HISTORY OF LIBERIA
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006)
37,189 sq mi (96,320 sq km);
total area: 43,000 sq mi (111,370 sq km)
Population (2013 est.):
3,989,703 (growth rate: 2.609%);
birth rate: 36.45/1000;
infant mortality rate: 72.71/1000;
life expectancy: 57.41
Capital and largest city (2009 est.):
Monrovia, 882,000 people
Lying on the Atlantic in the southern part of West Africa, Liberia is bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire. It is comparable in size to Tennessee. Most of the country is a plateau covered by dense tropical forests, which thrive under an annual rainfall of about 160 inches a year.
Liberia has Republic form of Government
The Grain Coast is the original name Portuguese explorers in the 15th Century gave to the part of the Atlantic coast roughly corresponding with the coast of modern Liberia which stretches from Cape Mount to Cape Palmas. Around 1820 the American Colonization Society began the process of settling freed black persons in what became Liberia. The society contended that the emigration of blacks to Africa was an answer to the problem of slavery and the incompatibility of the races. Over the course of forty years, several thousand persons of Negro decent from the United States, immigrants from the Caribbean and slaves recaptured on the high seas by the American Navy, were voluntarily relocated. The colony became the Free and Independent Republic of Liberia on July 26, 1847.
The English-speaking Americo-Liberians, descendants of the settlers, make up only 5-10% of the population, but until recently have historically dominated the intellectual and ruling class. Liberia’s population is composed of 16 different ethnic groups.
The government of Africa’s first republic was modeled after that of the United States, and Joseph Jenkins Roberts of Virginia was elected the first president. Ironically, Liberia’s constitution denied indigenous Liberians equality to the lighter-skinned American immigrants and their descendants.
After 1920, considerable progress was made toward opening up the interior of the country, a process that facilitated by the 1951 establishment of a 43-mile (69-km) railroad to the Bomi Hills from Monrovia. Liberia’s 18th President, William V.S. Tubman, in an effort to bridge the gaps of inequality instituted a Unification and Integration Policy. In July 1971, while serving his sixth term as president, William V. S. Tubman died following surgery and was succeeded by his longtime associate, Vice President William R. Tolbert, Jr.
Tolbert was ousted in a military coup on April 12, 1980, by Master Sgt. Samuel K. Doe. Doe’s rule was characterized by corruption and brutality. A rebellion led by Charles Taylor, a former Doe aide, and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), started in Dec. 1989; the following year, Doe was assassinated. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) negotiated with the government and the rebel factions and attempted to restore order, but the civil war raged on. By April 1996, factional fighting by the country’s warlords had destroyed any last vestige of normalcy and civil society. The first phase of the civil war ended in 1997.
In what was considered by international observers to be a free election, Charles Taylor won 75% of the presidential vote in July 1997. The country had next to no health care system, and the capital was without electricity and running water. Taylor supported Sierra Leone’s brutal Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in the hopes of toppling his neighbor’s government and in exchange for diamonds. As a consequence, the UN issued sanctions against Liberia.
In 2002, rebels—Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy(LURD)—intensified their attacks on Taylor’s government. By June 2003, LURD and other rebel groups controlled two-thirds of the country. Finally, on Aug. 11, Taylor stepped down and went into exile in Nigeria. By the time he was exiled, Taylor had bankrupted his own country, leaving Liberia the world’s poorest nation. Gyude Bryant, a businessman seen as a coalition builder, was selected by the various factions as Chairman of an interim government and charged with he responsibility of holding free and fair elections. The interim government was backed by a 15,000-strong United Nation Peacekeeping force (UNMIL).
Liberia Elects Africa’s First Female President
In the November 2005 presidential election and the runoff election, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist who had worked at the World Bank, defeated George Weah, a former world-class soccer star. In Jan. 2006 she became Africa’s first elected female president.