Liberia’s unique history is little known except for its recent history of violence and civil war. Situated on the coast of West Africa, it is 43,000 square miles in size, and is home to about 3.7 million people. It has acquired its name and status as one of only two sovereign nations in Africa, the other being Ethiopia. Its history is both colorful and tragic, with violent civil wars marring its last thirty years of existence.
Liberia, which means “land of the free,” was founded by African people in who had been enslaved in the United States. These freed people called Americo-Liberians, first arrived in Liberia and established a settlement in Christopolis, now Monrovia. This group of 86 immigrants formed the nucleus of the settler population of what became known as the Republic of Liberia, in 1820. Thousands of freed people from America soon arrived during the following years, leading to the formation of more settlements and culminating in a declaration of independence on July 26, 1847 of the Republic of Liberia. The new Republic of Liberia adopted American styles of life and established thriving trade links with other West Africans.
The formation of the Republic of Liberia was not an altogether easy task. The settlers periodically encountered stiff opposition from African tribes whom they met upon arrival, usually resulting in bloody battles. On the other hand, the newly independent Liberia was encroached upon by colonial expansionists who forcibly took over much of the original territory of independent Liberia. Liberia’s history until 1980 was largely peaceful. For 133 years after independence, the Republic of Liberia was a one-party state ruled by the True Whig Party (TWP). The style of government and constitution was fashioned on that of the United States. The True Whig Party dominated all sectors of Liberia from independence until April 12, 1980, when indigenous Liberian Sergeant Samuel K. Doe–from the Krahn ethnic group–seized power in a coup d’etat. Doe’s government increasingly adopted an ethnic outlook as members of his Krahn ethnic group soon dominated political and military life in Liberia. This caused a heightened level of ethnic tension, leading to frequent hostilities between the politically and militarily dominant Krahns and other ethnic groups in the country. The political system of Liberia descended into confusion, as subsequent elections were global condemned as rigged and fraudulent.
Economic and political turmoil followed for many years to come, with two civil wars that tore apart the nation. The first civil war, initiated by Charles Taylor, was one of Africa’s bloodiest, claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and further displaced a million others into refugee camps in neighboring countries. Political institutions were created in an attempt to prevent Charles Taylor from forming government in Monrovia, but the fighting still continued despite this. After considerable progress in negotiations conducted by the United States, United Nations, and the African Union, disarmament and demobilization of warring factions were hastily carried out. Special elections were held on July 19, 1997, with Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Party emerging victorious. Taylor won the election by a large majority, primarily because Liberians feared a return to war had Taylor lost.
For the next 6 years, the Taylor government did not improve the lives of Liberians. Unemployment and illiteracy stood above 75%, and little investment was made in the country’s infrastructure. Liberia is still trying to recover from the ravages of war; six years after the war, pipe-borne water and electricity were still unavailable, and schools, hospitals, roads, and infrastructure remained derelict. Rather than work to improve the lives of Liberians, Taylor supported the bloody Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, creating unrest and brutal excesses in the region, and leading to the resumption of armed rebellion from among Taylor’s former adversaries. A second civil war ignited renewed violence, which left Liberia once again in economic, social and political turmoil.
In 2003, Under intense U.S. and international pressure, President Taylor resigned office and departed into exile in Nigeria. This move paved the way for the deployment by what of a 3,600-strong peacekeeping mission in Liberia Since then, the United States has provided limited direct military support and financial assistance to supporting security and humanitarian development in Liberia. A transitional government was developed in the aftermath of devastating war as an attempt to help rebuild Liberia. In 2005, elections were held that saw for the first time in history, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a black woman elected as President of Liberia.