Country Profile: Liberia

Background on the politics, economy and foreign relations of Liberia.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been credited for leading Liberia out of its devastating civil war that ended in 2003 [EPA]

Liberia, the West African country bordering Sierre Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea, is the oldest republic in  Africa.

Founded by freed American slaves in 1847 and modeled on the US, Liberia was created with an economic system based on control of the country’s resources and subjugating the indigenous population.

Liberia was a one-party democracy between 1877 and 1980, with voting rights limited only to property owners. The True Whig party ruled continuously for 103 years, holding a monopoly over the country’s politics.

Corruption and nepotism were rampant under the oligarchy, which had roots in deep resentment toward the indigenous population, and the country’s elite flourished into the 1960s and early 1970s.

On the back of protests against rising food prices, William Tolbert, the president, was killed in April 1980 during a military coup led by Sergeant Samuel Doe from the Krahn tribe.

Doe formed the People’s Redemption Council and initially promised liberation from the oppression that characterised governance for decades, but he went on to suspend the constitution and impose martial law, allowing Liberia to slip into a repressive dictatorship.

Political instability

The US considered Liberia a strategic ally in the Cold War, and Doe’s government became the recipient of significant financial largesse from America.

In 1984, Doe lifted a ban on political activity but arrested activists, including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, an economist from Harvard University.

Though elections were held in 1985, the results were changed to suit Doe, and he won with 51 per cent. He went on to place members of his own tribe into positions of power, promulgating inter-tribal hostilities.


Meanwhile, Liberia’s economy began to fail, and investors abandoned the country. Following an attempted coup in 1985, Doe grew increasingly violent, punishing tribes associated with the attempt. The repression only intensified.

In 1989, Charles Taylor led the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), an army of dissidents from surrounding countries that included child soldiers, in an attack on Doe’s regime, supported by Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.

After Doe’s demise the next year, the rebel factions split and Liberia’s civil war diversified.

West African nations became formally involved through the formation a peacekeeping force known as the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG).

The civil war lasted until 1995, when a peace accord was signed, and Taylor became president in 1997. But Taylor was accused of meddling in Sierre Leone’s diamond trade, providing the rebel Revolutionary United Front with weapons in exchange for diamonds.

The Liberian civil war restarted in 1999, when Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) began a campaign against Taylor’s regime.

Democratic elections

Liberia Quick Facts
President: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Population: 3.7 million
Adult literacy: 57%
Unemployment: 85%
Life expectency: 57 years
GDP per capita: $500

Trade partners:

South Korea (37.2%)

China (26.3%)

Japan (11.5%) 

Singapore (17.3%)

Source: CIA World Fact Book

As LURD pressed in the north, another group, the Movement for Democracy and Elections in Liberia (MODEL) attacked from the south and the east.

After four years of fighting, uncluding a month-long siege of the capital Monrovia, Taylor surrended in 2003 and was allowed to go into exile in Nigeria.

In 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president, trumping former football legend George Weah in a vote considered to be one of the most free and fair in Liberia’s history.

Johnson-Sirleaf became the first female president in Africa and set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to deal with crimes committed during the civil war.

Her government asked Nigeria to extradite Taylor, who had been indicted on war crimes by the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone before fleeing.

In 2006, he was arrested and handed to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he awaits a verdict on his trial.

Johnson-Sirleaf has been criticised for not paying heed to the recommedations of the TRC that she should be barred from public office because of her links to Charles Taylor in the early 1990s.

She has been praised by the international community for her efforts in promoting peace during her tenure, but Liberia itself remains mired in poverty and excessively highly rates of unemployment.

Up to 80 per cent of the country remain unemployed and below the poverty line.

The administration has been criticised for not tackling corruption and for not bridging the gap between rural and urban Liberia. But the country, rich in resources such as rubber, iron ore and oill, is said to be drawing the return of foreign investors.

In early October 2011, Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, together with fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman from Yemen.

The move from the Nobel committee to honour John-Sirlief came just days before the presidential elections in Liberia on October 12 and was seen as move to consolidate her as an international role model for democratic values and human rights.

Some 1.8 million people registered to vote in an election seen as an acid test for Liberia’s democracy. In the first round fo voting, Sirleaf secured 40 per cent while Vincent Tubman’s Congress for Democractic Change (CDC) party managed to gain 30 per cent. With both parties failing to secure 51 per cent of the vote, required to win the elections, the vote entered a second round run-off scheduled for November 8.

Tubman’s CDC alleged mass electoral fraud and threatened to boycott the run-off unless the head of electoral commission was replaced. Even though this concession was made, Tubman called for the election to be postponed and when this was not forthcoming, he finally called for a boycott of the run-off elections on November 4.

International observers said they found no evidence of electoral fraud.

Source: Al Jazeera


More from News
Most Read