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Republic of Liberia

CAPITAL: Monrovia

FLAG: The national flag, dating from 1847, consists of 11 horizontal stripes, alternately red (6) and white (5), with a single five-pointed white star on a square blue field 5 stripes deep in the upper left corner.

ANTHEM: All Hail, Liberia, Hail.

MONETARY UNIT: The Liberian dollar (l$) of 100 cents was linked to the US dollar until January 1998, when it switched to a floating market determined rate. There are no Liberian notes. US notes in the denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 dollars are in circulation and are legal tender. Both US and Liberian coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents, and 1 dollar are in circulation; as of 1982, a $5 Liberian coin was issued. l1 = $0.01821 (or $1 = l54.906) as of 2004.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: US and UK weights and measures are used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Armed Forces Day, 11 February; Decoration Day, 2nd Wednesday in March; Birthday of J. J. Roberts (first president), 15 March; Fast and Prayer Day, 2nd Friday in April; National Redemption Day, 12 April; Unification Day, 14 May; Independence Day, 26 July; Flag Day, 24 August; Thanksgiving Day, 1st Thursday in November; Anniversary of 1985 Coup Attempt, 12 November; President Tubman's Birthday, 29 November; Christmas, 25 December. Good Friday and Easter Monday are movable religious holidays.



Located on the west coast of Africa, Liberia has an area of about 111,370 sq km (43,000 sq mi), with a length of 548 km (341 mi) esewnw and a width of 274 km (170 mi) nnessw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Liberia is slightly larger than the state of Tennessee. On the n it is bounded by Guinea, on the e by Côte d'Ivoire, on the s and sw by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the nw by Sierra Leone, with a total land boundary length of 1,585 km (985 mi) and a coastline of 579 km (360 mi).

Liberia's capital city, Monrovia, is located on the Atlantic coast.


There are three distinct belts lying parallel to the coast. The low coastal belt is about 40 km (25 mi) wide, with tidal creeks, shallow lagoons, and mangrove marshes. The land then rises to rolling hills, with elevations of 60150 m (200500 ft). The third belt, comprising the bulk of Liberia, is marked by abrupt changes of elevation in a series of low mountains and plateaus, less densely forested than the hilly region. The Nimba Mountains are near the Guinea frontier. The Wologizi Mountains reach a maximum of about 1,380 m (4,528 ft) with Mt. Wutuvi, the nation's highest point. Of the six principal rivers, all of which are at right angles to the coast and flow into the Atlantic Ocean, only the Farmington is of much commercial importance. Sandbars obstruct the mouths of all rivers, making entrance hazardous, and upstream there are rocky rapids.


The climate is tropical and humid, with little change in temperature throughout the year. The mean is 27°c (81°f), with temperatures rarely exceeding 36°c (97°f) or falling below 20°c (68°f). On the coast the heat is tempered by an almost constant breeze. Yearly rainfall is as high as 510 cm (200 in) on the coast, decreasing to about 200 cm (80 in) in areas farthest inland. There are distinct wet and dry seasons, most of the rainfall occurring between late April and mid-November. Average relative humidity in the coastal area is about 82% during the rainy season and 78% in the dry, but it may drop to 50% or lower between December and March, when the dust-laden harmattan blows from the Sahara.


Liberia, together with adjoining Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire, includes the greatest of Africa's evergreen forests. There are about 235 species of trees; 90 varieties are present in potentially marketable quantities, including mahogany and ironwood. The bombex (cotton tree), the oil palm, and the kola tree are common. The wild rubber tree (Funtumia elastica) is indigenous, but the cultivated Hevea brasiliensis is the source of Liberia's commercial rubber. A variety of coffee peculiar to Liberia, Coffea liberica, was formerly common but has given way to the preferred Coffea robusta. Fruit trees include citrus varieties, the alligator apple, papaya, mango, and avocado. Pineapples grow wild. Among the cultivated plants are cassava, cotton, cacao, indigo, and upland rice.

Elephant and buffalo, once common in Liberia, have largely disappeared, but several species of antelope are found in the interior; two of these, the white-shouldered duiker and the zebra antelope, are peculiar to Liberia. A lemur called Bosman's potto and several species of monkey, including the long-haired and the Diana, are found in the forests. Wild pigs and porcupines exist in sparsely settled areas, and several members of the leopard group are also found. Most of the 15 species of snakes are venomous. Termites build lofty nests throughout the country. In some areas the tsetse fly is found, and driver ants and mosquitoes are common. Several varieties of snail act as hosts in the propagation of certain enteric diseases. Among the birds are the hornbill, wild guinea fowl, cattle egret (cowbird), flamingo, woodpecker, and weaver. As of 2002, there were at least 193 species of mammals, 146 species of birds, and over 2,200 species of plants throughout the country.


The nation lacks regulatory agencies to supervise the preservation of the environment. As the 1980s began, Liberia was one of the last West African countries with significant primary forest reserves, but recent estimates suggest that deforestation continues at a rate of about 2% per year. Commercial logging, firewood cutting, and a government land-clearing program all threaten primary forestland. Forests currently account for less than 40% of Liberia's land. By the mid-1980s, the country had lost over 70% of its mangrove swamps. Hunting and loss of habitat have decimated wildlife along the coastal plain, and there are no longer any large herds of big game in the interior.

The water supply is usually limited to open sources such as streams, swamps, and shallow, uncovered wells; the result, especially during the rainy season, is that insects and parasites thrive, creating a major health hazard. Safe drinking water is available to 72% of Liberia's urban dwellers and 52% of its rural population. The Mano and St. John rivers are becoming increasingly polluted from the dumping of iron ore tailings, and the coastal waters from oil residue and the dumping of untreated sewage and waste water.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 20 types of mammals, 11 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 4 species of amphibians, 29 species of fish, 16 types of mollusks, 11 species of other invertebrates, and 103 species of plants. The Jentink's duiker, the whitebreasted guinea fowl, Pel's flying squirrel, the green turtle, and the Liberian mongoose are threatened species in Liberia.


The population of Liberia in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 3,283,000, which placed it at number 129 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 2% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 46% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 100 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 2.9%, a rate the government viewed as too high. Political instability in the country has undermined the effectiveness of government reproductive health programs. The projected population for the year 2025 was 5,800,000. The population density was 29 per sq km (76 per sq mi).

The population consists of indigenous Africans and descendants of American black settlers (also known as Liberico-Americans or Amerafricans), in the ratio of at least 30 to 1.

The UN estimated that 45% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 3.97%. The capital city, Monrovia, had a population of 572,000 in that year. More than one-third of the population lives within an 80-km (50-mi) radius of Monrovia. After Monrovia, Buchanan, Harper, and Greenville are the largest port cities; Gbarnga, Kakata, Sanniquellie, Zorzor, and Ghanpa are major interior towns.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS has had a significant impact on the population of Liberia. The UN estimated that 6.5% of adults between the ages of 1549 were living with HIV/AIDS in 2001. The AIDS epidemic causes higher death and infant mortality rates, and lowers life expectancy.


The Liberian civil war caused a great amount of migration in the early 1990s. In May 1997, there were still 210,000 refugees in Côte d'Ivoire, 420,000 in Guinea, 17,000 in Ghana, 14,000 in Sierra Leone, and 6,000 in Nigeria. Since the beginning of 1997, the situation in Liberia has improved as the warring factions have been disarmed. Repatriation is only possible after the rainy season ends in October and the roads become passable again; however, between 1997 and 1999, as many as 120,000 refugees were repatriated back to Liberia. Insurgencies that struck Lofa County in April and August 1999 caused major setbacks for the programs of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as Lofa has been the single-largest county of return for Liberian refugees, mainly from Guinea.

As of 1999, Liberia was host to 90,000 refugees from Sierra Leone. In that year all Liberian refugees who had fled were presumed to have returned to their homeland. In March 2003, armed conflict between the government and two rebel groups spread to nine of Liberia's fifteen counties. A ceasefire agreement was broken soon after signing. The end of the 14-year civil war that killed a quarter of a million people, uprooted almost a third of the population, and left the country's infrastructure in ruins did not occur until 2005. A 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force restored security to the country and disarmed and demobilized over 100,000 former fighters, allowing presidential elections to be held in November 2005.

According to UNHCR, by the end of 2004 there was an internally displaced population of 498,566 in Liberia. In addition, there were 56,872 returned refugees. In 2004 Liberia had 15,172 refugees from other countries (mainly from Côte d'Ivoire) and 5 asylum seekers. In that same year, Liberia ranked eighth-highest for the origin of refugees, with 335,500 by year end in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, and the United States. In that same year over 5,000 Liberians sought asylum in Ghana, Guinea, Italy, Germany and France.

Net migration rates have vacillated widely. In 2005, the net migration rate was an estimated zero migrants per 1,000 population, compared to 36.5 migrants per 1,000 population in 2000. These were significant changes from 1990, when the net migration rate stood at -27.0 per 1,000 population.


Indigenous African tribes constitute 95% of the population. Besides the descendants of the early settlers, Liberia is peopled by about 28 ethnic groups, each with its own language. They are believed to have migrated from the north and east between the 12th and 16th centuries ad, bringing with them elements of Egyptian and Arabian culture, such as the spinning and weaving of cotton and the smelting of iron. Linguistically, the tribes may be divided into three main groups: the Mande people in the north and far west, the Kru tribes (including the Krahn) in the east and southeast, and the Mel in the northwest. The largest groups are the Kpellé, Bassa, Gio, Kru, Grebo, Mano, Krahn, Gola, Gbandi, Loma, Kissi, Vai, and Bella. About 2.5% of the population is Americo-Liberian, descendants of immigrants from the United States who had been slaves. There are also two tribes not strictly Liberian: the Mandingo, who are itinerant Muslim traders, and the Fanti fishermen, who come from Ghana and stay a few years at a time in Liberia.

Because of intermarriage and an aggressive national unification program, tribal divisions are rapidly becoming less distinct, especially around the capital. Nevertheless, there is a strong tendency among the indigenous people to preserve their tribal identities.

Of the non-African resident population, the biggest component consists of Lebanese and Syrians.


English is the official language, but only a minority of the people (about 20%) can speak or write it. The tribal people use their own languages, of which there are about 20. Of these, Vai, Bassa, and Loma can be written and are being used in correspondence by these tribes. The international phonetic alphabet, introduced by missionaries, has facilitated the use of many of the other tribal languages for correspondence and publication of local newsletters.


The early settlers, freed American slaves, brought with them the culture and religion of the US deep South of the slavery era. Their descendants are generally adherents of Protestant denominations. It is estimated that about 40% of the population practice Christianity exclusively or in combination with traditional indigenous religions. Christian denominations include Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal (AME), AME Zionist, and several Pentecostal churches. About 20% of the population practice Islam. Mandingo traders, who live mainly in the northern and eastern counties, have made many Muslim converts and Egyptian and Pakistani Muslim missionaries have been active since 1956. About 40% of the population practice traditional indigenous religions exclusively. Veneration of ancestors forms the core of most Liberian traditional religion. There is also a small Baha'i community.

Though the law prohibits religious discrimination, there have been reports of violence and discrimination against Muslims and Islamic leaders complain of both social and political discrimination. Certain Christian holidays are celebrated as national holidays. The Inter-Religious Council of Liberia is a well-known national group that seeks mutual understanding between faiths and also promotes peace between the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL).


In 2002 there were an estimated 10,600 km (6,586 mi) of public roads, of which only about 657 km (408 mi) were paved. Private roads built by rubber and lumber companies were mostly laterite-surfaced roads. Important paved roads connect Monrovia to the interior as far as the Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Côte d'Ivoire borders. There is major deterioration reported on all highways due to lack of maintenance since the civil war began. In 2003, there were 12,000 registered passenger autos, and 35,950 commercial vehicles. Except for short-line buses, virtually all of Liberia's common carriers are taxicabs.

Railroad lines in Liberia, as of 2004, consisted of 490 km (304 mi) of standard and narrow gauge railways, of which the bulk (345 km/215 mi) were standard gauge lines. Of Liberia's three railways, all were owned by foreign steel and financial interests in conjunction with the Liberian Government, and used for the transportation of iron ore from mines to the ports of Buchanan and Monrovia. One of these, the Lamco Railroad, closed in 1989 after iron ore production ceased. The other two were shut down by the civil war. Large sections of the rail lines have been dismantled, and an estimated 60 km (37 mi) was exported for scrap.

The Free Port of Monrovia, opened in 1948, underwent substantial improvements during the late 1960s, so that ships with a draft up to 14 m (45 ft) can now be handled. A port used primarily for iron ore export was opened at Buchanan in 1963. These two deepwater ports handle over 98% of all cargo. Smaller ports, located at Greenville and Harper, handle mainly log exports. Many foreign-owned ships are registered in Liberia because of low fees and lenient labor laws. Liberia's registered merchant fleet in 2005 totaled 1,465 vessels (1,000 GRT or over) with 50,555,752 GRT.

Robertsfield, 58 km (36 mi) from Monrovia, is the site of the sole international airport. In 2004, there were an estimated 53 airports, of which only 2 had paved runways as of 2005. Medium-sized jets and small aircraft, including those of Air Liberia, provide service from Spriggs Payne Airport on the outskirts of Monrovia to destinations within Liberia.


It is believed that many of the peoples of Liberia migrated there from the north and east between the 12th and 16th centuries ad. Portuguese explorers first visited the coast in 1461, and Europeans traded with coastal tribes during the next three centuries. Modern Liberia was founded in 1822 by freed slaves from the United States. They were sent to Africa under the auspices of the American Colonization Society, a private organization whose purpose was "to promote and execute a plan for colonizing in Africa, with their own consent, the free people of color residing in the United States." The first settlement was on Providence Island near where the present capital city, Monrovia, is located. Although the Society, with the help of the United States government under President James Monroe (after whom Monrovia is named), had arranged with local chiefs for a settlement, the colonists were attacked by indigenous peoples, disease, and barely maintained their foothold.

The first governors of the settlement were agents appointed by the Colonization Society, but in 1847 Americo-Liberians established the Republic of Liberia under a constitution modeled after that of the United States. The state seal shows a ship at anchor in a tropical harbor, and bears the inscription, "The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here." Thus began over a 130 years of Americo-Liberian domination over the 16 indigenous ethnic groups within Liberia's borders.

Emigration to Liberia continued until the close of the US Civil War, during which about 14,000 settlers went to Liberia under the auspices of the Society, and some 5,700 captives, liberated from slave ships on the high seas by the US Navy, were sent by the US government.

Although the United States refused to extend diplomatic recognition to independent Liberia until the civil war, several European governments did, including Britain and France. However, as the scramble for Africa reached its feverish pitch, Liberia's "century of survival" began. Neighboring British and French colonial powers, on one pretext or another, and by force of arms, encroached upon the infant republic. During the last quarter of the 19th century, Liberia lost considerable resource-rich territory to adjoining British and French colonies. Pressure on Liberia's borders continued well into the 20th century.

Added to these dangers was Liberia's precarious economic position. In the 1870s, Liberia contracted for a $500,000 loan from European sources. Because of increasing world competition from Brazilian coffee, European sugar beets, and steamers, Liberia was unable to generate sufficient export revenue, and defaulted on this loan. Recession forced Liberia into a series of ever larger loans. Liberians were further compelled to allow collection of customs revenues by Europeans and Americans. Eventually, Liberia was able to secure a $5-million loan from a US firm, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., which set up rubber plantations in the country in 1926. The depression of the 1930s brought Liberia to the verge of bankruptcy, and government revenues fell in 1933 to a low of $321,000.

In the early 1930s, Liberia's political sovereignty was also severely threatened. Accusations had begun to circulate internationally that Liberian laborers, with the complicity of high government officials, were being recruited for shipment to the Spanish island of Fernando Póo (now Bioko, in Equatorial Guinea) under conditions that resembled slave trading. A commission of inquiry, set up by the League of Nations at the request of Liberia's President Charles D. B. King, found some basis for the charges and implicated the vice president, who was forced to resign. President King also resigned.

Exportation of rubber from the new Firestone plantations began in 1934. The establishment of a US air base in Liberia during World War II and the building of an artificial harbor at Monrovia further stimulated the country's development. William V. S. Tubman, elected president in 1944 and reelected for five additional terms, sought to unify the country by attempting to bridge the wide economic, political, and social gaps between the descendants of the original American ex-slaves and the tribal peoples of the interior. President Tubman, affectionately called "Uncle Shad," died at the age of 74, after 27 years in office. He was known as the "Maker of Modern Liberia" for his open door policy of unrestricted foreign investment and his Unification Policy.

Upon his death in 1971, Vice-President William R. Tolbert, Jr. assumed the reigns of power. Tolbert was nominated by the True Whigs, Liberia's only legal political party, and, having been elected without opposition in October 1975, was inaugurated for an eight-year term in January 1976. Unfortunately, Tolbert's term coincided with a deep economic depression, which sparked Liberia's colonial revolution. The Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) organized a protest against proposed increases in the price of rice. The meeting turned violent resulting in looting. Tolbert was forced to subsidize rice to restore order, a sign that the True Whig government was coming to an end.

Doe Takes Power

On 12 April 1980 army enlisted men staged a coup. Tolbert and at least 26 supporters were killed in the fighting. Thirteen officials were publicly executed 10 days later. The People's Redemption Council (PRC) led by Sgt. Samuel K. Doe, a Krahn tribesman, became head of state. Doe suspended the constitution, but a return to civilian rule was promised for 1985. Despite two coups attempts in 1981, the government declared an amnesty for all political prisoners and exiles. Forty political prisoners were released in September of that year, and another 20 were released in December. A draft constitution providing for a multiparty republic was issued in 1983 and approved by referendum in 1984.

In the elections of 15 October 1985, nine political parties sought to challenge Doe's National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), but only three were allowed to take part. Doe was elected with 51% of the vote, and the NDPL won 21 of the 26 Senate seats and 51 of the 64 seats in the House of Representatives. Foreign observers declared the elections fraudulent, and most of the elected opposition candidates refused to take their seats.

In November 1985, military leader Thomas Quiwonkpa and an estimated 500 to 600 people died in an unsuccessful coup attemptthe seventh since Doe took power. Krahn troops retaliated, killing thousands of Gio, considered supporters of the coup leaders. In late December 1989, a small group of insurgents calling themselves the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor invaded Liberia. The rebel invasion soon pitted ethnic Krahn sympathetic to the regime against those victimized by it, Gio and Mano. Thousands of civilians were massacred on both sides. Hundreds of thousands fled their homes.

By June 1990, Taylor's forces laid siege to Monrovia. A third force led by Prince Yormie Johnson, split from the NPFL. Johnson quickly controlled parts of Monrovia prompting evacuation of foreign nationals and diplomats by the US Navy in August. To restore order, the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) created the Economic Community Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) comprising some 4,000 troops from Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, and Guinea.

ECOWAS invited the principal Liberian players to meet in Banjul, Gambia to form a government of national unity. Exiled members of Liberia's leading political parties and associations elected Dr. Amos Sawyer, leader of the LPP to head an interim government of national unity (IGNU). Bishop Ronald Diggs of the Liberian Council of Churches became vice president. However, Taylor's NPFL refused to attend the conference, and the AFL, which formerly supported Doe, and the INPFL allied themselves against Taylor. Within days clashes erupted.

On 9 September 1990, Johnson's forces captured Doe at the port. His torture and execution were videotaped by his captors. ECOMOG was reinforced in order to protect the interim government headed by Dr. Sawyer. Sawyer was able to establish his authority over most of Monrovia, but the rest of Liberia was in the hands of various factions of the NPFL or of local gangs.

Repeated attempts to get Taylor and Johnson to cooperate with Sawyer proved fruitless. The war spilled into Sierra Leone, further complicating peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts. In April 1996, violence escalated in Monrovia. Roving gangs of heavily armed, leaderless teenagers recklessly sprayed the city with machine-gun fire and grenade launchers. More than 3,000 people were killed in the next two months and nearly every building in the capital suffered damage. Looters targeted international relief organizations for their radios, medicines, and cars.

On 8 May 1996, after more than 150,000 deaths and 13 peace accords, Liberia's four principal militias approved a peace plan that required an immediate halt to fighting, the removal of weapons and ammunition from the capital city of Monrovia, and the return of about $20 million worth of vehicles and equipment stolen from international relief organizations. Additional troops from Ghana, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Benin were brought in to enforce the peace accords, bringing the total number of foreign peacekeeping troops to 13,000. Meanwhile, it was apparent that disagreements over establishing an electoral commission and other difficulties in preparations would delay the proposed elections.

On 19 July 1997 some 500 international observers, including former US president Jimmy Carter, monitored the elections. They reported peaceful, mostly free and fair elections, although runners-up Johnson-Sirleaf and Kromah complained of irregularities. The official results gave Taylor the victory with 75.3% of the vote, while Johnson-Sirleaf obtained 9.6%. Taylor's National Patriotic Party (NPP) took 49 House seats and 21 seats in the Senate (out of 64 and 26 total seats respectively). On 2 August Taylor was inaugurated. He appointed a cabinet with some members of the transitional administration, and he established a nine-member national security council to maintain civil order.

Although insecurity prevailed in parts of Liberia, especially Lofa County, the last ECOMOG troops began leaving the country in October 1999. In July 1999, Taylor presided over the burning of a huge stockpile of weapons. By May 2000, much of Liberia was still in ruins, but international donors had made some progress in restoring agricultural production, reintegrating ex-combatants, and helping refugees and internally displaced persons resettle in their home areas.

Renewed fighting in 2000 led to a declaration of a state of emergency on 8 February 2002. Taylor lifted the emergency in September 2002, but by February-March 2003, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) had made gains deep into territory previously held by government troops. Under ECOWAS supervision, the two sides met in Bamako in March 2003, the first such official encounter, and peace talks continued in Accra, Ghana. On 17 June, the two sides signed a cease-fire with commitments to a transition government without Taylor, but three days later Taylor declared that he would serve out his term to January 2004 with the possibility of seeking reelection.

On 11 August 2003, Taylor succumbed to international pressure, handed power over to his vice president, Moses Blah, and sought asylum in Nigeria where he has remained in exile. A week later, under the auspices of ECOWAS and the international donor 'Contact Group' (ICGL), the government, the LURD, and a new rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model), signed a peace accord in Accra providing for an interim government, the National Transition Government of Liberia (NTGL) led by businessman, Gyudeh Bryant.

A National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA), composed of warring factions, political parties, representatives of the counties, special interests, and civil society, replaced the House of Representatives and the Senate. A 15,000-strong peacekeeping forcethe UN Mission in Liberia(UNMIL) was established with a one-year mandate to enforce the peace. The mandate was later extended until March 2006. UNMIL began to demobilize and disarm combatants, but because donors underestimated the number of soldiers, funds were insufficient to implement rehabilitation and reintegration. Repatriation through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of the estimated 350,000 Liberian refugees has been slow, but some 100,000 refugees were thought to have returned on their own.

The political transition formally ended following the 11 October 2005 election between front-runners George Weah, an internationally renowned soccer (football) player, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated international civil servant and national politician. Despite protests of fraud by Weah's youthful supporters of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), Johnson-Sirleaf was declared the winner on the 8 November second-round ballot with 59.6% of the vote to Weah's 40.4%. The new government was formed on 6 January 2006, making Johnson-Sirleaf Africa's first woman head of state.

Pressure for Taylor's extradition to face trial for alleged war crimes was mounting into 2006. His extradition was demanded by the UN Special Court of Sierra Leone, which charged him with 17 counts of war crimes. In addition, over 300 African and international human rights and activist groups and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded his extradition. However, unless sufficient evidence supporting the allegations was available, Nigeria stated that it would not hand Taylor over. In February 2006, it was announced that Johnson-Sirleaf had inaugurated a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights abuses committed 19792003, marking the end of civil war.


The Liberian republic is modeled after the United States. Its constitution approved on 3 July 1984 and effective 6 January 1986, provides for a president and vice president elected jointly by universal suffrage (at age 18) for a six-year term with a limit of two consecutive terms. Candidacy is again allowed after the lapse of at least one term. The president is both the chief of state and head of government. He or she nominates judges from a list submitted by a commission, serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and has the right to veto legislation. Vetoes can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses. The legislature is divided into a Senate, its 26 members elected by counties for nine years, and a House of Representatives, its 64 members elected by equally apportioned constituencies for six years.

The constitution proscribes the one-party state and guarantees fundamental rights, such as free speech, press, and assembly. The president has the right to suspend certain rights by declaring a state of emergency in cases of war or serious civil unrest. A state of emergency, which must be confirmed by a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses, does not empower the president to suspend or abrogate the constitution, dissolve the legislature, suspend or dismiss the judiciary, or suspend the right of habeas corpus. The constitution guarantees fundamental freedoms to all persons irrespective of ethnic background. But because of the country's unique history, the constitution stipulates that "only persons who are Negro or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia," and only citizens may own land.


The president and all members of the legislature were formerly members of the True Whig Party, which was organized in 1860 and held power continuously from 1878 to 1980. The Progressive People's Party (PPP), formed in 1979, claimed to represent the interests of Liberia's indigenous peoples, in contrast to the Americo-Liberian stance of the True Whigs.

In March 1980, several PPP members were arrested, a move that may have triggered the April coup. Although all political activity was banned, many True Whig members retained their government posts.

The National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), established by former president Samuel K. Doe, was victorious in the 1985 elections. The newly formed Unity Party, Liberian Action Party, and Liberian Unification Party were allowed to take part in these elections. The United People's Party (UPP), probably the largest opposition grouping, was founded by Gabriel Baccus Matthews, formerly head of the PPP. The UPP was not allowed to field candidates in 1985 but was legalized in 1986. The National Patriotic Party (NPP) was led by Charles Taylor.

In May 2000, the opposition led by Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, formed a loose coalition of eleven entities called the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), which aimed to present a common candidate in 2003. In mid-2001, several key opposition leaders including Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf met in Abuja, Nigeria to discuss political strategies. The opposition made a number of demands, which it advanced as pre-conditions before going to elections. Among these were the restructuring the armed forces as stipulated by the Abuja Accords, holding elections for chiefs and mayors, conducting a census, dissolving NPP party cells in the civil service, stopping 'illegal' funding of the NPP, guaranteeing opposition parties equal air time and reconstituting the elections commission (ECOM). Opposition political activity upcountry has been virtually nonexistent because of extreme insecurity.

In June 2003, Charles Taylor's NPP, held 49 of 64 House seats, and 21 of 26 Senate seats. The Unity Party held 7 House seats and 3 Senate seats. The All Liberia Coalition Party held 3 House seats and 2 Senate seats. Three other parties held the 5 remaining House seats among themselves.

In the first round of the 2005 elections, George Weah emerged with around 28% of the vote, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf with 20%, and Charles Brumskine was third with 12%. Neither the Mandingo-backed LURD, nor the Krahn-dominated and Côte d'Ivoirebacked Model were able to transform themselves into political parties. In the Senate, the Coalition for the Transformation of Liberia (COTOL) won 7 seats followed by the NPP 4, the CDC, 3; the Liberian Party (LP) of Charles Brumskine, 3; the Unity Party (UP) of Charles Clarke, 3; and the Alliance for Peace and Democracy (APD) of Togba-na Tipoteh, 3. In the House of Representatives, the CDC secured 15 seats followed by the LP, 9; UP, 8; COTOL, 8; APD, 5; and NPP, 4. The next presidential and Senate elections were scheduled for 2014 and House of Representatives elections for 2011.


Liberia is divided into 13 counties, 2 territories, and the federal district of Monrovia. The counties are Grand Cape Mount, Sinoe, Grand Bassa, Maryland, River Cess, Bomi, Grand Kru, Margibi, Lofa, Borg, Grand Gedah, Nimba, and Montserrado. The territories are Marshall and Gibi.

The central government is supposed to appoint the county and territory superintendents. Counties are subdivided into districts headed by commissioners. There are also paramount, clan, and town chiefs. Cities elect their own mayors and councils.


The legal system is closely modeled on that of the United States. The 6 January 1986 constitution provides for the establishment of a Supreme Court consisting of a chief justice and four associate justices, to be appointed by the president from a panel recommended by a Judicial Service Commission. The consent of the Senate is required for these appointments and for the confirmation of lower court judges, to which a similar procedure applies. In theory, cases originate in magistrates' courts and may be taken for appeal to one of 10 circuit courts or to the highest court. Serious cases originate in the circuit courts. Traditional courts are presided over by tribal chiefs. A labor court was created in 1986.

For many years, the judicial system has suffered from corruption and domination by the executive. By mid-1990 the system had collapsed and justice administration was co-opted by the military commanders of various factions. In 1991, the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNV), revived the court system in the Monrovia area, and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) reopened courts in the areas under its control. After 1997, donors trained paralegals and human rights monitors to protect citizens up-country, and the US Department of Justice rebuilt magistrate courts, compiled 30 years of Supreme Court decisions, and published the Liberian Code so that judges and lawyers could have recourse to those decisions. Rebuilding the courts was expected to become a major thrust of the Johnson-Sirleaf government.


As of 2005, active armed forces numbered between 11,000 and 14,000 personnel, including militias supportive of the government. Plans for a reorganized military include an army, navy, and an air force. In 2005, the defense budget totaled $1 million.


Liberia is a charter member of the United Nations, having joined on 2 November 1945; it takes part in ECA and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as UNESCO, FAO, ILO, the World Bank, UNIDO, IMF, and the WHO. Liberia belongs to the ACP Group, the African Development Bank, ECOWAS, G-77, the Community of Sahel and Saharan States (CENSAD), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and the African Union. The government is participating in efforts to establish a West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) that would include The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Liberia has participated in various African conferences and has advocated a cooperative association of African states to further such matters of mutual concern as public health, education, and trade. A customs bloc, the Mano River Union, was established in 1973 with Sierra Leone and Guinea. Leaders of the three countries signed a nonaggression and antisubversion pact in 1986. Technical assistance activities of the UN in Liberia have emphasized agricultural development, teaching, vocational training, and control of yaws and malaria. The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was established in 2003 to serve as a peacekeeping operation in support of the transitional government. At least 48 nations have offered support for UNMIL. Liberia is part of the Nonaligned Movement.

In environmental cooperation, Liberia is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, International Tropical Timber Agreements, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.


The Liberian economy has come to a virtual standstill since civil war broke out in 1989. The country has an agricultural economy with the majority of the population earning its living in this sector. The principal crops are rice, cocoa, coffee, palm oil, sugar cane, and cassava. Financial mismanagement and the effects of civil war have divided the country into two economic zones, one centered in and around the major urban centers, the other comprising the bulk of the country's rural hinterland. Although the country is rich in natural resourcesparticularly minerals (gold, diamonds, and iron ore) and forestslittle investment has entered the country since hostilities began. The 1996 Abuja peace accords initially provided some hope of an economic recovery in the coming decade, but fighting broke out again in 1999 and was ongoing in 2003. In August 2003, a comprehensive peace agreement ended 14 years of civil war and led to the resignation of former president, Charles Taylor, who was exiled to Nigeria. After two years of rule by a transitional government, democratic elections in late 2005 brought President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to power. However, the security situation is still volatile and the process of rebuilding the social and economic structure of this war-torn country remains sluggish.

Even prior to the civil war, Liberia faced serious financial problems. Deficits created in the 1970s were deepened by a wave of military spending resulting from the 1980 coup. To try to compensate, cuts in civil service salaries and currency manipulation were used as policy tools. A US-led effort to bring better fiscal management to the Liberian economy failed, and in 1988 the World Bank closed its offices in Monrovia. In March of 1990, the IMF threatened to expel Liberia for nonpayment of its debt.

The civil war has left most of Liberia's infrastructure in shambles. Businessmen and capital have left the country and continuing turmoil has prevented normal economic life. The remaining economic assets were plundered or destroyed by factional forces. In addition, President Charles Taylor's support for rebels fighting in Sierra Leone negatively impacted the climate for foreign investment. Although there are no official statistics, it is estimated that 85% of the population was unemployed in 2003 and that GDP grew at a negative rate of 31.3% during this year. However, with the end of political turmoil, GDP grew at a rate of 8% in 2005.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Liberia's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $2.6 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $700. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 8%. The average inflation rate in 2003 was 15%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 76.9% of GDP, industry 5.4%, and services 17.7%.

Foreign aid receipts amounted to $107 million or about $32 per capita and accounted for approximately 28.3% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Liberia totaled $420 million or about $124 per capita based on a GDP of $442.0 million, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings.

It was estimated that in 2002 about 80% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


Since the tribal people of the interior form the bulk of the population and engage primarily in subsistence agriculture, there were few skilled laborers in Liberia until recent years. Although there is still a dearth of highly skilled mechanics and technicians, an increasing number of Liberians are becoming able plant and machine operators. Approximately 70% of workers were engaged in agriculture, with 22% in services, and 8% in industry as of 2000. As of 2003 there has been only a gradual economic recovery since the civil war, with an estimated 85% of the labor force unemployed.

Before the onslaught of civil war, the labor force totaled about 1,349,000 persons. In 1988, total civilian employment stood at 701,000 and unemployment at 43%. The principal private employer then was Firestone, with 9,000 employees in 1987. The policy of foreign-owned companies has been to employ Liberian labor in the first instance and to encourage the training of skilled workers, especially in mechanical pursuits. There are still shortages of middleand higher-level technicians and managerial personnel. From time to time, labor shortages are reported in large agricultural enterprises. The government has enacted a minimum wage law, but the larger employers have generally paid wages in excess of the legal minimum.

The Labor Congress of Liberia (LCL), formed in 1951, was the first significant trade union. Following the first major strike in 1955, the LCL leadership was arrested and the union dissolved. In 1958, it was revived under the leadership of the Ministry for Social Affairs and functioned mainly as a government organ. As a protest against government interference in the LCL, the Congress of Industrial Organizations of Liberia (CIOL) was organized in 1960. The Liberian Federation of Labor Unions was formed in 1980 by a merger of the LCL and CIOL. In 2002, there were a total of 30 functioning unions with a total of 60,000 members, most of whom were unemployed. Despite their organized strength, unions have little actual power.

There are minimum working ages, statutory minimum wages, and occupational safety and health standards but none of these are effectively enforced. Child labor laws are similarly not enforced, especially in rural areas. Most people engage in any work available despite wages or conditions.


Before the civil war, agriculture was the main source of livelihood for the great majority of Liberians. Except on plantations operated by foreign concessionaires and wealthy Liberians, farming techniques are primitive. The "bush rotation" system of shifting cultivation is followed, in which the farmer clears up to two hectares (five acres) of wild forest or low bush each year, lightly cultivates it with crude hand tools, and plants rice or cassava as the rainy season begins. In 2003, agriculture engaged about 70% of the labor force on 6.3% of the total land area. Estimated production of field crops in 2004 included cassava, 490,000 tons; sugarcane, 255,000 tons; and rice, 110,000 tons. The government maintains a retail price ceiling on rice. Rice and wheat productions are insufficient to meet local needs.

The rain forest soils, while well drained, are strongly leached, making Liberia better adapted to tree-crop agriculture than to annual field-crop production. The major rubber, rice, coffee, cocoa, vegetable, and fruit producing areas lie outside of Monrovia. Rubber is the leading cash crop, with production in 2004 estimated at 115,000 tons. Before the war, six foreign-owned concessions produced over two-thirds of the rubber crop, with Firestone's Harbel plantation as the biggest in the world. Firestone ended its long association with Liberian rubber production with the sale of its interests to the Japanese-owned Bridgestone in 1988.

The principal export crops produced by small farmers are coffee, oil palm nuts, sugarcane, and fruits. Estimated production in 2004 was coffee, 3,200 tons; palm oil, 42,000 tons; and palm kernels, 11,000 tons. Banana production came to 110,000 tons; plantains, 42,000 tons. In 2004, Liberia had an agricultural trade deficit of $21.7 million.


The limited number of goats and sheep does not supply an adequate amount of protein for the Liberian diet, but poultry farming and marketing of eggs are on the increase; there were an estimated 5.3 million chickens in 2005. Experiments in crossing West African and Brahman cattle have not yet produced breeds resistant to the tsetse fly, but the potential remains for developing good beef animals. In 2005, Liberia had an estimated 220,000 goats, 210,000 sheep, 130,000 pigs, and 36,000 cattle.


The fishing industry is dominated by the oceangoing trawlers of the Mesurado Fishing Co. The company also maintains a domestic distribution system that supplies a substantial amount of fish to the interior areas of the country. The total Liberian catch in 2003 was estimated at 11,314 tons.


An estimated 31% of Liberia is covered by forest, its use largely confined to production of lumber for local needs. National forests constitute about 18% of the land area. In 2000, Liberia had 119,000 hectares (294,000 acres) of forest plantations. There were five major reforestation areas with a total of 4,260 hectares (10,500 acres). About 235 timber species grow in Liberia, of which 90 are potentially marketable, but natural stands of a single species are not common. This fact, plus difficulty of access and lack of practicable means of transportation, has tended to discourage commercial logging operations, despite the known existence of such valuable woods as African mahoganies and red ironwood. A number of foreign companies, mainly from the United States, have been granted concessions. The timber cut in 2004 yielded 5.912 million cu m (208.7 million cu ft) of roundwood, of which 94% was burned as fuel. Forest product exports in 2004 were valued at $97.7 million.


In 2004, mineral production in Liberia was limited to diamonds, hydraulic cement, and gold. Since December 1989, when mining revenues accounted for 22% of gross domestic product (GDP), the mining sector has been severely damaged by 14 years of civil war and political instability. Estimated production of gold in 2004 was 20 kg, unchanged from 2003. Diamond production in 2004 was estimated at 10,000 carats, down from an estimated 40,000 carats in 2003, and from an estimated 80,000 carats in 2002. All of the country's diamond production comes from artisanal alluvial mining. In 2004, the country also produced hydraulic cement, of which production in 2004 was an estimated 40,000 metric tons, up from an estimated 25,000 metric tons in 2003. Liberia's undeveloped resources included barite, chromium, kyanite, manganese, nickel, palladium, platinum, titaniferous sands, and uranium. Liberia's New Mining Law of 2000 gives the Ministry of Lands, Mines, and Energy the responsibility of issuing four types of mining licenseexploration, Class A (for up to 25 years; are limited to 1,000 sq km; and are open to foreign investors), Class B (for 5 years; are renewable; allow mechanized production; and are open to foreign ownership), and Class C (covers artisanal mining; are good for one year intervals with expiration on December 31; and is open only to Liberians). Eastern Liberia was made up of rocks of Birimian age with significant potential for gold. Western Liberia was made up of rocks of Archean age that contained diamond, gold, iron ore, nickel, manganese, palladium, platinum, and uranium.


Liberia, as of 1 January 2003, had no known reserves of crude oil or natural gas, and as of June 2003, no known recoverable reserves of coal. As a result, Liberia's demand for petroleum products, natural gas, and coal are met by imports. In 2002, Liberia's imports and demand for petroleum products each averaged 3,200 barrels per day. There were no recorded imports of coal in 2002 or imports of natural gas in 2003. However, Liberia has a small refining capacity, that as of 1 January 2003 was put at 15,000 barrels per day.

As of 2002, all of Liberia's electric generating capacity used fossil fuels. For that year, installed capacity was put at 0.330 million kW, with production at 0.489 billion kWh. Demand for electricity in 2002 came to 0.455 billion kWh.


Before the civil war, Liberia's industrial sector was dominated by processing plants associated with its key agricultural outputs: rubber, palm oil, and lumber. The Liberian-owned Mesurado Group manufactured detergent, soap, industrial gas, and animal foods. Liberia also produced soft drinks, cement, plastics, shoes, recycled steel, and refined petroleum products. In addition, Liberia's industrial base produced rice and sugar, cookies and candy, candles, foam rubber, hand tools and aluminum parts, umbrellas, and batteries.

Between 1990 and 1996, faction leaders and business accomplices exploited the industrial wealth of the country. Using forced labor, stolen goods, and fuel, they engaged in forestry, mining, and rubber production techniques that were environmentally unsound and threatened future industrial capacity. Profits from these enterprises were used to acquire more munitions. Increased fighting in 2003 further aggravated the poor industrial climate. In 2004, industry accounted for only 9.8% of GDP, 5% of which was attributed to manufacturing. The 1975 "Liberianization" law protects the production of rice, gasoline, and cement; and the operation of travel agencies, gas stations, and beer and soft drink distributors from foreign interference, despite free trade agreements.

Liberia was a leading purveyor of transportation for the world's merchant fleet, but its position has declined rapidly. In 1995, the Liberian fleet consisted of 1,601 vessels with a gross tonnage of 59.4 million tons. This represented a decline of over 55% since 1982, due primarily to civil war, a reduction in oil tanker numbers, competition from other registry states, and opposition to the open registry system itself. The port of Monrovia was not even operational in 1999.

The oil refinery at Monrovia was closed in 1984. No viable oil or natural gas deposits have been discovered, although limited oil exploration has occurred.


Liberia has an agricultural experiment station in Suakoko; a geological, mining, and metallurgical society in Monrovia; and a research laboratory for the Mt. Nimba region, with headquarters in Robertsfield. The University of Liberia, founded in 1862, has colleges of agriculture and forestry, medicine, and science and technology. Cuttington University College, originally founded in 1889, has a science division, and the William V. S. Tubman College of Technology, founded in 1978, offers a three-year associate degree in engineering technology. All three institutions, as well as the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research founded in 1952, are at Monrovia. Booker Washington Institute offers agricultural and industrial courses.


Before the civil war of 198996, internal trade was carried on mainly by large firms located in Monrovia with branches in other principal towns. However, conflict destroyed nearly all businesses and production facilities and most foreign investors left the country. The infrastructure around major cities also suffered. As of 2002, domestic trade and manufacturing was still limited. A small business sector has resumed operations, but primarily through Lebanese and Indian investors. The economy of the nation is highly dependent on revenues from maritime licensing and timber exports. About 70% of the nation's work force is employed in agriculture (2000 est.). Among rural peoples, trade is often by barter.


Liberia had a history of trade surpluses before the war. Exports in 1998 were led by diamonds, followed by iron ore, rubber, and timber. Imports were led by mineral fuels, chemicals, machinery, transportation equipment, manufactured goods, and rice and other foodstuffs. In 2004 rubber accounted for $93.4 million of exports, followed by cocoa which brought in $3.5 million, and others that accounted for a total of $6.9 million.


Liberia has a chronic payments deficit, with large capital outflows and debt-service payments. Since civil war broke out in 1989, exports of foreign currency-earning raw materials (iron, rubber, timber, diamonds, and gold) have plummeted, and massive emergency aid operations began.

The Economist Intelligence Unit reported that in 2005 the purchasing power parity of Liberia's exports was $110 million while imports totaled $295 million resulting in a trade deficit of $185 million.


In 1974, the government established the National Bank of Liberia. It became the exclusive banker and fiscal agent of the government, introduced reserve requirements for commercial banks, and undertook their supervision. Liberia's commercial banks had their main offices in Monrovia. The Liberian Bank for Development and Investment was established in November 1965 to provide additional mediumand long-term financial aid to worthwhile industrial projects. A National Housing and Savings Bank was established in 1972, with priority given to low-cost public housing. An Agricultural and Cooperative Development Bank provided credit to facilitate capital investment in agriculture.

In the 1980s, Liberia was plagued by the outflow and hoarding of US dollars, the only legal notes. The government minted a l$5 coin to restore liquidity, but this action only led to more hoarding of US bills, which traded informally at a premium compared to similarly denominated Liberian coins.

In November 1996, the chairwoman of the ruling Council of State, Ruth Perry, imposed a freeze on all government spending. She said the step was necessary to stabilize state finances and provide for civil service salaries, many of which had not been paid for months. The only bill in circulation in 1999 was the l$5 piece. Banks were only available as a repository for funds and did not pay interest or make loans. Banks operating in 1999 included the International Trust Company of Liberia, the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), the National Bank of Liberia, the National House and Savings Bank (NHSB), and the Tradevco Bank.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $35.1 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $58.5 million.


There is no information available on insurance.


Government budgets, roughly in balance up to the mid-1970s, have since run heavily into deficit. Since civil war erupted in 1989, Liberia's fiscal management has collapsed. The country relies heavily on foreign aid, especially from the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, China, and Romania. In recent years, Taiwan and Libya have surfaced as the largest direct donors to the Liberian government.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2000 Liberia's central government took in revenues of approximately $85.4 million and had expenditures of $90.5 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$5.1 million. Total external debt was $3.2 billion.


Before civil conflict began in Liberia, concession agreements negotiated between foreign interests and the Liberian government often provided tax exemption or modification for periods of 10, or more, years after the start of operations.

A moderately progressive tax on net income earned from Liberian sources by individuals, partnerships, and corporations was the largest source of government revenue. Net income was taxed at rates ranging from 11% to a maximum of 65% on income over $99,000. Corporate tax rates ranged from 2034% of taxable income with marginal rates of up to 50%.

An additional national reconstruction tax of up to 8% on income over $1,000, was imposed in 1981, and was still in effect in 1991. Also levied were a sales tax of 0.52%, inheritance and gift taxes, and social security payroll taxes. In 2003, the violent chaos into which the society had descended while waiting on the international community to send aid made most questions about the tax regime irrelevant. In recent history, Liberia's wealth has been smuggled out, not taxed. In 1999, for instance, imports were improbably over three times the reported exports, a sign that not all exports were being reported. Of the $60 million in tax revenue collected in 1999, only 22.4% came from income taxes on corporations and individuals. Sales taxes accounted for another 16%. The main sources of tax revenue have been import duties (almost 30%) and fees paid to Liberia's "flags of convenience" maritime registry (more than 23%).


Imports are subject to tariff duties, ranging from 2.525%, which constitute a major source of government income. Import duties are specific (based on weight) for some commodities, ad valorem (based on cost, insurance, and freight value) for others. Specific duties apply to foodstuffs, beverages, petroleum products, and certain rubber and textile products. All exports and some imports require licenses. Customs duties are 25% on luxury items such as alcoholic beverages, apparel, cosmetics, electronics, jewelry, and tobacco.

Goods may be landed, stored, sorted, manufactured, repacked, reforwarded, or transshipped within the area of the Free Port of Monrovia without payment of customs duties, but the port was closed as of 1999.


Liberia has historically maintained an "open door" policy toward foreign investment, but since 1989 this policy has given way to the protectionist practices of the government. It has allowed a limited period of exemption from certain types of taxes and permits an unrestricted flow of dividend payments, but only in certain sectors. A 1975 "Liberalization" Law prohibits foreign ownership in many small and medium operations (such as travel agencies, gas stations, beer and soft drink distributors) and mandates the employment of Liberians at all levels. The law is often ignored but can also be invoked at any time.

In 1989, interest on long-term debt stood at 105% of exports. Attempts to bring financial stability to the economy failed dramatically in the early 1990s with the failure of the US-sponsored oversight mission and the breakdown in relations between Liberia and the IMF. Liberia plunged into a civil war from 1990 to 1997, which besides causing upwards of 150,000 deaths and displacing hundreds of thousands, destroyed the country's infrastructure. The end of the fighting, with Charles Taylor's accession to power as the only way to deter his followers from further destruction, brought little relief since his administration did not fulfill promises to fix what they had "broke." Professions of adherence to principles of free trade and an open door to foreign investment also rung hollow as the state established monopolies in rice growing, gasoline distribution, cement import, and cement production. The free port at Monrovia continued to operate, but stevedore services have been monopolized by the National Port Authority, canceling the contracts of seven other companies. Corruption reached to the highest levels during Charles's Taylor's administration.

Most of Liberia's principal enterprises were foreign owned before the civil war, with US investmentabout $300 million in 1987foremost. Substantial investments were also made by the British, French, Swedish, Israelis, Swiss, Dutch, Italians, and Lebanese. After the civil war, some US companies resumed (Firestone) or began operations (some gold mining companies). However, most investors have been deterred by the regime's failure to meet IMF targets, pervasive corruption, arbitrary administration, and the reemergence of violent rebellion.

In 1997 and 1998, foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow averaged $15.5 million a year. From 1999 to 2001, average FDI inflow was $11.3 million. According to the World Bank publication, World Investment Report, 2005, foreign direct investment into Liberia was almost nonexistent in 2002 and 2003 (about $3 million and $1 million respectively) but did increase modestly in 2004 to $20 million, following the end of the civil war.


The civil war and international financial obligations dim the prospects of economic development. While refugee resettlement looms as an early postwar priority, future economic development depends on reestablishing international confidence in Liberia's financial management.

Liberia formed the Mano River Union (MRU) with Guinea and Sierra Leone, to promote development and regional economic integration. Although the civil war caused the MRU to become all but defunct, in 2002 discussions on reviving the MRU took place. Foreign assistance to Liberia has declined, but Taiwan and Libya remain the largest donors of direct financial aid to the country. Western countries avoid direct aid to the government by sending assistance through international aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In 2003, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suspended Liberia's voting rights in the Fund. As of February 2003, Liberia's arrears to the IMF amounted to $685 million.

The Economist Intelligence Unit reported that for quite sometime wealthy international donors, who are ready to assist reconstruction efforts in postwar Liberia, were withholding funding until Liberia's National Assembly signed onto a Governance and Economic Management Action Plan (GEMAP). The Plan was created by the International Contact Group for Liberia to help ensure transparent revenue collection and allocationsomething that was lacking under the transitional government and that has limited Liberia's economic recovery. This plan was agreed to and officially signed into law by the chairman of the transitional government, Gyude Bryant, on September 15th, 2005. The reconstruction of infrastructure and the raising of incomes in this ravaged economy will largely depend on generous financial support and technical assistance from the donor community under GEMAP.


A social insurance and social assistance program was implemented in 1972. The current program covers public employees and employees of firms with five or more workers. The pension program is funded by equal contributions from employers and employees, while welfare is funded by the government. Work injury laws area also in place. Workers' medical benefits include reasonable expenses for medical and surgical care, hospitalization, drugs, and appliances. However, most programs and institutions were disrupted by warfare.

In 2005, after 14 years of civil war, a Harvard-educated woman was elected president of Liberia. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is said to be a beacon of hope for women in Africa. However, rights for most women in the country are limited. Rural women remain largely subordinate in both public and private life. Women married under civil law have inheritance and property rights, but women married under tribal laws are considered property of their husbands. Domestic violence is widespread, and abused women have no recourse. Female genital mutilation is practiced by some ethnic groups.

Ethnic discrimination is explicitly prohibited by law. Despite this provision, citizenship is legally available only to blacks. Only citizens can own land, and noncitizens are restricted from owning certain types of businesses. The government had a poor human rights record, which includes disappearances, and beatings and torture by security forces.


Liberia has one of Africa's highest fertility rates; in 2000 it averaged six children for every woman surviving through her childbearing years. Average life expectancy was 38.89 years in 2005, one of the shortest in the world. As of 2004, there were an estimated 2 physicians, 6 nurses, and 4 midwives per 100,000 people. Only about 39% of the population has access to health care services. Few Liberians had access to safe water (40%) and sanitation (24%) in 1994. More recent figures are unavailable.

Programs such as the Combating Childhood Communicable Diseases Program are credited with reducing mortality rates for children five and under. The infant mortality rate was 161.99 per 1,000 live births in 2005, the fourth highest in the world. The maternal mortality rate was 560 deaths per 100,000 live births. Contraceptive use is low. The level of measles immunization has dropped by 11% in the last few years from 55% in 1988 to 44% in 1994 (the most recent year for which figures are available). From 1990 to 1994, children up to one year were vaccinated against tuberculosis, 84%; diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, 43%; and polio, 45%.

The general mortality rate in 2002 was an estimated 16 per 1,000 people. The Liberian staple diet of rice or cassava (manioc) is deficient in protein and children in particular suffer because of this. The major causes of death are malaria and gastrointestinal disease, attributable in part to poor sanitation. AIDS is a serious problem in Liberia. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 5.90 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 100,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 7,200 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

Nearly 900,000 women, or 60% of the female population, suffer female genital mutilation. Although the Liberian government has published policy opposing female genital mutilation, no law currently prohibits its use.


In the aftermath of the 198996 civil war from, over 60,000 families were displaced or living in very poor housing conditions. About 80% of the total housing stock was affected by the war. During the 1980s (the latest period for which housing data is available), the number of dwellings more than doubled, from 216,206 in 1981 to 500,000 as of 1988, with 4.8 people per dwelling.

The 19982000 National Reconstruction Program placed housing issues as a priority for government consideration. This was followed by the formulation of a five-year plan (200105) which also focused on reconstruction and new construction of adequate housing.

Many of the older corrugated-iron structures in Monrovia have been replaced with more modern dwellings, and houses of advanced design have been privately built to accommodate the growing urban population. The typical dwelling of the tribal people in the Liberian interior is the rondavel, a circular, one-room mud-and-wattle thatch-roofed hut, windowless and with a single low door. These rondavels are being replaced by large rectangular huts, also of mud and wattle, subdivided into two or more rooms and equipped with windows.


Education is compulsory from ages 6 to 16. Elementary school (primary) covers six years of study. This is followed by three years of junior high and three years of senior high school. The largest secondary school is the Booker Washington Institute, a vocational school located at Kakata, with about 1,500 students. The academic year runs from March to December.

In 2001, about 56% of children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2001 was estimated at about 70% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 18% of age-eligible students; 22.8% for boys and 13% for girls. It is estimated that about 21% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 38:1 in 2003.

There are three institutions of higher learning: the government-operated University of Liberia in Monrovia (established in 1862); Cuttington University College at Monrovia, an Episcopalian institution; and a three-year engineering school, the William V. S. Tubman College of Technology, founded at Monrovia in 1978. In 2001, there were about 44,000 students enrolled in tertiary education programs. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 55.9%, with 72.3% for men and 39.3% for women.

On average, 11% of the government's total annual budget is allocated to education.


The government maintains a central public library in Monrovia, with 15,000 volumes. UNESCO also operates a library in Monrovia, and the Liberian Information Service has a research library in the same city. The University of Liberia and the Cuttington University College libraries have been slowly rebuilding their stock of books following looting during the 1990s.

The National Museum of Liberia is housed in the renovated Supreme Court building in Monrovia and the Tubman Center of African Cultures is located in Robertsport. Other museums include the National Cultural Center in Cape Mount, the Africana Museum at Monrovia, the W. V. S. Tubman Library-Museum at Harper, and the Natural History Museum at the University of Liberia.


In 2003, there were an estimated two mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there was approximately one mobile phone in use for every 1,000 people.

The first national television station was opened early in 1964; although government owned, it is partly commercial. The state-owned Liberian Broadcasting System operates one service that does not have national range. As of 2005, there were five FM radio stations and three local television stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 274 radios for every 1,000 people. The number of television sets was unavailable in the same survey. In 2003, there were about 1,000 Internet subscribers nationwide. In 2004, there were 14 Internet hosts.

Many existing newspapers and magazines ceased publication when the Doe regime was overthrown in 1990. Afterward, a number of new ones were begun. As of 2005, there were at least five daily newspapers, including: The Inquirer, The News, and The Analyst. The New Liberian, published daily except Wednesday, is the official government newspaper. In 2005, there was a total of 18 newspapers published in Monrovia.

Freedom of speech and the press are provided for in the constitution, and the government is said to generally respect these rights in practice. However, years of civil strife have destroyed many facilities and disrupted all media in Liberia; many have failed to resume publication or broadcasting. A restrictive media law, instituted during the Doe regime, remains in force and provides the government with wide powers for licensing and regulating the media.


Civic groups in Monrovia include the YMCA and YWCA, the Antoinette Tubman Children's Welfare Foundation, the Liberia Evangelistic Women Workers, the Red Cross, Boy Scouts, and Girl Guides. The Liberia Chamber of Commerce has its headquarters in Monrovia. Numerous secret societies are found among all the ethnic groups. Cultural groups include the Society of Liberian Authors, Liberian Arts and Crafts Association, and Liberian Research Association. There are sports associations promoting amateur competition in a variety of pastimes. The Boy Scouts of Liberia and Girl Guides have active troops. There are national chapters of the Red Cross Society, Caritas, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and Habitat for Humanity.


Continued civil unrest has had an adverse effect on tourism. Hotels in or near Monrovia are suitable for tourists; there are missionary organizations and a youth hostel that also accommodate visitors. Safaris are offered in the Sapo National Park and water sports are popular along the many beaches. Football (soccer) is the national sport. Visitors must obtain a visa and passport as well as provide proof of a yellow fever vaccination.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of travel in Monrovia at $241.


Joseph Jenkins Roberts (180976), who was governor under the Colonization Society at the time the republic was established, became its first and later its sixth president (184856, 187276) and gained the respect of the European colonial powers by his able exposition of Liberia's rights as a free and independent nation. The national heroine is Matilda Newport, who helped to repel an attack on the first struggling settlement. Among white Americans who went to Liberia to assist the early black settlers were Jehudi Ashmun (17941828) and Ralph Randolph Gurley (17971872), who together reorganized the colonists in 1824. William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman (18951971) was president of Liberia from 1944 until 1971. Angie E. Brooks-Randolph (b.1928) served as president of the 1969/70 UN General Assembly. William Richard Tolbert, Jr. (191380) succeeded Tubman as president. He was killed in the 1980 coup led by Samuel Kanyon Doe (195090), who subsequently assumed the titles of commander in chief of the armed forces and chairman of the PRC. Doe was in turn tortured and killed in 1990 by rebels loyal to Charles G. Taylor (b.1948), the leader of the faction that gained control during the civil war. Taylor, who had become president in 1997, was forced into exile in 2003. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (b.1938) became the first elected female president of an African country in 2005.


Liberia has no territories or colonies.


Adebajo, Adekeye. Building Peace in West Africa: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea-Bissau. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2002.

Beyan, Amos Jones. African American Settlements in West Africa: John Brown Russwurm and the American Civilizing Efforts. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Burin, Eric. Slavery and the Peculiar Solution: A History of the American Colonization Society. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005.

Clapham, Christopher. African Guerrillas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Dolo, Emmanuel. Democracy Versus Dictatorship: the Quest for Freedom and Justice in Africa's Oldest RepublicLiberia. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1996.

Dunn, D. Elwood. Historical Dictionary of Liberia. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2001.

Liberian Women Peacemakers: Fighting for the Right to Be Seen, Heard, and Counted. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2004.

Lyons, Terrence. Voting for Peace: Post-conflict Elections in Liberia. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1999.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Republic of Liberia

Major City:

Other Cities:
Buchanan, Gbarnga, Greenville, Harbel, Harper, Robertsport, Sanniquellie, Voinjama


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report for Liberia. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Editor's Note: Liberia experienced a devastating civil war in the 1990s. The capital, Monrovia, and other parts of the country were heavily damaged. Some parts of this entry are based on conditions in Liberia prior to this war.

The name LIBERIA , from the Latin liber, meaning "free," was chosen to signify the intent of the republic's founding on the west Guinean coast. The present-day history of Liberia began in 1822, when the American Colonization Society was chartered by Congress to sponsor in Africa a colony of freed slaves from the United States. Several thousand emancipated blacks, who had been held in servitude on British and American naval vessels, joined the settlement and, in 1847, Liberia became the first independent republic in sub-Saharan Africa. In the ensuing years, the young nation struggled for survival against a hostile geographical environment, financial uncertainty, and the threatened encroachment of European colonialism.

Although there are many political, social, and economic links with the U.S., Liberia has a rich culture of its own. It shares a multitude of problems with other developing nations in striving toward economic self-reliance, and in using its natural and human resources. Liberia is a country in transition, attempting to redefine its national identity and aims.



Monrovia is situated on a long narrow cape, with one side facing a vast expanse of mangrove swamps drained by the Mesurado River and the other facing the Atlantic Ocean.

Founded in 1822 with the arrival of the first settlers, many localities are still identified by the names of original villages, settler communities, and the ethnic tribal districts that grew up around them, all becoming incorporated into the city of Monrovia as it expanded. Originally named Christopolis, it was renamed after one of the settlement's most prominent sponsors, U.S. President James Monroe.

Downtown Monrovia, with its markets, stores, offices, and apartment buildings, occupies the tip of Cape Mesurado, rising to the promontory of Mamba Point. The narrow body of the Cape is taken up by the mostly residential Sinkor area. Beyond Sinkor, a number of suburbs extend towards the base of the Cape, and along fingers of land jutting out into the mangroves. Between the downtown and Sinkor areas is Capitol Hill, where the Executive Mansion, government office buildings, and the University of Liberia campus are located.

Two bridges cross the Mesurado River from the downtown area to Bushrod Islandthe industrial section of the city, with many factories, the refinery, the Freeport of Monrovia, and many low, overcrowded buildings. Another bridge at the far end of the island crosses the wide St. Paul River.

Monrovia's population, estimated at 15,000 in 1950, is currently 1,413,000. Growing at twice the national average, the population is exerting great stresses on the city's health, sanitation, and transport services. Modern apartments and government buildings are often surrounded by squatter settlements.

Monrovia's business community includes many Americans and Europeans. Lebanese and Indian nationals operate most of the large stores and commercial enterprises. A sizable group of non-Liberian Africans (mostly Sierra Leoneans, Ghanaians, Guineans, and Nigerians) also live in the city. In addition, tourists and business persons visit the capital.


Most dependents attend the American Cooperative School (ACS) in the Congotown area of Monrovia. This private, coeducational school offers a U.S. style education from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 for students of all nationalities. A seven-member board of directors, elected for two-year terms by the membership of the American Cooperative Education Association, governs the school. Associate membership is automatically conferred on parents and guardians of all children enrolled in the school.

The curriculum resembles that of U.S. public schools. French, Spanish, art, typing, computer science, journalism, photography, African cultural studies, chess, drama, choir, yearbook, sports, and other electives are offered in grades nine through 12. Personal computers are maintained for class use. Numerous field trips and study opportunities to local industries as well as various cross-cultural experiences are provided. Proximity to the ocean allows for practical instruction in marine biology. The school year runs from late August to early June, and usually includes a two-week break at Christmas. All Liberian holidays and U.S. Thanksgiving Day are observed.

ACS, accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges, is one of only three American high schools in Africa so accredited. The major effect of accreditation is to ensure the acceptance of school credits when students transfer or present transcripts for college entrance. The school is housed in an air-conditioned building with 22 classrooms, an administrative office, gymnasium, library, counselor's office, and teacher's lounge. There are two athletic playing fields. An American superintendent directs the school, assisted by an American principal. All teachers have U.S. teaching credentials. Bus service is provided.


The national sport in Liberia is soccer, the leading teams having large and enthusiastic followings. Matches are played either at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in Monrovia, or at a modern sports complex located five miles beyond the Sinkor area. Soccer enthusiasts have praised the performance of West African teams. Basketball is a growing sport.

There is ample opportunity for participation in a wide variety of sporting activities in Liberia, and especially around Monrovia. Local recreation associations and other expatriate organizations provide a great number of activities in a variety of settings.

The Monrovia Sporting Club, located in the modern Hotel Africa complex, offers a large swimming pool, a private beach and lagoon, windsurfing, tennis, horseback riding, and other activities.

The Voice of America (VOA) complex has a nine-hole golf course, swimming pool, and tennis courts, available through membership.

Golf is very popular. There are courses at VOA, Firestone, and Bong Minesall within two hours of Monroviaand at several other locations as well.

The Liberia Squash Club in Monrovia offers low rates for an increasingly popular sport among both Americans and Liberians. The YMCA, the first on the continent, offers a number of programs and facilities, including an active Tae Kwon Doe karate club.

The American community and other expatriate organizations often join in intramural activities. During the dry season softball leagues are often organized, while the less conventional "Hash House Harrier" runs are fast becoming an institution. Leagues often grow up around a single individual with organizational abilities and enthusiasm. Even when formal facilities do not exist or special equipment is required, one will often hear of an individual or group that has outfitted itself as necessary. For example, scuba diving, ultra-lite flying clubs, weight training, and other groups have been organized.

All sports equipment must be brought to Liberia. While some equipment can be borrowed, practically none is available in town.

Outdoor activities abound in Liberia, with water sports being the most accessible. A number of beautiful local beaches have their own distinct attractions, depending upon the mixture of those who frequent them, the facilities, and relative isolation. One beach may have a popular restaurant and bar, another may have nothing but isolated beaches and beautiful lagoons. Robertsport, a few hours from Monrovia, offers pristine beaches and a small hotel near Liberia's largest lake. Fish and other seafood can be bought from local fishermen as they land their canoes.

Harper, an hour's flight down the coast, was the center of the Maryland Colonization Society's settlements, and is a small attractive town out of the last century. Buchanan, a two-hour drive southeast of Monrovia, has isolated beaches and lagoons.

In all locations, care must be exercised when swimming because of strong currents and undertow. Children should always be supervised, and should preferably stay in the lagoons. Snorkeling, spear fishing, and scuba diving are all practicable, but one must establish connections with small local groups that can service equipment. Boating and fishing, centered on the St. Paul River area, are popular. A number of boats owned by members of the expatriate communities are used for deep sea, surf, and river fishing.

The Bong Mining Company, in the Bong Mountains about two hours north of Monrovia, has extensive recreational facilities, including a golf course, two German and one Italian restaurant, and aircraft and shooting clubs. Weapons must be borrowed locally. A large swimming pool, soccer fields, tennis courts, weight facilities, and a guest house make the area a pleasant weekend stay. The LAMCO mining community in northeastern Liberia, about eight hours from Monrovia, similarly offers modern facilities in a mountain setting.

In contrast to these resort type areas, Liberia's interior offers a vastly different and rich experience. Liberia has the largest remaining areas of intact tropical rain forests in West Africa, with an incredible diversity of birds, plants, and wild-life. Over 500 species of birds are listed for the country and many more remain to be discovered. Elephants, leopards, chimpanzees, and pygmy hippos still live in the interior regions. The privately owned Monrovia Zoo offers a glimpse of some of this natural wealth. Gardening and bird watching are enjoyed near Monrovia. Regionally, the Sahel zone of Africa to the north holds the escarpment dwellings of Mali and the European-influenced cities of Banjul, Dakar, and Abidjan. Morocco and the Canary Islands also offer changes of scenery and culture.


Evening entertainment in Monrovia centers around the home, where a casual atmosphere prevails. Activities include barbecues, cocktail parties, and televised sports events. Although there are several movie theaters in town, most Americans frequent only one, the Relda in the Sinkor area, which shows American and European films. Local dramatic groups occasionally present amateur theater productionsthe most active of these is the Monrovia Players, but activity depends on the interest, efforts, and talents of city residents. Productions are staged at the Ducor Hotel, with buffet dinners preceding the performances.

Monrovia's several good restaurants offer a variety of international cuisines (Lebanese, German, Liberian, French, Italian, Spanish, Oriental, and Indian). The food is generally good, but service is sometimes slow. Prices are comparable to those in U.S. cities. Nightclubs range from the popular disco at Hotel Africa to a number of clubs in town. Movie houses usually play Indian and karate movies, but some have begun to introduce a few African films.

Cultural exhibitions take place on Providence Island, the original landing place of the settlers, while African musicians frequently perform in town.

The American Women in Liberia is an organization which provides interesting activities and fellowship for U.S. expatriates; it encourages associate memberships for non-Americans. The U.S. Mission Women's Club and the teen club also sponsor a variety of activities. Since many other countries have diplomatic missions in Liberia, international social contacts are numerous.

Most Monrovians have an up-country hometown. One of the richest local experiences is being introduced to up-country life by Liberian friends, either at small town church socials outside of Monrovia, or at "coming out" feasts for bush schools. Initiative and friendliness can open many doors. Generally speaking, Liberians are friendly and open people. The pace in this country is easier than many places, and patience, courtesy, and a sense of humor are necessary traits.


BUCHANAN , formerly called Grand Bassa, is the largest of Liberia's other cities, although it only has a population of about 25,000. It is located in Grand Bassa County, about 70 miles southeast of the capital, and is the port from which Mount Nimba's iron ore is exported. Africa's first iron-ore washing and pelletizing plant was opened here in 1968. The city was founded in 1835 by a black group, the Quakers of the Young Men's Colonization Society.

GBARNGA (also spelled Gbanga and Gbanka), with a population of about 10,860, is located northeast of the capital near the Guinean border. Poultry farming and a rubber factory dominate its commercial activities. There are also secondary schools, churches, and a mosque in Gbarnga.

Nestled on the Atlantic coast, GREENVILLE is a port city approximately 150 miles south of Monrovia. It was established by freed American slaves in 1838 and was once known as Sino (also spelled Sinoe). Its main exports include lumber, rubber, and agricultural products. Linked to the capital and to Tchien in the north, Greenville has a population of about 9,000.

Home of the Firestone rubber plantation, HARBEL is less than 50 miles northeast of Monrovia. Harbel plays a crucial role in the exportation of liquid latex and crepe rubber. Firestone maintains the city's hospital, power plant, radio service, as well as roads, housing, schools, and a literacy program. The Liberian Institute of Tropical Medicine and Roberts International Airport are two miles southeast of the city. Roughly 11,500 people live in Harbel.

In the extreme southeast, near the border of Cote d'Ivoire, is the town of HARPER , a commercial seaport for the vast rubber plantations of the interior. Named for Robert Goodloe Harper of the American Colonization Society, the town is the site of Maryland College of Our Lady of Fatima, the William V.S. Tubman College of Technology, the J.J. Dossen Memorial Hospital, a public library and several churches. A sugar refinery was opened here in 1978.

ROBERTSPORT , also a seaport, is in Grand Cape Mount County. It is named for Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Liberia's first president. It is connected to Monrovia by air and by road. The town experiences heavy rainfall, roughly 205 inches annually. Inhabitants engaged in fishing and rice farming. It is noted for such tourist attractions as picturesque Lake Piso and Massating Island, which is rich with wildlife and small fishing villages.

SANNIQUELLIE is the northern trading center at the foot of Mount Nimba, and VOINJAMA , Liberia's most northern city, is above the Wologisi Range, where a national park is being created.


Geography and Climate

Liberia, about the size of Ohio, lies on the west coast of Africa, some 150 miles north of the equator. It shares borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea on the north and northwest, with Cote d'Ivoire on the east, and courses the Atlantic Ocean on the south. Largely covered by rain forests, it has a sea-level coastal area that gradually rises to a low plateau and ends in the low-lying mountains (4,000 feet) on the Guinea-Cote d'Ivoire border. Liberia has a relatively long coastline of 350 miles and no point is further than 170 miles inland.

Because of its proximity to the ocean and the equator, and its low altitude, Liberia's climate is tropical. The only variation is a six-month rainy season from May through November, marked by frequent, long-lasting, and often torrential rainfalls. Occasional sunny days break up this long rainy interval, and some areas are refreshed by sea breezes.

Liberia receives very heavy rainfall, with roughly 200 inches a year in Monrovia. Temperatures average 81°F.

The dry season (December through April), sometimes characterized by a dust-laden atmosphere, is the hottest period. However, the country maintains its green look throughout the year. Liberia's temperatures are less noticeable than its oppressive humidityone of the world's highest. Averaging between 70 and 80 percent, the humidity deteriorates vehicles, furnishings, and clothing, and encourages household pests. Constant precautions must be taken to avoid mildew and rust.


Liberia's population is estimated at 3.1 million, a figure that does not count the refugees who fled the country during the civil war (more than half Liberia's population at the time). Monrovia's population is approximately 1.4 million. Liberians are either members of indigenous ethnic groups, 95 percent, descendants of black Americans who began settling in the area in 1822, or, increasingly, a mixture of both. Influences of American settlers are reflected in both family and Christian names, as well as in the designations of towns, cities, and counties. The current trend, however, is to recover or adopt African names. In a relationship unique in Africa, Liberia has maintained strong cultural, social, familial, and business ties with Americans.

The 16 major ethnic groups are the Kru, Kpelle, Mandingo, Gola, Loma, Krahn, Bassa, Grebo, Vai, Mano, Mendi, Dey, Gise, Gio, Belle, and Gbande. Many tribal customs are still practiced; others have disappeared or changed over the years. The increasing educational level, economic modernization, migration toward urban centers, and the spread of both Christianity and Islam have exerted strong pressures on traditional culture.

English is Liberia's official language, but tribal dialects are widely spoken. Most Liberians with whom Americans come in contact, either socially or in business, speak fluent English. Many government officials have been educated in the U.S. or Europe. The less educated, on the other hand, speak a "Liberian English" with distinctive idioms and pronunciation.


In 1847, Liberia became the first African republic with the declaration of its independence from the founding American societies and adoption of a constitution based on the U.S. model. The dominant True Whig Party ruled virtually uncontested until 1980, when the government was overthrown by a group of noncommissioned officers led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe.

In 1984, a new constitution guaranteeing personal and political freedoms was ratified by referendum, an Interim National Assembly was appointed, and the ban on political activities was lifted. Multi-party elections were held in 1985 and, amidst much controversy, Samuel K. Doe was declared the winner. Throughout 1988 and 1989, the Doe government cracked down on all political opposition.

In January 1990, a small group of rebels led by Charles Taylor launched a series of attacks against Doe's government troops. The skirmishes quickly degenerated into a bloody civil war, with fighting along tribal lines. The rebels called themselves the National Patriotic Forces of Liberia (NPFL). A second rebel group, calling itself the Independent NPFL and opposed to Taylor's group, formed with Prince Johnson as its leader. The government, which was now forced to fight against two rebel groups simultaneously, lost control of Monrovia to Prince Johnson's rebels in July 1990. Doe and remnants of his army retreated to the heavily fortified Presidential Palace.

In August 1990, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent a 4,000-man peace-keeping force (ECOMOG) to Monrovia in an attempt to end the fighting. However, President Doe was capture, tortured, and executed by Prince Johnson's rebels in September 1990. Despite three peace agreements, fighting continued into the 1990s.

On May 8, 1996 Liberia's rival factions approved a peace plan requiring an immediate cease-fire. Charles Taylor was elected president in mid-1997 and took office in August. Liberia's civil war cost as many as 200,000 lives and displaced about 700,000 people from their homes.

The flag of Liberia consists of six red and five white horizontal stripes. In the upper corner, near the staff, is a dark blue square with a white star. Liberia's flag is very similar to the American flag.

Arts, Science, Education

The isolation of the interior until recent times has left much of the traditional culture intact. The main socializing forces have been the age grades of Eastern Liberia and the "secret" initiation societies, such as the men's Poro and women's Sande societies of the western and central portions of the country.

Traditionally, village children attend a society's "bush school" for a period of years, while those attending modern schools participate only for shorter periods between semesters. In the society bush school, they are taught the skills and traditions needed for life, forge the bonds of society membership, and pass together into adulthood.

In addition, much traditional knowledge reposes in special societies that incorporate, or have developed around, particular special skills and needs, such as the use of herbal medicines, blacksmithing, and bridge building.

Traditional arts still thrive in Liberia. Dancing, story-telling, brass-casting, and carving are widely practiced. The endless variety of masked and costumed "devils" serves not only to delight and entertain, but also to teach traditional values and judge litigations in traditional life; some are viewed as the embodiment of forest spirits and are powerful agents of social control.

Statues, masks, and other carvings are not only great aesthetic works; they serve as links to the spiritual world. The carvings of one group in particular, the Dan of northeast Liberia, are world renowned. Many of these arts are performed or displayed as vital components of public occasions. Efforts are being made to record the oral histories, knowledge of plant medicines, and the manufacture of items characteristic of traditional life. The National Museum in the capital is expected to play a leadership role in this effort.

The University of Liberia in Monrovia and Cuttington University College in the interior were founded in the mid-and late 1800s. The Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) is working to increase the fertility of Liberia's weathered soils, and to develop alternatives to the destructive slash-and-burn agriculture practiced by most farmers. The Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research, working with chimpanzees captured in the interior, was instrumental in developing a vaccine for Hepatitis B, a disease that affects more than 200 million people worldwide. Research into other major tropical diseases continues.

The formation of technical institutes and public foundations, such as the Tubman Institute of Technology, the Liberian Association of Writers, and the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia, has resulted in a growing awareness of the benefits of technology, as well as its possible threat to traditional culture and the environment. As with many African countries, Liberia is struggling to realize the promise of its resources and cultural wealth, under increasingly unfavorable circumstances.

Commerce and Industry

Civil war during the 1990s destroyed much of Liberia's economy, especially the infrastructure in and around Monrovia. Expatriate businessmen fled the country, taking capital and expertise with them. There is concern that many of them will not return. Richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forests, and a climate favorable to agriculture, Liberia had been a producer and exporter of basic products, while local manufacturing, mainly foreign owned, has been small in scope. Currently, economic priorities include restoring infa-structure and developing sound fiscal policies to spur growth.

Prior to the civil war, agriculture was the most important sector of the economy. In 1989, it contributed nearly 40 percent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employed nearly 70 percent of the work force. Principal cash crops were coffee, cocoa, rubber, and timber. Rice, cassava, and vegetables were the main food crops.

Liberia's industrial capacity is extremely small and contributes only a small percentage of GDP, currently 10 percent. Industries included rubber processing, palm oil processing, food processing, furniture, and construction materials.

Prior to the civil war, Liberia was one of the world's major producers and exporters of iron ore. However, the fighting has severely damaged the mining sector. In the past, diamonds and gold were also mined in small quantities. Liberia has deposits of bauxite, manganese, barite, and uranium, but these have not been exploited.

Iron ore, rubber, timber, and coffee were Liberia's primary exports. Most of these products were destined for the United States, countries of the European Community, and the Netherlands. Liberia imported chemicals, machinery, transport equipment, and foodstuffs from the United States, Japan, China, the Netherlands, and its West African neighbors.

Liberia maintains a Chamber of Commerce at Capitol Hill, P.O. Box 92, Monrovia; telephone: 223738; telex: 44211.


Public transportation in Monrovia consists mainly of taxis and buses. Vans or buses from central "parking stations" serve the country, any point being reachable by changing vehicles at appropriate stations along the way. Overcrowding and a high rate of accidents discourage most Americans from using this system, but vehicles can be chartered at a negotiable price. Small aircraft charter service is available to Monrovia to all towns which have airfields. Roberts International Airport, 36 miles from Monrovia, is serviced daily by a number of African and European airlines.

Since taxi service partly substitutes for public transportation, it is operated as such. Passengers constantly enter and leave taxis, and frequently numerous stops are made before the individual destination is reached. If the driver is requested not to make stops, a negotiable and higher fare must be paid. Drivers generally know the way to familiar landmarks or major street intersections, but often they must be directed to less well-known locations. Although the accident rate among taxis is high, many expatriate Americans who own private cars choose taxis for going downtown, rather than having to look for parking spaces on the crowded streets. It should be noted that all taxis in Monrovia are yellow.

Liberia has about 400 miles of paved roads, including those in the capital. The rest are laterite dirt. During the rainy season, laterite roads are made difficult or impassable by erosion and mud. In the dry season, long drives can be uncomfortably dusty. Personal cars should be undercoated and equipped with heavy-duty springs and shock absorbers. Air conditioning is advantageous, as it not only provides relief from the heat and humidity, but also from the dust. The humid climate has a dramatic effect on vehicles; rust is the most serious problem, but car interiors also eventually develop mildew odors.

Unleaded gasoline is not available in Liberia. Catalytic convertors must be removed from cars shipped to the country.

Small cars are the most convenient on narrow, crowded city streets. Nonfuel-injection engines should be specified for any cars being shipped to Liberia because of the lack of repair facilities and spare parts for fuel-injection models. All locally purchased auto parts are costly, and certain items must be ordered from abroad. The following spare parts are useful to have on hand: alternator or generator, fan belts for car and air conditioner, wiper blades, heavy-duty shock absorbers, extra set of points, battery, muffler, exhaust pipe, and tires.

Chevrolet is represented in Monrovia by dealers who have repair facilities. Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Toyota, Peugeot, Renault, Mercedes, BMW, and Volkswagen are also among models sold and serviced in the capital.

A Liberian driver's license (including vision test) is required, and third-party liability insurance is mandatory. Insurance costs vary according to the car's value, age, and engine. Full coverage for personal liability and collision insurance are additional. The Liberian Government requires annual vehicle inspections.


Telephone and postal services are in short supply in Monrovia, having been severely disrupted during the civil war. Prior to the war, these services were generally inadequate.

The government-controlled Liberian Broadcasting Corporation, which overseas all broadcasting, operates commercial radio and commercial television stations. There were approximately 790,000 radios and 70,000 television sets prior to the fighting in Monrovia in mid-1990.

Many of the English-language newspapers and magazines published during the Doe regime ceased publication during late 1990. In 1991, a number of new papers had been launched. The titles include The Inquirer, New Times, and The Patriot.

Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, many resident Americans received copies of the International Herald Tribune and international editions of Time and Newsweek. The magazine Africa Now appeared sporadically.


Major medical and surgical cases among expatriates are always referred to either European or American hospitals. Missionary hospitals operate in Liberia, but facilities for treating complicated conditions which require specialized equipment or in-patient care are not available locally.

Community health and sanitation in Liberia are far below American and European standards. Even in Monrovia, garbage collection is sporadic. Frequent breaks in water lines and lack of adherence to plumbing codes necessitate the boiling and filtering of all drinking water. Food inspection is inadequate. All locally purchased meat must be thoroughly cooked before consumption, and vegetables should be well cleaned and soaked in chlorine solution.

Malaria is endemic throughout the country, as are schistosomiasis and several other parasitic diseases. Poisonous snakes, although present, are not a health hazard.

Diarrhea and general fatigue are common ailments experienced by Americans living in Liberia. For protection from the more serious preventable diseases prevalent in the country, several recommendations are made: boiling and filtering of all drinking water; regular use of malaria suppressants (initiated two weeks before arrival, and continued for six weeks after departure); eating only fruits and vegetables that have been treated with chlorine; staying out of fresh water, particularly up-country, where the water is infested with schistosomes; and keeping all immunizations current (yellow fever, typhoid, polio, cholera, tetanus, and gamma globulin). It is imperative that yellow fever inoculations are current for entry into Liberia. Currently, AIDS is a minimal risk in Liberia. Health conditions throughout Liberia have deteriorated greatly as a result of the civil war.

Clothing and Services

Because of the hot, humid climate and the poor quality of dry cleaning, loose-fitting, washable clothing is recommended. It is acceptable for all occasions. With year-round wear and frequent laundering, clothes rarely last long; an initial good supply is needed for an extended stay. Local markets sell a limited selection of ready-made (usually inferior) clothing at high prices. Dressmakers do satisfactory work and, in addition to making African-style, loose-fitting dresses, they will copy simple catalogue styles or favorite garments reasonably well. Tailors make good quality leisure and dress suits, shirts, and women's dresses from lappa cloth, tie-dyed material, or imported fabrics. African styles are popular for work or casual parties for both men and women.

A wide selection of European shoes is available, but many Americans find that the fit is quite different. An adequate supply of footwear is a must, since moisture, mud, and dust play havoc with shoes. Local shoe repair is mediocre.

Raincoats are not often worn because of the heat, but it is wise to have one for the occasional torrential downpours. An umbrellapreferably largeis essential for each member of the family during the rainy season, and galoshes are needed for small children.

Most people wear only cotton clothing outdoors. Although synthetic fabrics are attractive, wash easily, and pack well, items made of these materials become uncomfortable in Liberia's extreme heat. Swimsuits and beachwear are hard to find locally; each family member will need at least two swimsuits, as well as sunglasses and some sort of head protection. One special recommendation is a beach umbrella for relief from the intense heat and sunlight.

Business wear is more relaxed than in the U.S. In offices, men wear wash-and-wear suits (often without ties) or locally made slacks and short-sleeved jackets; these correspond to the usual coat and tie worn elsewhere. Working women wear either dresses or skirts and blouses and, since all offices are air conditioned, many also find hosiery and light sweaters comfortable. Otherwise, warm-weather clothing is suitable everywhere. Long cotton skirts or African dresses (usually beautifully embroidered) are as popular for parties as are short dresses. Women are much less influenced by fashion trends than in the U.S. The dress code is relaxed and informal. However, shorts and halter tops should never be worn in town.

Children's clothing is locally available in limited supply and at high prices. Children's wear is much the same as at home, but in the lightest-weight materials possible. Jeans and T-shirts with sneakers or sandals are popular. Preschool children wear play clothes most of the time. Infant clothing is available, but at prices higher than in the U.S.; all baby equipment is expensive.

In general, almost anything can be bought in Monrovia if one is willing to search for it and to pay inflated prices. However, the "buy it if you see ittomorrow it may be gone" approach should be followed, as stocks are often small and selections poor compared to those in Western countries. Items usually found in American supermarkets can also be found in Monrovia, but favorite brands of toiletries, patent medicines, and cleaning and repair supplies should be included in one's household shipment if substitutes are unacceptable. Many people planning extended stays ship artificial Christmas trees and decorations.

Dry cleaning is fair. Shoe repair is adequate. Commercial laundry service is available, but servants usually do the work at home. Several beauty shops in Monrovia are known for good work; they use mostly European and American products.

Automobile repair is adequate, although some jobs may take more than one trip to the mechanic. Repair of electrical appliances is scarce and poor.

Domestic Help

Household in Liberia traditionally employ domestic help of some kind. Most Americans hire domestic servants, the number and type depending on individual preferences and requirements. Most Americans hire housekeepers, at least on a part-time basis. Others hire cooks and nannies. Some households employ gardeners and launderers. Employers provide uniforms and pay for recommended medical examinations. If meals are not provided, employers provide a food allowance. Domestics require supervision to ensure personal cleanliness and suitable performance. Many domestic employees are not literate.


As of February 2002, the U.S. Department of State reaffirms its warning to U.S. citizens against travel to Monrovia. Liberia's declaration of a state of emergency marks a further deterioration in security. Travel outside of Monrovia is difficult and dangerous due to an absence of central authority and inadequate living conditions. Many Liberians and foreign nationals, including some Americans, have been detained in rebel-controlled territory, or have been prohibited from traveling freely between rebel-controlled territory and other areas. Only limited air service exists between Freetown, Sierra Leone, Conakry, Guinea, or Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire and Monrovia and no overland routes to the capital are open. All Americans who decide to travel to Liberia should register with the U.S. Embassy immediately upon arrival.

Regardless of the type of passport, and of any information to the contrary, all Americans must have visas to enter Liberia. This requirement cannot be overemphasized. Both official and nonofficial persons without proper documentation have been detained at the airport. Yellow fever and cholera inoculations are required.

Pets must be fully immunized before arrival, and accompanied by a veterinarian's certificate containing the date of rabies inoculation (neither more than 120 days, nor less than 30 days, before entry). The certificate must be plainly identifiable, authenticated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and stamped with the Liberian Government seal. If a pet is imported from a country without a Liberian diplomatic post, U.S. authorities will advise about policy. Failure to comply with these instructions may require the pet to be quarantined in Liberia. Some areas of Monrovia are infested with tsetse fly, and dogs in these areas are subject to contracting canine sleeping sickness. There is no risk to humans. While this illness in dogs is readily treatable by a veterinarian, there are reoccur-rences and some animals have died.

Importation of individual firearms is prohibited.

Religious denominations conducting services in Monrovia include: Episcopal, Assembly of God, Roman Catholic, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Presbyterian, Baptist, Baha'i, Lutheran, Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Pentecostal. The capital city has Muslim mosques, but no Jewish synagogues or temples; occasionally Jewish laymen hold services in their homes.

The time in Liberia is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

The currency used in Liberia is the Liberian dollar. Bills up to and including $20 denominations are readily acceptable. No limit is placed on the amount of currency taken into the country. Chase Manhattan, Citibank, and International Bank of Washington have branches or affiliates in Monrovia. ATMs are not available and credit cards are not generally accepted. Traveler's checks can be cashed, but transactions are subject to fees.

The English system of weights and measures is used.

The U.S. Embassy in Liberia is located at 111 United Nations Drive, Mamba Point, P.O. Box 10-0098, Monrovia; telephone: (231) 22291/4; FAX: (231) 223710.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Feb. 11 Armed Forces Day

Feb. 14 Literacy Day

Mar. Decoration Day*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar. 15 J.J. Robert's Birthday

Apr. National Day of Fasting & Prayer*

Apr. 12 Redemption Day

May 14 Unification Day

May 25 Africa Day

July 26 Independence Day

Aug. 24 Flag Day

Oct. 29 Youth Day

Nov. Thanksgiving Day*

Nov. 29 William V.S. Tubman's Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Beyan, Amos J. The American Colonization Society & the Creation of the Liberian State: A Historical Perspective, 1822-1900. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991.

Dunn, D. Elwood and Svend E. Holsoe. Historical Dictionary of Liberia. African Historical Dictionaries Series, no. 38. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1985.

Greene, Barbara. Too Late to Turn Back: Barbara & Graham Greene in Liberia. New York: Viking Penguin, 1991.

Hope, Constance M. Liberia. Let's Visit Places & Peoples of the World Series. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Humphrey, Sally. A Family in Liberia. Families the World Over Series. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1987.

Lerner Publications. Liberia in Pictures. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1988.

Miller, Randall M., ed. Dear Master: Letters of a Slave Family. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1990.

Moran, Mary H. Civilized Women: Gender & Prestige in Southeastern Liberia. Anthropology of Contemporary Issues Series. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Nimley, Anthony J. Government and Politics in Liberia. 2 vols. Nashville, TN: Academic Publishers International, 1991.

Smith, James W. Sojourners in Search of Freedom: The Settlement of Liberia by Black Americans. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1987.

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Republic of Liberia



Liberia is situated on the West African coast, bordered by Sierra Leone to the northwest, Guinea to the north, and the Côte d'Ivoire to the east. Liberia also has 300 kilometers (186 miles) of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. Its land area is 111,370 square kilometers (43,000 square miles). The capital, Monrovia, is on the Atlantic coast.


Liberia's population was estimated at 3,255,837 in July of 2001, and in normal circumstances the country has had a high population growth rate of 3.3 percent (1980-87). However, the most recent estimate puts the figure at 2.3 percent for 1990-96 and just 1.92 percent for 2001, as war has lowered the birth rate and raised the mortality rate. An estimated 5 percent of the population died in the civil war of 1989-96.

Even before the war, the urban population was high at 40 percent, but during the conflict it rose to 46 percent, as people sought refuge in the towns. In early 1995, the capital's population stood at 1.3 million, a tripling of its size compared with 1986.

During the war about 1 million Liberians fled abroad, some of whom returned during the lulls in fighting, often to flee again as violence intensified in 1992, 1994, and 1996. Since the end of the war, further tensions have meant the refugees in neighboring countries have been reluctant to return, and an outflow has continued. In 1997, with international help, the government began resettling refugees.

The vast majority95 percentof Liberia's people are members of indigenous African tribes, with descendants of U.S. immigrants and Congolese both making up 2.5 percent of the population. Forty percent of the people practice indigenous religious beliefs, 40 percent are Christians, and 20 percent are Muslims.


Liberia has traditionally relied on mining (of iron-ore, gold, and diamonds), rubber, timber, and shipping registration revenues as its major sources of income. Nearly 8 years of war ending in the mid-1990s destroyed much of the country's infrastructure and has brought mining to a halt. Most of the country's inhabitants are engaged in agriculture. Apart from small farmers producing rubber, however, almost all agriculture is subsistence farming . The government has not produced systematic data since 1989, and such information that is available has come from limited surveys by prospective aid donors.

Liberia's economic boom in the late 1960s and early 1970s was due to strong rubber and iron exports, with the real gross domestic product (GDP) growing at 9 percent a year. In the late 1970s, with a general slowdown in the world economy, growth slowed to 1 percent. In the 1980s the economy declined. Real GDP was 10 percent lower in 1986 than in 1979, as companies cut back on investment. The civil warwhich lasted from 1989 to 1996displaced much of the population and destroyed the productive infrastructure. Iron ore output ceased relatively early on in the hostilities, although other resources, particularly diamonds, continued to be exploited by the various factions. The formal economy came to a standstill as the population turned to subsistence production for survival. Since the end of the war in 1997, the formal sector has started up again in the major towns, but the lack of reliable data makes it difficult to be confident about the extent of the recovery. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), domestic production has rebounded strongly, though it still only stands at one-third of its pre-war level. The GDP is thought to have doubled in 1997 and grew at 25-30 percent in 1998 due to increases in agricultural output. The CIA World Factbook estimates that the GDP grew at the rate of 15 percent in 2000, reaching US$3.35 billion at purchasing power parity in that year.

The abrupt stop in formal economic activity at the start of the war produced a drastic fall in revenues and substantial capital flight . The rise in military spending took an increasing share of government revenues. A string of interim governments relied principally on funds from the Liberian maritime shipping registry, which was largely unaffected by the war. In 1999 agriculture and reconstruction were allocated funds far below the levels required to revive the economy. Alleged human rights abuses and allegations of Liberian government support for destabilizing forces in neighboring Sierra Leone caused some donors to be reluctant to resume aid.

In Liberia, unlike most of Africa, a high proportion of revenue comes from direct taxation on incomes and profits, particularly from iron ore mining and shipping registration fees. However, revenues have invariably been inadequate to meet spending plans, and until a return to budgetary control in 1999, the government failed to pay salaries, accumulated debts, and financed budget deficits by printing money.

From January to June 2000, the Liberian government operated an IMF-monitored program to improve the country's fiscal position, liberalize import controls, and reform the civil service and the state-owned enterprises. The initial response by the government to this program has been encouraging, but the task facing the government in reforming the economy is considerable, and it will take several years to improve tax revenues, re-structure the civil service, and privatize the state-owned enterprises.


Liberia is the only West African state never to have been formerly colonized. The country was formed in 1820 when U.S. philanthropists negotiated rights to settle freed slaves from the United States in the area. Liberia was declared a republic in 1847 and operated with political institutions modeled on those of the United States.

For the next 133 years the True Whig Party, which mostly consisted of the descendants of freed slaves, was the only significant political force. The party's rule ended in 1980 when President William Tolbert was assassinated. Following Tolbert's death Sergeant Samuel Doe took power as head of the ruling 15-member military People's Redemption Council (PRC).

The following decade was marked by growing opposition to the military regime, with many alleged or actual coup attempts resulting in executions. Rigged multi-party elections in 1985 brought Doe back to power as president with a tiny majority. In the next month a coup led by Brigadier General Quiwonkpa was put down, 600 people died, and reprisals were taken against Quiwonkpa's ethnic group, the Gio, adding further to the tensions.

On 24 December 1989, Charles Taylor, a former government employee, invaded the country with a small armed force from Côte d'Ivoire. Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) gained popular support, and by June 1990 only Monrovia remained under Doe's control. The fight for the capital became a 3-way contest with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the NPFL, and a splinter group from the NPFL, the INPFL, vying for control.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), anxious about regional destabilization, sent in a 6,000-strong monitoring group, ECOMOG, to take control of the capital. ECOMOG was made up of many nations, but the main constituent was Nigerian. Despite ECOMOG also offering Doe protection, Doe was kidnapped and killed. A cease fire was signed in November 1990, but the NPFL refused to recognize the interim government.

By March 1991, fighting had resumed, spilling over into Sierra Leone, with the NPFL backing a Sierra Leonian rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The Sierra Leone army was backed by the new United Liberation Movement for democracy in Liberia (Ulimo), who went on to attack the NPFL in north-west Liberia.

Amid this shifting chaos of armed rebel groups and failed peacemaking, diplomatic efforts continued. Finally, in June 1995, Charles Taylor visited Nigeria, and all sides agreed to a peace accord in August. The accord set out plans for elections in 1996, with an interim 6-man Council of State that included representatives of the main factions and civilians. Renewed violence in April 1996 threw this initial agreement off track, but a second peace agreement, again signed in Nigeria, called for disarmament and elections, with the threat of sanctions if this was not achieved. Disarmament started slowly but in early 1997 was completed, and the militias were formally disbanded.

Elections took place in July 1997, which allowed time for preparations and campaigning and were undertaken in a calm and relatively peaceful atmosphere. Taylor won 75 percent of the vote, and Taylor's National Patriotic Party (NPP) won a majority in both Houses. However, prospects for a viable multiparty system receded by 1998 with all the main opposition leaders in exile. Currently the country is not completely secure, as witnessed by invasions from armed bands in 1999 and 2000.

Liberia's political history has been dominated both by the struggle between American Liberians and ethnic Liberians (which was resolved in the 1980 coup with the ethnic Liberians gaining the upper hand) and conflicts between ethnic groups within Liberia (both to gain power and avenge past wrongs). Ethnically motivated killings and harassment were undertaken by all sides during the civil war, and reconciliation has proved to be slow and difficult. Taylor was initially seen as a welcomed alternative to Doe but was later seen as preventing stability by not honoring the peace agreements. The murder of Samuel Dokie, a former member of the NPFL, and the intimidation of other opposition leaders led to greatly reduced opposition power and to fears of Liberia becoming a de facto 1-party state, with all power in the hands of the president.

Under the 1986 constitution, the president and vice-president have executive roles, and legislative power rests in Congress and the House of Representatives. Both houses were elected for 6 years, although this was reduced to 4 years before the 1997 elections. New legislation has endorsed the 1986 constitution, although the rebuilding of democratic institutions has been hampered by limited funding and enduring tensions.

The links with Sierra Leone's rebel RUF and the allegations of material support for the group have caused significant problems for Taylor's regime. Taylor has used his influence over the RUF in constructive ways, for example, by helping to negotiate the release of captured United Nations troops. However, renewed violence in May 2000 prompted the United Kingdom to accuse Liberia of supplying arms for diamonds and led to the suspension of a US$60 million European Union (EU) aid package for Liberia. Recently, government forces have reinforced the Sierra Leone border, and the Liberian government has accused the United Kingdom of trying to destabilize Taylor's regime.

Relations with Guinea, in the light of reports of armed incursions being launched from there as well as from Sierra Leone, have improved little despite the president of Mali's attempts to broker a reconciliation. Relations with the United States have got better since 1998, but Liberia's oldest ally is critical of civil rights abuses.

There is little recent information on government finances. In 1988 total government revenue was 18 percent of the GDP, with taxes on income of individuals and corporations raising 33 percent of government income, indirect taxes 25 percent, customs duties and export levies 34 percent, and other sources contributing 8 percent. General administration accounted for 24 percent of expenditure, defence 10 percent, health 5 percent, economic activities 28 percent, and other expenditures (including social services) 33 percent.

Extensive corruption and a near complete lack of respect for the law makes Liberia an extremely unfriendly place for foreigners to do business. According to the U.S. State Department, corruption and lawlessness permeates every level of the government: requests for bribes, red tape, and a lack of enforcement for legal contracts has kept investment to a minimum. The government has done little to address these problems.


Liberia has a limited infrastructure that was severely damaged by the country's long civil war. Roads in Liberia are in poor condition due to poor maintenance and heavy rains. Only 6 percent of the national road network of 10,600 kilometers (9,942 miles) is paved. There are no passenger rail services, and the iron ore rail transport links are in need of serious repair as large sections of the rail network were dismantled and sold for scrap during the civil war.

The country's 5 ports of Monrovia, Buchanan, Greenville, Harper, and Robertsport handle 200,000 tons per year in general cargo (80 percent of which is iron-ore deposits) and 400,000 tons a year of petroleum products. Ports in the south-east of the country handle timber exports.

Robertsport had an international airport until it was destroyed by fighting in 1990. It now carries some regional commercial flights but will need major repairs to carry international flights. Harbel, 56 kilometers (35 miles) from Monrovia, remains the only international airport.

Liberian state television, ELTV, was off the air for most of the war but has resumed broadcasts as a largely commercial station. There are 2 private TV stations broadcast for a proportion of the day, and there are 6 FM radio stations and 4 shortwave stations. Independent newspapers emerge from time to time, but invariably fail to establish themselves. There were only 6,000 telephone main lines in the country in 1997 and no cellular phones.

In 1999 Liberia produced 432 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity, but much of the electricity-generating infrastructure has been destroyed or damaged. Two-thirds of electricity is generated from diesel and one-third from hydro-electric sources. Access to electricity is very restricted, and those who can afford it use private diesel generators. Poor provision of electricity is a major cause of criticism of the new government. All petroleum products are imported, and so far surveys have shown no local oil reserves. 38 percent of diesel consumed in Liberia is used to produce electricity, and most domestic energy needs are provided by charcoal and wood.


Agriculture (including fishing and forestry) employed an estimated 70 percent of the labor force in 1999 and contributed 60 percent of the GDP in 2000. Industry

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Liberia 6,000 0 (1995) AM 0; FM 6; shortwave 4 (1999) 790,000 2 (2000) 70,000 1 300
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Nigeria 500,000 (2000) 26,700 AM 82; FM 35; shortwave 11 23.5 M 2 (1999) 6.9 M 11 100,000
Sierra Leone 17,000 650 (1999) AM 1; FM 9; shortwave 1 (1999) 1.12 M 2 (1999) 53,000 1 2,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

(including mining, manufacturing, construction, and power) employed an estimated 8 percent of the workforce in 1999 and provided just 10 percent of the GDP in 2000. The services sector employed 22 percent of the work-force in 1999, and contributed an estimated 30 percent of GDP in 2000. Each sector of the economy was impacted by the civil war, and each is still recovering from the damage done by that war.


The devastation caused by Liberia's civil war has helped to make agriculture the dominant sector in the economy. That dominance, however, reflects not the strength of the agricultural sector but rather the complete failure of the other sectors. Liberia's agricultural production is primarily aimed toward subsistenceproviding enough food for individual farmers to survive. Liberia's main staple food is rice, but the country has low yields despite improvements arising from new varieties. Taylor's government has given high priority importance to the sector. In 1998 the FAO reported that rice and cassava production reached 70 percent and 90 percent of prewar levels respectively, and the IMF estimates indicate good growth in the 2000 harvest.

Rubber is the most important cash crop , though cocoa, coffee, and palm oil are also produced. The U.S.-based Bridgestone company is a major producer in Liberia's rubber sector and owns 30 percent of rubber plantations. Despite falling world prices, rubber production rose to 106,000 tons in 1989 and was high throughout the 1980s, though the coming of war brought desertion of the plantations and production fell to a fifth of its pre-war level. Recovery has been steady, reaching 28,000 tons of production in 1997 with some reports suggesting output is now more than 50,000 tons. Depressed world prices have hampered recovery.

Liberia has large forest reserves, with estimated production of 317,000 cubic meters of commercial production in 1997, and 4.8 million cubic meters consumed as fuelwood. There is considerable possibility for expansion. Some Asian companies involved in the logging operations have been criticized for their poor environmental practices, and it has been suggested that they have been able to ignore environmental considerations because of involvement by key figures in the government, or their relatives, in the companies concerned.


In the 1960s Liberia was one of the biggest exporters of iron-ore, with deposits of 800 million tons of 35-to 67-percent purity ore, and new deposits of 1 billion tons of high grade ore had been discovered. Many international companies were exploiting the ore from Liberia, but in the 1980s the industry suffered from depressed steel prices and the parastatal NIOC closed in 1985. Other companies made cutbacks, leading to a reduction in production to only 1 million tons in 1989, from a high of 15 million tons in the mid-1980s. All production halted early in the war, and no figures have been produced since 1992, when production was estimated at 145,000 tons. Revival of the sector will take huge investments to repair mines and replace equipment, though several international companies have appeared interested.

Diamonds and gold are produced by small-scale mining, though reliable figures have never been available due to smuggling. In 1988, diamonds accounted for US$9 million of exports officially, and gold production yielded an estimated US$6 million a year in the mid-1980s. The illicit mining and export of diamonds remains widespread. In early 1999, the government estimated that there were 5,000 unlicensed and 1,000 licensed mines in Liberia. The government does not have the resources to tackle the problem of unlicensed mines. Official diamond exports tripled between 1998 and 1999, but this is almost entirely due to smuggling of diamonds from Sierra Leone now that there are restrictions on Sierra Leone diamond export to prevent the proceeds supporting the rebel movement there.

Before the civil war manufacturing and construction accounted for around 20 percent of the GDP; that figure dropped to 10 percent by 2000. Manufacturing was dominated by iron-ore production and rubber processing, but domestic and industrial consumption goods were also produced. The size of the local market in Liberia is very small (the United States market is 15,000 times larger in terms of purchasing power), and this makes investment to produce goods for domestic consumption in Liberia unattractive. Political instability has further discouraged investment, particularly from foreign sources. Looting during the civil war means substantial investment is needed to revive the sector. Construction should be stimulated in the post-war period due to reconstruction.


The services sector consists mainly of wholesale and retail distribution, telecommunications, postal service, transport, hotels and restaurants, repairs, financial services, tourist services, and government administration, but all such services are quite limited. For the most part, these services support the other sectors of the economy. The main exception is the charges made for the use of Liberian registration by merchant ships owned by private shipping companies from other countries, the so-called "flag of convenience."

Liberia's standing as the second largest flag of convenience was scarcely affected by the war, with revenue amounting to about US$20 million in 1995, providing the interim government with virtually its only source of income. Registration fees were collected by the International Trust Company of Liberia (ITC) on behalf of the Washington, D.C.-based Liberian Maritime Programme, which has controlled the Liberian registry since 1948. In 2000 the registry was taken over by the Liberian International Ship and Corporation Registry.

The financial sector is made up of 12 banks, but 8 were closed in 1996 when fighting erupted in Monrovia. By the end of 1997, about 80 percent of the loans held by Liberian banks were non-performing (that is, borrowers were not making interest payments or repaying the principle). Only 17 percent of the notes and coins in circulation in the country were thought to be in the banking system in 1995, implying a great lack of confidence in the banking system and reducing the ability of the banks to make loans. In April 2000 the Central Bank of Liberia stepped in to administer a leading bank, LUBI, due to liquidity problems and insolvency.


In normal times, Liberia was highly dependent on external trade; trade generated some 44 percent of the GDP in 1989. But the civil war severely limited Liberia's ability to produce goods for export and led to huge deficits in the trade balance. In 2000 the value of exports stood at US$55 million, compared to US$170 million in imports. However, there is a substantial unrecorded trade in diamonds, which in part explains the financing of Liberia's apparent trade deficit .

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Liberia
Exports Imports
1975 .394 .332
1980 .589 .535
1985 .436 .284
1990 N/A N/A
1995 N/A N/A
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

In 1999, Belgium took 53 percent of Liberia's exports, followed by Switzerland (9 percent,) the United States (6 percent), and France (4 percent). Imports in 1999 came from South Korea (30 percent), Italy (24 percent), Japan (15 percent), and Germany (9 percent).


The Liberian dollar and the U.S. dollar are the 2 legal currencies and are officially interchangeable (that is, the official exchange rate is L$1:US$1). However, it is not possible for the public to purchase U.S. dollars at this rate, and in 1999 the actual exchange rate stood at L$40:US$1. Huge volumes of capital flight (the movementof money out of the country) after the coup in 1980 caused the government to mint new coins to fill the resulting gap. In 1989, coins were replaced by notes, but due to the theft of notes from the banks during the civil war, the notes were replaced by the liberty dollar in 1992. This attempt to restore monetary stability was also designed to undermine the position of the rebel leaders, whose wealth was mainly in the old currency. Hence the liberty dollars were not allowed by the rebels in rebel territory, and old notes became illegal in government territory. During the 1997 election campaign, the successful candidate, Charles Taylor, announced that he wanted U.S. dollars to be the only currency

Exchange rates: Liberia
Liberian dollars (L$) per US$1
Dec 2000 39.8100
2000 41.0483
1999 41.9025
1998 41.5075
1997 1.0000
1996 N/A
Note: From 1940 until December 1997, rates were based on a fixed relationship with the US dollar; beginning in January 1998, rates are market determined.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

in Liberia, but a commission in 1998 argued that a new family of notes and coins, which entered circulation in 2000, would allow the government to benefit, on the new issues, from seigniorage (the situation that occurs when increased amounts of new notes and coins are allowed to enter circulation, allowing the issuer to make a profit to the extent that the face value of the notes and coins is greater than their cost of production).

In October 1999 the ineffective National Bank of Liberia was replaced by the Central Bank of Liberia with Mr. Saleeby, the former finance minister, at its head. The Central Bank of Liberia is pledged to a tight monetary policy by limiting the supply of base money to cover replacement only, and will not lend to the government to monetize budget deficits (budget deficits are monetized when the central bank prints money to lend to the government to meet its budget deficit, sparking off an increase in inflation ). Inflation in 1999 averaged 4 percent, one of the best inflation performances in Africa.


Using the exchange rate conversion, the GDP per head was around US$175 in 1999, with the purchasing power parity conversion (which allows for the low price of many basic commodities in Liberia) setting the GDP per head at around US$1,000. Both these measures place Liberia among the poorest 20 or so countries in the world. It was estimated in 1999 that 80 percent of Liberia's population was living below the poverty line, most of them engaged in subsistence agriculture, farming small plots of land.

Before the war there were 1,635 schools, 8,804 teachers, and 303,168 pupils. Primary and secondary education was free, though only 50 percent of the primary school age groups attended school. Although most education provision broke down during the war, new efforts to rehabilitate schools and pay wages to teachers have brought about some recovery. The adult literacy is still low at 48 percent, compared to the sub-Saharan average of 58 percent.

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Liberia N/A 1,000 1,000 1,000 1,100
United States 28,600 30,200 31,500 33,900 36,200
Nigeria 1,380 N/A 960 970 950
Sierra Leone 980 540 530 500 510
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

Life expectancy at birth was 41 years in 1960, 39 during the war, and 47 in the post-war period. Infant mortality stands at 194 per 1,000 live births (as compared with 7 per 1,000 in the United States). The good health care and nutrition levels of the pre-war period have fallen, and disease is rife. In 1995 clean water was available to 79 percent of urban dwellers and 13 percent of rural dwellers, and sanitation was available to 56 percent of urban dwellers. About half the pre-war medical centers have been rehabilitated since the war.


The government is the largest employer in Liberia, but it is a sad truth of Liberia's decimated economy that there is little formal employment. In 1999, estimates indicated that large-scale agriculture engaged 8 percent of the labor force, industry 8 percent, and services 22 percent, with the remaining 62 percent of the working population engaged in small-scale, family, mostly subsistence, agriculture. However, it was also estimated that 70 percent of the country's workforce was unemployed. Clearly, the majority of the population of Liberia works outside the formal economy, most likely in subsistence agriculture, bartering , illegal mining, and other informal economy activities.

What little legislation there is for the protection of workers is often ignored. The civil war in Liberia has seen a collapse in government services, and regulation of employment conditions is not seen as a priority by the government. There is no minimum wage, and children are often made to work in agriculture on small family farms from the age of 5 upwards, contributing to low attendance figures at schools. Slavery is officially banned in Liberia, but the civil war has produced a situation where it has been possible for people to be intimidated or coerced into working without any payment or the right to leave. Recent regimes in Liberia have given international observers great cause for concern over human rights, particularly over employment conditions and the plight of children.


1820. U.S. philanthropists establish a settlement for U.S. freed slaves in Liberia.

1847. Liberia becomes a republic and adopts governmental institutions similar to those in the United States.

1945. William Tubman becomes president.

1971. Tubman dies, and William Tolbert succeeds him as president.

1980. After Tolbert is assassinated, Sergeant Samuel Doe rules through a military council.

1989-96. Civil war hurts the country. In 1989, Doe is returned to power in multi-party elections, but the elections are widely considered to be flawed. Violence between ethnic and political factions begins a civil war.

1990. A coup led by Brigadier General Quiwonkpa is crushed, and 600 are killed in post-coup violence. Samuel Doe is kidnapped and killed as violence worsens.

1991. Forces led by Charles Taylor invades from Côte d'Ivoire, and the civil war becomes more violent and concentrated. For a time, fighting spills over into neighboring Sierra Leone.

1995. After many failed attempts, a peace accord is signed in Nigeria calls for future elections.

1997. The disarmament of the various military forces is completed, and Charles Taylor is elected president in multi-party elections.

1998. Opposition leaders are sent into exile. Taylor continues his support for rebel forces in Sierra Leone.


Though the long civil war that so devastated Liberia's economy ended in 1996 and economic growth has increased since that time, Liberia still faces real obstacles to economic stability and recovery. With the Liberia-backed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) continuing to destabilize Sierra Leone in 2001, international donors have remained reluctant to extend aid to Liberia, and UN sanctions are a possibility. Border confrontations can be expected to continue to hinder development. This ongoing situation makes for negligible economic progress in Liberia, and the misery of most people there will continue. In 2001, it was estimated that 80 percent of the people do not have enough income to meet the barest minimum requirements for food, shelter, and clothing.

Economically, President Taylor has demanded more control over strategic commodities, there have been calls for an embargo on timber exports, and oil exploration permits for foreign companies have been withheld. These measures, while increasing the power of the government over the economy, are not calculated to improve the conditions of ordinary people. The government has announced plans to privatize the main public utilities, which, when implemented, should introduce improvements in electricity, water, and telecommunication services. However, it will be many years before economic stability returns to Liberia, and prosperity remains a distant dream.


Liberia has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Liberia. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Hodd, Michael. "Liberia." The Economies of Africa. Aldershot:Dartmouth, 1991.

Kelly, R. C., et al., eds. Country Review, Liberia 1998/1999. Commercial Data International, Inc., 1998.

Liberia: Embassy of the Republic of Liberia, Washington D.C. <>. Accessed October 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency . CIA World Factbook 2000: Liberia.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2000 Country Commercial Guide: Liberia. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Michael Hodd




Liberian dollar (L$). One dollar equals 100 cents. The dollar is equivalent to the U.S. dollar. There are coins of 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents and 1 and 5 dollars. No Liberian notes are in circulation, and U.S. notes are used as the paper currency.


Diamonds, iron ore and concentrates, natural rubber and gum, timber, coffee, cocoa.


Machinery and transport equipment, manufactures, food and live animals, mineral fuels, lubricants.


US$3.35 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$55 million (f.o.b., 2000). Imports: US$170 million (f.o.b., 2000).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Liberia
Region: Africa
Population: 3,164,156
Language(s): English
Literacy Rate: 38.3%
Compulsory Schooling: 10 years
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 147,216
  Secondary: 54,623

History & Background

The Republic of Liberia is a democracy located on the west African coast. Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean along its entire diagonal southwest coastline of 579 kilometers, Liberia borders Sierra Leone to the northwest, Guinea to the north, and Côte d'Ivoire to the east. Liberia measures 111,370 square kilometers in area, of which nearly 10 percent is water, and is slightly larger than the U.S. state of Tennessee. Much of Liberia is covered with tropical rainforest, and the country's terrain ranges from coastal plains to plateau to low mountains. Liberia's climate is tropical.

Colonized by former slaves from the United States who returned to Africa in the early nineteenth century after securing their freedom, Liberia became the first independent country in Africa during the period of Western colonization. The first president of independent Liberia, President Joseph Jenkins Roberts, was a Monrovia merchant who emigrated to Liberia from Petersburg, Virginia in 1829 and served as governor of the Commonwealth of Liberia starting in 1841, appointed by the American Colonization Society. In 1847 the Free and Independent Republic of Liberia was proclaimed, and President Roberts became the country's first president. He was elected to office in 1848 and headed the country until 1856. Roberts then served as president of Liberia College for many years, after which he again assumed the presidency of Liberia from 1872 until 1876. Following a century of uneasy and often contentious relations between the Americo-Liberian former slaves and the indigenous African ethnic groups of Liberia's interior, Liberia experienced seven highly destructive years of civil war between 1989 and 1996, which finally ended in 1997 with a peace treaty brokered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Democratic elections were held in July 1997 with Charles Ghankay Taylor elected president. He was inaugurated in August 1997.

As of mid-2001 full peace and stability had not yet returned to Liberia. According to a U.S. Department of State briefing of May 2001, "The presence of many illtrained and armed government security personnel continues to constitute a potential danger. The northwestern part of the country is unsettled as rebel activity in Sierra Leone and Guinea continues to affect stability along the Sierra Leone-Guinea-Liberia border areas. In particular, there have been reports of intensified hostilities in upper Lofa County [in the north of Liberia]." Liberia in 2001 had not yet recovered from the political, social, economic, and infrastructural damage caused by the war. Neither had certain key transitions to peacetime activities and development-oriented policies been made. Describing the situation in Liberia in May 2001, the State Department noted, "Although a democratically elected government was installed in August 1997, limited progress has been made toward the following goals: resettlement of refugees and displaced persons, reintegration of former combatants, reconstruction of the country's infrastructure, respect for human rights and the rule of law, a stable environment for economic development, and the elimination of corruption."

In July 2000 Liberia's population was estimated to be about 3.2 million, comprising of some 15 to 20 ethnic groups, which are grouped into 3 main categories. The ethnic composition in the late 1990s was estimated as follows: about 95 percent indigenous African tribes (including Kpelle, Bassa, Gio, Kru, Grebo, Mano, Mandingo, Krahn, Gola, Gbandi, Loma, Kissi, Vai, and Bella), about 2.5 percent Americo-Liberians (descendents of African-American slaves who had immigrated from the United States), and about 2.5 percent "Congo People" (descendents of former Afro-Caribbean slaves who had immigrated to Liberia). Estimates of religious affiliation vary widely, depending on the source of information. Between 40 and 75 percent of the population is said to adhere to indigenous beliefs while between 10 and 40 percent of the population is Christian and 15 to 40 percent is Muslim. Many languages are spoken in Liberia. English is used by about 20 percent of the population and serves as the official language.

Approximately 44.3 percent of Liberia's population lived in urban areas in 1999 with many Liberians living in and around Monrovia, the national capital. That year, the total fertility rate was estimated to be 6.1 (i.e., a woman bearing children throughout her childbearing years at current fertility rates would have 6 children). This high rate is due in part to the desire to compensate for the extremely high infant and child-mortality rates in the country, where malaria and other tropical diseases are prevalent, HIV/AIDS claims an increasing numbers of victims, and many families do not have enough to eat. In 1999 the infant mortality rate in Liberia was 112.8 per 1,000 live birthsmore than 1 children in 10while the under 5 years child-mortality rate was an astounding 188.0. About 43 percent of Liberia's population was 14 years old or younger in 1999, some 54 percent was 15 to 64 years of age, and only about 3 percent of the population was 65 or older, due to the very low life expectancy at birth prevailing in Liberia (51.0 years in the year 200049.6 years for men and 52.5 years for women).

Estimates of Liberia's GDP are difficult to come by, since the country's economy is not functioning at present in anything approaching a normal way. With the economy and infrastructure of the country destroyed by the seven years of civil war, Liberia's basic utilities have yet to be rebuilt. Running water and electricity are still lacking in most of Monrovia, and many war-damaged buildings remain in severely dilapidated condition, waiting to be rebuilt. War-damaged housing to some extent has been replaced throughout the country with rebuilt temporary homes, financed by UN agencies and other international, bilateral, and nongovernmental donors. However, much of the country still appears as though it has just emerged from war, although crops have been replanted, and many internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees have attempted to return to their home communities. With a very limited number of wage-paying jobs open in Liberia after the war and little means for many of Liberia's residents to earn a living, many households are barely surviving. The unemployment rate is estimated to be about 70 percent. In 1999 an estimated 70 percent of the labor force was employed in agriculture (mostly as subsistence farmers), 8 percent in industry, and 22 percent in servicesquite different from many other countries in the region and around the world, including in developing areas, where the industrial and service sectors employ a larger segment of the population. The contribution to the national economy in terms of percentage of GDP by sector was estimated as 50 percent from agriculture, 15 percent from industry, and 35 percent from services in 1999. Real GDP per capita was only US$150-200 in 1998-1999, an improvement over income levels during the war but far less than the still meager prewar GDP per capita of US$450 in 1987. With rich diamond and titanium reserves and many natural resources, including exotic forest timbers, rubber plantations, and fertile land well suited for rice cultivation and the growing of cash crops like coffee and cocoa, Liberia could once again flourish economically given the right conditions. The potential clearly exists for the equitable development of Liberia to the benefit of all her citizens, provided that Liberia's human resources are concomitantly developed.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Liberia is a constitutional republic with a strong presidency shaping the direction of Liberian economic, political, and social life. The country's Constitution of 6 January 1986, outlines the basic structures of governance. Liberia's dual system of statutory law features a legal system for the modern sector based on Anglo-American common law and a system of traditional African customary law transmitted by oral tradition for the indigenous sector. All Liberians, women and men alike, are eligible to vote at age 18; men are considered fit to serve in the military from ages 15 through 49 years of age. Despite these age limits, significant recruitment of child soldiers has taken place during Liberia's unsettled recent decades. The UN estimated that up to 20,000 children might have taken part in Liberia's 7 year civil war from 1989-1996, serving with both the government and the opposing warring factions. Some of the child soldiers reportedly were as young as six years.

Liberia's chief executive is the president, elected by popular vote to six year, renewable terms of office. The president is both head of the government and chief of state. Since 1997 the elected president of Liberia has been Charles Ghankay Taylor, a faction leader from Liberia's civil war who rose to power with the death of former President Samuel Doe, Liberia's president from 1989 until 1990 who was killed in the armed uprising. The executive branch of Liberia's national government also includes a cabinet of ministers, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

At the national level the Liberian legislative branch consists of the bicameral National Assembly composed of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The House has 64 members, elected to 6-year terms by popular vote, and the Senate has 26 members, elected to 9-year terms by popular vote as well. The third branch of the national government is the judicial system, which consists of a Supreme Court.

Despite its problems with numerous human rights abuses and continuing political unrest and military insecurity, Liberia received rather substantial overseas development assistance from international agencies and intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations during the late 1990s after its civil war ended. By 2001, however, many bilateral and international donors allegedly were growing weary of providing assistance to support sustainable development in a country where the government itself seemed to be doing little to help its own people, despite the mineral wealth and other natural resources Liberia had at its disposal. As of 2001 Liberia was not receiving any World Bank assistance due to the country's failure to repay its loans. US$3.5 million of funds from the International Finance Corporation had been allocated to acquire and recommence a large rubber operation owned by the Liberian Agricultural Company, whose work had been halted by the civil war, but this and other international support was being held in reserve in 2001 pending improvements in the country's security status and governmental willingness to cooperate with international partners on a number of issues. Cross-border trading in illicit diamonds, weapons trading, and support to other armed conflicts in the West African region allegedly by persons associated with the Liberian government were having a decidedly negative impact on the enthusiasm of other states and nongovernmental organizations who otherwise might have chosen to do business in Liberia or support development projects in the country.

Educational SystemOverview

In 1995 the adult literacy rate for Liberia was estimated to be only 38.3 percent53.9 percent for men 15 years of age or older and just 22.4 percent for adult Liberian women. That year Liberia had an estimated 1 million adult illiterates, nearly two-thirds of whom (62 percent) were women. School attendance in Liberia has been considerably lower on average for girls than boys, especially in the rural areas. (Education-related statistics for the 1990s were not regularly recorded due to the social disruptions and physical damage caused by the civil war, making accurate and reliable counts for this period hard to come by.) School attendance quite naturally declined sharply during the war. The scale of disruption of normal social relations was enormous, especially for those children and youth pulled into the violence as direct participants in the fighting and as "soldier's wives" (the euphemism for the many young women and girls kidnapped by combatants and forced to submit to repeated sexual violence). Studies of the demobilization programs following Liberia's civil war of the 1990s indicated that significant problems had arisen in ending and recovering from the war. Approximately just 4,000 child soldiers of up to 20,000 who had participated in the fighting had been demobilized by 2001. Furthermore, many of the child soldiers who were awaiting demobilization (89 percent of the total) disappeared before the demobilization process was completed in 1997, with large numbers suspected of having returned to the bush or government side to continue the fighting. Clearly, special efforts continue to be needed to encourage young women and men who were part of the violence to return to school, recover from their trauma, and rebuild their lives. Flexible and responsive education programs are most definitely in order to suit their special needs.

The Ministry of Education is the principal government agency charged with overseeing the planning and implementation of education and school policies in Liberia. Though the reconstruction of the country's social infrastructure has taken place at a rather slow pace, educational opportunities also have been provided to Liberian students by a range of nongovernmental organizations (local, national, and international) and with the financial support of bilateral partners and intergovernmental agencies. For example, in the year 2000 UNESCO celebrated 50 years of partnership with the Liberian Ministry of Education in development programming, and UNESCO has continued to provide substantial funding to Liberia in the post-war years to support a wide variety of educational and cultural programs.

English is the official language of instruction in Liberian public schools, aimed at fostering a sense of national unity and facilitating communication across the country's many ethnic groups by the use of a common language. The country's low economic development and inconsistent electric supply complicate access to educational technology, computing, and Internet services. Very limited Internet access is available in Monrovia in those parts of the city where electricity is either generated by the consumer or provided by the government. For most schools in Liberia, finding sufficient texts and school supplies at a much more basic level than computers is still a formidable challenge.

Preprimary & Primary Education

The first 10 grades of schooling in Liberia technically are compulsory, comprising of a preprimary grade followed by nine years of basic education6 years at the primary level and 3 at the junior secondary level. However, schooling is not free, and parents increasingly have had to hold their children out of school to avoid having to cover their expected educational contributionschool feesdue to the country's dire economic situation. The primary grades normally include 6- to 12-year-olds; although with high repetition rates, older students generally are included as well.

Participation rates dropped dramatically in preprimary, primary, and secondary education during the 1990s due to Liberia's civil war. School enrollment rates in rural areas also have been considerably lower than in urban areas of Liberia. Moreover, educational enrollment and attainment statistics were not regularly or reliably collected during the 1990s. As a point of comparison with other countries, one source of educational statistics reported the 1985 gross enrollment ratio at the primary level in Liberia to be 40 percent (51 percent for boys and 28 percent for girls). In 1995 the overall ratio had dropped significantly to just 33 percent, due primarily to the war and Liberia's ravaged economy. Another source identified male and female gross primary enrollment ratios for the year 2000 to be 72 percent and 53 percent, respectively, with corresponding net enrollment figures of 43 percent for boys and 31 percent for girls. One more source noted the net primary enrollment ratio to be 40 percent in Liberia in 2001.

Secondary Education

At the secondary level of education, gross enrollment ratios were reported by UNICEF in 2000 to be 31 percent for boys and a very low 12 percent for girls. This nonetheless marked an improvement over the reported rate 5 years earlier, when the overall secondary education gross enrollment ratio was supposedly only 15 percent. Secondary schools in Liberia are designed to provide education for children and youth between the ages of 12 and 18: 3 years of junior high school for students ages 12 through 15, leading to the Junior High School Certificate upon graduation, and 3 years at the senior secondary level, with programs for students ages 15 through 18, culminating in the Senior High School Certificate. Following the three junior high years, viewed as a guidance cycle where general instruction is provided, Liberian students take their senior high school instruction in either a technical secondary school or a classical secondary school. At the end of grade 9 and again when they complete grade 12 (i.e., at the close of the 3 junior and the 3 senior high years), students take an examination covering mathematics, science, social studies, and language.

The demand for vocational and technical education carefully matched to labor market needs increased appreciably in Liberia during the 1990s, particularly with the collapse of the economy and the destruction of the social and physical infrastructures. UNESCO in 2000 consequently sponsored a consultant in technical/vocational and science education who was to develop strategies for the implementation of an accelerated technical and vocational training program for Liberia in the post-war years.

Higher Education

An entrance examination provides the means to access higher education in Liberia. In 1995 the gross enrollment rate for higher education in Liberia was only 2.5 percent overall3.7 percent of males and 1.2 percent of females of higher education age attended tertiary level schools. Nearly 5,000 students were enrolled in tertiary studies in the mid-1990s. Of the Liberian population older than 25 years of age, just 2 percent in 1995 had completed their tertiary education. Liberia has just one publicly supported university, the University of Liberia at Monrovia. In addition, Cuttington University College (a private institution associated with the Episcopalian Church) and William V.S. Tubman College of Technology provide education at the postsecondary level. The national legislative charters all degree-granting institutions of higher education in Liberia, and each educational institution has its own appointed board of trustees or directors whose tasks are specified in the charter for that institution. In the case of the University of Liberia, the Ministry of Education and the Board of Trustees are in charge of setting and implementing policy. Non-university postsecondary education also is provided in Liberia through two year courses in junior colleges that provide students with instructional programming leading to an Associate's degree. Some non-university programs also provide mid-level technical training and education in the liberal arts.

Bachelor's degree programs are the principal form of education offered at universities in Liberia, where the length of study is generally four years: two years of basic and general courses followed by two years of specialization in a particular, chosen area of study. (A plurality of students graduating at the Bachelor's level from the University of Liberia in February 2000 opted for a specialization in businessno doubt anticipating this would provide them with the practical training needed to become at least somewhat better off financially in Liberia's decidedly difficult economic climate at the time.) To obtain a Bachelor of Laws degree, students follow a course of study that includes at least two years of higher education followed by three years of specialization. Master's degree programs in regional planning, offered at the University of Liberia, culminate in the Master of Science degree after two years of graduate study beyond the Bachelor's. Medical degrees are awarded after seven years of study at the university level: three in the natural sciences followed by three in medical studies.

Teacher training is provided through three-year courses of study for students planning to pursue careers as primary school teachers. Successfully completing these programs allows graduates to teach in Liberia's elementary and junior high schools. Secondary school teachers are trained at the Teachers' College of the University of Liberia and through Cuttington University College's Department of Education. If prospective teachers already hold a higher education degree and wish to teach in another subject area, they can qualify by following a two-year study program that leads to a Grade A Teaching Certificate. Otherwise, training for a secondary level teaching career requires four years of study, after which the Bachelor's degree in Education is awarded.

Nonformal Education

Distance education in Liberia has been somewhat impeded by the lack of economic means of most Liberians, the relative lack of computers and Internet service in the country, and the general absence of necessary physical infrastructure, such as electrical supply. Additionally, state censorship of the media acts as a brake on the free transmission of ideas in the country, public discussions, and on teaching methods emphasizing the development of creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills in students. This said, there were about 70,000 televisions and 790,000 radios in Liberia in 1997, all of them potentially useful for distance education. In 1999 Liberia had six FM radio stations and four short-wave radio stations, while the number of television broadcast stations in the country in the year 2000 was two. In the year 2000 UNESCO was involved in collaborating with UNICEF and UNDP to develop a "Distance Learning" program for Liberian teachers that would include sponsorship of an academic chair in the University of Liberia's Tubman Teachers College.

Many self-help-oriented programs exist in Liberia that are funded by international donors and run by nongovernmental organizations. Through such programs Liberian youth have developed their knowledge and abilities not only in specialized marketable skills, such as carpentry or tailoring, but also in starting, running, and managing their own businesses so they can better ensure their gainful employment after graduation. Fewer wage paying jobs existed after the war, and students generally have been encouraged to develop self-help skills, business skills, and entrepreneurial strategies to provide themselves with the means to generate their own employment, evenand perhaps especiallywhen they have been trained in vocational or technical skills. Micro-enterprise training and support programs run by nongovernmental organizations (local, national, and international) often include seed money and tool kits for trainees upon their graduation so that new skills can be put to immediate use to the financial benefit of the graduates, since regular bank loans generally are not available to those of low financial means and only some banks have resumed their normal operations after the war.


At the turn of the millennium, Liberia, in collaboration with UNESCO, was implementing a special UNDP-funded project, the Rehabilitation Support to the Education Sector project, designed to strengthen Liberia's national capacity in planning, supervising, monitoring, and evaluating; to enhance training opportunities for educational personnel; and to produce new curricular materials. US$1.3 million has been allocated for this project, whose positive impact will extend far beyond those educators and administrators directly served. By developing personnel who can plan more appropriate educational programs and carry out their projects with efficiency and understanding, fortified with the necessary teaching materials to properly implement the programs, projects like this one can have lasting effects.

The development of a vital civil society in Liberia has been encouraged since before the civil war ended. This occurs through technical and financial support from a range of intergovernmental and nongovernmental agencies and organizations in Liberia, such as UNESCO. Peace building, conflict resolution, and tolerance education programs also have been developed and implemented by a number of the same organizations in these crucial post-war years. As Liberia further emerges from its years of political and social unrest and violent upheaval, additional programming in the areas of psychosocial trauma counseling and community reconciliation will need to be more broadly disseminated among the population, implemented by professionals whose goal is to further the peaceable, democratic development of their country with respect for all ethnic groups and individuals.

A broader range of support directed toward rebuilding Liberia's internal structures, including its educational system, must become the top priority in the minds of many more individuals responsible for tending to the welfare of the Liberian people. The role of appropriate educational programs directed toward building a more peaceful, stable society dedicated to promoting human rights and guaranteeing that the basic human needs of the inhabitants of the country are met without fear of back-sliding into war is an essential role indeed. Liberia is fortunate to have had so many willing partners to share in the joint enterprise of educating her children and youth up to this point. The country may well prosper again in the very near future if sufficient attention and resources are directed toward finding the ways and means to develop an educational system for allnot one that neglects the needs of the impoverished by catering to the wealthy, but a system where all learners from all walks of life can come together to celebrate the rich diversity of this verdant country that once welcomed her forsaken children back to their original shore, regardless of what had transpired in between.


Amnesty International. "Liberia" in Amnesty International Report 2001. Available from http://web.

Association for the Development of Education in Africa. Statistical Profile of Education in sub-Saharan Africa (SPESSA). Available from

Brenner, Mary B. "Gender and Classroom Interactions in Liberia." In Women and Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: Power, Opportunities, and Constraints, ed. Marianne Bloch, Josephine A. Beoku-Betts, and B. Robert Tabachnick. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998.

Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. "Liberia" in Global Report on Child Soldiers 2001. Available from

International Association of Universities/UNESCO International Centre on Higher Education. World Higher Education Database 2000. Available from http://www.

International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa, UNESCO. The Establishment of Teacher Education NetworkMultimedia Resource Centers in Liberia. Available from

Johnson, Tarnue. "Empowerment Education: A Guide to Curriculum Reforms in Liberia." The Perspective (10 May 2001). Available from

Library of Congress. African-American Mosaic: Liberia. Available from

Programme Coordination Unit, Ministry of Education, Liberia. UNESCO Liberia Partnership: 50 Years of Effective Technical Co-operation. Available from

The Task Force on Higher Education and Society. Higher Education in Developing Countries: Peril and Promise. Washington, DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2000.

UNESCO Regional Office for Education in Africa. LiberiaNational Commission for UNESCO. Available from

UNICEF. Liberia. Available from http://www.

U.S. Department of State. LiberiaConsular Information Sheet. 11 July 2001. Available from

World Bank Group. Country Brief: Liberia. Available from

. Liberia at a Glance. Available from

. Liberia Data Profile. World Development Indicators database. Available from http://devdata.

World Bank, Human Development Network. Education Sector Strategy. Washington, DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 1999.

Barbara Lakeberg Dridi

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Liberia (lībēr´ēə) (New Lat.,=place of freedom), officially Republic of Liberia, republic (2005 est. pop. 3,482,000), 43,000 sq mi (111,370 sq km), W Africa. Liberia fronts on the Atlantic Ocean for some 350 mi (560 km) on the southwest and is bordered on the northwest by Sierra Leone, on the north by Guinea, and on the east by Côte d'Ivoire. Monrovia is the capital, largest city, main port, and commercial center.

Land and People

Liberia can be divided into three distinct topographical areas. First, a flat coastal plain of some 10 to 50 mi (16–80 km), with creeks, lagoons, and mangrove swamps; second, an area of broken, forested hills with altitudes from 600 to 1,200 ft (180–370 m), which covers most of the country; and third, an area of mountains in the northern highlands, with elevations reaching 4,540 ft (1,384 m) in the Nimba Mts. and 4,528 ft (1,380 m) in the Wutivi Mts. Liberia's six main rivers flow into the Atlantic. Vegetation in much of the country is dense forest growth. The climate is tropical and humid, with a heavy rainfall, averaging 183 in. (465 cm) on the coast and some 88 in. (224 cm) in the southeastern interior. There are two rainy seasons and a dry, harmattan season in December and January. In addition to the capital, other important towns include Buchanan and Harper, both ports.

The majority of the population belong to 16 ethnic groups, including the Kpelle, the Bassa, the Gio, the Kru, the Grebo, and the Mano. Traditional religions are practiced by about 40% of the people; another 40% are Christian, and 20% are Muslim. English is the official language, but is spoken by only about 20% of the people; African languages are used extensively. Far less numerous, but of great political importance in the past, are the descendants of freed slaves who immigrated from the United States to Liberia in the 19th cent. These people, formerly called Americo-Liberians, are concentrated in the towns, where they have provided the country's Westernized leadership and, for the most part, are adherents of various Protestant denominations. There are also communities of Lebanese merchants and European and American technicians.


The civil warfare that raged from 1990 to 1997 and from 2001 to 2003 had a disastrous effect on the Liberian economy, with many business people fleeing the country as rebels gained control of vast quantities of gold, diamonds, natural rubber, and tropical hardwoods. Until the 1950s, Liberia's economy was almost totally dependent upon subsistence farming and the production of rubber. The American-owned Firestone plantation was the country's largest employer and held a concession on some one million acres (404,700 hectares) of land. With the discovery of high-grade iron ore, first at Bomi Hills, and then at Bong and Nimba, the production and export of minerals became the country's major cash-earning economic activity. Gold, diamonds, barite, and kyanite are also mined. Mineral processing plants are located near Buchanan and Bong.

About 70% of the population work in the agricultural sector, which produces rubber, coffee, cocoa, rice, cassava, palm oil, sugarcane, and bananas. Sheep and goats are raised, and there is lumbering. Much rice, the main staple, is imported, but efforts have been made to develop intensive rice production and to establish fish farms. Much of the country's industry is concentrated around Monrovia, where civil war disruption was highest, and is directed toward mineral, rubber, and palm oil processing. The lack of skilled and technical labor has slowed the growth of the manufacturing sector.

The government derives a sizable income from registering ships; low fees and lack of control over shipping operations have made the Liberian merchant marine one of the world's largest. Internal communications are poor, with few paved roads and only a few short, freight-carrying rail lines. Rubber, timber, iron ore, diamonds, cocoa, and coffee provide the bulk of the export earnings; fuels, chemicals, machinery, transportation equipment, manufactured goods, and foodstuffs are the principal imports. In general, the value of imports greatly exceeds that of exports, and the country has accumulated massive international debts. Liberia's main trading partners are Belgium, South Korea, and Japan.


Liberia is governed under the constitution of 1986. The executive branch is headed by a president, who is popularly elected for a renewable six-year term. The president is both the head of state and the head of government. The bicameral legislature, the National Assembly, consists of the 30-seat Senate, whose members are popularly elected for nine-year terms, and the 64-seat House of Representatives, whose members are popularly elected for six-year terms. Administratively, Liberia is divided into 15 counties.


Founding to 1980

Liberia was founded in 1821, when officials of the American Colonization Society were granted possession of Cape Mesurado by local De chiefs for the settlement of freed American slaves. African-American immigrants were landed in 1822, the first of some 15,000 to settle in Liberia. The survival of the colony during its early years was due primarily to the work of Jehudi Ashmun, one of the society's agents. In 1847, primarily due to British pressures, the colony was declared an independent republic. The Americo-Liberian minority controlled the country's politics, and new immigration virtually came to an end with the American Civil War. Liberia was involved in efforts to end the W African slave trade.

Attempts to modernize the economy led to a rising foreign debt in 1871, which the republic had serious difficulty repaying. The debt problem and constitutional issues led to the overthrow of the government in 1871. Conflicts over territorial claims resulted in the loss of large areas of land to Britain and France in 1885, 1892, and 1919. However, rivalries between the Europeans colonizing West Africa and the interest of the United States helped preserve Liberian independence during this period. Nevertheless, the decline of Liberia's exports and its inability to pay its debts resulted in a large measure of foreign interference.

In 1909 the government was bankrupt, and a series of international loans were floated. Firestone leased large areas for rubber production in 1926. In 1930 scandals broke out over the exportation of forced labor from Liberia, and a League of Nations investigation upheld the charges that slave trading had gone on with the connivance of the government. President C. B. D. King and his associates resigned, and international control of the republic was proposed. Under the leadership of presidents Edwin Barclay (1930–44) and William V. S. Tubman (1944–71), however, Liberia avoided such control.

Under Tubman, new policies to open the country to international investment and to allow the indigenous peoples a greater say in Liberian affairs were undertaken. The country's mineral wealth, particularly iron ore, began to be exploited, and there was a gradual improvement of roads, schools, and health standards. Upon Tubman's death in 1971, Vice President W. R. Tolbert took charge, and in 1972 he was elected to the presidency. Although Tolbert cultivated a democratic climate and favorable relations abroad, an organized opposition emerged early in his regime, some of it from Liberian students living in the United States. In 1979, a government proposal to increase the price of rice produced widespread violence.

The Doe Regime and Return to Civilian Rule

In 1980, Tolbert was assassinated in a coup led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe. Pledging a return to civilian rule in 1981, the government unleashed a campaign to subdue opposition. In 1984 the military government instituted a series of constitutional reforms that included shortening the presidential term and outlawing the formation of a one-party state. Doe became Liberia's first indigenous president (by a fraudulent election) in 1985. The Doe government was infamous for corruption and human-rights abuses; it also became the target of numerous coup attempts. Thousands of refugees fled to Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire during this period.

Late in 1989, Liberia was invaded from Côte d'Ivoire by rebel forces of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), led by Charles Taylor, who proclaimed himself president. The United States sent troops to the area when the NPFL threatened to take foreign hostages. Doe was assassinated in 1990 by another group of rebels led by Prince Yormie Johnson, who also sought the presidency. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened to negotiate a peace settlement among the two rebel groups and the government. ECOWAS also sent a Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping force to Monrovia and installed an interim government led by Amos Sawyer. Taylor's forces, with military aid from Libya and Burkina Faso, began a siege of Monrovia in 1992 and engaged in fighting with ECOWAS forces.

A number of cease-fires were established in 1993 and 1994, but clashes between factions persisted. In Aug., 1995, a new peace accord was signed in Abuja, Nigeria, that provided for an interim government headed by Wilton Sankawulo, with national elections to be held late in 1996. In Apr., 1996, fierce factional fighting resumed in the capital; however, disarmament was begun later that year, and the war formally came to an end in 1997. It is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 lives were lost in the civil strife, with hundreds of thousands of refugees having fled the country.

Multiparty presidential and legislative elections held in July, 1997, brought Charles Taylor to power. Under Taylor, the country remained economically devastated while he and his family enriched themselves by looting Liberia's resources. In the late 1990s, Liberia was accused of supplying troops to support rebel forces in Sierra Leone's civil war. Taylor, a long-time ally of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone, had supplied the rebels with arms in exchange for diamonds. In 2000 the United Nations placed an 18-month ban on the international sale of the diamonds in an attempted to undermine the RUF, and in May of the following year it also imposed sanctions on Liberia. In mid-2001 fighting erupted in N Liberia between anti-Taylor rebels and government forces. The fighting intensified during the following year, and the rebels continued to expand the war into other regions of Liberia in 2003; that year the United Nations also placed an arms embargo (2003–9, modified in 2006 to allow the equipping of the military and police) on Liberia. By mid-2003 the rebels controlled roughly two thirds of the country and were threatening to seize Monrovia, leading to calls for Taylor to step down and for the United States, as a nation with historical ties to Liberia, to send peacekeeping forces.

In August, Taylor resigned and went into exile; he was succeeded temporarily by his vice president, Moses Blah. A peace agreement was signed with the two rebel groups, and several thousand West African peacekeepers, supported temporarily by an offshore U.S. force, arrived. In Oct., 2003, the West African force was placed under UN command and was reinforced with troops from other nations; businessman Gyude Bryant became president of a new power-sharing government.

Despite the accord with the rebels, fighting initially continued in parts of the country; tensions among the factions in the national unity government also threatened the peace. By the end of 2004, however, more than 100,000 Liberian fighters had been disarmed, the former government and rebel forces had agreed not to rearm, and the disarmament program was ended. In June, 2004, a program to reintegrate the fighters into society began, but the funds proved inadequate by year's end. In light of the progress made President Bryant requested an end to the UN embargo on Liberian diamonds and timber, but the Security Council postponed such a move until the peace was more secure. Bryant's government was hindered by corruption and a lack of authority in much of Liberia, but the peace enabled to the economy recover somewhat in 2004.

In the presidential election in the fall of 2004 former soccer star George Weah won the first round with 28% of the vote, but lost the runoff in November to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a politician and former World Bank official who received nearly 60% of the second round votes. Weah charged that the runoff had been rigged, leading to street protests. Most observers regarded the election as having been free and fair, and Weah subseqently dropped his challenge of the vote. Sirleaf became the first woman to be elected president of an African nation. At the same time a new national legislature was also elected, with no party securing a controlling position.

Sirleaf, under international pressure, requested in Mar., 2006, that Nigeria extradite Charles Taylor, who was then brought before an international tribunal in Sierra Leone to face war crimes charges arising from events during the Sierra Leone civil war (his trial was later transferred to The Hague for security purposes; he was convicted of war crimes in 2012). In June, 2006, the United Nations ended its embargo on Liberian timber, but continued its diamond embargo until an effective certificate of origin program was established; the diamond embargo was finally lifted in Apr., 2007.

In Mar., 2007, former interim president Bryant was arrested and charged with having embezzled government funds while in office. The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which had conducted a four-year investigation of the nation's civil strife, issued its report in July, 2009; it recommended that the president (who at originally supported Charles Taylor) and many other senior politicians be banned from politics for 30 years. In the 2011 presidential election, Sirleaf was reelected after Winston Tubman, her opponent in the November runoff, withdrew and called for a boycott. He asserted that the poll was rigged, but his claim was not backed by foreign observers or the supreme court, and the third place finisher had thrown his support to Sirleaf. From 2014 to 2015 an Ebola epidemic that began (Dec., 2013) in Guinea and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone killed some 4,700 people in Liberia. Government corruption remains a significant problem in Liberia.


See C. H. Huberich, The Political and Legislative History of Liberia (2 vol., 1947); P. J. Staudenraus, The African Colonization Movement, 1816–1865 (1961); C. M. Wilson, Liberia (1971); J. K. Sundiata, Black Scandal, America and the Liberian Labor Crisis (1980); J. G. Liebenow, Liberia (1987); D. E. Dunn and S. B. Tarr, Liberia (1988).

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Palava ......................................................................... 40
Jollof Rice .................................................................... 41
Sweet Potato Pone ...................................................... 41
Rice Bread................................................................... 41
Ginger Beer................................................................. 42
Lemon Grass Tea......................................................... 42
Goat Soup................................................................... 43


Located on the west coast of Africa, Liberia has an area of about 43,000 square miles (111,370 square kilometers), slightly larger than the state of Tennessee. The Nimba Mountains, near the Guinea border, rise to 4,528 feet (1,380 meters), and the Wologizi Mountains reach a maximum of about 4,450 feet (1,356 meters). There are six principal rivers, all of which flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Liberia includes some of Africa's most impressive evergreen forests. Fruit trees include citrus varieties, the alligator apple, papaya, mango, and avocado. Pineapples grow wild. Agricultural crops include cassava, rice, sugarcane, plantains, and bananas.


Liberia was founded in 1822 for the resettlement of freed American slaves. Its name comes from the Latin word that means "free." The capital city of Monrovia is named after the U.S. president James Monroe, who established the Republic of Liberia. Much of the culture and foods from Liberia are adapted from African American culture. This can be seen in the American currency that is often used to purchase groceries and in the American English language that is spoken on the streets of Monrovia. Rioting Liberians calling for cheaper rice in 1980 supported a failed coup against the American-Liberian government. There are thirty native Liberians for every one American Liberian, but American Liberians have control over the official government. Native Liberians fought a civil war against American Liberians from 19881995. Since then, the country has struggled to recover and make enough food for its people.


Many Liberians grow their own rice, sugar cane, and cassava (a starchy root). Rice is eaten at least twice a day (much more than any other starch). Foreign rice, or pasava, is considered much better than locally grown rice because of the rocks that get mixed up with the local rice during harvesting. Palm oil or palm butter usually comes with the meal, and wine is also made from the palm nut. Cassava leaves and potato leaves are both boiled and eaten like spinach. Sugar cane is either refined, or after cutting through the tough bark, the sweet juice is sucked straight out of the cane bought at the marketplace.

Fufu (a doughy food that accompanies most meals) can be made from rice, plantain, cassava, corn, or yam. The starchy food is dried, pounded until ground, boiled, and rolled into two-inch ovals. Most Liberians use cassava to make fufu; a variation, called dumboy, is boiled before mashing. Fufu is swallowed instead of chewed. It is popularly eaten with a spicy soup. Beef internal soup is made with beef, dried codfish, tripe, and other smoked fish caught from the nearby ocean. Hot peppers are added to many foods for an extra kick, and ground cayenne peppers are used as flavorings and preservatives. Favorite dishes include palava sauce, made traditionally with plato (okra) leaves, dried fish or meat, and palm oil; and jollof rice, a chicken, beef, and bacon dish with vegetables and rice. Palava sauce comes primarily from the counties of Maryland and Grand Kru.



  • 1½ pounds cubed beef
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and sliced
  • Ginger, to taste
  • Red pepper, to taste
  • ¼½ cup peanut oil
  • 2 10-ounce packages of frozen, chopped spinach


  1. Boil meat in a little water until tender, about 45 minutes.
  2. Fry onion, tomatoes, and spices in oil.
  3. Add spinach and meat to the onions and tomatoes, and simmer 1015 minutes.

Serves 6.

Jollof Rice


  • 1 pound boneless chicken
  • ½ pound beef cubes
  • ½ pound bacon
  • ½ cup oil or shortening
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 pepper, sliced
  • 3 ounces tomato paste
  • 1½ pounds cabbage, cut into chunks
  • 1½ cups rice
  • 6 cups water


  1. Cut chicken, beef, and bacon into ½-inch chunks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and coat with flour.
  2. Heat oil in a frying pan, add the meat in small batches, and brown the meat. Remove the meat, setting it aside in a bowl.
  3. Sauté the onions and pepper in the oil in pot until soft, about 5 minutes.
  4. Return the meat to the pot and add the tomato paste.
  5. Add water, cover, and heat to boiling. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Add rice, bring to a boil. Reduce heat.
  7. Add cabbage, and simmer, stirring often, for 20 minutes.
  8. Serve while hot.

Serves 12 or more.

Sweet Potato Pone


  • 1 to 2 cups flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 eggs slightly beaten
  • 2 cups sweet potatoes, mashed and chilled
  • Oil for deep-frying


  1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl and stir well to combine.
  2. In another large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sweet potatoes together.
  3. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture until a stiff dough is formed.
  4. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to ½-inch thickness and cut into shapes.
  5. Heat about 1 inch of oil in a deep saucepan. Fry dough in batches for about 4 minutes.
  6. Drain, cool, dust with powdered sugar (optional), and serve.

Rice Bread


  • 2 cups rice, cooked and mashed
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ bananas, mashed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 1 cup oil


  1. Mix together rice, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Add bananas, eggs, milk, and oil.
  3. Bake in a greased 9- by 12-inch pan at 375°F for 45 minutes.

Ginger Beer


  • 25 pieces ginger
  • 2 pineapples, unpeeled and cut into pieces
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1 gallon water
  • 3½ cups molasses


  1. Beat ginger pieces in a large kettle until soft.
  2. Add pineapple and yeast.
  3. Boil water and pour into ginger mixture. Let stand overnight.
  4. Strain, and add the molasses.
  5. Chill and serve.

Lemon Grass Tea


  • 1 cup chopped lemon grass leaves (can be found at Asian or health foods stores)
  • 2 cups water
  • Sugar (optional)
  • Milk (optional)


  1. Put the lemon grass leaves in a teapot.
  2. Boil water and pour over leaves. Steep for five minutes.
  3. May serve with sugar and milk.

Serves 2.


Liberians celebrate Independence Day on July 26; it is the biggest holiday in the country. They also celebrate most American holidays like New Year's (January 1), Thanksgiving (the first Thursday in November), and Christmas (December 25). Christmas is celebrated with a large meal, without gift-giving or Christmas trees. Goat soup is the national soup, served on important occasions. Coffee is also served after special meals. Each former and current president's birthday is celebrated annually: J.J. Roberts (March 15), William V.S. Tubman (November 29), William R. Tolbert, Jr. (May 13), Samuel Doe (May 6), and Charles Taylor (January 29). However, each county celebrates a president's birthday on a rotating basis, so that a county celebrates only one president's birthday a year. A county is lucky if it gets to celebrate the birthday of the current president because of the extra money and publicity that county receives for the festival.

Goat Soup


  • 2 pounds goat meat (can substitute lamb or beef)
  • Hot peppers
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 quarts water
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 8 ounces tomato paste
  • Salt, black pepper


  1. Cut up the meat into 23 inch pieces.
  2. Marinate with peppers, salt, black pepper, and onion for about an hour.
  3. Add water and boil until meat is tender.
  4. Add tomatoes and paste and cook until tomatoes are soft.


In Liberia, the table is set with turned over plates and glasses with a napkin on top, so that the guest may turn over the clean dishes for use. Those at the meal greet each other by shaking hands. While shaking, they take the middle finger of the other person's right hand and snap it up and down. This tradition comes from the days of slavery, when the slave owner would break a slave's finger in order to establish ownership. The handshake (or "snapshake") celebrates Liberia's freedom from slavery.

The cook brings out all the food at once, and stays seated at the table during the entire meal. All the dishes remain on the table until the end of the meal. Most Liberians will eat with their fingers, although American customs have brought utensils to the dining rooms of many city people. A typical Liberian dinner consists of dumboy or fufu served with palm butter and palava sauce, meat stew, country chop (a mixture of meats, fish, and greens cooked in palm oil), jollof rice, and beef internal soup. Rice bread and sweet potato pone are served for dessert, and ginger beer is drunk throughout the meal. Coffee is served only on special occasions.

In the city of Monrovia, there are some modern restaurants, but in most towns there are small "cook shops" that offer stews and fufu. Most cooking is still done outside on a stone hearth.


About 42 percent of the population of Liberia are classified as undernourished by the World Bank. This means they do not receive adequate nutrition in their diet. Of children under the age of five, over 33 percent are stunted (short for their age).

According to the Liberian government, only about 39 percent of the population have access to health care services, and there are virtually no functioning social services. The Liberian staple diet of rice or cassava is deficient in protein, and children in particular suffer from the malnutrition.



DeWitt, Dave. Flavors of Africa: Spicy African Cooking. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1998.

Hachten, Harva. Best of Regional African Cooking. New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 1998.

Hultman, Tami. The Africa News Cookbook. New York: Hamilton Printing Company, 1986.

Odarty, Bill. A Safari of African Cooking. Detroit, MI: Broadside Press, 1992.


Liberian Connection. [Online] Available (accessed February 14, 2001).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Liberia
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 3,225,837
Language(s): English, ethnic group languages
Literacy rate: 38.3%
Area: 111,370 sq km
Number of Television Stations: 2
Number of Television Sets: 70,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 21.7
Number of Radio Stations: 10
Number of Radio Receivers: 790,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 244.9

Background & General Characteristics

The Republic of Liberia is slightly larger than the state of Tennessee in the United States. Liberia is a democratic country situated on the western African coast and borders the Atlantic Ocean along its entire southwest coastline of 579 kilometers. Much of Liberia is covered with tropical rain forest while 10 percent is water and the country's terrain ranges from coastal plains to plateau to low mountains. Liberia's climate is tropical.

A low literacy rate of 38.3 percent (male 53.9 percent and women 22.4 percent) makes radio the preferred medium of communication, with about 800,000 radio receivers nationwide.

The legal and constitutional frameworks exist for a free and independent press in Liberia, but the reality is that government routinely shuts down independent media houses. Journalists who are critical of the government are frequently jailed without due process. Most press activities are concentrated around Monrovia, the capital. The press exercises self censorship and continues to criticize the government at their own risk.

In 2002, Liberia was home to two independent daily newspapers, the Inquirer and the News. Another independent newspaper, New National, publishes biweekly. A fourth independent newspaper, The Analyst, published sporadically until police closed it down on April 25, 2002. The government's Ministry of Information publishes the New Liberian bi-weekly. The ruling National Patriotic Party publishes the Pepperbird sporadically. Two government ministers own the Monrovia Guardian and Poll Watch, respectively; both are bi-weekly. Three other independent newspapers, The Journalist, the Concord Times, and the Daily Times remain closed.

Economic Framework

A seven-year civil war which began on Christmas Eve 1989 ended with elections in July 1997 and brought President Charles Taylor to power. The years of fighting coupled with an unsettled domestic security situation has led to the flight of most businesses and has disrupted formal economic activity. The rebuilding of the social and economic structure of Liberia is stagnant. An United Nations-imposed sanction is in place until May 2003. The government relies on revenue from its maritime registry and lumber exports to provide the bulk of its foreign exchange earnings. Eighty percent of Liberia's 3.2 million people live below the poverty line and unemployment is 70 percent.

Most newspapers print a maximum of 1,000 copies and the advertising rates are abysmally low. A full-page ad costs about $100 (U.S.) in a daily newspaper with 1,000 circulation. All newspapers are printed in English, the official language. Beside English, Liberia has sixteen ethnic groups and four language families.

The currency exchange rate between the American dollar and Liberian dollar is about 1:50. Newspapers pay approximately $200 (U.S.) or $10,000 (L) to print 1,000 copies of an 8-page paper. Newspapers typically retail for $20 (40 cents U.S.), the same price of a pint of rice, Liberia's food staple.

Sabannoh Printing Press had a monopoly on newspaper printing until March 2002 when the government granted a permit to the Press Union of Liberia to operate Liberia Printing Incorporated.

Press Laws

The Liberian Constitution guarantees press freedom. Article 15(a-e) states:

  1. Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression being fully responsible for the abuse thereof;
  2. The right includes freedom of speech and of the press;
  3. There shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries;
  4. Access to state-owned media shall not be denied because of any disagreement with or dislike of the ideas expressed;
  5. This freedom may be limited only by judicial action in proceedings grounded in defamation or invasion of the rights to privacy.

Liberia, in theory, has an independent judiciary but the president exercises strong executive powers that frequently cross the lines that separate it from the legislative and judicial branches.


Self-censorship is very common. A Communication Act promulgated by government on August 28, 1989, empowers a National Communications and Regulation Commission to "devise policies and/or regulations to govern the creation, establishment and operation of all electronic and print media within the territorial confines of the Republic of Liberia."

State-Press Relations

There is mutual suspicion between government and the independent press. The Press Union of Liberia, established in 1964, is dynamic and defends the rights of journalists.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

Foreign journalists need a clearance from the Ministry of Information. There are documented cases of foreign journalists who were charged with espionage, detained and had their equipment and tapes confiscated. All were released after appeals from the international community.

Broadcast & ELECTRONIC News Media

The Liberia Communications Network (LCN), owned by Liberia's president Charles Taylor, has a nationwide reach and broadcasts on FM and short wave frequencies. There are three other stations with short wave frequency capability; two of which are religious stations. The first of these, Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) has broadcast in Liberia off and on since 1954. The second, Radio Veritas, owned by the Catholic Diocese of Liberia, has been shut down frequently because of Veritas's stance on human rights and social justice issues. STAR Radio, another independent radio station with short wave transmittals remains closed.

The government-owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) is heard only around Monrovia as are the privately owned FM radio stations DC-101, Liberia Christian Radio, and LOVE-FM. Stone FM is heard mostly around Harbel, near the Firestone rubber company. There are two television broadcast stations plus four low-power repeaters. Private video clubs proliferate. The Liberia News Agency (LINA) rarely sends out wire stories.

The only public Internet service, Data Tech, launched in early 1999 is controlled by a family with close personal ties to the president (World Reporter).

Education & TRAINING

The University of Liberia awards a bachelor of arts in mass communications. Civil strife has led to frequent closures of the University. A brain drain has mitigated the quality of trained journalists in the country. The Liberian Institute of Journalism, the Press Union of Liberia, and some diplomatic missions offer occasional in-service training. Many journalists acquire skills through apprenticeship.

The Press Union of Liberia gives annual merit awards to individuals and media institutions.


Liberia's current president, Charles Taylor, tolerates minimal criticism yet the independent press remains strong partly because it is unified by the dynamic Press Union of Liberia. Press freedom is protected by the constitution, but like most developing nations, the press laws in Liberia are only as good as the government that enacts, enforces, and interpret such laws.


Allen, William C. "Soaring Above the Clouds of Mediocrity: The Challenges of the Liberian Press in the '90s." Liberian Studies Journal (XV:1, 1990):74-84.

Best, Kenneth Y. "The Liberian Press: Quo Vadis?" Liberian Studies Journal (XXII:1, 1997): 45-67.

Burrowes, Carl Patrick. "Modernization and the Decline of Press Freedom: Liberia 1847 to 1970." Journalism & Mass Communication Monographs 160 (Dec. 1996).

Central Intelligence Agency. "Liberia." The World Factbook. Available from

Constitutional Advisory Assembly. Constitution of the Republic of Liberia. Monrovia, Liberia: Sabannoh Press Ltd., 1983.

Freedom Forum. "Liberian battle for control of short-wave radio heats up." September 5, 2001. Available from

. "Liberian journalists freed after more than a month in jail on espionage charges." April 2, 2001. Available from

Nelson, Estella. "PUL Regrets Action Against Press Freedom." The News [Monrovia]. May 6, 2002. Available from

. "Journalists Seek Close Collaboration With Government." April 21, 2002. Available from

Rogers, Momo K. "The Liberian Press: An Analysis." Journalism Quarterly (No. 63, 1986): 273-281.

. "The Press in Liberia, 1826-1996: A Select Chronology." Liberian Studies Journal (XXII:1, 1997): 95-120.

. "Liberian Journalism, 1826-1980: A Descriptive History." Ph.D. diss., Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 1987.

World Reporter. "Liberia's naked ambition?" October 30, 2001. Available from

Dr.William C. Allen

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Official name: Republic of Liberia

Area: 111,370 square kilometers (43,000 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Wutivi (1,380 meters/4,528 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: Noon = noon GMT

Longest distances: 274 kilometers (170 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 548 kilometers (341 miles) from west-northwest to east-southeast

Land boundaries: 1,585 kilometers (985 miles) total boundary length; Guinea 563 kilometers (350 miles); Côte d'Ivoire 716 kilometers (445 miles); Sierra Leone 306 kilometers (190 miles)

Coastline: 579 kilometers (360 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Liberia, Africa's oldest reh2blic, is located at the western edge of the continent, on the Atlantic coast between Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire. It has an area of 111,370 square kilometers (43,000 square miles), or slightly more than the state of Tennessee.


Liberia has no territories or dependencies.


Liberia has a hot, humid, tropical climate with little seasonal variation, although temperatures are cooler in the interior highlands than along the coast. The mean temperature is 27°C (81°F). Ocean breezes temper the tropical heat, sometimes accompanied by the dry desert wind called the harmattan, which blows in December. Most rain falls during the rainy season between April and November. Rainfall varies from about 178 centimeters (70 inches) in the northern uplands to 510 centimeters (200 inches) on the coast.


Starting from a coastal plain that is 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide, the terrain gradually rises through two more major geographical regions: a belt of forested hills and, beyond it, an upland region of plateaus and low mountains.


Liberia is bordered on the west and southwest by the Atlantic Ocean. Since the country is only a few degrees north of the equator, it is also near the dividing point between the North Atlantic and South Atlantic Oceans. The surf is normally heavy all along the coast, but it is most tempestuous at the height of the rainy season.

Coastal Features

The coastal region is a belt of gently rolling low plains extending 32 to 48 kilometers (20 to 30 miles) inland. It is broken along the shore by river estuaries, tidal creeks, and swamps, as well as a few prominent rocky capes and promontories. In the northwest, not far from the border with Sierra Leone, Cape Mount rises steeply from the sea to an elevation of over 305 meters (1,000 feet). Cape Mesurado is the site of Monrovia, the capital. Farther to the southeast, several other headlands break the monotony of the low shoreline. The mouths of Liberia's rivers are so obstructed by shifting sand bars, submerged rocks, and sandpits that they provide no natural harbors.


Liberia's only sizable lake is Lake Fisherman (Lake Piso), which has an area of about 40 square miles.


Most of Liberia's rivers flow in roughly parallel courses from the interior plateau to the ocean. Several of them, including the Lofa, the St. Paul, and the St. John, rise in the Guinea Highlands north of the border with Guinea. The Mano and Morro Rivers to the west form parts of the border with Sierra Leone. To the east, the Cavalla River forms the entire border with Côte d'Ivoire. The St. Paul River forms part of the border with Guinea. Rapids, waterfalls, and other barriers severely limit inland navigation.


Liberia has no deserts.


Between the coastal plain and the interior plateau is a band of heavily wooded, hilly country about 32 kilometers (20 miles) wide, with elevations of between 60 to 150 meters (200 and 500 feet).


Liberia's coast was traditionally referred to as the Grain Coast, a reference to the "Grains of Paradise," or malagueta peppers, that attracted early European traders.


There are scattered mountain ranges in Liberia's upland plateau region. They include the Putu range in the southeast, the Bong range near the center of the country, and the Wologizi and Nimba ranges in the north. The highest point in the country, Mount Wutivi, in the Wologizi range, rises to 1,380 meters (4,528 feet).


There are no notable caves or canyons in Liberia.


Beyond Liberia's coastal plain and forested hills lies a rolling plateau broken abruptly by spurs of the Guinea Highlands. Ranging in elevation from 305 meters (1,000 feet) to over 1,219 meters (4,000 feet) in the high northern uplands, Liberia's inland plateau region is the country's largest geographical region.


The Mt. Coffee hydroelectric plant is located on the St. Paul River, the second-longest river in the country.



Daniels, Anthony. Monrovia Mon Amour: A Visit to Liberia. London: John Murray, 1992.

Greene, Barbara. Too Late to Turn Back: Barbara and Graham Greene in Liberia. Introduction by Paul Theroux. London: Settle Bendall, 1981.

Zemser, Amy Bronwen. Beyond the Mango Tree. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.

Web Sites

Africa South of the Sahara. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Liberia Maps website. (accessed April 24, 2003).

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LIBERIA. A country in West Africa. Languages: English (official), and over 20 Niger–Congo languages, including Kru and Mande. The region was mapped by the Portuguese in the 15c and later visited by the Dutch, British, and other Europeans looking for gold, spices, and slaves. The idea of a homeland for freed slaves was conceived by a group of US philanthropical societies, including the American Colonization Society, influenced by the British creation of Freetown in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Monrovia, named after President Monroe, was founded in 1822. The governors of Liberia were white Americans until Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a black born in Virginia, took over in 1841. He declared the Free and Independent Republic of Liberia in 1847. Freed slaves migrated from the US until the end of the Civil War in 1865, and black Americans have settled in small numbers ever since.

Liberian English

Liberia is the only black African country in which English is a native language and the only country in Africa owing its English more to the US than the UK. The variety originated first in contacts from the 17c between native speakers of BrE and AmE and such coastal peoples as the Kru (among whom English PIDGINS developed), and then in the settlement of repatriated blacks. Their descendants, known formally as Americo-Liberians and colloquially as Mericos and Congos, established and maintained the prestige of English and dominated Liberian society politically and economically, especially through the True Whig Party, until the 1980 coup, which was led by Samuel Doe, a non-Merico army sergeant. Sierra Leone Krio has had some impact on usage, and frequent travel to, and close political relations with, the US have given standard AmE and American BLACK ENGLISH continuing prestige and influence. English in Liberia can be described in terms of an ACROLECT (high-prestige form), several BASILECTS (low-prestige forms), and emerging MESOLECTS (intermediate forms). Standard Liberian English is acquired through, and is a mark of, a high level of education, is heard on radio and television, and is the speech of those locally referred to as civilized. At the other end of the continuum, the basilects include Kru Pidgin English (the oldest pidgin), Settler English (formerly Merico), the everyday usage of the Americo-Liberian settlers (closely related to Southern US English before the Civil War), and Liberian Interior English, used mainly by speakers of Mande in the non-coastal areas. Soldier English is a pidgin used since the early 20c by and with non-English-speakers in the army, and Vernacular Liberian English includes urban and rural mesolects that compromise between the standard and non-standard varieties.


The close historical link with AmE gives Liberian English its distinctiveness in relation to other West African varieties. Phonologically, the varieties range from a rhotic standard associated with AmE to non-rhotic pronunciations influenced by Kru and Mande. Grammatically, the mesolects and basilects have the following features: (1) Non-standard auxiliaries: He done come He has come; A was not know I did not know; habitual do as in I do see boy all de time I see the boy all the time; progressive de as in I de go I am going. (2) Uninflected verbs: You see da man? Did you see the man?; A know dem I knew them; Dey kesh grahapa They caught grasshoppers. The distinction between Settler English and Kru Pidgin can be seen in Settler Da pekin cryin, Kru Di pekin de krai (The child is crying), Settler I ain see him, Kru A neva siam. Distinctively Liberian words include: bugabug termite, dumboy boiled, pounded cassava, favour to resemble (compare AmE), fresh cold a runny nose, head cold, groundpea peanut, groundnut, jina spirits, kanki measurement for rice (around two cups), kwi a foreigner, outside child a child acknowledged although born outside marriage, sasse cheeky, smart, sassy. Traditionally, the standard has been emphasized and the other varieties generally disparaged, but since the coup the compromise forms have begun to gain recognition in such public contexts as the media and informal greetings, as expressions of political and social solidarity. The mesolect in Monrovia is the centre of innovation, and is spreading throughout the country. Typically, the same kind of thing can be said at several different ‘levels’: acrolect What you're saying, it's true, and I won't do it again; mesolect The thing you talking, that true, but I will not do it again; basilect The thing you telli me you no lie, but I can't do some again. See WEST AFRICAN ENGLISH, WEST AFRICAN PIDGIN ENGLISH.

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Country statistics


111,370sq km (43,000sq mi)



capital (population):

Monrovia (543,000)


Multi-party republic

ethnic groups:

Kpelle 19%, Bassa 14%, Grebo 9%, Gio 8%, Kru 7%, Mano 7%


English (official)


African traditional beliefs 34%, Protestant 20%, Muslim 20%


Liberian dollar = 100 cents

Republic on the Atlantic coast of w Africa.

Land and Climate

Liberia's coastline stretches more than 500km (300mi), and is the site of the capital and chief port, Monrovia. A narrow coastal plain rises to a plateau region, with the highest land on the border with Guinea. The most important rivers are the Cavally, which forms the border with Ivory Coast, and the St Paul. Liberia has a tropical climate. There are two rainy seasons. Mangrove swamps and lagoons line the coast, while inland, forests cover nearly 40% of the land. Liberia also has areas of tropical savanna. Only 5% of the land is cultivated.

History and Politics

The American Colonization Society founded in 1821. The following year, the Society landed African-American former slaves at a coastal settlement that they named Monrovia. In 1847, Liberia became a fully independent republic. For many years, Americo-Liberians controlled Liberia's government and the US Firestone Company's rubber plantations covered more than 400,000ha (1 million acres). Under the leadership (1944–71) of William Tubman, Liberia's economy grew and it adopted social reforms. In 1980 Tubman's successor, William R. Tolbert, was assassinated in a military coup and Master-Sergeant Samuel Doe led a new military government. In 1985, Doe's brutal and corrupt regime won a fraudulent election. Civil war broke out in 1989, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent a five-nation peace-keeping force. Doe was assassinated and an interim government, led by Amos Sawyer, took office. Civil war raged on, claiming c.150,000 lives and leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless by 1994. In 1995, a cease-fire occurred and the former warring factions formed a council of state. Former warlord Charles Taylor of the National Patriotic Council secured a resounding victory in 1997 elections. In 2001, the UN imposed an arms embargo on Liberia for trading weapons for diamonds with rebels in Sierra Leone. In 2002, Taylor imposed a state of emergency as fighting intensified with rebels on the border with Guinea. In 2003, Taylor was forced to resign and went into exile. Economy Civil war devastated Liberia's economy (2000 GDP per capita, US$1100). Agriculture employs 75% of the workforce. Chief food crops include cassava, rice, and sugar cane. Rubber, cocoa and coffee are grown for export. Timber is also exported. Crude materials, principally iron ore, account for more than 90% of Liberia's exports.

Political map

Physical map

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Liberia is a country that lies along the West African coast on the Atlantic Ocean. Sierra Leone borders it on the northwest, Guinea on the north, and the Ivory Coast on the east. The capital of Liberia is Monrovia.

Established in 1821, Liberia was intended as a haven for freed American slaves. Members of the American Colonization Society, which was organized between 1816 and 1817, purchased land from native tribes in Africa, with the goal of transporting freed slaves back to their African homeland. The land was named Liberia, which was derived from a Latin word meaning "freedom."

In 1822 the first returning Africans arrived in Liberia. By 1860, eleven thousand freed slaves from America had settled in Liberia; eventually fifteen thousand made the trans-Atlantic voyage. On July 26, 1847, the country was established as a free and independent republic. But constitutional issues, foreign debt, and territorial disputes soon threatened the new nation. The United States government stepped in with aid to stabilize Liberia.

The plan of the American Colonization Society had always been a controversial one: many abolitionists opposed it, as did some African Americans who believed slavery should simply be eradicated from the United States, and the freed slaves granted all rights of citizenship. The African resettlement movement declined in the mid-1800s.

See also: Abolition, Slavery

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Culture Name



Identification. Liberia lies on the west coast of Africa. The name comes from the English word "liberty" and refers to the nation's origin as a colony of free blacks repatriated to Africa from the United States in the early nineteenth century. Although the settlers and their descendants, known as Americo-Liberians, defined the boundaries of the nation-state, made English the official language, and dominated the government and economy for almost one hundred fifty years, they have never constituted as much as 5 percent of the population. The remaining people belong to sixteen broadly defined ethnolinguistic groups of the Niger-Congo family. The Mel (West Atlantic) group consists of the Gola and Kissi, who are believed to be the oldest inhabitants. The Mande group, made up of Mandingo, Vai, Gbandi, Kpelle, Loma, Mende, Gio, and Mano peoples, is believed to have entered the area from the northern savannahs in the fifteenth century. The southern and eastern areas are inhabited by people who speak Kruan (Kwa) languages; the Bassa, Dei (Dey), Grebo, Kru, Belle (Kuwaa), Krahn, and Gbee are linguistically related to the peoples of the Niger delta far to the east.

All these groups were present in the territory when the American settlers arrived in 1822. Although Liberia has been independent since 1847, making it the oldest republic in Africa, most of its citizens have never felt allegiance to the nation-state. With most government institutions concentrated in coastal cities, many inhabitants of the interior had little sense of being Liberian until the second half of the twentieth century.

Location and Geography. Liberia lies on the western "bulge" of Africa. About half the country is covered by primary tropical rain forest containing valuable hardwoods. A monsoon climate of alternating wet and dry seasons characterizes the weather. Plateaus and mountain ranges in the northern region are rich in iron ore, gold, and diamonds. The Atlantic coastline of 353 miles (568 kilometers) has no natural deep-water harbors and is pounded by heavy surf.

The capital, Monrovia, was named for the United States president James Monroe and is situated near the original landing site of the American settlers. The area had been known as the Grain Coast, in reference to the malagueta pepper that was the primary export. Negotiations with the Bassa and Dei to "purchase" land for the settlers apparently were carried out at gunpoint, and the indigenous people probably believed they were entering into a trade agreement with the newcomers rather than giving up ownership of their territory. The rest of the country was acquired though similar "purchases," conquest, and negotiation with British and French colonizers.

Demography. The population was 2,893,800 in 1994. A disastrous civil war from late 1989 to 1997 is believed to have cost at least 200,000 lives, and many Liberians live as refugees in neighboring countries and elsewhere in the world. The relative distribution of the population among the sixteen recognized ethnic groups has remained relatively constant. The Kpelle are the largest with 20 percent of the population, followed by the Bassa with 14 percent. All the other groups number less than 10 percent of the total.

Linguistic Affiliation. The official language is English, which is used for instruction in all public and mission schools and in university education. A significant portion of the population is bilingual and often competent in several indigenous languages as well as English. Those in the regions bordering Ivory Coast and Guinea are often conversational in French. The English spoken in most common, informal settings is "Liberian English," a creole form. Educated people frequently switch between the creole form and the more standard English promoted by schools. Men tend to have more facility with both standard and creole English than do women, reflecting men's greater access to formal education and urban mores.

Symbolism. The official national symbols, such as the official language, reflect the American origin of the nation-state. The flag is a replica of the American flag, but with a single large white star on a blue field representing Liberia's long history as the "Lone Star," the only independent republic in Africa during the colonial period. The Great Seal depicts a sailing ship like that which carried the American settlers to Africa, a palm tree, and a plow and ax with the motto "The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here."

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence as a Nation. The nation's origin as a nation-state lies in a paradox of United States history. Even before the end of the war for American independence, public figures such as Thomas Jefferson were concerned about the status of free people of African descent and their integration into a free society. The American Colonization Society (ACS), dedicated to the resettlement of free people of color outside the United States, was founded in 1816. The ACS used private funds donated by wealthy white contributors to "purchase" land in west Africa and recruit African-American settlers, the first group of whom arrived in 1822. Most of the earliest immigrants had been born free; they were relatively well educated and belonged to an emerging class of free black professionals and businessmen. Although white administrators appointed by the ACS governed the colony in the early years, in 1847 the settlers declared independence and became the first sovereign black republic in Africa.

National Identity. The first settlers were augmented by recently manumitted slaves from the United States and "recaptured Africans" or "Congos" taken from smugglers after the slave trade was abolished in 1808. Over time, these disparate groups merged to become Americo-Liberians. The early history of the republic was characterized by struggles between political parties representing "mulattoes" (lighter-skinned, upper-class businessmen or "merchant princes") and "true blacks" (poorer ex-slaves and recaptives). In 1877, the True Whig Party (TWP), identified with the "blacks" and with agricultural rather than trading interests, came to power. The TWP remained dominant for almost a hundred years, making Liberia essentially a one-party state. It also created links with indigenous elites in the interior, and membership in the TWP was synonymous with national identity for most of the twentieth century.

The lack of racial difference between the colonized and the colonizers allowed individuals to "pass" into the Americo-Liberian group. Institutions such as adoption, wardship, informal polygyny, and apprenticeship brought many indigenous children into settler homes. Within a generation, they had entered the Americo-Liberian group and forgotten their "tribal" origins. Another recognizable social group, the so-called civilized natives, consisted of those who had been educated and Christianized in mission schools while maintaining their indigenous identity. This group was often a vocal source of criticism of the settler elite.

Ethnic Relations. Liberia's sixteen ethnolinguistic groups, although characterized as tribes, have never constituted unified, historically continuous political entities. In the northwestern section, Mande-speaking groups formed multiethnic chiefdoms and confederacies that coordinated trade and warfare, especially during the period of the slave trade. Although there were no precolonial states, the northwestern peoples were united in two panethnic secret societies: Poro (for men) and Sande (for women). The linked "chapter" structure of Poro and Sande lodges could in theory mobilize the entire population under the authority of elders.

South and east of the Saint John River, Kwaspeaking peoples who migrated from the east lived in smaller, less stratified communities. As the Americo-Liberians attempted to extend their control from the coast to the interior, they created administrative units that were thought to be coterminous with existing "tribes." For example, Maryland County in the southeast was treated as the home of the "Grebo tribe," even though the people there did not recognize a common identity or history beyond speaking dialects of the same language.

For most of Liberia's history, the primary meaningful division on the national level was between the tribal majority and the settler minority; with few exceptions, one's tribe made little difference in terms of life chances and upward mobility. After the military coup of 1980, however, a new tribalism or politically strategic ethnicity began to emerge. Samuel Kanyon Doe, the leader of the military government and a Krahn from Grand Gedeh county, systematically filled the elite military units and government positions with members of his ethnolinguistic group. As opposition to his autocratic and repressive regime grew during the 1980s, it took the form of ethnically identified armed factions that attacked civilians on the basis of their presumed tribal affiliation. Western journalists attributed the violence to "ancient tribal hatreds" even though these ethnically identified groups had emerged only in the previous ten years.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Before the civil war of 19891997, Liberia was predominantly rural, with the majority of the population involved in subsistence agriculture; small-scale market production of cash crops such as rubber, sugar, palm oil, and citrus fruits; or producing primary products for export (iron ore, rubber, and tropical hardwoods). Monrovia had a population of about two hundred thousand, and other coastal cities had less than one hundred thousand. Areas of resource exploitation operated by foreign-owned concessions were the primary population centers in the interior. During the war, the population of Monrovia swelled to over three hundred thousand as refugees attempted to escape from the fighting in the interior.

While rural communities still contain examples of traditional round huts with thatched conical roofs, most newer houses have a rectangular floor plan and are roofed with sheets of corrugated zinc or tin. Wattle and daub construction, in which a lattice of sticks is packed with mud and covered with clay or cement, is the most common building method regardless of the shape of the structure, but many people aspire to a house built of cement cinder blocks and may spend years acquiring the blocks. Rural communities have a "palaver hut," an open-sided roofed structure that functions as a town hall for public discussions and the hearing of court cases.

In the cities, especially Monrovia, imposing public buildings from the prewar period were built mostly in the post-World War II International Style, including the Executive Mansion, which became an armed fortress during the civil war. Houses from the nineteenth century are similar to antebellum architecture of the American South, with verandas and classical columns. The civil war reduced many buildings to ruins and left others occupied by homeless refugees.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The primary staple is rice. This complex carbohydrate forms the centerpiece of the meal, and savory sauces provide flavor. Meat or fish is used as a garnish or ingredient in the sauce rather than being the focus of the meal. In rural areas, people begin the day with a small meal of leftover rice or boiled cassava dipped in the sauce from the day before. Depending on the time of year and the work schedule, the main meal may be served at midday or in the evening. Snacks of mangoes, bananas, sugarcane, coconut, fried plantain or cassava, and citrus fruits may be consumed throughout the day.

In the countryside, rice is produced by a system of rain-fed swidden (slash and burn) horticulture. Men clear an area of the forest and burn the dried brush, and women and children do most of the planting, weeding, and harvesting. Rice is used ceremonially to make offerings to ancestors and the recently dead and is offered to social superiors when one is asking for favors or initiating a patron-client relationship. Use rights to land are acquired through patrilineal descent; men and women have the right to use land claimed by their father's lineage in the vicinity of the town in which he is a citizen. Because tropical soils are fragile, fields must be moved every year and, once harvested, allowed to rest for seven to twelve years. This system requires a large amount of available land and a low population density. Some areas have been overfarmed, with resulting damage to the tropical forest ecosystem, but the greatest constraint on agriculture is a shortage of labor.

This system is capable of providing for family subsistence but not of producing a large surplus for sale. Urban areas have depended on imported rice, mostly from the United States. Locally produced vegetables, including eggplant, peppers, pumpkins, and greens, are sold in outdoor markets. It is a sign of Western sophistication and wealth to be able to afford imported processed foods such as corn flakes, canned goods, and snack foods. During the civil war, agricultural production was almost completely disrupted and the entire population was dependent on donations of food.

Basic Economy. The prewar economy was heavily dependent on a few primary products or raw materials. In 1975, 75 percent of the value of exports came from iron ore alone; iron ore and rubber together amounted to over 80 percent. This dependence on a few income earners left the country vulnerable to the worldwide economic recession of the 1970s. There was almost no growth in the annual value of the economy between 1976 and 1980, and many workers in the mining industry lost their jobs. This economic crisis was one of the factors that led to the military coup of 1980.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. There is a status division between the minority claiming descent from the American settlers and the indigenous majority. The settler group contains people at all class levels, from rich to poor, who continue to maintain a sense of prestige and entitlement. In the indigenous community, a distinction between "civilized" and "native" people emerged early in the nineteenth century as a result of mission education and labor migration along the coast. Civilized ("kwi") status implies facility with English, a nominal allegiance to Christianity, a degree of literacy, and involvement with the cash rather than the subsistence sector. Although kwi people maintain their ethnic identities as Grebo, Kru, Vai, or Kpelle, an undeniable prestige difference separates them from their native neighbors and kin.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Civilized people, especially women, are distinguished by Western-style clothing and household furnishings. The association is so strong that native women are also known as "lappa women," a reference to the two pieces of cloth (lappas) that constitute native female dress.

Political Life

Government. The constitution of 1847 was patterned on the American constitution and provided for a separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The legislature is bicameral with an upper house based on equal representation of the thirteen counties with two senators each and a lower house based on population. This structure was retained in the revised constitution of 1986, which was intended to prevent the abuses of one-party rule that had characterized most of the nation's history. At the local level, each county is administered by a superintendent appointed by the president and further divided into districts, chiefdoms, and clans. The system of "native" administration retains much of the older system of indirect rule in which local chiefs are empowered by the central government to collect taxes and judge minor court cases.

Leadership and Political Officials. Politics has tended toward the autocratic, with the constitution more a symbol of democracy than a guide for action. Although elections were held regularly, the absence of opposition parties made them largely nationalist pageants rather than expressions of the people's will. The True Whig Party's patronage system ensured that the president never faced opposition from the other branches of government, and as a result, the executive branch was overwhelmingly dominant. The personality cult around the presidency reached its height with W. V. S. Tubman, who served from 1944 to 1971. Tubman was widely popular for creating the illusion of broad participation in national life but was extremely repressive: jailing, executing, and exiling his opponents. This tradition of concentrated power in the hands of the president has continued in the administration of Charles Taylor, who was elected in 1997.

Social Problems and Control. Liberia has long had a system of multiple and often overlapping judicial structures. A separate judiciary with hierarchically arranged statutory courts was established in 1847 but rarely has been independent of the executive branch. The statutory courts delegated most local-level social control to "chiefs' courts," where a modified version of "native law" was codified and applied in cases ranging from divorce to petty theft. Liberians who are Muslims can settle disputes in Imam's courts where judgments are based on Islamic law. Individuals in search of a favorable verdict have been known to try their luck in all three kinds of courts, claiming to be "civilized" in the statutory court, "native" in the chief's court, and Muslim in the Islamic court.

Indigenous methods of trial by ordeal have long been used in rural communities. Ordeals include the testing of suspects with hot knives, hot oil, or the drinking of poison. In the poison ("sasswood") ordeal, suspects drink a decoction of tree bark; the innocent vomit the poison and live, while the guilty die of its effects; this system combines the determination of guilt and the administration of punishment. The sasswood trial was outlawed by the central government early in the twentieth century; other forms of ordeal were tolerated through the 1960s.

During the civil war, all legal and social control institutions experienced complete breakdown. Random massacres were conducted by armed fighters as young as nine years old in the service of warlords with no political agenda beyond survival and profit. Since 1997, Liberian legal institutions have been slowly reestablished, but many abuses of civil rights have continued.

Military Activity. Since 1980, politics has been dominated by armed men. In the early years of the republic, a Frontier Force of indigenous conscripts was used to "pacify" the peoples of the hinterland and enforce the collection of taxes and corvee (unpaid) labor. In late 1970s, the ethnic split between the officer corps (made up of Americo-Liberians) and the rank and file created tension, with soldiers often used as unpaid laborers on the farms and building projects of their superiors. The men who led the coup which brought down the True Whig Party government in 1980 were all noncommissioned soldiers of indigenous background. The first military coup provided a model for many future attempts. Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe was threatened by ambitious young men like himself, leading him to institute increasingly repressive policies. Foreign aid from the United States, especially during the Reagan administration, took the form of a vast military buildup. This lethal equipment was later turned against the Liberian people during the civil war. Under the current administration, the armed forces and other security agencies continue to absorb the bulk of the national budget. According to the peace accords that led to the 1997 election, the national military was supposed to have been restructured by the West African intervention force (ECOMOG) to reflect all the parties that contested the war. Once elected, however, Charles Taylor claimed his constitutional role as commander in chief to essentially remake the armed forces along the lines of his faction, the National Patriotic Front for Liberia (NPFL). Tensions in the armed forces and among demobilized combatants remain a destabilizing factor in national life.

Social Welfare Programs

Most social welfare institutions, including those for the provision of education and medical care, remain in the hands of religious organizations and international aid agencies. Liberia was one of the earliest host countries for the United States Peace Corps.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

During the worst period of the civil war, networks of concerned Americans and Liberians living in the United States lobbied for protected status for refugees, increases in humanitarian aid, and diplomatic pressure to restore human rights. Within Liberia, a number of local organizations, such as the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, have monitored human rights issues and spoken out against repression. During the siege of Monrovia in 1990, a local group called SELF (Special Emergency Life Food) organized distribution centers for relief food.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. All of the indigenous groups are patrilineal and have ideologies of male dominance. The nineteenth-century domestic ideology brought with the American settlers also was highly patriarchal, with women assigned to roles as homemakers and nurturers of children. However, the sexual division of labor in indigenous agriculture affords women a great deal of power, if not formal authority. Women's labor is extremely valuable, as seen in the institution of bridewealth that accompanies marriage. Among "civilized people" of indigenous or Americo-Liberian background, women's domestic role in caring for clothing, household decoration, and the other symbolic means by which the status of the household is communicated has great importance. While it is acceptable for an educated woman to hold a white-collar job outside the home, she cannot participate in the most common activities of native womenfarming, marketing, and carrying loads of wood and waterwithout threatening her status.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Indigenous constructions of gender usually emphasize the breadwinner or productive role for women and the warrior role for men. Indigenous political structures have a "dual-sex" organization, that is, parallel systems of offices for men and women. Among the northwestern peoples, this takes the form of the dual organization of the Poro and Sande secret societies. In the south and east, female councils of elders use a series of checks and balances on official male power. On the national level, the last transitional leader before the 1997 election was also the first female head of state in Africa, Ruth Sando Perry. The presidential candidate who came in second to Charles Taylor was also a woman.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Among the indigenous majority, marriage is ideally polygynous and patrilocal, with the bride moving to her husband's compound to live with his extended family. Probably less than 30 percent of men actually have more than one wife at a time, and those marriages often fail because of conflicts between co-wives. Marriage is a process rather than an event, with bridewealth payments made over many years and solidified by the birth of children. The increasing access of women to cash through the marketing of foodstuffs has resulted in some women freeing themselves from unwanted marriages by paying back the bridewealth. Bridewealth establishes the right of a husband to claim any children born to his wife regardless of their biological father. The great value placed on women as agricultural workers and childbearers ensures that no woman who wants a husband is without one for long. Among the civilized native and Americo-Liberian communities, statutory marriages are limited by the Christian insistence on monogamy. Most successful men, however, have one or more "country wives" who have been married through bridewealth in addition to the "ring wife" who shares their primary residence. Children from secondary marriages often are raised by the father and his official wife and form junior lines within important families in Monrovia and other coastal cities. Before 1980, the most prominent settler families practiced formal endogamy, resulting in a situation in which most important government officials were related by kinship and intermarriage.

Kin Groups. Among the indigenous people, groups in the northwest are organized into ranked lineages of "land owners," "commoners," and "slaves." Kinship is crucial in determining social status among these groups. The ranking of lineages is mirrored in the Poro and Sande societies and dictates the "secrets" that may be learned by initiates. Chieftaincy belongs to particular families, although succession does not follow a strict father-to-son transmission. Among the less stratified peoples of the southeast, kinship determines less in terms of individual life chances but remains crucial in regard to citizenship, identity, and access to land.


Child Rearing and Education. Children are highly valued as potential workers and supporters of their parents in old age. Babies are constantly carried, tied to the back of the mothers or another care giver. Children take on chores at an early age and are expected to learn through observation and imitation rather than through formal verbal instruction and the asking of questions. In the Poro and Sande "bush schools" for initiates, formal instruction in local history and genealogy is provided in addition to specialized training in herbalism and midwifery. Formal Western educational institutions originated with mission schools whose primary aim was conversion to Christianity; in areas of Muslim conversion, Koranic schools offer literacy training in Arabic.

Higher Education. Access to higher education at the University of Liberia was limited, especially for those of "tribal" background, until large numbers of the elite began taking advantage of foreign scholarships to send their children to Europe and the United States in the 1960s. Many of the current leaders, including President Charles Taylor, received their education in the United States.


Pre-coup Liberia often characterized itself as a "Christian nation," but a number of shifting religious identities and practices were and still are available. Active membership in a Christian denomination probably involves less than 20 percent of the population. Twenty to 30 percent of the population is at least nominally Muslim, and the remainder practices indigenous religious systems surrounding ancestor worship and secret society membership. Even in areas of widespread Christian or Muslim conversion, indigenous institutions such as polygyny, belief in witchcraft, and trial by ordeal persist. Many individuals combine elements from all three systems. Funerals are very important in all religions and are as elaborate as a family can afford, often going on for days or weeks.

Medicine and Health Care

A number of serious diseases afflict the population, including malaria, tuberculosis, and cholera. Health care facilities generally are located in or near major cities, and the majority of people have no access to Western medicine. There is a widespread belief that illness and death are caused by the evil intentions of other people. A great deal of effort is expended on the local level in the hearing of witchcraft cases. Liberians are happy to combine Western and indigenous health care systems; they eagerly seek access to Western drugs for the relief of symptoms and make heroic efforts to get family members to clinics and hospitals. The root cause of misfortune, however, is sought in disrupted social relations, often between family members who have quarreled. Much of the medical infrastructure outside Monrovia was destroyed during the civil war, and restoring at least some services remains a challenge for the new government.

Secular Celebrations

National holidays include 26 July, marking the anniversary of independence; Flag Day; and the birthdays of important presidents such as Joseph Jenkins Roberts (the first president) and W. V. S. Tubman. After the 1980 military coup, an Armed Forces Day was instituted. Images of an armed soldier were introduced as national symbols on coins, statues, and monuments. Attempts to supplant the earlier symbolism, including the flag and motto, were popularly rejected.

The Arts and Humanities

Graphic Arts. Liberia is known as the home of the "classical" African mask. The artistic ability of its wood carvers is widely recognized. Many masks are commissioned by the Poro and Sande societies for use in their initiation rituals; some powerfully charged masks may be seen only by initiates, while others are used in public masquerades. The range of forms produced by carvers is impressive as is the continuity of some styles over time. Other indigenous art forms include murals painted on the exterior walls of buildings, pottery, weaving, music, and dance. A small community of creative writers led by Bai T. Moore existed before the war.


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The people of Liberia are called Liberians. The country has about 28 ethnic tribes, but tribal divisions are becoming less distinct. This is due to intermarriage, and to Liberia's goal of national unification of all Liberians. There are more than 1.5 million Malinke distributed over several African nations, including Liberia.

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Liberiabarrier, carrier, farrier, harrier, tarrier •Calabria, Cantabria •Andrea • Kshatriya • Bactria •Amu Darya, aria, Zaria •Alexandria •Ferrier, terrier •destrier •aquaria, area, armamentaria, Bavaria, Bulgaria, caldaria, cineraria, columbaria, filaria, frigidaria, Gran Canaria, herbaria, honoraria, malaria, pulmonaria, rosaria, sacraria, Samaria, solaria, tepidaria, terraria •atria, gematria •Assyria, Illyria, Styria, SyriaLaurier, warrior •hypochondria, mitochondria •Austria •auditoria, ciboria, conservatoria, crematoria, emporia, euphoria, Gloria, moratoria, phantasmagoria, Pretoria, sanatoria, scriptoria, sudatoria, victoria, Vitoria, vomitoria •Maurya •courier, Fourier •currier, furrier, spurrier, worrier •Cumbria, Northumbria, Umbria •Algeria, anterior, bacteria, Bashkiria, cafeteria, criteria, cryptomeria, diphtheria, exterior, hysteria, Iberia, inferior, interior, Liberia, listeria, Nigeria, posterior, Siberia, superior, ulterior, wisteria •Etruria, Liguria, Manchuria, Surya

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