The US is coming under increasing pressure to intervene in the devastated west African country, but President George W. Bush has expressed his unwillingness to let the troops do more than hover off the coast until Liberian President Charles Taylor bows to diplomatic pressure to flee into exile.
Taylor, in turn, has refused to leave until peacekeepers arrive.
The stalemate is prolonging the suffering of Liberia’s population, while fierce fighting rages between troops loyal to Taylor and the rebel groups besieging the capital, Monrovia.
Birth of a nation
The city owes its name to US President Monroe, a symbol of the long association between the two countries. It may be that the present US commander in chief has lost his taste for regime change, but many in Liberia are looking across the Atlantic for their salvation, rather than to their neighbours.
American Marines guard the US Embassy in Monrovia
The founding of Liberia is woven in the fabric of American history and its historical debt to the slave population, and begins to explain why many see it as a US responsibility to help today.
In the early 1820s, hundreds of freed US slaves were sent to coastal Africa by American anti-slavery groups. When, in 1847, they created the continent’s oldest republic, its constitution and a flag were modelled after the country they had come from.
The country’s name is derived from the word “Liberty” and its coat of arms reads “The love of liberty brought us here”, but its history reveals an unconventional colonialist experiment.
Throughout most of the country’s history, Liberian-Americans, descendents of the freed slaves, ruled the country, and were accused of discriminating against the nation’s indigenous people.
America’s African ally
For the greater part of the 20th century Liberia was a key economic and strategic ally to the United States.
From the early 1900s, the US used one of its natural resources, rubber, to compete with Britain in the rapidly growing automobile industry. The resource also proved vital to the allies during the Second World War.
During the Cold War years the US saw Liberia as a strategic foil to the spread of communism through Africa.
Liberia faces humanitarian disaster
Following the signing of a mutual defence pact, the US established a huge air base and built communications facilities to handle intelligence and broadcast a Voice of America signal across the continent.
America washes its hands
After the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, however, the US began to lose interest in its West African client state.
It was already a period of great instability in Liberia. The president, Samuel Doe, who himself had come to power in a bloody coup, was executed in 1990 by a splinter group of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).
The burden of peacekeeping in the war torn country, then as now, rested on the shoulders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), whose peacekeeping forces were the target of an all-out assault by Taylor’s forces in 1992.
A tenuous truce led to Charles Taylor’s landslide presidential victory in 1997, judged by international observers to be free and fair. The president has since become an international pariah, indicted for war crimes from the time of his own rise to power and, more recently, his support for rebel groups in Sierra Leone.
Taylor faces charges of crimes against humanity.
The US seen by many observers to be the natural candidate to intervene and bring peace to the region, due to the countries’ historical ties. US administrations, for all their zeal elsewhere, have been reluctant to endorse peacekeeping missions in Africa since the disastrous 1993 mission in Somalia.
All Liberians want to see an end to the bloody civil strife, and those who continue to regard the US as their mother country look there first for their deliverance.