Republic of Liberia
|Motto: The love of liberty brought us here|
|Anthem: "All Hail, Liberia, Hail!"
(and largest city)
|Government||Unitary presidential constitutional republic|
|-||President||Ellen Johnson Sirleaf|
|-||Vice President||Joseph Boakai|
|-||Speaker of the House||Alex J. Tyler|
|-||Chief Justice||Johnnie Lewis|
|Legislature||Legislature of Liberia|
|-||Lower House||House of Representatives|
|-||Established by the American Colonization Society||1822|
|-||Independence||26 July 1847|
|-||Current constitution||6 January 1986|
|-||Total||111,369 km² (103rd)
43,000 sq mi
|-||2008 census||3,476,608 (130th)|
|GDP (PPP)||2010 estimate|
|GDP (nominal)||2010 estimate|
|Currency||Liberian dollar1 (
|1 United States dollar also legal tender.|
The Republic of Liberia is a country on the west coast of Africa, bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. Africa's oldest republic, Liberia had its beginnings predating the American Civil War. Liberia, which means "Land of the Free," was founded as an independent nation for free-born and formerly enslaved African Americans. It currently has a population of more than 3.5 million.
Liberia has recently been afflicted by two civil wars, the Liberian Civil War (1989-96), and the Second Liberian Civil War (1999-2003), that have displaced hundreds of thousands of its citizens and destroyed the Liberian economy. Democratic elections in 2005 brought hope of a new era with the first woman ever elected to a national presidency in Africa.
Liberia is situated in Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean. Liberia has three main geographic regions: A narrow, sandy strip of coastal lagoons and mangrove swamps, inland rolling hills covered with tropical forest, and plateaus that rise to low mountains in the northeast along the border with Guinea.
The climate is tropical: Winters are dry with hot days and cool to cold nights. Summers are wet and cloudy with frequent heavy showers.The wet season is from May to September.
The history of Liberia as a political entity begins with the arrival of African American settlers, or the Americo-Liberians, as they came to be known, who established a colony of "free men of color" on its shore in 1822 under the auspices of the American Colonization Society. The historical roots from which a majority of present-day Liberians derive their identity, however, are found in the varied traditions of the several tribal groups of indigenous Africans whom the settlers confronted in their struggle to gain a foothold in Africa and, later, extend their control into the interior.
On July 26, 1847, the Americo-Liberians declared the independence of the Republic of Liberia. The settlers regarded the continent from which their forefathers had been taken as slaves as a "Promised Land," but they did not become reintegrated into an African society. Once in Africa, they referred to themselves as "Americans" and were recognized as such by tribal Africans and by British colonial authorities in neighboring 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. The religious practices, social customs, and cultural standards of the Americo-Liberians had their roots in the antebellum American South. These ideals strongly colored 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. Because of mutual mistrust and hostility between the "Americans" along the coast and the "Natives" of the interior, a recurrent theme in the country's subsequent history, therefore, was the usually successful attempt of the Americo-Liberian minority to dominate people whom they considered uncivilized and inferior. They named the land "Liberia," which in European languages and Latin means "Land of the Free."
The founding of Liberia was privately sponsored by American religious and philanthropic groups, but the colony enjoyed the support and unofficial cooperation of the United States government. 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 retarded by the decline of markets for Liberian goods in the late nineteenth century and by indebtedness from a series of loans whose payments drained the economy.
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; a move that became a first step in the 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.
The Americo-Liberians had little in common with the tribal communities living inland. Since modernization and educational development of the country tended to be only in the capital city where the Americo-Liberians people lived, over time the indigenous peoples were left behind politically and felt cheated out of their share of the country's wealth. It was not until the mid nineteenth century that any indigenous Liberians occupied a position in the executive branch of the Liberian government. During the administration of President William V.S.Tubman (1944-1971), his "Unification policy" created a direction for indigenous Liberians and the Americo-Liberian minority to come together, but it failed to bring any changes to the status quo of governance. By keeping the indigenous population from access to education and all but minimal participation in the political process, control and domination by the Americo-Liberians was maintained. The state of inequality that had long existed between Americo-Liberian citizens and the indigenous citizens sowed the seeds of discontent, unrest, and war.
On April 12, 1980, a successful military coup was staged by a group of noncommissioned officers of tribal origins led by Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe, a member of the Krahn tribe. The President of nine years William R. Tolbert, Jr. was executed in his mansion. Calling themselves the People’s Redemption Council, Doe and his associates seized control of the government and brought an end to Liberia’s "first republic."
Doe made strong ties with the United States in the early 1980s, receiving more than $500 million for pushing the Soviet Union out of the country, and allowing exclusive rights to use Liberia's ports and land (including allowing the CIA to use Liberian territory to spy on Libya). Doe used authoritarian policies, banning newspapers, outlawing opposition parties, and holding staged elections.
In late 1989, a civil war began and in September 1990, Doe was ousted and killed by the forces of faction leader Yormie Johnson and members of the Gio tribe. As a condition for the end of the conflict, interim president Amos Sawyer resigned in 1994, handing power to the Liberia Council of State. Prominent warlord Charles Taylor was elected as President in 1997. 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, when the fighting moved closer to Monrovia. As the power of the government shrank, and with increasing international and American pressure for him to resign, Taylor accepted an asylum offer by Nigeria, but vowed: "God willing, I will be back."
The country was governed by a transitional government from 2003 until democratic elections were held in 2005. The run-off of the November 8, 2005 elections between soccer legend George Weah and former finance minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was won by Johnson-Sirleaf. Sirleaf became the first female elected head of state in African history.
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 impressive career also includes heading the U.N. Development Program for Africa. Owing to the complexion inherited from her maternal Grandfather, a German who married a rural market woman, Johnson-Sirleaf has often been thought to be a member of the Americo-Liberian elite, although she is quite proud of her indigenous Liberian roots. Long involved in her country’s fight for peace and justice she was jailed twice during the Doe administration. Jailed once for eight months, she narrowly escaped with her life before going into exile. Delivering a message of hope and reconciliation in her inauguration speech, President Johnson-Sirleaf, with her credentials as an economist, seeks to enlist the help of the international community in rebuilding Liberia’s economy and infrastructure. Since her inauguration she has been working to have Liberia’s external debt of $3.5 billion canceled, and is inviting international investment. 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 their homeland 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, President Johnson-Sirleaf has established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address crimes committed during the later stages of Liberia's long civil war. She is also working to re-establish Liberia's food independence. President Johnson-Sirleaf also tackled head-on the greatest looming threat to Liberia's peace and stability early in her presidency by requesting that Nigeria extradite Liberia's most infamous war criminal and war profiteer, Charles Taylor.
In 2006, President Johnson-Sirleaf was awarded the Africa Prize for the Eradication of Hunger Award. As a recipient she was recognized for her efforts to provide her countrymen and women with a new ability to become self-sustaining. President Johnson-Sirleaf is known particularly for her micro-loan projects for rural women, funding for schools and scholarships for children, even while exiled from her country. President Sirleaf has expressed great concern that the improvements for the basic needs of her people can be quickly accomplished so that people can believe that democracy will bring a positive change for all.
Liberia is depending on international aid support and the assistance of a large United Nations peacekeeping force to make a new beginning.
Liberia has an abundance of natural resources. Iron ore, timber, diamonds, gold, and hydro-power are some of the resources that once represented this nation's wealth. Before the first civil war in 1989, there had been a great deal of foreign investment in Liberia's mineral and natural resources. Prior to 1990 Liberia also exported rubber, timber, coffee, and diamonds.
In 2001, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on timber, diamonds, and arms exports as a measure to reduce the revenues of the Liberian government being used to fuel conflict in the region. In 2006 President Sirleaf appealed for these sanctions to be removed by the UN in order to restore national revenues for rebuilding the infrastructure of Liberia. Once there is proper accountability for the collection and allotment of government revenues, these sanctions will likely be lifted.
The long civil war has destroyed most of the country's infrastructure and Liberia is dependent on foreign aid. Since hostilities within Liberia have ended, the administration of President Sirleaf is focused on building credibility with the international community and gaining support for redevelopment. It will take time to rebuild commerce, justice, and security infrastructure, as well as the health care and educational systems. The country currently has an approximate 85 percent unemployment rate, the worst in the world.
The population of over 3 million comprises 16 indigenous ethnic groups and various foreign minorities. The Kpelle in central and western Liberia is the largest ethnic group. Americo-Liberians make up an estimated 5 percent of the population. There is also a sizable number of Lebanese, Indians, and other West African nationals who make up a significant part of Liberia's business community. A few whites (estimated at 18,000 in 1999; probably fewer now) reside in the country.
Political upheavals and civil war have brought about a steep decline in living standards.
There is a broad spectrum of faiths and religious beliefs in Liberia. Ancient traditional indigenous religions, Christianity, and Islam are all practiced. About 40 percent of the population practice Christianity or Christian beliefs blended with traditional indigenous religion. Another 40 percent practice only the indigenous religions and about 20 percent are Muslim. There is also a small Bahai community in Liberia.
The largest Christian denomination is Methodist. Foreign missionary groups include Baptists, Catholics, and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Islam was introduced initially through Mandingo traders who came via countries of the Sahara region as early as the 1700s.
There is no official state religion, however societal attitudes, especially in the capital, reflect favor toward Christian culture. At public government functions, events begin and end with prayer and hymns, usually in Christian form, although sometimes Muslim prayer and hymns are used. Islamic leaders have complained of discrimination in the workplace with regards to opportunities for advancement and basic employment. Ethnic tensions are mostly along the lines of religious differences and mainly between Muslim and non-Muslim groups particularly the Lormas and Mandingos.
One area of concern for indigenous religions is the practice of ritualistic killings where particular body parts are removed for rituals from a person or a group who are thought to be powerful. There are a couple of small ethnic groups for which this is a common practice.
Cuttington University College was established by the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) in 1889; its campus is currently located in Suacoco, Bong County (120 miles north of Monrovia).
According to statistics published by UNESCO for the years 1999-2000 (the most recent available for Liberia as of 2005), 61 percent of primary-school age and 18 percent (estimated) children were enrolled in school. The average literacy rate for Liberia is only about 40 percent. Educational infrastructure was all but destroyed by the civil wars and as of 2006 is still in the process of being rebuilt to a basic level of service.
With the majority of Liberia's population being indigenous peoples with diverse languages, customs, and religion, there is a mix of these tribal ethnicities, though it is prominent mostly in the rural areas. Western customs are more common in the cities but both traditional African music and western modern music are popular in the urban areas. Traditional crafts such as wood carved masks and wood figurines are sought after items by visitors and tourists.
Traditional music is performed for casual and special occasions such as weddings, engagements, or when loved ones have passed on to the spiritual world. Christian music came to Liberia through Christian missionaries and is sung in the style of mixing west African rhythms with American harmonies.
All links retrieved November 18, 2014.
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