Liberia

Info

Capital

Monrovia

Population

3,989,703 (July 2013 est.)

Climate

Tropical

Currency

74 Liberian dollars (LD) = 1 USD (2012 est.)

Important Cities

Buchanan, Marshall, Gbarnga

Area

111,369 sq.km.

People

Nationality

Liberian

Major Peoples

Dan

Religion

Christian 85.6%, Muslim 12.2%, African religion 0.6%, other 0.2%, none 1.4% (2008 census)

Literacy

60.8%

Principal Language

Kru, Madinka, Mano

Official Language

English

Politics

Head Of State

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Type of Government

Democratic

Date of Independence

July 26, 1847

Major Exports

Diamonds, Rubber, Timber, Iron Ore, Coffee, Cocoa

Precolonial History

Animist and Muslim ethnic groups migrated to the region now known as Liberia from the 12th to the 17th centuries. The Portuguese arrived in 1461, and monopolized coastal trade until the Dutch and British established trading posts in the 17th century. The area became known as the Pepper Coast, or Grain Coast, due to the abundance of Malagueta peppers (Grains of Paradise). The colony of Liberia was founded upon the arrival of free African-Americans and freed slaves from the United States in 1820. This settlement, Monrovia, was negotiated between local chiefdoms and U.S. President James Monroe on behalf of the American Colonization Society, a coalition of abolitionists and slaveholders who advocated relocating freed slaves to Africa. Additional colonists from American slave states arrived, and their settlements were merged into the Commonwealth of Liberia in 1838. Liberia became Africa’s first independent republic in 1847, with a constitution modelled after that of the United States.

Postcolonial History

Britain and France soon recognized Liberia’s sovereignty, but also began encroaching on its territory. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln officially recognized the new republic in 1862. Former governor Joseph Jenkins Roberts was elected Liberia’s first president in 1847. Americo-Liberian settlers founded the True Whig Party in 1878. This elite minority dominated politics and suppressed the indigenous peoples for over a century. In 1980, President William R. Tolbert was assassinated in a military coup d’état led by Master Sargeant Samuel K. Doe, who suspended the constitution and imposed martial law. Doe’s preference for promoting members of his own Krahn ethnic group caused increasing unrest in Liberia. He lifted the ban on political parties in 1985, and took office as president after a fraudulent election. In 1989, Charles Taylor of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) began an uprising against the government, initiating decades of bloody civil war during which Doe was assassinated. Taylor was elected president in 1997. Charged with war crimes, however, he resigned amid international pressure in 2003. The U.N. became involved in peacekeeping. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state, was elected in 2005. During her first year in office, several members of the previous government were convicted for the embezzlement of over ten million dollars. Beyond tackling corruption, humanitarian issues have improved since 300,000 civil war refugees were assisted in their return home to Liberia. However, more than 100,000 refugees remain throughout the Guinea Coast and in the United States. Liberian armed forces are still under reconstruction.

Recommended Sources:

Fred van der Kraaij, The Open Door Policy of Liberia – An Economic History of Modern Liberia (Bremen, 1983).

U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, “Founding of Liberia, 1847” (http://history.state.gov/milestones/1830-1860/liberia).

Quentin Outram, “Liberia: Recent History,” Africa South of the Sahara (London: Routledge, 2008).