What is going on in Liberia?
Liberia came into existence in the 19th century as a new country for former slaves who returned to Africa from America. The arrival of these “Americo-Liberians” caused a social divide which continues to this very day. The people from America were well-educated and well-off, the indigenous population remained poor.
Liberia also suffered civil wars for decades. In 1980, Samuel Doe carried out a coup d’ètat, after which the country succumbed to violence. In 1989, Charles Taylor came into power after a new coup d’ètat. His regime plunged Liberia into a second series of wars. These came to an end when Taylor resigned from the presidency in 2003. Since that time, an international peacekeeping force (UNMIL) supervises the enforcement of the peace agreement.
The civil wars resulted in the radical centralization of power. Large parts of the population were sidelined as a result. However, the political climate in Liberia has much improved since Taylor’s resignation in 2003. Free elections were held in 2005, whereby Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected president. She is Africa’s first female president. A policy of decentralization was initiated under her regime, whereby more powers were assigned to local government.
85% of Liberians are out of work. Unemployment is particularly high among young people. For this reason, half the population lives in extreme poverty (less than US$ 0.50 a day). Most of the people are dependent on small-scale farming. However, there is an increasing number of foreign investments in, for example, the mining and timber industries.
Approximately 270 thousand people lost their lives in the civil war. Moreover, it created one hundred thousand refugees and displaced people. The infrastructure was destroyed during the war, and social services have largely disappeared. Because of the prolonged war, there is a resigned and sometimes violent mood among the population. People have an attitude of dependency on policy-makers and service providers and rely on assistance. Because of everything they have been through, there is little confidence and solidarity in society.