Liberia History and Politics

Liberia History

Peoples of Liberia

People who immigrated from the north have lived on today’s national territory since the Neolithic Age. The Gola are one of the first peoples in this area. Today they only make up a minority of the population.

Other peoples that are still at home in Liberia today came from the north and middle of Africa from the 6th century onwards. The search for new sources of food, but also wars, were the cause of these migrations. This is how the Bassa and the Kpelle came to Liberia.

Europeans on the Pepper Coast

The first explorers to come from Europe were the Portuguese in 1461. They explored the West African coast on behalf of Henry the Navigator. They called the area to which Liberia belongs today, Pepper Coast, because so much Melegueta pepper grew there. It was popular in Europe because it was cheaper than the real pepper from India. Later the Dutch and British also opened trading posts.

Slave trade

Today’s Liberia only had a small share in the slave trade, and it only blossomed here late, in the 18th century: Africans caught other Africans, sold them to the Europeans, who shipped these slaves to America, where they had to toil on the plantations. Resistance to the slave trade grew in the 19th century, and Britain banned it in 1807.

American Colony (1821-1847)

In 1821 former slaves from the United States of America were settled at Cape Mesurado. A colonial society had been founded for this purpose, whose members now also became colonial masters. US President Monroe was the company’s first chairman. The settlement was named after him in 1824 Monrovia, the colony was called Liberia because the former slaves should now be free here (liber is Latin and means free). The land for this had been bought from the locals.

The settlement grew over the next few decades. Further towns and villages were founded, as well as farms and mission stations in the hinterland. More colonies emerged.

From the Afro-American settlers and their descendants a black elite developed, the Ameriko-Liberians, who oppressed the original population of the country and did not allow them to participate in political power. Their party, the True Whig Party, founded in 1869, was the only legal party to rule Liberia until 1980.

The State of Liberia: Independence 1847

On July 26, 1847, Liberia declared its independence. The country is one of the first states in Africa to be independent (most of the others did not follow until 1960). The external reason for this was that Liberia levied customs duties on goods that came from the British colony of Sierra Leone. Great Britain did not accept this because only independent states were allowed to do so – so they declared independence without further ado. Joseph Jenkins Roberts became the first president.

In the years that followed, there were numerous unrest and conflicts because the peoples living in the interior wanted to prevent the advance of the Liberians. Conflicts also arose with Great Britain and France, who had wanted to assert their colonial claims in West Africa since the 1870s. Between 1890 and 1910 Liberia lost some areas to the British Sierra Leone and then to the French Guinea. You can see that on the map.

History of Liberia in the 20th and 21st centuries

Rubber cultivation and a scandal

Mainly British and US companies have been active in Liberia, to earn money there, especially with rubber – plantations. A scandal broke out in the 1920s: it was revealed that the Liberian government and the ruling upper class were obliging their own citizens to do slave labor under slave-like conditions. This has been condemned internationally.

Tubman Presidency (1944-1971)

In 1944 Willliam S. Tubman became President of Liberia. The restriction to two terms was lifted under his reign and he remained in office until 1971. Liberia flourished economically. Rubber, iron ore and diamonds formed the basis for this.

Tubman attracted numerous foreign investors into the country (open door economic policy). Tubman tried to improve relations between the Ameriko-Liberians and the native peoples by including them in politics.

President Tolbert (1971-1980)

In 1971 William R. Tolbert was elected Tubman’s successor. He continued Tubman’s policy, but for the first time allowed an opposition party. The differences between the ruling upper class and the locals continued to intensify.

In 1979 rice prices rose sharply because the state had encouraged the cultivation of coffee and cocoa and because droughts destroyed harvests in the Sahel zone. As a country located in Africa according to homosociety, Liberia could no longer buy the rice to feed its people and Tolbert raised the price so that less rice would be used. Riots broke out and a demonstration broke out, which the President brutally brought to an end.

1980 military coup

In 1980, Samuel K. Doe took power with a military coup. Tolbert was killed. Doe was a member of the Krahn people. This ended the rule of the Ameriko-Liberians. Many years followed that were politically unstable. The Gio and Mano peoples in the north of Liberia were oppressed under Doe’s rule and, for example, excluded from leadership positions.

Civil War (1989-1996 and 1999-2003) and Transition to Democracy (2003-2005)

In December 1989, rebels led by Charles Taylor invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast. Above all Gio and Mano belonged to these rebels. A civil war began. The rebels committed serious human rights violations such as torture, massacres and kidnappings. They also let many children and young people fight for themselves. 18 percent of those who fought for the rebels in the Liberian civil war were children and young people between the ages of 12 and 17 (see children as soldiers). Doe was deposed and killed in 1990.

Many people died and many more fled within Liberia or to neighboring countries. The country’s infrastructure was destroyed and the economy collapsed.

In 1996 there was a peace agreement. Ruth Perry became the first woman in Africa to become President and prepare for elections. The rebel group was transformed into a legitimate political party. This party won the 1997 elections. Charles Taylor, the rebel leader, became president.

But there was resistance to Taylor. From 1998 there were again fights and killings. Taylor also supported the rebels in Sierra Leone. He was accused of training child soldiers and sending them to Sierra Leone. An African peacekeeping force finally forced Taylor to resign in 2003. In 2012, the International Court of Justice in The Hague sentenced Taylor to 50 years in prison. The interim presidents were Moses Blah in 2003 and Gyude Bryant from 2003 to 2005.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

In 2006, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became President of Liberia. This makes her the first woman President of Africa to be elected to this office. In 2011 she was re-elected. Also in 2011 she received the Nobel Peace Prize together with two other women.

2014 broke one in West Africa Ebola – epidemic of. Along with Sierra Leone and Guinea, Liberia was one of the countries most affected.

George Weah

In the 2017 presidential election, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was constitutionally banned from running. Former footballer George Weah won the election and took office in January 2018.

Liberia History