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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

L is for Liberia

I have long been fascinated with the western African nation of Liberia. I have a friend at my former church from Liberia who has traveled back to her homeland a number of times in the last 25 years, when it was safe to do so.

Looking at the map above, there were only four countries on the whole continent that were independent when I was born; much of the rest were colonies of Europeans. Sudan was controlled by an Anglo-Egyptian combo, and the Union of South Africa, as it was then known, controlled Southwest Africa, now Namibia. And it wasn't that long ago before that Ethiopia had been taken over by Italy before and during World War II.

So what IS this place with a flag very similar to that of the Unites States, an island of liberation in a sea of colonies in west Africa with a capital named for a U.S. President? And what is the relationship between the countries of the red, white and blue?

The roots of what came to be known as Liberia came from an unlikely mix of people who formed the American Colonization Society. From the Wikipedia post: "Supporters of the ACS may be divided into three main groups. The first consisted of those who genuinely felt that it was the best solution to a difficult problem and might lead to a gradual emancipation. Another smaller group was a pro-slavery group who saw removal as an answer to the problems associated with 'dangerous' free blacks. Perhaps the largest group of supporters was made up of those who opposed slavery, but did not believe in anything remotely resembling equality of the races." Thus, the Society was supported by an unlikely combination of free blacks, abolitionists and slave holders, though by no means a majority in any of those groups.

The "settlement of freed slaves from the US in what is today Liberia began in 1822" with the active and tacit support of American political leaders. "By 1847, the Americo-Liberians were able to establish a republic." But there was, for many years, tensions between the resettlers and and the folks native Africans who were forced to accept them. It didn't help that those who once had been in the Western Hemisphere and their progeny tended to look down on the natives.

From the CIA World Factbook: "William TUBMAN, president from 1944-71, did much to promote foreign investment and to bridge the economic, social, and political gaps between the descendents of the original settlers and the inhabitants of the interior." This was facilitated by the United States, which "began providing technical and economic assistance that enabled Liberia to make economic progress and introduce social change. Both the Freeport of Monrovia and Roberts International Airport were built by U.S. personnel during World War II."

Unfortunately, the last couple decades of the 20th Century found the country rife with instability. "In 1980, a military coup led by Samuel DOE ushered in a decade of authoritarian rule. In December 1989, Charles TAYLOR launched a rebellion against DOE's regime that led to a prolonged civil war in which DOE himself was killed. A period of relative peace in 1997 allowed for elections that brought TAYLOR to power, but major fighting resumed in 2000. An August 2003 peace agreement ended the war and prompted the resignation of former president Charles TAYLOR, who faces war crimes charges in The Hague related to his involvement in Sierra Leone's civil war." Indeed, just this month, Taylor's lawyers asked for a U.N. tribunal to acquit their client of all charges.

"After two years of rule by a transitional government, democratic elections in late 2005 brought President Ellen JOHNSON SIRLEAF to power...President JOHNSON SIRLEAF, a Harvard-trained banker and administrator, has taken steps to reduce corruption, build support from international donors, and encourage private investment...The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) maintains a strong presence throughout the country, but the security situation is still fragile and the process of rebuilding the social and economic structure of this war-torn country will take many years."

Despite the history, the United States does not appear to have a "special relation" with Liberia, as the United Kingdom, for instance, has with the Commonwealth or the French has with some of its former colonies.
I'm taking a wild guess that no one in the ABC Wednesday group picked Liberia, no?


Tumblewords: said...

Interesting post! You may be right - so far I have seen no other posts about Liberia. :)

photowannabe said...

I do think you win the prize for Liberia. its a strange, exotic country that we don't hear much about. Interesting post.

Rebecca Hickman said...

Excellent post. A couple of years ago, I noticed a typo on a library promo poster. It read "Ask a Liberian."

Jay said...

Interesting .. isn't Liberia the place that allows so many non-Liberian ships to register there and sail under its flag?

I seem to remember that the Torrey Canyon was registered in Liberia.

Anonymous said...

I just happened to run in to your blog and wanted to comment. I have just returned from Liberia the beginning of April 09' after visiting one of my children who is posted there. She has been there nearly three years. I spent two weeks. You are right, it is a fascinating country and I left with a desire to go back. The country is still Post Conflict but the president of the country is trying hard to make positive changes. The infrastructure leaves much to be desired. I traveled outside of Monrovia and the countryside is beautiful. The red clay roads, the lushness of it all. Yes, there is still poverty but riding through the countryside I did not see any malnourished children. I would recommend you read President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's book entitled This Child Will Be Great. This book will give you an marvelous perspective on the history of the country and where she would like to take the country. By the way, my father was a librarian. He graduated from the first Library Science Class at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Anonymous said...

I also wanted to mention that the UN Mission, USAID, U.S. Military ( in Liberia to train the Liberian Army), The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and many, many, many others including the Chinese are all in Liberia trying to help get this country back on its feet. There are alot of NGO's ( Non-Governmental Agencies also in the country. The key is to educate the populous and create employment opportunities. Because of the Civil War, an entire generation was not educated as all the schools were closed. As I said, I left with a desire to return, and yes I too am totally fascinated with this little country. I'm waiting to see what the President will say although our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did tell Madame Sirleaf that she hope to visit Liberia and of course formwer President George W. Bush visited the country in February 2008.