a group of noncommissioned army officers led by Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe. The soldiers were a mixture of the various ethnic groups that had claimed marginalization from the hands of the minority Americo-Liberian settlers. They killed William R. Tolbert, Jr. in his mansion. He had been president for nine years. Constituting themselves the People’s Redemption Council, Doe and his associates seized control of the government and brought an end to Africa’s first republic. Significantly, Doe was the first Liberian head of state who was not a member of the Americo-Liberian elite. In the early 1980s, the United States provided Liberia more than $500 million for pushing the Soviet Union out of the country, and for providing the US exclusive rights to use Liberia’s ports and land (including allowing the CIA to use Liberian territory to spy on Libya).

Doe favored authoritarian policies, banning newspapers and outlawing various opposition parties. His tactic was to brand popular opposition parties as “socialist”, and therefore illegal according to the Liberian constitution, while allowing less popular minor parties to remain as a token opposition. Unfortunately for Doe, popular support would then tend to realign behind one of these smaller parties, causing them to be labeled “socialist” in their turn.

In October 1985, Liberia held the first post-coup elections, ostensibly to legitimize Doe’s regime. Virtually all international observers agreed that the Liberia Action Party (LAP) led by Jackson Doe (no relation) had won the election by a clear margin. After a week of counting the votes, however, Samuel Doe fired the count officials and replaced them with his own Special Election Committee (SECOM), which announced that Samuel Doe’s ruling National Democratic Party of Liberia had won with 50.9% of the vote. In response, on November 12th, a counter-coup was launched by Thomas Quiwonkpa, whose soldiers briefly occupied the Executive Mansion and the national radio station, with widespread support throughout the country. Three days later, Quiwonkpa’s coup was overthrown. Following this failed coup, government repression intensified, as Doe’s troops killed more than 2000 civilians and imprisoned more than 100 opposing politicians, including Jackson Doe, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and BBC journalist Isaac Bantu.

1989 and 2003 civil wars

In late 1989, a civil war began. The harsh dictatorial atmosphere that gripped the country was due in large part to Sergeant Samuel Doe’s rule. An Americo-Liberian named Charles Taylor with the backing of neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire entered Nimba County with around 100 men.[7] These fighters gained high levels of support with the local population who were disillusioned with their present government. A large section of the country came under the invaders’ control as a result. By this time a new player had also emerged. Yormie Prince Johnson (former ally of Taylor) had formed his own army and had gained tremendous support from the Gio and Mano ethnic groups.

In August 1990, the Economic Community Monitoring Group under the Economic Community of West African States organized its own military task force to intervene in the crisis. The troops were largely from Nigeria, Guinea and Ghana. After the meeting and on his way out, Doe who was traveling only with his personal staff, was ambushed and captured by members of the Gio Tribe who were loyal to Prince Yormie Johnson. The soldiers took him to the headquarters of Johnson in neighboring Caldwell, tortured and killed him.

With some financial support from the U.S., after prompting from Taylor that the Nigerians and Ghanainas were opposed to him, Senagalese troops were brought in.Their service were however shortlived, after a major outing with Taylor forces.

By September 1990 Doe’s forces controlled only a small area just outside the capital of Monrovia. After his death, and as a condition for the end of the conflict, interim president Amos Sawyer resigned in 1994, handing power to the Council of State. Prominent warlord Charles G. Taylor was elected as President in 1997, after leading a bloody insurgency backed by Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi. Taylor’s brutal regime targeted several leading opposition and political activists. In 1998, the government sought to assassinate child rights activist Kimmie Weeks for a report he had published on its involvement in the training of child soldiers, which forced him into exile. 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, and the fighting moved into Monrovia. As the power of the government shrank and with increasing international and American pressure for him to resign, President Taylor accepted an asylum offer from Nigeria, but vowed: “God willing, I will be back.” On March 29, 2006 he was extradited from Nigeria to Sierra Leone, where he had been indicted by the Special Court (a war crimes tribunal). Charles Taylor’s trial by that court is being held in the Hague, for security. He is charged with crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions and “other serous violations of international humanitarian law”.[8]

Transitional government and elections

After the exile of Taylor, Gyude Bryant was appointed Chairman of the transitional government in late 2003. Because of failures of the Transitional Government in curbing corruption, Liberia signed onto GEMAP, a novel anti-corruption program. The primary task of the transitional government was to prepare for fair and peaceful democratic elections. With UNMIL troops safeguarding the peace, Liberia successfully conducted presidential elections in the fall of 2005. Twenty three candidates stood for the October 11, 2005 general election, with the early favorite George Weah, internationally famous footballer, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and member of the Kru ethnic group expected to dominate the popular vote. No candidate took the required majority in the general election, so that a run-off between the top two vote getters, Weah and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, was necessary. The November 8, 2005 presidential runoff election was won decisively by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist. Both the general election and runoff were marked by peace and order, with thousands of Liberians waiting patiently in the Liberian heat to cast their ballots.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf presidency

Daughter of the first indigenous Liberian to be elected to the national legislature, Jahmale Carney Johnson, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was born in rural Liberia. Widely celebrated for being the first elected female head of state in Africa, Johnson-Sirleaf’s election focused much international attention on Liberia. A former Citibank and World Bank employee, Johnson-Sirleaf’s career also includes heading the U.N. Development Programme for Africa [3]. Johnson-Sirleaf was jailed twice during the Doe administration before escaping and going into exile. As president, Johnson-Sirleaf hopes to bring her credentials as an economist to bear and enlist the help of the international community in rebuilding Liberia’s economy and infrastructure. Her efforts to have Liberia’s external debt of $3.5 billion cancelled were at least partially rewarded on November 12, 2007, when the IMF agreed to begin providing debt relief.[9] She has extended a special invitation to the Nigerian business community to participate in business opportunities in Liberia, in part as thanks for Nigeria’s help in securing Liberia’s peace. Exiled Liberians are also investing in the country and participating in Liberia’s rebuilding efforts.

In addition to focusing her early efforts to restore basic services like water and electricity to the capital of Monrovia, Johnson-Sirleaf has established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address crimes committed during the later stages of Liberia’s long civil war.[10] She is also working to re-establish Liberia’s food independence. Johnson-Sirleaf also requested that Nigeria extradite accused war criminal and profiteer Charles Taylor.

Human rights situation

Amnesty International summarizes in its Annual Report 2006: “Sporadic outbreaks of violence continued to threaten prospects of peace. Former rebel fighters who should have been disarmed and demobilized protested violently when they did not receive benefits. Slow progress in reforming the police, judiciary and the criminal justice system resulted in systematic violations of due process and vigilante violence against criminal suspects. Laws establishing an Independent National Commission on Human Rights and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission were adopted. Over 200,000 internally displaced people and refugees returned to their homes, although disputes over land and property appropriated during the war raised ethnic tensions. UN sanctions on the trade in diamonds and timber were renewed. Those responsible for human rights abuses during the armed conflict continued to enjoy impunity. The UN Security Council gave peacekeeping forces in Liberia powers to arrest former President Taylor and transfer him to the Special Court for Sierra Leone if he should return from Nigeria, where he continued to receive asylum. Liberia made a commitment to abolish capital punishment. A new law on rape, which initially proposed imposition of the death penalty for gang rape, was amended to provide a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.” Former 22nd president Charles Taylor was later captured trying to escape across the border of Cameroon and has been sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for trial.

Geography Location: Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone
Geographic coordinates: 6 30 N, 9 30 W
Map references: Africa
Area: total: 111,370 sq km
land: 96,320 sq km
water: 15,050 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly larger than Tennessee
Land boundaries: total: 1,585 km
border countries: Guinea 563 km, Cote d’Ivoire 716 km, Sierra Leone 306 km
Coastline: 579 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 200 nm
Climate: tropical; hot, humid; dry winters with hot days and cool to cold nights; wet, cloudy summers with frequent heavy showers
Terrain: mostly flat to rolling coastal plains rising to rolling plateau and low mountains in northeast
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mount Wuteve 1,380 m
Natural resources: iron ore, timber, diamonds, gold, hydropower
Land use: arable land: 3.43%
permanent crops: 1.98%
other: 94.59% (2005)
Irrigated land: 30 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 232 cu km (1987)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 0.11 cu km/yr (27%/18%/55%)
per capita: 34 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: dust-laden harmattan winds blow from the Sahara (December to March)
Environment – current issues: tropical rain forest deforestation; soil erosion; loss of biodiversity; pollution of coastal waters from oil residue and raw sewage
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation
Geography – note: facing the Atlantic Ocean, the coastline is characterized by lagoons, mangrove swamps, and river-deposited sandbars; the inland grassy plateau supports limited agriculture
People Population: 3,334,587 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 44% (male 734,375/female 731,287)
15-64 years: 53.3% (male 879,848/female 896,319)
65 years and over: 2.8% (male 45,175/female 47,583) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 18 years
male: 17.8 years
female: 18.2 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 3.661% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 42.92 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 21.45 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: 15.14 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.95 male(s)/female
total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 143.89 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 159.5 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 127.81 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 41.13 years
male: 39.85 years
female: 42.46 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 5.87 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 5.9% (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: 100,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: 7,200 (2003 est.)
Major infectious diseases: degree of risk: very high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: malaria and yellow fever
water contact disease: schistosomiasis
aerosolized dust or soil contact disease: Lassa fever
animal contact disease: rabies (2008)
Nationality: noun: Liberian(s)
adjective: Liberian
Ethnic groups: indigenous African 95% (including Kpelle, Bassa, Gio, Kru, Grebo, Mano, Krahn, Gola, Gbandi, Loma, Kissi, Vai, Dei, Bella, Mandingo, and Mende), Americo-Liberians 2.5% (descendants of immigrants from the US who had been slaves), Congo People 2.5% (descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean who had been slaves)
Religions: Christian 40%, Muslim 20%, indigenous beliefs 40%
Languages: English 20% (official), some 20 ethnic group languages, of which a few can be written and are used in correspondence
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 57.5%
male: 73.3%
female: 41.6%

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