views updated Jun 11 2018


Getting There
Getting Around
Public Safety
Health Care
Parks and Recreation
Performing Arts
Libraries and Museums
Holidays and Festivals
Famous Citizens
For Further Study

Monrovia, Liberia, Africa

Founded: 1822
Location: Western coast of Liberia
Motto: "The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here" (national motto)
Time Zone: Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Ethnic Composition: 16 major ethnic groups, the most numerous being the Bassa
Elevation: 23 m (75 ft)
Latitude and Longitude: 6°20N, 10°46W
Climate: Warm and humid year round; rainy season between May and October
Annual Mean Temperature: 27°C (80°F); January 26°C (79°F); July 24°C (76°F)
Average Annual Precipitation (total rainfall): 5,200 mm (205 in)
Government: Administered directly by the federal government
Weights and Measures: Metric system
Monetary Units: Liberian dollar
Telephone Area Codes: 231 (both the country and city code)
Postal Codes: 10 (Downtown Monrovia)

1. Introduction

Named after the fifth U.S. president James Monroe (17581831; president 181725), Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, welcomed the first freed slaves to arrive from the United States in the 1820s. Located on the country's Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Mesurado River, it is the seat of the national government and the country's principal deepwater port. This once bustling city was a major battleground in the civil war that raged in Liberia from 1990 to 1997. Many of Monrovia's buildings were destroyed, and its infrastructure sustained heavy damage. In the late 1990s, life began returning to normal as the city started to rebuild, and its residents were hopeful that a United Nations-sponsored peace agreement and free elections would bring permanent peace to their home.

2. Getting There

Monrovia is located at the northern portion of the Liberian coast, on the promontory of Cape Mesurado at the mouth of the Mesurado River. The city extends across a series of small islands and peninsulas divided by lagoons.


Most thoroughfares in Liberia are dirt roads although the major northeast road out of Monrovia is paved with tar, as are the roads connecting Monrovia with Bo, Tubmanburg, and Buchanan. Monrovia's infrastructure suffered heavy damage in the civil war of the 1990s, and rebuilding began late in the decade. In 1998 the Liberia Electricity Corporation turned on the first traffic light to function in the city since 1990.

Bus and Railroad Service

Crowded inter-city buses (actually minivans) travel most major routes in Liberia. There is direct bus service several times weekly to Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. Another major mode of intercity travel is bush taxi. There is daily bush taxi service between Monrovia and Buchanan, Gbarnga, Ganta, Sanniquellie, and destinations in Sierra Leone. Boats are often used to travel between Liberian coastal cities. Liberia's railroads are all owned by the country's mining companies, and their 480 kilometers (300 miles) of track are used primarily to transport iron ore to Monrovia and Buchanan. Limited passenger service from the mines to Buchanan was introduced in 1964.


The Spriggs-Payne Airfield, southeast of the city, is used for all domestic air travel (there are no regularly scheduled flights). Liberia's sole international airport is located at Roberts International Airport (popularly known as Robertsfield), 58 kilometers (36 miles) from Monrovia. There are direct flights between Monrovia and Abidjan (Cote d'Ivoire) and Conakry (Guinea), and flights from Europe and the United States must connect through these points as well.


The Free Port of Monrovia, opened in 1948, is Liberia's major deepwater port. Improvements in the early 1960s increased the size of the ships it can accommodate. Together, the ports of Monrovia and Buchanan handle nearly all the country's shipping. A large number of foreign-owned ships are registered in Liberia, giving it one of the world's largest merchant fleets with more than 1,600 vessels.

Monrovia Population Profile

Population: 1,413,000
Area: 13 sq km (5 sq mi)
Ethnic composition: 16 major ethnic groups, the most numerous being the Bassa
World population rank 1: 249
Percentage of national population 2: 43.4%
Average yearly growth rate: 7.7%

  1. The Monrovia metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of Liberia's total population living in the Monrovia metropolitan area.

3. Getting Around

Monrovia extends along the Atlantic coast, reaching north to Free Port and Bushrod Island and southeast to the suburb of Sinkor. Both Sinkor and the downtown area of the city itself are laid out in grid patterns.

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

The primary mode of public transport in Monrovia is sharing taxis. Fares are standardized according to a zone system.


Years of warfare have curtailed sightseeing in Monrovia, destroying many buildings and much of the city's infrastructure.

4. People

Monrovia is Liberia's largest city; in 1995, its metropolitan population was estimated at 962,000. It is estimated that more than one-third of the country's population lives within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the city.

The major demographic divide in Liberia is the distinction between the country's indigenous residents and the descendants of freed American slaves, known as Americo-Liberians. The indigenous peoples (found mainly in the interior) outnumber Americo-Liberians (who live mainly on the coastal areas) by a ratio of about 30 to one.

All 16 of Liberia's major ethnic groups can be found among the population of Monrovia, with the most numerous being the Bassa, who belong to the Kwa linguistic group. Monrovia also has a foreign population consisting of both Africans and Europeans.

5. Neighborhoods

The Monrovia metropolitan area, including the downtown area, nearby districts, and suburbs, has an area of approximately 13 square kilometers (five square miles). The downtown grid is home to government buildings, including the Capitol, Executive Mansion, City Hall, and Temple of Justice; foreign embassies; the Waterside Market; the National Museum; and hotels. Diminutive Providence Island, north of the city center, is the spot where the first freed slaves from America arrived in Liberia in 1822. To the east lie Bushrod, Bally, and Bank Islands. Bushrod Island, where the Free Port of Monrovia is located, is the city's industrial center and the location of its deepwater port. Sinkor, southward along the Atlantic coast, is Monrovia's major suburb and is also laid out in a grid pattern, with numbered streets and named avenues. Yet further south are the older district of Congotown, the Spriggs-Payne Airfield, and the Robertsfield Airport. Shantytowns with corrugated iron and cardboard houses extend along the edges of the city.

6. History

European exploration of the coast of present-day Liberia began in 1461 with the arrival of the Portuguese navigator Pedro de Sintra. He was followed by other Portuguese explorers, who named Cape Mesurado and other geographical features of the area, which became known as the Grain Coast.

By the early nineteenth century, anti-slavery sentiment was growing in the United States, and one proposed solution to the problem of accommodating freed slaves was resettlement in Africa. In 1818 representatives of the American Colonization Society, a private U.S. organization, made a trip to the Grain Coast to assess the area. Three years later the society acquired settlement rights for Cape Mesurado through agreements signed with local chieftains. These efforts were aided by the U.S. government under President James Monroe, after whom Monrovia was later named (its original name was Christopolis). The first settlers arrived in 1822, settling on Providence Island. In spite of the formal agreement, the settlers were attacked by local tribes but managed to survive.

City Fact Comparison
Population of urban area11,413,00010,772,0002,688,00012,033,000
Date the city was founded1822AD 969753 BC723 BC
Daily costs to visit the city2
Hotel (single occupancy)$130$193$172$129
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)$58$56$59$62
Incidentals (laundry, dry cleaning, etc.)$14$14$15$16
Total daily costs (hotel, meals, incidentals)$202$173$246$207
Major Newspapers3
Number of newspapers serving the city6132011
Largest newspaperDaily ObserverAkhbar El Yom/Al AkhbarLa RepubblicaRenmin Ribao
Circulation of largest newspaper30,0001,159,339754,9303,000,000
Date largest newspaper was established1981194419761948
1United Nations population estimates for the year 2000.
2The maximum amount the U.S. Government reimburses its employees for business travel. The lodging portion of the allowance is based on the cost for a single room at a moderately-priced hotel. The meal portion is based on the costs of an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner including taxes, service charges, and customary tips. Incidental travel expenses include such things as laundry and dry cleaning.
3David Maddux, ed. Editor&Publisher International Year Book. New York: The Editor&Publisher Company, 1999.

Under the leadership of another American, Jehudi Ashmun, Liberia's first governmental and economic institutions were formed, and additional settlements were begun in nearby coastal areas. Liberia's first governor was appointed in 1839, and the territory proclaimed its independence in 1847. A constitution based on that of the United States was adopted, and during the following decade the new nation was recognized by most of the world's major powers. A large loan from Britain, necessitated by the withdrawal of aid from American colonization societies following Liberian independence, plunged the new nation into debt later in the century. Unable to meet its obligations, the nation was forced to borrow yet more money; its foreign debt was not paid off until 1952. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, border disputes erupted with the French in neighboring Cote d'Ivoire and the British in Sierra Leone.

Early twentieth-century events in Liberia included the establishment of a rubber plantation near Monrovia by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in 1926 and, a few years later, the resignation of the national government following a scandal over the shipment of African laborers to Fernando Po (in present-day Equatorial Guinea). During World War II (193945), Liberia joined the Allies in declaring war on Germany and Japan. As the result of a defense agreement signed with the United States in 1942, an international airport and deepwater harbor were constructed in Monrovia by 1948. In 1964 the free port of Monrovia was placed for the first time under the jurisdiction of the Liberian government.

In spite of the economic progress spurred by Monrovia's growing importance as an international port city, Liberia fell prey to economic troubles in the 1960s and 1970s, as the world market for its major exports declined. The economic situation and continuing tensions between the coastal elite, mostly descended from ex-slaves, and the tribal population in the interior of the country, led to the overthrow of the democratically elected government of President William R. Tolbert in 1980 in a military coup led by Samuel K. Doe (195190), who ruled Liberia for ten years until civil war erupted in 1989 when rebels under the leadership of Charles Taylor invaded Liberia from Cote d'Ivoire.

President Doe, who had barricaded himself in the presidential mansion, was killed, together with many of his supporters, in 1990, after which Monrovia was torn between the remnants of Doe's army and breakaway rebel forces led by Prince Johnson, a former associate of Taylor. Taylor's forces ultimately seized control of about 90 percent of the country and stormed Monrovia in 1992, after which an international peacekeeping force known as ECOMOG (the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group) was stationed in the country. A series of temporary UN-sponsored peace agreements temporarily halted the fighting, and a permanent agreement was reached in 1996, followed by elections the following year, with Charles Taylor and the National Patriotic Party winning some 75 percent of the vote.

Since the area around the capital was the major contested territory during the war, it suffered the greatest damageto infrastructure and industry. In the late 1990s, however, life in Monrovia was beginning to return to normal, although fears of future violence were raised when ECOMOG troops withdrew in early 1998. As many of the refugees who had fled to neighboring countries poured back into the country, both Liberians and the international community hoped that rebuilding efforts could be undertaken without further bloodshed and brutality.

7. Government

As the seat of the national government, Monrovia is home to the Executive Mansion (the residence of the president), the Capitol building, the Temple of Justice, and various ministry buildings. Thanks to its close association with the United States, Liberia's government has always been modeled on that of the United States, with executive and judicial branches and a bicameral legislature. The 1986 constitution adopted during the regime of General Samuel K. Doe provides for the president to be directly elected by popular vote every six years, as are the legislators in the House of Representatives. Senators are directly elected for nine-year terms. During the civil war of 1990 to 1997, competing factions overran the country, and there was no effective central government. Central government was restored in 1995 under interim leadership in the form of a Council of State. In 1997 Charles Taylor was elected president of the country, and the Council of State was dissolved.

There are no elected local councils in Liberia, and most local government centers around the country's 13 counties. Monrovia, however, is governed directly by the federal government rather than at the county level.

8. Public Safety

The greatest threat to public safety in Monrovia's recent history was the civil war that raged throughout the country between 1990 and 1997, bringing lawlessness and destruction to this formerly peaceful capital. By 1996 the city lay in ruins while armed gangs employed by rival warlords roamed the streets killing, raping, and looting. Thousands fled the fighting in the capital, and at least 100 peacekeepers lost their lives while trying to restore security to the city and its environs. A U.S. airlift evacuated more than 2,300 people from Monrovia, including 461 American citizens, and nearly the entire U.S. embassy staff left the city. Although conditions improved substantially following the 1996 peace agreement and the 1997 elections, the threat of violence remained, especially once ECOMOG forces had been withdrawn from the country.

9. Economy

Monrovia's economy is centered on its harbor, home to the country's major commercial port, which has accommodated ocean-going vessels since improvements made in the 1940s with U.S. assistance. It is a free port, and vessels from countries around the world can obtain Liberian registration, giving the port one of the world's largest tanker fleets with more than 1,600 vessels. The main Liberian exports handled through the port are the country's two major natural resources, latex from rubber plantations and iron ore. Monrovia also has storage and ship repair facilities. Items manufactured in or near the city include food products, cement, bricks, tiles, furniture, and pharmaceuticals.

Following the civil war of the 1990s, Liberia, a country that was once prosperous by African standards, is one of the poorest countries on the continent, its economy decimated by displacement of its population and destruction of its infrastructure. Utility operation in Monrovia broke down in 1990, after which the city had no central power supply, and residents resorted to personal power generators. Now heavily dependent on foreign aid, Liberia faces the challenges of repatriating refugees who fled to neighboring countries, rebuilding its infrastructure, and restoring its public institutions.

10. Environment

Wildlife on Liberia's coastal plain, where Monrovia is located, has been virtually wiped out by hunting and habitat destruction, including increased poaching during the prolonged period of political instability since 1990. The Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL), headquartered in Monrovia, is primarily concerned with preserving Liberia's rain forests, located in the northwest and southeastern parts of the country. However, following the country's civil war, the society also mounted a major campaign in the capital to rehabilitate its zoo, spearheading extensive renovations intended to include a guest house and environmental education center on the zoo grounds. The SCNL also initiated a project to plant acacia seedlings at some 50 sites around the city.

Liberia's largest generating station, the Mount Coffee hydroelectric plant on the Saint Paul River, is located near Monrovia. About half of Liberia's electric energy comes from hydroelectric generation.

Pollution of the river by iron ore tailings is a growing problem, while purity of the waters off the Atlantic coast is threatened by untreated sewage and waste water and oil residues.

11. Shopping

Monrovia's Free Port has traditionally ensured the city a good supply of consumer goods, as well as specialties such as African cloth and clothing. The largest number of textile and apparel stores can be found on Benson Street, and textiles can be purchased at the Waterside Market. A large concentration of retailers can also be found on Randall Street. African crafts, including wood carvings, stone statues, and musical instruments, are sold in booths near the U.S. embassy and MBK Brother African Arts Dealer on Carey Street. There are also several supermarkets in Monrovia.

12. Education

Compared to most other countries in Africa, educational standards in Liberia are high. Although primary and secondary education for children ages six to 16 are theoretically compulsory, only about 50 percent of Liberian children receive a primary education, with the number dropping to 20 percent for secondary education. However, school attendance is better in cities than in rural areas.

Liberia's most important institution of higher education, the University of Liberia (founded in 1862), is located in Monrovia, as are the William V. S. Tubman College of Technology (founded 1978), several teacher-training and community colleges, and the Monrovia Torrino Medical College, a training institute for paramedics. Cuttington University College, an Episcopalian institution that is the oldest private, coeducational, four-year college in sub-Saharan Africa, is located 193 kilometers (120 miles) north of Monrovia in Suakoko.

13. Health Care

The health-care network in Liberia as a whole suffered from the civil war of the 1990s. Damage to the country's infrastructure and economy reduced its capacity to combat diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, dysentery, and schistosomiasis. At the end of the war, Liberia had some 85 hospitals, with 15 beds to every 10,000 persons. Health care facilities in Monrovia are among the best in the country and include the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital and the Roman Catholic Hospital, both of which are affiliated with medical and nursing schools.

14. Media

There are several daily newspapers published in Monrovia. The foremost one, the Daily Observer, had a circulation of 30,000 in 1998. The New Liberian is the official newspaper of the Liberian government. The other newspapers include Liberian Age, the Sun Times, the Mirror, and Footprints Today. Liberia's single, state-owned television station broadcasts from the capital, which is also the only area where its signal can be heard. Liberia has four radio stations, and programming by the Voice of America and the BBC World Service can be received; programming from the Sudan, France, and Italy, is also available through direct satellite links.

15. Sports

Soccer ("association football") is the most popular sport in Monrovia, as elsewhere in Liberia. The city's team, the Lone Stars, plays at a stadium about 12 kilometers (seven-and-a-half miles) from downtown and participates in inter-county competition for the national championship annually. At the international level, the Liberian national team competes in an African soccer league, and the country also has a national basketball team. Other popular sports in Monrovia are squash and swimming. At the collegiate level, the University of Liberia, located in the capital, competes against Cuttington University College in a variety of sports.

16. Parks and Recreation

Outdoor activities abound in and around Monrovia. Located on Liberia's Atlantic coast, Monrovia has a number of beaches, including Ellen's Beach, Kendeja Beach, Thinker's Village, and, farther out, Marshall Beach. Snorkeling, spear fishing, and scuba diving are all popular activities. Boating and fishing are centered on the St. Paul River. The privately owned Monrovia Zoo offers a glimpse at some of birds and wildlife one would find in the country's tropical rainforests. The Bong Mining Company, about two hours north of Monrovia, has extensive recreational facilities, including a swimming pool, soccer field, golf course, tennis courts, restaurants, and aircraft and shooting clubs.

17. Performing Arts

Music and dance in Monrovia and Liberia's other coastal cities combines traditional African and Western elements. The most common instruments on which traditional Liberian music is played include various types of xylophone, rattles, a variety of stringed instruments, and drums. Modern Liberian music has been influenced not only by American gospel and soul but also by the big band music of Ghana and Sierra Leone and the music of the West Indies and Latin America. Gospel music is widely heard over the radio in Monrovia and other parts of the country. Live popular music can be heard in a few clubs and discos although Monrovia's night life is much quieter than it was in the years before the civil war.

18. Libraries and Museums

Monrovia is home to the government-run National Library, which holds some 15,000 volumes. Other libraries in the capital include a UNESCO facility, a children's library, a research library operated by the Liberian Information Service, and the University of Liberia library, which holds 108,000 volumes.

Before Liberia's civil war, Monrovia had a thriving art scene, with a number of galleries and a flourishing collection at the National Museum of Liberia, located in the Supreme Court building. The museum was looted during the war, but a number of its masks and ceramic objects were salvaged and are now housed at Cuttington University College in Suakoko. Other museums in Monrovia include the Africana Museum and a museum at the University of Liberia. Some of Monrovia's local artists, including Leslie Lumeh and Lawson Sworh, display their works at their private studios.

19. Tourism

Tourism to Liberia has been suppressed by close to a decade of civil war and political instability. Of the country's existing hotels, most are located in Monrovia, whose beaches are one of the country's only tourist attractions. Located on Liberia's Atlantic coast, popular beaches include Ellen's Beach, Kendeja Beach, Thinker's Village, and, farther out, Marshall Beach.

20. Holidays and Festivals

Armed Forces Day

Decoration Day
J. J. Roberts Day

Fast and Prayer Day

National Unification Day

Independence Day

Flag Day

Tubman Day

21. Famous Citizens

Joseph Jenkins Roberts (180976), Liberia's first president.

Jehudi Ashmun (17941828) and Ralph Randolph Gurley (17971872), Americans who helped organize the first settlement.

William V. S. Tubman (18951971), president of Liberia from 1944 to 1971.

Samuel K. Doe (195190), military leader and head of government.

George Weah (b. 1966), European Footballer of the Year and African Football Player of the Year.

Charles Taylor (b. 1947), former rebel leader and current president of Liberia.

22. For Further Study


Friends of Liberia. [Online] Available (accessed February 3, 2000).

MIT. [Online] Available (accessed February 3, 2000).

University of Pennsylvania. [Online] Available (accessed February 3, 2000).

Government Offices

Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs
Broad St.
P.O. Box 109016
1000 Monrovia 10

Office of the President
Executive Mansion
P.O. Box 109001
Capitol Hill
1000 Monrovia 10
Tourist and Convention Bureaus

Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism
Capitol Hill
P.O. Box 109021
1000 Monrovia 10


Daily Observer
117 Broad St.
Crown Hill
P.O. Box 1858

Liberian Age
Carey St.
P.O. Box 9031

New Liberian
Capitol Hill
P.O. Box 9021


Belcher, Max, ed. A Land and Life Remembered: Americo-Liberian Folk Architecture. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988.

Chea, Augustine S. Joy after Mourning: The Liberia Civil War. Decatur, GA: A.S. Chea, 1996.

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

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

Harris, Katherine. African and American Values: Liberia and West Africa. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985.

Huband, Mark. The Liberian Civil War. Portland, OR: F. Cass, 1998.

Kulah, Arthur F. Liberia Will Rise Again: Reflections on the Liberian Civil Crisis. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.

Liebenow, J. Gus. Liberia: The Quest for Democracy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Saha, Santosh C. Culture in Liberia: An Afrocentric View of the Cultural Interaction between the Indigenous Liberians and the Americo-Liberians. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press, 1998.

Sawyer, Amos. The Emergence of Autocracy in Liberia: Tragedy and Challenge. San Francisco, CA: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1992.

Shuster, Lynda. "The Final Days of Dr. Doe." Granta. Vol. 48. 1994.


views updated May 11 2018

Monrovia Capital and chief port of Liberia, West Africa, on the estuary of the River St Paul. In 1822 freed US slaves settled Monrovia, on a site chosen by the American Colonization Society. Monrovia exports latex and iron ore. Industries: bricks and cement. Pop. (2002) 543,000.