Location, demographics and climate
The Republic of Liberia is located on the coast of west Africa and is bordered by Sierra Leone (west), Guinea (north) and Cote d’Ivoire (east). The country is home to around 3.7 million people and covers an area of just over 111,000 square kilometers (43,000 square miles). Liberia has a hot equatorial climate with significant rainfall between May and October. English is the official language although there are also around thirty other indigenous languages spoken in the country.
Liberia is one of two modern sub-Saharan African countries that does not have its origins in the European colonisation of the continent (the other being Ethiopia). After 1820 the country was populated by freed slaves from America with the help of the American Colonisation Society. This led to the founding of the country in 1847. Monrovia, the capital, is named after James Monroe, the fifth American President, who was a prominent supporter of the process.
Development of the country (1847 - 1980)
The colonists subsequently dominated the political and economic processes of the country for well over a century. Between 1877 and 1978 the country had a one party system. This was despite the colonists (or Americo-Liberians) comprising a relatively small proportion (under 5%) of the total population. This factor led to periodic episodes of civil unrest over the following decades although the country was largely peaceful and stable throughout the period. After World War Two the country’s economy grew significantly and exports of rubber, iron and timber grew sharply. However dissatisfaction amongst the indigenous population grew in 1979 and eventually led to a bloody military led coup d’etat which overthrew the government in April 1980 (the main opposition party had been banned a month earlier).
Two civil wars, political and economic instability (1980 - 2003)
Over two decades of political and economic instability followed including two violent civil wars (between 1989 and 1996 and again between 1999 and 2003). This episode devastated the country’s economy, led to around a quarter of a million deaths and displaced around a million people into refugee camps in neighbouring countries. The country was internationally regarded as a pariah state during the period which Charles Taylor was President (1997 to 2003) because of its associations with “blood diamonds”, illegal timber exports and human rights abuses. Following his resignation in August 2003 a peace agreement was signed ending the second civil war.
Democracy and increasing stability (2003 onwards)
An interim government was put in place in October 2003 that was supported by the United Nations. The Presidential election which followed in October 2005 is regarded as being one of the fairest in Liberian history. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former World Bank employee and Liberian finance minister, won by a clear majority of the vote and became Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state in January 2006. She was re-elected in November 2011 in another election that was the subject of international scrutiny and was declared to be fair and transparent. In the same year she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The current Liberian system of government is modeled on the American system. It is a constitutional republic and a representative democracy. It has three branches of government; executive led by the President, legislative made up of the two parliamentary houses (Senate and House of Representatives) and judicial (Supreme Court and lower courts).
Liberia’s economy and much of the country’s infrastructure was largely destroyed during the two civil wars and as a result of related matters during the twenty three years of civil unrest that ended with Charles Taylor’s resignation in 2003. The country is, however, still one of the poorest in the world with high levels of unemployment.
Renewed political stability, particularly since the election of the current President in 2005, has led to significant reductions in the levels of national debt. The government is involved in numerous initiatives aimed at addressing the considerable economic issues it inherited. Significant levels of foreign investment into the country, particularly focused on rubber, iron ore and palm oil, has assisted it with this activity. A number of multinational corporations are participating in the process including BHP Billiton, Sime Darby, ArcelorMittal, Firestone and Golden Veroleum. The country has also commenced exploration for offshore oil. Participants in this process include Tullow Oil, Repsol and Chevron.
More information about the government of Liberia can be found at the President’s website. This also contains links to other government ministry websites.