Monrovia Second Liberian Civil War History of Liberia

Coordinates: 6°30′N 9°30′W / 6.500°N 9.500°W / 6.500; -9.500

Republic of Liberia

Motto: "The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here"
Location of Liberia (dark blue) in Africa (light blue)
Location of Liberia (dark blue)

in Africa (light blue)

and largest city
6°19′N 10°48′W / 6.317°N 10.800°W / 6.317; -10.800
Official languagesEnglish
Spoken and national languages[1]
Ethnic groups
GovernmentUnitary presidential constitutional republic
• President
George Weah
Jewel Taylor
Bhofal Chambers
Francis Korkpor
LegislatureLegislature of Liberia
House of Representatives
Formation and Independence from United States
• Settlement by the American Colonization Society
January 7, 1822
July 26, 1847
• Annexation of Republic of Maryland
March 18, 1857
• Recognition by the United States
February 5, 1862
November 2, 1945
January 6, 1986
• Total
111,369 km2 (43,000 sq mi) (102nd)
• Water (%)
• 2015 estimate
5,073,296[2] (126th)
• 2008 census
• Density
40.43/km2 (104.7/sq mi) (180th)
GDP (PPP)2019 estimate
• Total
$6.468 billion
• Per capita
GDP (nominal)2019 estimate
• Total
$3.221 billion
• Per capita
Gini (2016)35.3[4]
HDI (2018)Increase 0.465[5]
low · 176th
CurrencyLiberian dollar (LRD)
Time zoneUTC (GMT)
Driving sideright
Calling code+231
ISO 3166 codeLR

Liberia (/lˈbɪəriə/ (About this soundlisten)), officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the West African coast. It is bordered by Sierra Leone to its northwest, Guinea to its north, Côte d’Ivoire to its east, and the Atlantic Ocean to its south-southwest. It has a population of around 5 million and covers an area of 111,369 square kilometers (43,000 sq mi). English is the official language, but over 20 indigenous languages are spoken, representing the numerous ethnic groups who make up more than 95% of the population. The country's capital and largest city is Monrovia.

Liberia began as a settlement of the American Colonization Society (ACS), who believed black people would face better chances for freedom and prosperity in Africa than in the United States.[6] The country declared its independence on July 26, 1847. The U.S. did not recognize Liberia's independence until February 5, 1862, during the American Civil War. Between January 7, 1822, and the American Civil War, more than 15,000 freed and free-born black people who faced legislated limits in the U.S., and 3,198 Afro-Caribbeans, were relocated to the settlement.[7] The settlers carried their culture and tradition with them. The Liberian constitution and flag were modeled after those of the U.S. On January 3, 1848, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a wealthy, free-born African American from Virginia who settled in Liberia, was elected Liberia's first president after the people proclaimed independence.[7]

Liberia was the first African republic to proclaim its independence, and is Africa's first and oldest modern republic. It retained its independence during the Scramble for Africa. During World War II, Liberia supported the United States war effort against Germany and in turn, the U.S. invested in considerable infrastructure in Liberia to help its war effort, which also aided the country in modernizing and improving its major air transportation facilities. In addition, President William Tubman encouraged economic changes. Internationally, Liberia was a founding member of the League of Nations, United Nations, and the Organisation of African Unity.

The Americo-Liberian settlers did not relate well to the indigenous peoples they encountered, especially those in communities of the more isolated "bush". The colonial settlements were raided by the Kru and Grebo from their inland chiefdoms. Americo-Liberians developed as a small elite that held on to political power,[8] and indigenous tribesmen were excluded from birthright citizenship in their own land until 1904, in an echo of the United States' treatment of Native Americans.[9] Americo-Liberians promoted religious organizations to set up missions and schools to educate the indigenous peoples.[10]

In 1980 political tensions from the rule of William R. Tolbert resulted in a military coup during which Tolbert was killed, marking the beginning of years-long political instability. Five years of military rule by the People's Redemption Council and five years of civilian rule by the National Democratic Party of Liberia were followed by the First and Second Liberian Civil Wars. These resulted in the deaths of 250,000 people (about 8% of the population) and the displacement of many more, and shrank Liberia's economy by 90%.[11] A peace agreement in 2003 led to democratic elections in 2005, in which Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President, making history as the first female president in the continent. National infrastructure and basic social services were severely affected by the conflicts as well as by the 2013–2016 outbreak of Ebola virus, with 83% of the population living below the international poverty line as of 2015.[12]


Undated Acheulean artefacts are abundant across West Africa, attesting to the presence of ancient humans. The emerging chronometric record of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) indicates that core and flake technologies have been present in West Africa since at least the Middle Pleistocene (~780-126 thousand years ago or ka), and that they persisted until the Terminal Pleistocene/Holocene boundary (~12ka)—the youngest examples of such technology anywhere in Africa. The presence of MSA populations in forests remains an open question, however technological differences may correlate with various ecological zones. Later Stone Age (LSA) populations evidence significant technological diversification, including both microlithic and macrolithic traditions. [13]

The presence of Oldowan Earlier Stone Age (ESA) artefacts in West Africa has been confirmed by Michael Omolewa.[14] Acheulean ESA artefacts are well documented across West Africa. None are currently dated. There are few dated Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites; they range from the Middle Pleistocene in northern, open Sahelian zones to the Late Pleistocene in both northern and southern zones of West Africa. The record shows that aceramic and ceramic Later Stone Age (LSA) assemblages in West Africa are found to overlap chronologically, and that changing densities of microlithic industries from the coast to the north are geographically structured. These features may represent social networks or some form of cultural diffusion allied to changing ecological conditions. [13]

Microlithic industries with ceramics became common by the Mid-Holocene, coupled with an apparent intensification of wild food exploitation. Between ~4–3.5ka, these societies gradually transformed into food producers, possibly through contact with northern pastoralists and agriculturalists, as the environment became more arid. However, hunter-gatherers have survived in the more forested parts of West Africa until much later, attesting to the strength of ecological boundaries in this region. [13]

A European map of West Africa and the Grain Coast, 1736. It has the archaic mapping designation of Negroland.

The Pepper Coast, also known as the Grain Coast, has been inhabited by indigenous peoples of Africa at least as far back as the 12th century. Mande-speaking people expanded westward from the Sudan, forcing many smaller ethnic groups southward toward the Atlantic Ocean. The Dei, Bassa, Kru, Gola, and Kissi were some of the earliest documented peoples in the area.[15]

This influx of these groups was compounded by the decline of the Western Sudanic Mali Empire in 1375 and the Songhai Empire in 1591. As inland regions underwent desertification, inhabitants moved to the wetter coast. These new inhabitants brought skills such as cotton spinning, cloth weaving, iron smelting, rice and sorghum cultivation, and social and political institutions from the Mali and Songhai empires.[15] Shortly after the Mane conquered the region, the Vai people of the former Mali Empire immigrated into the Grand Cape Mount County region. The ethnic Kru opposed the influx of Vai, forming an alliance with the Mane to stop further influx of Vai.[16]

People along the coast built canoes and traded with other West Africans from Cap-Vert to the Gold Coast. Arab traders entered the region from the north, and a long-established slave trade took captives to north and east Africa.[citation needed]

Early colonization

Between 1461 and the late 17th century, Portuguese, Dutch, and British traders had contacts and trading posts in the region. The Portuguese named the area Costa da Pimenta ("Pepper Coast") but it later came to be known as the Grain Coast, due to the abundance of melegueta pepper grains. European traders would barter commodities and goods with local people.[citation needed]

In the United States there was a movement to settle free people of color, both free-born and formerly enslaved, in Africa. This was because they faced racial discrimination in the form of political disenfranchisement and the denial of civil, religious, and social rights.[17] Formed in 1816, the American Colonization Society was made up mostly of Quakers and slaveholders. Quakers believed blacks would face better chances for freedom in Africa than in the U.S.[6][18] While slaveholders opposed freedom for enslaved people, they viewed "repatriation" of free people of color as a way to avoid what they termed "internal rebellions".[6]

In 1822, the American Colonization Society began sending free people of color to the Pepper Coast voluntarily to establish a colony. Although mortality from tropical diseases was horrendous — of the 4,571 emigrants who arrived in Liberia between 1820 and 1843, only 1,819 were alive in 1843[19][20] — by 1867 the ACS (and state-related chapters) had assisted in the migration of more than 13,000 people of color from the United States and the Caribbean to Liberia.[21] These free African Americans and their descendants married within their community and came to identify as Americo-Liberians. Many were of mixed race and educated in American culture; they did not identify with the indigenous natives of the tribes they encountered. They intermarried largely within the colonial community, developing an ethnic group that had a cultural tradition infused with American notions of political republicanism and Protestant Christianity.[22]

Map of Liberia Colony in the 1830s, created by the ACS, and also showing Mississippi Colony and other state-sponsored colonies.

The ACS, supported by prominent American politicians such as Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, and James Monroe, believed "repatriation" was preferable to having emancipated slaves remain in the United States.[18] Similar state-based organizations established colonies in Mississippi-in-Africa, Kentucky in Africa, and the Republic of Maryland, which Liberia later annexed. However, Lincoln in 1862 described Liberia as only "in a certain sense...a success", and proposed instead that free people of color be assisted to emigrate to Chiriquí, today part of Panama.[23]

The Americo-Liberian settlers did not relate well to the indigenous peoples they encountered, especially those in communities of the more isolated "bush". They knew nothing of their cultures, languages, or animist religion, and were not interested in learning. The colonial settlements were raided by the Kru and Grebo from their inland chiefdoms. Encounters with tribal Africans in the bush often became violent confrontations.[citation needed]

In Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, Benjamin Dennis and Anita Dennis argue that the Americo-Liberians replicated the only society most of them knew: the racist culture of the American South. Believing themselves different from and culturally and educationally superior to the indigenous peoples, the Americo-Liberians developed as an elite minority that held on to political power. They treated the natives the way American whites had treated them: as inferiors. The natives could not vote and could not speak unless spoken to. Just as people of color were prohibited from marrying white people in most of the United States, the indigenous Africans could not by law marry Americo-Liberians. Even when some indigenous Africans became educated in Western ways, they were broadly excluded from government positions.[24] Indigenous tribesmen did not enjoy birthright citizenship in their own land until 1904.[9] Americo-Liberians encouraged religious organizations to set up missions and schools to educate the indigenous peoples.[citation needed]


Residence of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, first President of Liberia, between 1848 and 1852.

On July 26, 1847, the settlers issued a Declaration of Independence and promulgated a constitution. Based on the political principles of the United States Constitution, it established the independent Republic of Liberia.[25][26] The United Kingdom was the first country to recognize Liberia's independence.[27] The United States did not recognize Liberia until 1862, after the southern states, who had significant influence in the American government, seceded from the union to form the Confederacy.[citation needed]

The leadership of the new nation consisted largely of the Americo-Liberians, who initially established political and economic dominance in the coastal areas that the ACS had purchased; they maintained relations with U.S. contacts in developing these areas and the resulting trade. Their passage of the 1865 Ports of Entry Act prohibited foreign commerce with the inland tribes, ostensibly to "encourage the growth of civilized values" before such trade was allowed in the region.[25]

By 1877, the True Whig Party was the country's most powerful political entity.[28] It was made up primarily of Americo-Liberians, who maintained social, economic and political dominance well into the 20th century, repeating patterns of European colonists in other nations in Africa. Competition for office was usually contained within the party; a party nomination virtually ensured election.[28]

Pressure from the United Kingdom, which controlled Sierra Leone to the northwest, and France, with its interests in the north and east, led to a loss of Liberia's claims to extensive territories. Both Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast annexed territories.[29] Liberia struggled to attract investment to develop infrastructure and a larger, industrial economy.

There was a decline in production of Liberian goods in the late 19th century, and the government struggled financially, resulting in indebtedness on a series of international loans.[30] On July 16, 1892, Martha Ann Erskine Ricks met Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle and presented her a handmade quilt, Liberia's first diplomatic gift. Born into slavery in Tennessee, Ricks said, "I had heard it often, from the time I was a child, how good the Queen had been to my people—to slaves—and how she wanted us to be free."[27]

Early 20th century

Charles D. B. King, 17th President of Liberia (1920–1930), with his entourage on the steps of the Peace Palace, The Hague (the Netherlands), 1927.

American and other international interests emphasized resource extraction, with rubber production a major industry in the early 20th century.[31] In 1914 Imperial Germany accounted for three quarters of the trade of Liberia. This was a cause for concern among the British colonial authorities of Sierra Leone and the French colonial authorities of French Guinea and the Ivory Coast as tensions with Germany increased.[32]

First World War

Liberia remained neutral during World War I until August 4, 1917, when it declared war on Germany. In 1919 Liberia attended the Versailles Peace Conference. Liberia was one of the founding members of the League of Nations when it was founded in January 1920.[33]

Middle 20th century

In 1929 allegations of modern slavery in Liberia led the League of Nations to establish the Christy commission. Findings included government involvement in widespread "Forced or compulsory labour". Minority ethnic groups especially were exploited in a system that enriched well-connected elites.[34] As a result of the report, President Charles D. B. King and Vice President Allen N. Yancy resigned.[35]

In the mid-20th century Liberia gradually began to modernize with American assistance. During World War II the United States made major infrastructure improvements to support its military efforts in Africa and Europe against Germany. It built the Freeport of Monrovia and Roberts International Airport under the Lend-Lease program before its entry into the Second World War.[36]

After the war President William Tubman encouraged foreign investment in the country. Liberia had the second-highest rate of economic growth in the world during the 1950s.[36]

Liberia also began to take a more active role in international affairs. It was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 and became a vocal critic of the South African apartheid regime.[37] Liberia also served as a proponent both of African independence from European colonial powers and of Pan-Africanism, and helped to fund the Organisation of African Unity.[38]

A technical in Monrovia during the Second Liberian Civil War.

Late 20th-century political instability

On April 12, 1980, a military coup led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe of the Krahn ethnic group overthrew and killed President William R. Tolbert, Jr. Doe and the other plotters later executed a majority of Tolbert's cabinet and other Americo-Liberian government officials and True Whig Party members.[39] The coup leaders formed the People's Redemption Council (PRC) to govern the country.[39] A strategic Cold War ally of the West, Doe received significant financial backing from the United States while critics condemned the PRC for corruption and political repression.[39]

After Liberia adopted a new constitution in 1985, Doe was elected president in subsequent elections that were internationally condemned as fraudulent.[39] On November 12, 1985, a failed counter-coup was launched by Thomas Quiwonkpa, whose soldiers briefly occupied the national radio station.[40] Government repression intensified in response, as Doe's troops retaliated by executing members of the Gio and Mano ethnic groups in Nimba County.[40]

The National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a rebel group led by Charles Taylor, launched an insurrection in December 1989 against Doe's government with the backing of neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. This triggered the First Liberian Civil War.[41] By September 1990, Doe's forces controlled only a small area just outside the capital, and Doe was captured and executed in that month by rebel forces.[42]

The rebels soon split into various factions fighting one another. The Economic Community Monitoring Group under the Economic Community of West African States organized a military task force to intervene in the crisis.[42][failed verification] From 1989 to 1997 around 60,000 to 80,000 Liberians died, and by 1996 around 700,000 others had been displaced into refugee camps in neighboring countries.[43] A peace deal between warring parties was reached in 1995, leading to Taylor's election as president in 1997.[42]

Under Taylor's leadership, Liberia became internationally known as a pariah state due to its use of blood diamonds and illegal timber exports to fund the Revolutionary United Front in the Sierra Leone Civil War.[44] The Second Liberian Civil War began in 1999 when Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, a rebel group based in the northwest of the country, launched an armed insurrection against Taylor.[45]


In March 2003, a second rebel group, Movement for Democracy in Liberia, began launching attacks against Taylor from the southeast.[45] Peace talks between the factions began in Accra in June of that year, and Taylor was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes against humanity the same month.[44] By July 2003, the rebels had launched an assault on Monrovia.[46] Under heavy pressure from the international community and the domestic Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement,[47] Taylor resigned in August 2003 and went into exile in Nigeria.[48]

A peace deal was signed later that month.[49] The United Nations Mission in Liberia began arriving in September 2003 to provide security and monitor the peace accord,[50] and an interim government took power the following October.[51]

The subsequent 2005 elections were internationally regarded as the most free and fair in Liberian history.[52] Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a US-educated economist and former Minister of Finance, was elected as the first female president in Africa.[52] Upon her inauguration, Sirleaf requested the extradition of Taylor from Nigeria and transferred him to the SCSL for trial in The Hague.[53][54]

In 2006, the government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the causes and crimes of the civil war.[55]

Following the 2017 Liberian general election, former professional football striker George Weah, one of the greatest African players of all time,[56][57] was sworn in as president on 22 January 2018, becoming the 4th youngest serving president in Africa.[58] The inauguration marked Liberia's first fully democratic transition in 74 years.[59] Weah cited fighting corruption, reforming the economy, combating illiteracy and improving life conditions as the main targets of his presidency.[59]


A map of Liberia
Liberia map of Köppen climate classification.

Liberia is situated in West Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean to the country's southwest. It lies between latitudes and 9°N, and longitudes and 12°W.

The landscape is characterized by mostly flat to rolling coastal plains that contain mangroves and swamps, which rise to a rolling plateau and low mountains in the northeast.[60]

Tropical rainforests cover the hills, while elephant grass and semi-deciduous forests make up the dominant vegetation in the northern sections.[60] The equatorial climate, in the south of the country, is hot year-round with heavy rainfall from May to October with a short interlude in mid-July to August.[60] During the winter months of November to March, dry dust-laden harmattan winds blow inland, causing many problems for residents.[60]

Liberia's watershed tends to move in a southwestern pattern towards the sea as new rains move down the forested plateau off the inland mountain range of Guinée Forestière, in Guinea. Cape Mount near the border with Sierra Leone receives the most precipitation in the nation.[60]

Liberia's main northwestern boundary is traversed by the Mano River while its southeast limits are bounded by the Cavalla River.[60] Liberia's three largest rivers are St. Paul exiting near Monrovia, the river St. John at Buchanan, and the Cestos River, all of which flow into the Atlantic. The Cavalla is the longest river in the nation at 515 kilometers (320 mi).[60]

The highest point wholly within Liberia is Mount Wuteve at 1,440 meters (4,724 ft) above sea level in the northwestern Liberia range of the West Africa Mountains and the Guinea Highlands.[60] However, Mount Nimba near Yekepa, is higher at 1,752 meters (5,748 ft) above sea level but is not wholly within Liberia as Nimba shares a border with Guinea and Ivory Coast and is their tallest mountain as well.[61]


Forests on the coastline are composed mostly of salt-tolerant mangrove trees, while the more sparsely populated inland has forests opening onto a plateau of drier grasslands. The climate is equatorial, with significant rainfall during the May–October rainy season and harsh harmattan winds the remainder of the year. Liberia possesses about forty percent of the remaining Upper Guinean rainforest. It was an important producer of rubber in the early 20th century.[citation needed]

Administrative divisions

Bomi CountyBong CountyGbarpolu CountyGrand Bassa CountyGrand Cape Mount CountyGrand Gedeh CountyGrand Kru CountyLofa CountyMargibi CountyMaryland CountyMontserrado CountyNimba CountyRivercess CountyRiver Gee CountySinoe CountyA clickable map of Liberia exhibiting its fifteen counties.
About this image
A view of a lake in Bomi County

Liberia is divided into fifteen counties, which, in turn, are subdivided into a total of 90 districts and further subdivided into clans. The oldest counties are Grand Bassa and Montserrado, both founded in 1839 prior to Liberian independence. Gbarpolu is the newest county, created in 2001. Nimba is the largest of the counties in size at 11,551 km2 (4,460 sq mi), while Montserrado is the smallest at 1,909 km2 (737 sq mi).[62] Montserrado is also the most populous county with 1,144,806 residents as of the 2008 census.[62]

The fifteen counties are administered by superintendents appointed by the president. The Constitution calls for the election of various chiefs at the county and local level, but these elections have not taken place since 1985 due to war and financial constraints.[63]

Parallel to the administrative divisions of the country are the local and municipal divisions. Liberia currently does not have any constitutional framework or uniform statutes which deal with the creation or revocation of local governments.[64] All existing local governments – cities, townships, and a borough – were created by specific acts of the Liberian government, and thus the structure and duties/responsibilities of each local government varies greatly from one to the other.[citation needed]

Map no. County Capital Population
(2008 Census)[62]
Number of
1 Bomi Tubmanburg 82,036 1,942 km2 (750 sq mi) 4 1984
2 Bong Gbarnga 328,919 8,772 km2 (3,387 sq mi) 12 1964
3 Gbarpolu Bopolu 83,758 9,689 km2 (3,741 sq mi) 6 2001
4 Grand Bassa Buchanan 224,839 7,936 km2 (3,064 sq mi) 8 1839
5 Grand Cape Mount Robertsport 129,055 5,162 km2 (1,993 sq mi) 5 1844
6 Grand Gedeh Zwedru 126,146 10,484 km2 (4,048 sq mi) 3 1964
7 Grand Kru Barclayville 57,106 3,895 km2 (1,504 sq mi) 18 1984
8 Lofa Voinjama 270,114 9,982 km2 (3,854 sq mi) 6 1964
9 Margibi Kakata 199,689 2,616 km2 (1,010 sq mi) 4 1985
10 Maryland Harper 136,404 2,297 km2 (887 sq mi) 2 1857
11 Montserrado Bensonville 1,144,806 1,909 km2 (737 sq mi) 4 1839
12 Nimba Sanniquellie 468,088 11,551 km2 (4,460 sq mi) 6 1964
13 Rivercess Rivercess 65,862 5,594 km2 (2,160 sq mi) 6 1985
14 River Gee Fish Town 67,318 5,113 km2 (1,974 sq mi) 6 2000
15 Sinoe Greenville 104,932 10,137 km2 (3,914 sq mi) 17 1843

Environmental issues

Pygmy hippos are among the species illegally hunted for food in Liberia.[65] The World Conservation Union estimates that there are fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos remaining in the wild.[66]

Endangered species are hunted for human consumption as bushmeat in Liberia.[65] Species hunted for food in Liberia include elephants, pygmy hippopotamus, chimpanzees, leopards, duikers, and other monkeys.[65] Bushmeat is often exported to neighboring Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, despite a ban on the cross-border sale of wild animals.[65]

Bushmeat is widely eaten in Liberia, and is considered a delicacy.[67] A 2004 public opinion survey found that bushmeat ranked second behind fish amongst residents of the capital Monrovia as a preferred source of protein.[67] Of households where bushmeat was served, 80% of residents said they cooked it "once in a while," while 13% cooked it once a week and 7% cooked bushmeat daily.[67] The survey was conducted during the last civil war, and bushmeat consumption is now believed to be far higher.[67]

Loggers and logging truck, early 1960s

Liberia is a global biodiversity hotspot—a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is under threat from humans.[68]

Slash-and-burn agriculture is one of the human activities eroding Liberia's natural forests.[69] A 2004 UN report estimated that 99% of Liberians burned charcoal and fuel wood for cooking and heating, resulting in deforestation.[69]

Illegal logging has increased in Liberia since the end of the Second Civil War in 2003.[68] In 2012 President Sirleaf granted licenses to companies to cut down 58% of all the primary rainforest left in Liberia.[68] After international protests, many of those logging permits were canceled.[68] In September 2014 Liberia and Norway struck an agreement whereby Liberia ceased all logging in exchange for $150 million in development aid.[68]

Pollution is a significant issue in Monrovia.[70] Since 2006 the international community has paid for all garbage collection and disposal in Monrovia via the World Bank.[71]

Climate change

Liberia is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Like many other countries in Africa, Liberia both faces existing environmental issues, as well as sustainable development challenges.[72] Because of its location in Africa, it is vulnerable to extreme weather, coastal effects of sea level rise, and changing water systems and water availability.[73]

Climate change is expected to severely impact the Liberian economy, especially agriculture, fisheries, and forestry.[74] Liberia has been an active participant in international and local policy changes related to climate change.


Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

The government of Liberia, modeled on the government of the United States, is a unitary constitutional republic and representative democracy as established by the Constitution. The government has three co-equal branches of government: the executive, headed by the president; the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Legislature of Liberia; and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and several lower courts.[citation needed]

The president serves as head of government, head of state, and the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia.[2] Among the president's other duties are to sign or veto legislative bills, grant pardons, and appoint Cabinet members, judges, and other public officials. Together with the vice president, the president is elected to a six-year term by majority vote in a two-round system and can serve up to two terms in office.[2]

The Legislature is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House, led by a speaker, has 73 members apportioned among the 15 counties on the basis of the national census, with each county receiving a minimum of two members.[2] Each House member represents an electoral district within a county as drawn by the National Elections Commission and is elected by a plurality of the popular vote of their district into a six-year term. The Senate is made up of two senators from each county for a total of 30 senators.[2] Senators serve nine-year terms and are elected at-large by a plurality of the popular vote.[2] The vice president serves as the President of the Senate, with a President pro tempore serving in their absence.[citation needed]

Liberia's highest judicial authority is the Supreme Court, made up of five members and headed by the Chief Justice of Liberia. Members are nominated to the court by the president and are confirmed by the Senate, serving until the age of 70. The judiciary is further divided into circuit and speciality courts, magistrate courts and justices of the peace.[75] The judicial system is a blend of common law, based on Anglo-American law, and customary law.[2] An informal system of traditional courts still exists within the rural areas of the country, with trial by ordeal remaining common despite being officially outlawed.[75]

From 1877 to 1980 the government was dominated by the True Whig Party.[28] Today over 20 political parties are registered in the country, based largely around personalities and ethnic groups.[52] Most parties suffer from poor organizational capacity.[52] The 2005 elections marked the first time that the president's party did not gain a majority of seats in the Legislature.[52]


The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) are the country's armed forces. Founded as the Liberian Frontier Force in 1908, the military was renamed in 1956. For virtually all of its history, the AFL has received considerable material and training assistance from the United States. For most of the 1941–89 period, training was largely provided by U.S. advisers, and combat expierence in the 2nd World War. After UN Security Council Resolution 1509 in September 2003, the United Nations Mission in Liberia arrived to referee the ceasefire with units from Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, and China with the view to assist the National Transitional Government of Liberia in forming the new Liberian military.[76]

Foreign relations

President Sirleaf with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and British PM David Cameron in September 2015

After the turmoil following the First and Second Liberian Civil Wars, Liberia's internal stabilization in the 21st century brought a return to cordial relations with neighboring countries and much of the Western world. As in other African countries, China is an important part of the post-conflict reconstruction.[77]

In the past, both of Liberia's neighbors, Guinea and Sierra Leone, have accused Liberia of backing rebels in their countries.[78]

Law enforcement

The Liberian National Police is the country's national police force. As of October 2007 it has 844 officers in 33 stations in Montserrado County, which contains Monrovia.[79] The National Police Training Academy is in Paynesville City.[80] A history of corruption among police officers diminishes public trust and operational effectiveness. The internal security is characterized by a general lawlessness coupled with the danger that former combatants in the late civil war might reestablish militias to challenge the civil authorities.[81]


Corruption is endemic at every level of the Liberian government.[82] When President Sirleaf took office in 2006, she announced that corruption was "the major public enemy."[78] In 2014 the US ambassador to Liberia said that corruption there was harming people through "unnecessary costs to products and services that are already difficult for many Liberians to afford".[83]

Liberia scored a 3.3 on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt) on the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index. This gave it a ranking 87th of 178 countries worldwide and 11th of 47 in Sub-Saharan Africa.[84] This score represented a significant improvement since 2007, when the country scored 2.1 and ranked 150th of 180 countries.[85] When dealing with public-facing government functionaries, 89% of Liberians say they have had to pay a bribe, the highest national percentage in the world according to the organization's 2010 Global Corruption Barometer.[86]


A proportional representation of Liberian exports. The shipping related categories reflect Liberia's status as an international flag of convenience – there are 3,500 vessels registered under Liberia's flag accounting for 11% of ships worldwide.[87][88]
Liberia, trends in the Human Development Index 1970–2010.

The Central Bank of Liberia is responsible for printing and maintaining the Liberian dollar, Liberia's primary currency. Liberia is one of the world's poorest countries, with a formal employment rate of 15%.[75] GDP per capita peaked in 1980 at US$496, when it was comparable to Egypt's (at the time).[89] In 2011 the country's nominal GDP was US$1.154 billion, while nominal GDP per capita stood at US$297, the third-lowest in the world.[90] Historically the Liberian economy has depended heavily on foreign aid, foreign direct investment and exports of natural resources such as iron ore, rubber, and timber.[60]

Economic history

Following a peak in growth in 1979, the Liberian economy began a steady decline due to economic mismanagement after the 1980 coup.[91] This decline was accelerated by the outbreak of civil war in 1989; GDP was reduced by an estimated 90% between 1989 and 1995, one of the fastest declines in history.[91] Upon the end of the war in 2003, GDP growth began to accelerate, reaching 9.4% in 2007.[92] The global financial crisis slowed GDP growth to 4.6% in 2009,[92] though a strengthening agricultural sector led by rubber and timber exports increased growth to 5.1% in 2010 and an expected 7.3% in 2011, making the economy one of the 20 fastest-growing in the world.[93][94]

Current impediments to growth include a small domestic market, lack of adequate infrastructure, high transportation costs, poor trade links with neighboring countries and the high dollarization of the economy.[93] Liberia used the United States dollar as its currency from 1943 until 1982 and continues to use the U.S. dollar alongside the Liberian dollar.[95]

Following a decrease in inflation beginning in 2003, inflation spiked in 2008 as a result of worldwide food and energy crises,[96] reaching 17.5% before declining to 7.4% in 2009.[92] Liberia's external debt was estimated in 2006 at approximately $4.5 billion, 800% of GDP.[91] As a result of bilateral, multilateral and commercial debt relief from 2007 to 2010, the country's external debt fell to $222.9 million by 2011.[97]

While official commodity exports declined during the 1990s as many investors fled the civil war, Liberia's wartime economy featured the exploitation of the region's diamond wealth.[98] The country acted as a major trader in Sierra Leonian blood diamonds, exporting over US$300 million in diamonds in 1999.[99] This led to a United Nations ban on Liberian diamond exports in 2001, which was lifted in 2007 following Liberia's accession to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.[100]

In 2003, additional UN sanctions were placed on Liberian timber exports, which had risen from US$5 million in 1997 to over US$100 million in 2002 and were believed to be funding rebels in Sierra Leone.[101][102] These sanctions were lifted in 2006.[103] Due in large part to foreign aid and investment inflow following the end of the war, Liberia maintains a large account deficit, which peaked at nearly 60% in 2008.[93] Liberia gained observer status with the World Trade Organization in 2010 and is in the process of acquiring full member status.[104]

Liberia has the highest ratio of foreign direct investment to GDP in the world, with US$16 billion in investment since 2006.[94] Following Sirleaf's inauguration in 2006, Liberia signed several multi-billion-dollar concession agreements in the iron ore and palm oil industries with numerous multinational corporations, including BHP Billiton, ArcelorMittal, and Sime Darby.[105] Palm oil companies like Sime Darby (Malaysia) and Golden Veroleum (USA) have been accused of destroying livelihoods and displacing local communities, enabled by government concessions.[106] Since 1926 The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company has operated the world's largest rubber plantation in Harbel, Margibi County. As of 2015 it had more than 8,000 mostly Liberian employees, making it the country's largest private employer.[107][108]

Shipping flag of convenience

Due to its status as a flag of convenience, Liberia has the second-largest maritime registry in the world behind Panama. It has 3,500 vessels registered under its flag, accounting for 11% of ships worldwide.[87][88]

Major industries


Young boy grinding sugar cane near Flumpa, Nimba County, 1968.

Agriculture in Liberia is a major sector of the country's economy worth 38.8% of GDP, employing more than 70% of the population and providing a valuable export for one of the world’s least developed countries (as defined by the UN).[109][110][111][112] Liberia has a climate favourable to farming, vast forests, and an abundance of water, yet low yields mean that over half of foodstuffs are imported, with net agricultural trade at -$73.12 million in 2010.[113] This was dismissed as a "misconception" by Liberia’s Minister of Agriculture.[114]

The major crops are natural rubber, rice, cassava, bananas and palm oil.[115] Timber is also a major export at $100 million annually, although much of this is the product of unsustainable habitat destruction, with Asian corporations criticised for their role.[111] Although agricultural activity occurs in most rural locations, it is particularly concentrated in coastal plains (subsistence crops) and tropical forest (cash crops). The sector is very important for women as they are widely employed in it in comparison to the economy as a whole.[116]


Iron ore mining

The mining industry of Liberia has witnessed a revival after the civil war which ended in 2003.[117] Gold, diamonds, and iron ore form the core minerals of the mining sector with a new Mineral Development Policy and Mining Code being put in place to attract foreign investments.[118] In 2013, the mineral sector accounted for 11% of GDP in the country and the World Bank has projected a further increase in the sector by 2017.[119]

Mining sector is considered the prime mover for the economic growth of the country and its exploitation has to be appropriately balanced with sustainable environmental preservation of its rich biodiversity.[120] Apart from iron ore extractions, cement, diamond, gold, and petroleum resources have also been given due importance to enrich the economy of the country.


There are six major newspapers in Liberia, and 45% of the population has a mobile phone service. Much of Liberia's communications infrastructure was destroyed or plundered during the two civil wars (1989–1996 and 1999–2003).[121] With low rates of adult literacy and high poverty rates, television and newspaper use is limited, leaving radio as the predominant means of communicating with the public.[122]


The streets of downtown Monrovia, March 2009
Transport in Liberia consist of railways, highways, seaports and airports.


Public electricity services are provided solely by the state-owned Liberia Electricity Corporation, which operates a small grid almost exclusively in the Greater Monrovia District.[123] The vast majority of electric energy services is provided by small, privately owned generators. At $0.54 per kWh, the cost of electricity in Liberia is among the highest in the world. Total capacity in 2013 was 20 MW, a sharp decline from a peak of 191 MW in 1989 before the wars.[123]

Completion of the repair and expansion of the Mount Coffee Hydropower Project, with a maximum capacity of 80 MW, is scheduled to be completed by 2018.[124] Construction of three new heavy fuel oil power plants is expected to boost electrical capacity by 38 MW.[125] In 2013, Liberia began importing power from neighboring Ivory Coast and Guinea through the West African Power Pool.[126]

Liberia has begun exploration for offshore oil; unproven oil reserves may be in excess of one billion barrels.[127] The government divided its offshore waters into 17 blocks and began auctioning off exploration licenses for the blocks in 2004, with further auctions in 2007 and 2009.[128][129][130] An additional 13 ultra-deep offshore blocks were demarcated in 2011 and planned for auction.[131] Among the companies to have won licenses are Repsol YPF, Chevron Corporation, and Woodside Petroleum.[132]


Liberia's population from 1961–2013, in millions.[133] Liberia's population tripled in 40 years.[133]
Liberia's population pyramid, 2005. 43.5% of Liberians were below the age of 15 in 2010.[134]

As of the 2017 national census, Liberia was home to 4,694,608 people.[135] Of those, 1,118,241 lived in Montserrado County, the most populous county in the country and home to the capital of Monrovia. The Greater Monrovia District has 970,824 residents.[136] Nimba County is the next most populous county, with 462,026 residents.[136] As revealed in the 2008 census, Monrovia is more than four times more populous than all the county capitals combined.[62]

Prior to the 2008 census, the last census had been taken in 1984 and listed the country's population as 2,101,628.[136] The population of Liberia was 1,016,443 in 1962 and increased to 1,503,368 in 1974.[62] As of 2006, Liberia had the highest population growth rate in the world (4.50% per annum).[137] In 2010 some 43.5% of Liberians were below the age of 15.[134]

Ethnic groups

Ethnic Groups in Liberia
Ethnic Groups percent
Other Liberian
Other African
Non African

The population includes 16 indigenous ethnic groups and various foreign minorities. Indigenous peoples comprise about 95 percent of the population. The 16 officially recognized ethnic groups include the Kpelle, Bassa, Mano, Gio or Dan, Kru, Grebo, Krahn, Vai, Gola, Mandingo or Mandinka, Mende, Kissi, Gbandi, Loma, Dei or Dewoin, Belleh, and Americo-Liberians or Congo people.

The Kpelle comprise more than 20% of the population and are the largest ethnic group in Liberia, residing mostly in Bong County and adjacent areas in central Liberia.[138] Americo-Liberians, who are descendants of African American and West Indian, mostly Barbadian (Bajan) settlers, make up 2.5%. Congo people, descendants of repatriated Congo and Afro-Caribbean slaves who arrived in 1825, make up an estimated 2.5%.[2][139] These latter two groups established political control in the 19th century which they kept well into the 20th century.

Numerous immigrants have come as merchants and become a major part of the business community, including Lebanese, Indians, and other West African nationals. There is a high percentage of interracial marriage between ethnic Liberians and the Lebanese, resulting in a significant mixed-race population especially in and around Monrovia. A small minority of Liberians who are White Africans of European descent reside in the country.[better source needed][2] The Liberian constitution exercises jus sanguinis, restricting its citizenship to "Negroes or persons of Negro descent."[140]


English is the official language and serves as the lingua franca of Liberia.[141] Thirty-one indigenous languages are spoken in Liberia, but each is a first language for only a small percentage of the population.[142] Liberians also speak a variety of creolized dialects collectively known as Liberian English.[141]

Largest cities


Religion in Liberia (2010)[144]
Religion percent
Roman Catholicism
Other Christian
Other faith

According to the 2008 National Census, 85.6% of the population practices Christianity, while Muslims represent a minority of 12.2%.[145] A multitude of diverse Protestant confessions such as Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal (AME) and African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) denominations form the bulk of the Christian population, followed by adherents of the Roman Catholic Church and other non-Protestant Christians. Most of these Christian denominations were brought by African American settlers moving from the United States into Liberia via the American Colonization Society, while some are indigenous—especially Pentecostal and evangelical Protestant ones. Protestantism was originally associated with Black American settlers and their Americo-Liberian descendants, while native peoples held to their own animist forms of African traditional religion. Indigenous people were subject to Christian missionary, as well as Americo-Liberian efforts to close the cultural gap by means of education. This proved successful, leaving Christians a majority in the country.[citation needed]

Muslims comprise 12.2% of the population, largely represented by the Mandingo and Vai ethnic groups. Liberian Muslims are divided between Sunnis, Shias, Ahmadiyyas, Sufis, and non-denominational Muslims.[146]

Traditional indigenous religions are practiced by 0.5% of the population, while 1.5% subscribe to no religion. A small number of people are Bahá'í, Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist. While Christian, many Liberians also participate in traditional, gender-based indigenous religious secret societies, such as Poro for men and Sande for women. The all-female Sande society practices female circumcision.[147]

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right.[147] While separation of church and state is mandated by the Constitution, Liberia is considered a Christian state in practice.[52] Public schools offer biblical studies, though parents may opt their children out. Commerce is prohibited by law on Sunday and major Christian holidays. The government does not require businesses or schools to excuse Muslims for Friday prayers.[147]


Students studying by candlelight in Bong County

In 2010, the literacy rate of Liberia was estimated at 60.8% (64.8% for males and 56.8% for females).[148] In some areas primary and secondary education is free and compulsory from the ages of 6 to 16, though enforcement of attendance is lax.[149] In other areas children are required to pay a tuition fee to attend school. On average, children attain 10 years of education (11 for boys and 8 for girls).[2] The country's education sector is hampered by inadequate schools and supplies, as well as a lack of qualified teachers.[150]

Higher education is provided by a number of public and private universities. The University of Liberia is the country's largest and oldest university. Located in Monrovia, the university opened in 1862. Today it has six colleges, including a medical school and the nation's only law school, Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law.[151]

In 2009, Tubman University in Harper, Maryland County was established as the second public university in Liberia.[152] Since 2006, the government has also opened community colleges in Buchanan, Sanniquellie, and Voinjama.[153][154][155]

Due to student protests late in October 2018, newly elected president George M. Weah abolished tuition fees for undergraduate students in the public universities in Liberia.[156]

Private universities


Hospitals in Liberia include the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Monrovia and several others. Life expectancy in Liberia is estimated to be 57.4 years in 2012.[161] With a fertility rate of 5.9 births per woman, the maternal mortality rate stood at 990 per 100,000 births in 2010.[162] A number of highly communicable diseases are widespread, including tuberculosis, diarrheal diseases and malaria. In 2007, the HIV infection rates stood at 2% of the population aged 15–49[163] whereas the incidence of tuberculosis was 420 per 100,000 people in 2008.[164] Approximately 58.2%[165] – 66%[166] of women are estimated to have undergone female genital mutilation.

Liberia imports 90% of its rice, a staple food, and is extremely vulnerable to food shortages.[167] In 2007, 20.4% of children under the age of five were malnourished.[168] In 2008, only 17% of the population had access to adequate sanitation facilities.[169]

Approximately 95% of the country's healthcare facilities had been destroyed by the time civil war ended in 2003.[170] In 2009, government expenditure on health care per capita was US$22,[171] accounting for 10.6% of total GDP.[172] In 2008, Liberia had only one doctor and 27 nurses per 100,000 people.[164]

In 2014, an outbreak of Ebola virus in Guinea spread to Liberia.[173] As of November 17, 2014, there were 2,812 confirmed deaths from the ongoing outbreak.[174] In early August 2014 Guinea closed its borders to Liberia to help contain the spread of the virus, as more new cases were being reported in Liberia than in Guinea. On May 9, 2015, Liberia was declared Ebola free after six weeks with no new cases.[175]

According to an Overseas Development Institute report, private health expenditure accounts for 64.1% of total spending on health.[176]


Rape and sexual assault are frequent in the post-conflict era in Liberia. Liberia has one of the highest incidences of sexual violence against women in the world. Rape is the most frequently reported crime, accounting for more than one-third of sexual violence cases. Adolescent girls are the most frequently assaulted, and almost 40% of perpetrators are adult men known to victims.[177]

Both male and female homosexuality are illegal in Liberia.[178][179] On July 20, 2012, the Liberian senate voted unanimously to enact legislation to prohibit and criminalize same-sex marriages.[180]


Bassa culture. Helmet Mask for Sande Society (Ndoli Jowei), Liberia. 20th century. Brooklyn Museum.

The religious practices, social customs and cultural standards of the Americo-Liberians had their roots in the antebellum American South. The settlers wore top hat and tails and modeled their homes on those of Southern slaveowners.[181] Most Americo-Liberian men were members of the Masonic Order of Liberia, which became heavily involved in the nation's politics.[182]

Liberia has a rich history in textile arts and quilting, as the settlers brought with them their sewing and quilting skills. Liberia hosted National Fairs in 1857 and 1858 in which prizes were awarded for various needle arts. One of the most well-known Liberian quilters was Martha Ann Ricks,[183] who presented a quilt featuring the famed Liberian coffee tree to Queen Victoria in 1892. When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf moved into the Executive Mansion, she reportedly had a Liberian-made quilt installed in her presidential office.[184]

A rich literary tradition has existed in Liberia for over a century. Edward Wilmot Blyden, Bai T. Moore, Roland T. Dempster and Wilton G. S. Sankawulo are among Liberia's more prominent authors.[185] Moore's novella Murder in the Cassava Patch is considered Liberia's most celebrated novel.[186]


One-third of married Liberian women between the ages of 15–49 are in polygamous marriages.[187] Customary law allows men to have up to four wives.[188]


A beachside barbecue at Sinkor, Monrovia, Liberia

Liberian cuisine heavily incorporates rice, the country's staple food. Other ingredients include cassava, fish, bananas, citrus fruit, plantains, coconut, okra and sweet potatoes.[189] Heavy stews spiced with habanero and scotch bonnet chilies are popular and eaten with fufu.[190] Liberia also has a tradition of baking imported from the United States that is unique in West Africa.[191]


The most popular sport in Liberia is association football, with President George Weah — the only African to be named FIFA World Player of the Year — being the nation's most famous athlete.[192][193] The Liberia national football team has reached the Africa Cup of Nations finals twice, in 1996 and 2002.

The second most popular sport in Liberia is basketball. The Liberian national basketball team has reached the AfroBasket twice, in 1983 and 2007.

In Liberia, the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex serves as a multi-purpose stadium. It hosts FIFA World Cup qualifying matches in addition to international concerts and national political events.[194]

Measurement system

Liberia is one of only three countries that have not officially adopted the International System of Units (abbreviated as the SI, also called the metric system), the others being the United States and Myanmar.

The Liberian government has begun transitioning away from use of United States customary units to the metric system.[197] However, this change has been gradual, with government reports concurrently using both United States Customary and metric units.[198][199] In 2018, the Liberian Commerce and Industry Minister announced that the Liberian government is committed to adopting the metric system.[200]

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