February 2018

Liberia: hope and pain

By Hugues Berthon
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Founded in 1847 by the descendants of American slaves, the “land of liberty” was soon to witness a tragic history marked by dictatorship, ethnic divisions, civil wars and more recently, the Ebola virus.
 
A territory of Portuguese, Dutch and English conquests in the 15th and 16th century, Liberia was to become an American domination in 1816. It was that year that the United States decided to allow freed slaves to cross over to Africa.
 
The American Colonisation Society acquired a portion of land there and baptised it Monrovia as a tribute to the fifth president of the United States of America, James Monroe. Its independence gained in 1847 confirms the domination of thousands of Americo-Liberians (the freemen) who imposed their laws on the majority natives.
Thanks to the census suffrage in vogue in 1944, the country voted in William Tolbert as its President and he became known as the “Father of modern Liberia.” Tubman preached national unity and one of the major changes he made was the reduction of inequality that gave voting rights of the natives. 
 
But once in power this Americo-Liberian became a hardened dictator.
 
When he died in 1971, Tubman was succeeded by his Vice, William Tolbert, himself an Americo-Liberian. Tolbert’s regime was characterised by corruption and the trafficking of all sorts. The rubber plantation which was the country’s main source of income together with its iron ore mining was abandoned to the American tyre giants, Firestone. Its maritime flag was not left out either.
 
The natives, who represent 95 percent of the population could not do much.
 
A military coup d’état led by Staff Sergeant, Samuel K. Doe on 12 April, 1980, finally brought the natives to the fore of Liberian politics.
Doe’s tough regime forced his opponents to flee the country.
 
A resistance was organised from neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire. But the National Patriotic Front of Liberia led by Charles Taylor was in direct competition with his ex-lieutenant, Prince Yormie Johnson who was eventually credited with killing Samuel Doe on 9 September, 1990.
 
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened and succeeded in putting an end to the fight between supporters of Doe and Taylor. Taylor was finally elected President in 1997.
A second war broke out two years later that led to more than 150,000 deaths.
 
Taylor resigned on 11 August 2003.*
 
After a United Nations sponsored political transition, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected president on 23 November 2005.
 
As Africa’s first woman head of state, she received the Nobel Peace prize in 2011, the year she was re-elected for her second term.
 
In 2014, at a time when the peace process was about to hold a firm root, the country was hit be the Ebola virus that claimed  over 5,000 lives. This lasted till 2016 during which period the country was totally isolated. On 26 December, Senator George Weah, freshly elected as head of state, started the most difficult match of his life: bringing peace to and developing his country, one of the poorest in the world.
 
*For his active support of the war in neighbouring Sierra Leone 1991-2002, he was condemned to 50 years in prison for crime against humanity. 
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