flaring up

History of Liberia

Liberia was set up by citizens of the United States as a colony for former African-American slaves from the U.S.A.. There is only one other state in the world that is started by citizens of a political power as a settlement for former slaves from the same political power: Sierra Leone, begun for that same purpose by Britain.

Early times

Indigenous peoples

It is believed that many of the indigenous peoples of Liberia migrated there from the north and east between the 12th and 16th centuries AD. The area of West Africa that later became Liberia was invaded in the sixteenth century by Mane, Malian Soldiers tribes from what is now the interior of Ivory Coast and Ghana. The Manes partitioned the conquered territories and their peoples among Mane leaders with one chieftain over all. The supreme chief resided in the Grand Cape Mount region.

Shortly after the Manes conquered the region there was a migration of the Vai people into the region of Grand Cape Mount. The Vai were part of the Mali Empire and were forced to migrate when the empire collapsed in the fourteenth century. The Vai chose to migrate to the coastal region.

The Kru opposed the migration of the Vai into their region. An alliance of the Manes and Kru was able to stop the further migration of the Vai but the Vai remained in the Grand Cape Mount region (where the city of Robertsport is now located). The Kru became involved with trading with Europeans. Initially the Kru traded in non-slave commodities but later became active participants in the slave trade. Kru traders also engaged in a surprising form of trade. Kru traders and their canoes would be taken on board European ships and would engage in trade along the coast. At some agreed upon point the Kru traders and their canoes would be put off the ship and the traders would paddle back to their home territory. Kru laborers left their territory to work on plantations and in construction as paid laborers, some even worked building the Suez and Panama Canals.

Another tribal group in the area was the Glebo. The Glebo were driven, as a result of the Manes invasion, to migrate to the coast of what later became Liberia.

(See also: Liberian ethnic groups)

Contact with European explorers and traders

Portuguese explorers established contacts with the land later known as "Liberia" as early as 1461 and named the area Costa da Pimenta, Grain Coast, because of the abundance of grains of melegueta pepper. In 1602 the Dutch established a trading post at Grand Cape Mount but destroyed the post a year later. In 1663 the British installed trading posts on the Grain Coast. No further known settlements by non-African colonists occurred along the Grain Coast until the arrival of freed American slaves starting in 1821.

Colonization (1821-1847)

(See also: American Colonization Society)

From around 1800, in the United States of America ideas and plans were being conceived, to set up a colony in Africa for freed African-American slaves. Between 1821 and 1847, by a combination of purchase and conquest, American ‘Societies’ developed the colony ‘Liberia’, which in 1847 declared itself an independent nation.

First ideas of colonization

As early as the period of the American Revolution, many white members of American society could see no way for African Americans to live in ‘their’ society as free people, either because they considered blacks physically and mentally inferior to whites, or because they saw racism and societal polarization as insurmountable obstacles for harmonious integration of the races, or for a number of other reasons. As a ‘solution’ acceptable for these worried whites as well as for those proposing immediate, nationwide abolition of slavery, the young politician Thomas Jefferson proposed ‘colonization’, relocating free blacks outside the new nation, the United States.

Growing numbers of free blacks

After 1783 the ranks of free blacks expanded, due to manumission efforts sparked by the Revolutionary War and to the abolition of slavery in Northern states of the U.S.. In 1800 and 1802, slave rebellions occurred (see Gabriel’s rebellion) in Virginia, which were unsuccessful, which were brutally suppressed, and Americans in Southern states feared free blacks would encourage slaves to run away or revolt. Meanwhile, the number of free African-Americans in the United States kept increasing. In 1790, there were 59,467 free blacks, out of a total U.S. population of almost four million and a total black U.S. population of 800,000. By 1800, there were 108,378 free blacks in a population of 7.2 million. These factors significantly influenced the popularity of the concept of colonization as a ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ of free blacks.

Sierra Leone

In 1787, Britain had started to settle ‘black poor’ from London – many of them African-Americans who where set free by the British for their help on the British side in the American Revolution – and other ex-slaves initially settled by them in Nova Scotia, in the colony Freetown in nowadays Sierra Leone. American Paul Cuffe saw as a viable option to also bring African-Americans out of the United States to this British colony. With support from some members of Congress, and from British officials, he in 1816 took thirty-eight American blacks at his own expense to Freetown. Subsequent voyages of this kind were precluded by Cuffe’s death in 1817. This private initiative again added to the favour in the U.S. for the concept of colonization.

Cape Mesurado

In this same period, on the initiative of the Virginian politician Charles F. Mercer and the Presbyterian minister Robert Finley from New Jersey, in 1816 the American Colonization Society (ACS) was established in Washington D.C. by American politicians, senators and religious leaders from a variety of orientations, who, with sometimes divergent reasonings, united themselves on the project of ‘colonizing’ free blacks out of the U.S., to Africa. From January, 1820, the ACS sent ships from New York to West Africa, the first one with 88 free black emigrants and three white ACS agents on board, intending to seek an appropriate spot of land to ground a settlement. After several attempts and hardships, ACS representatives in December 1821 succeeded, perhaps with some threat of force (see American Colonization Society), to buy Cape Mesurado, a 36-mile long strip of land near nowadays Monrovia, from indigenous ruler King Peter. From the beginning, the colonists were attacked by indigenous peoples like the Malinké tribes, and suffered from diseases, the harsh climate, lack of food and medicine, and poor housing conditions.


Up until 1835, five more colonies were started by American Societies other than the ACS, and one by the U.S. government, all on the same West African coast. The first colony on Cape Mesurado was extended, along the coast as well as inland, sometimes by use of force, and in 1824 named Liberia, with capital Monrovia. By 1842, four of the other American colonies were incorporated into Liberia, one was destroyed by natives. The colonists of African-American descent, varying from slightly less ‘black’ than the indigenous Africans to nearly ‘white’, were soon indicated as Americo-Liberians.

Handing over command to Americo-Liberians

As the colony Liberia expanded and became more self-sufficient, the white administrators from the ACS more and more handed the control over running the colony to the Americo-Liberians. In 1841, J.J. Roberts became the first black governor of Liberia, which in 1839 had been renamed the Commonwealth of Liberia. By the 1840s, the ACS was effectively bankrupt; Liberia had become a financial burden for it. In 1846, the ACS directed the Americo-Liberians to proclaim their independence. In 1847, Roberts proclaimed the colony the free and independent republic of Liberia. It then counted some 3000 settlers. A Constitution was drawn up along the lines of the United States’, denying voting rights to the indigenous Liberians.

Americo-Liberian Rule (1847-1980)

Between 1847 and 1980, the state of Liberia was governed by the small minority of African-American colonists and their offspring, together called Americo-Liberians, suppressing the large indigenous majority of 95% of the Liberian population. The history of Liberia in this period can be described as four major, intertwined and interacting developments:

  1. Relations between Americo-Liberians and the indigenous peoples
  2. Relations between the U.S. and Liberia
  3. Relations between non-U.S. foreign powers and Liberia
  4. Liberian economy, industry and natural resources

Relations between Americo-Liberians and the indigenous peoples

Relations between colonists and natives were conflictory from inception of Liberia, and eventually led to overthrow of the Americo-Liberian regime in 1980.


The original inhabitants of the area, like the Malinké tribes, from the beginning resented the American settlements and the expansions of them, and engaged in resistance, which they, in all imaginable forms, kept up until at least 1980.

Americo-Liberian domination and suppression

The Americo-Liberians were of mixed African and European ancestry and lighter skinned than the indigenous native blacks, and have never constituted above five percent of the population of Liberia. These ‘blacks from America’ ‘recreated’ American society in Liberia, building churches and houses resembling those on plantations in the Southern states of the U.S., adopting American styles of life, continuing speaking English. They entered into a complex relationship with the indigenous people – marrying them in some cases, but generally treating them like second-class citizens, slighting and suppressing them. Simultaneously they also attempted to ‘civilize’ these natives, imposing Western values on their traditional communities. Some coastal tribes indeed became Protestants and learned English, but most indigenous Africans kept to their traditional language and religion. Pretty soon, Liberian society was arranged in layers, with an Americo-Liberian ruling elite living rather prosperously, sending their children to America for high school and college, and keeping the indigenous peoples subdued, excluded from all political and economic leadership.

Native insurgencies

The Americo-Liberian settlers in 1878 organized their political power in the True Whig Party, which permitted no organized political opposition. Until 1980, the Americo-Liberians firmly tried to maintain their position of authority, and, in doing so, met with unremitting uprising, rebellion and riots from the native peoples. The United States would, in these struggles, at least until 1915 take sides with the ruling Americo-Liberians (see Relations between the U.S. and Liberia); European powers would, in the 19th century, stir up internal unrest in Liberia (see military threats).

A listing of indigenous uprisings:

1856: war with Grebo and Kru peoples, leading to the last American African colony, Republic of Maryland, joining Liberia. It was annexed into Liberia as Maryland County in 1857. (See 1856-64, Presidency Benson.)

1864: uprisings of inland and coastal tribes (Presidency Benson)

1875-76: war in Cape Palmas (see 1876-78, Presidency Payne-II)

circa 1886: an uprising (Presidency Johnson)

mid 1880s until late 1890s: some tribes stay at war (see 1896-1900, Presidency Coleman)

1893: Grebo tribe attached settlement of Harper (Presidency Cheeseman)

1900: bloody battle (Presidency Coleman)

1915: rebellion of the Kru (Presidency Howard)

1912-20: internal wars (Presidency Howard)

Admonishment from the League of Nations

After 1927, the League of Nations investigated on accusations that the Liberian government recruit and sell indigenous contract labor as slaves. In its report in 1930, the League admonished the Liberian government for: ‘systematically and for years fostering and encouraging a policy of gross intimidation and suppression’, “in order to suppress the native, prevent him from realizing his powers and limitations and prevent him from asserting himself in any way whatever, for the benefit of the dominant and colonizing race, although originally the same African stock as themselves” (see also Presidency Charles King 1920-1930). President King hastily resigned.

Social tensions 1940-1980

During World War II, thousands of indigenous Liberians came from Liberia’s interior to the coastal regions in search for jobs, a migration the Liberian Government had until then attempted to restrain. The decades after 1945, Liberian government welcomed hundreds of millions of dollars of unrestricted foreign investment, which distorted Liberian economy, and caused increased hostility between indigenous and Americo-Liberians. Liberian Government revenue rose enormously, but was being grossly fleeced by government officials.

The social tensions led President Tubman to enfranchise the indigenous Liberians either in 1951 or 1963 (accounts differ). This, however, hardly changed a thing, considering that Tubman continued to repress political opposition, and to fabricate his wished electoral outcomes. President Tolbert (1971-80) carried on with suppressing opposition harshly. Dissatisfaction over governmental plans to raise the price of rice in 1979 led to protest demonstrations in the streets of Monrovia. Tolbert ordered his troops to fire on the demonstrators, seventy people were killed. Rioting ensued throughout Liberia, finally leading to a successful coup d’état by military mutineers in April 1980.

Relations between the U.S. and Liberia

During their 133 years in power (1847-1980), the Americo-Liberian ruling class had a complicated relation with the U.S..

U.S. assist Americo-Liberians

At least until 1915, the U.S. a number of times assisted the Liberian rulers in putting down rebellions and uprisings of indigenous tribes. Between 1882 and 1919, whenever Britain and France threatened, or even annexed, parts of Liberian territory, assistance of the U.S. and its warships was helpful in preserving Liberian independence (see presidencies Presidency Gardiner, Johnson and Gibson). When, after decades of financial crises and ruinous British bank loans (see Relations with European powers), around 1906 Liberia was seriously bankrupt, the U.S. in 1912 arranged a 40-year international loan of $ 1.7 million, against which Liberia had to agree with four Western powers (America, Britain, France and Germany) being in control over Liberian Government revenues, until 1926.


In 1926, the Liberian government gave concession to the American rubber company Firestone to start the world’s largest rubber plantation at Harbel, Liberia. At the same time, Firestone arranged a $ 5 million private loan to Liberia. In the 1930s, Liberia, again virtually bankrupt, after some American pressure agreed to an assistance plan from the League of Nations, by which two key officials of the League were placed in positions to ´advise´ the Liberian government.

War involvement

In World War II, Liberia signed a Defence Pact with the U.S. in 1942, and assured the Americans and their allies of all the supply of natural rubber – strategic commodity in wartime – they needed. It also allowed the U.S. to use its territory for military bases, and as bridgehead for American transports of soldiers and war supplies. U.S. subsidized the construction of airports (Roberts Field), the Freeport of Monrovia, and roads into the interior of Liberia.

Cold War, investment, exploitation

After World War II, the U.S. viewed Liberia as a useful post from which to fight the supposed ‘spread of communism’ through Africa in the Cold War, and Liberian president Tubman was pliable. Between 1946 and 1960 Liberia received from some $ 500 million in unrestricted foreign investment, mainly from the U.S.. Liberia voted with the U.S. on most matters at the UN, and supported the United States on the Vietnam War. The U.S. set up a permanent mission to train the Liberian military, and began bringing Liberian officers to American institutions for further training. In the 1960s, the U.S. built two sophisticated communications facilities to handle diplomatic and intelligence traffic to and from Africa, monitor broadcasts in the region, and relay the Voice of America throughout the continent.

From 1962 to 1980, the U.S. donated $ 280 million in aid to Liberia. In exchange, Liberia offered its land free of rent for U.S. facilities. In the 1970s under president Tolbert, Liberia on some points broke away from it’s Cold War complaisance, strove for a more non-aligned and independent posture, established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and Eastern bloc countries, and severed ties with Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973; but kept supporting the U.S. on the Vietnam War.

Relations between non-U.S. foreign powers and Liberia

Relations between Liberia and European powers have at least between 1847 and 1943 consistently been of the greatest impact on the stability of Liberian government.

Dubious commerce, military threats

Europeans from the beginning started into commercial contacts with Liberia. At least during the period 1856-64, however, European merchants evaded Liberian import and export duties, supported in this behaviour by their own governments, and thus started or aggravated the financial tightness of the new state. By 1870, Liberia had sunk into financial crisis, which dragged on into the 1930s. Several times, the Liberian government borrowed money from English banks on severe terms, or even from local German merchants. In 1912, the U.S. intervened into Liberia’s dire financial situation (see Relations between the U.S. and Liberia).

Between 1878 and 1919, Britain, France and Germany, busy extending their own colonial territories partly bordering on Liberia, threatened Liberia militarily, and France and Britain forced Liberia to cede (1883, ’85, ’92, 1903, 1919) parts of ‘its’ territory to them. Only after 1892, boundaries of Liberia were officially negotiated with these European powers. The boundaries of the country were not officially established until after 1892. British (in 1875) and French (in 1886) are also supposed to have fuelled internal Liberian uprisings and wars. From 1878, Liberian presidents called for more foreign trade with, and investment in Liberia.

Two World Wars

Germany was between 1910 and 1943 Liberia’s major trading partner. In World War I, Liberia nevertheless tended to support the Allies, whose (French and British) colonial territories surrounded Liberia. Germany withdrew from Liberia, causing Liberian customs revenue to be disrupted. In the 1930s, Dutch, Danish, German and Polish investors signed agreements for economic activities. In the Second World War, mainly the U.S. pressured Liberia to side with the Allies, and expel all German citizens and merchants in 1944. This may again have disturbed Liberian economy, but America had already in 1942 begun investing substantially in Liberia, in projects related to America’s war endeavours.

Large scale investments

Between 1945 and 1980, the posture of Western European states towards Liberia was largely that of the U.S.. Americo-Liberian rulers welcomed hundreds of millions of dollars in unrestricted foreign investment, mainly from the U.S., but likely to have come from industrialized Europe as well. Many Western politicians courted president Tubman.

Liberian rulers also built up ties with the Soviet bloc and other powers, claiming and striving for an independent position in world politics, as far as their strong bonds with the Western world allowed them to.

Liberian economy, industry and natural resources

Liberian economy between 1847 and 1980 extended from primitive agriculture, through large scale rubber industry, to exploitation of mineral resources and rendering services.


From foundation, Liberia had flourishing trade contacts in West Africa, and soon started into trading with Europeans. Primary export products were coffee, rice, palm oil, palm kernels, piassava, sugarcane and (hardwood) timber. Shipbuilding was important, until it declined in the 1870s with the competition from steamers. In the 1870s, also competition from Brazilian coffee and European sugar beets caused a decline in Liberian exports. Liberia then tried to modernize its largely agricultural economy. President Gardiner (1878-83) called for increase of foreign trade and investment. President Coleman (1896-1900) considered the future of Liberia to depend on exploitation of the resources of Liberia’s interior. President Gibson (1900-04) granted rights to Union Mining Company to investigate the hinterland for minerals. During World War I, Germany, at that time Liberia’s major trading partner, withdrew from the country, causing Liberian customs revenue to disrupt. A German submarine blockade of Liberia caused trade with Britain, France and the U.S. to fall back to almost zero.

Rubber, and minerals

In 1926, Firestone, an American rubber company, started the worlds largest rubber plantation in Liberia. This industry created 25,000 jobs, and rubber quickly became the backbone of the Liberian economy; in the 1950s, rubber accounted for 40 percent of the national budget. In the 1930s, Liberia signed concession agreements with Dutch, Danish, German and Polish investors. In World War II, rubber was very strategically important, and Liberia assured the U.S. and its allies of all the natural rubber they needed. Also, Liberia allowed the U.S. to use its territory as bridgehead for transports of soldiers and war supplies, to construct military bases, airports, the Freeport of Monrovia, roads to the interior, etcetera. American military presence boosted Liberian economy; thousands of laborers descended from the interior to the coastal region. The country’s huge iron ore deposits were made accessible.

Large scale exploiting

Between 1946 and 1960, Liberian government attracted $ 500 million in foreign investment, mainly American, partly also from multinational corporations. By 1971, this amounted to more than $ one billion. Exports of iron, timber and rubber rose strongly. In 1971, Liberia accommodated the world’s largest rubber industry, and was the third largest exporter of iron ore. Also other mineral deposits generated state income. Ship registrations became from 1948 another new source of large state revenue. From 1962 until 1980, the U.S. donated $ 280 million in aid to Liberia, in exchange for which Liberia offered its land free of rent for U.S. facilities. Throughout the 1970s, the world price of rubber was depressed, putting pressure on Liberian state finances.

Presidencies and periods

For further events, and details on events, during presidencies and periods between 1847 and 1980, see:

1847-56, Presidency Roberts-I

1856-64, Presidency Benson

1864-68, Presidency Warner

1868-70, Presidency Payne-I

1870-71, Presidency Roye

1871-72, Presidency Smith

1872-76, Presidency Roberts-II

1876-78, Presidency Payne-II

1878-83, Presidency Gardiner

1883-84, Presidency Russell

1884-92, Presidency Johnson

1892-1896, Presidency Cheeseman

1896-1900, Presidency Coleman

1900-1904, Presidency Gibson

1904-1912, Presidency A. Barclay

1912-1920, Presidency Howard

World War I (1914-18)

1920-1930, Presidency King

1930-1944, Presidency E. Barclay

World War II (1939-45)

1944-1971, Presidency Tubman

1971-1980, Presidency Tolbert

Samuel Doe and the People’s Redemption Council

After a bloody overthrow of the Americo-Liberian régime by indigenous Liberians in 1980, a ‘Redemption Council’ took control over Liberia. Internal unrest, opposition to the new military regime, and governmental repression steadily grew, until in 1989 Liberia sank into right out tribal and civil war.

Coup d’état; relations with U.S.

Samuel Kanyon Doe (1951-1990) was member of the small ethnic group of the Krahn, master sergeant in the Liberian army, and was trained by U.S. Army Special Forces. On April 12, 1980, Doe led a bloody coup d'état against president Tolbert, in which Tolbert and twenty-six of his supporters were murdered; ten days later thirteen of Tolbert’s Cabinet members were publicly executed. Thus ended 133 years of Americo-Liberian political domination over Liberia. Doe established a military regime called the People's Redemption Council (PRC). Many people welcomed Doe's takeover as a shift favouring the majority of the population that had been excluded from power. Immediately following the coup, the regime tolerated a relatively free press.

Doe quickly established good relations with the United States, especially after U.S. President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981. Reagan increased financial aid for Liberia, from the $20 million it had been in 1979, to $75 million, and later $95 million per year. Liberia became again an important Cold War ally of the U.S.. Liberia served to protect important U.S. facilities and investments, and to prevent the spread of so-called Soviet influence in Africa. Doe closed the Libyan mission in Monrovia and even severed diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. He agreed to a modification of the mutual defence pact with the U.S. granting staging rights on 24-hour notice at Liberia's sea and airports for the U.S. Rapid Deployment Forces. American ties with the Liberian army were strengthened; the military component of the aid package for the period 1981-85 was about $15 million. Under Doe, Liberian ports were opened to American, Canadian, and European ships, which brought in considerable foreign investment from shipping firms and earned Liberia a reputation as a tax haven.

Fear for counter-coup; repression

Doe overcame seven coup attempts between 1981 and 1985. In August 1981, he let Thomas Weh Syen and four other PRC members be arrested for alleged conspiring against Doe, and had them executed. Then, Doe’s government declared an amnesty for all political prisoners and exiles, and released sixty political prisoners that year. Soon, there were more internal rifts in the PRC. Doe became paranoid about the possibility of a counter-coup, his government grew increasingly corrupt and repressive, banning political opposition and shutting down newspapers and jailing reporters. He began to systematically eliminate PRC members who challenged his authority, and to place people of his own Krahn-background in key positions, which in turn intensified popular anger. Meanwhile, the economy deteriorated precipitously. Popular support for Doe's government evaporated.

‘Presidential election’

A draft constitution providing for a multiparty republic had been issued in 1983 and was approved by referendum in 1984. After the referendum, Doe staged a presidential election on October 15, 1985. Nine political parties sought to challenge Doe's National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), but only three were allowed to take part. Prior to the election, Doe let more than fifty of his opponents be murdered. Doe was ‘elected’ with 51% of the vote, but the election was heavily rigged. Foreign observers also declared the elections fraudulent, and most of the elected opposition candidates refused to take their seats. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Chester Crocker testified before Congress that the election was imperfect but that at least it was a movement toward democracy. He further justified his statement with the claim that, in any case, all African elections were known to be rigged at that time.

Repression escalates into tribal warfare

(see also First Liberian Civil War)

In November 1985, Thomas Quiwonkpa, Doe’s former second-in-command, with an estimated 500 to 600 people attempted to seize power, failed, and all were killed. Doe was sworn in as President on January 6, 1986. Doe then initiated crackdowns against tribes such as the Gio (or Dan) and Mano in the north, where most of the coup plotters came from. This government's mistreatment of certain ethnic groups resulted in divisions and violence among indigenous populations who until then had coexisted relatively peacefully. In the late 1980s, as fiscal austerity took hold in the United States and the threat of Communism declined with the waning of the Cold War, the U.S. became disenchanted with Doe's government and began cutting off critical foreign aid to Doe. This, together with the popular anger and opposition, made Doe’s position precarious.

The Krahn tribe of president Doe however, attacked tribes in Nimba County in the north; some northerners fled to bordering Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast); in the late 1980s, Charles Taylor assembled rebels from Gio and Mano tribes in Ivory Coast into a militia, invaded Nimba County in 1989, and by 1990 tribal war was a fact.

‘First Liberian Civil War’ 1989-1996

(See also: First Liberian Civil War and Charles Taylor)


In the late 1980s, opposition from abroad to Doe’s regime led to economic collapse. Doe had already been repressing and crushing internal opposition for some time, when in November 1985 another coup was attempted against him, and again failed. Doe retaliated against tribes such as the Gio (or Dan) and Mano in the north, where most of the coup plotters had come from. Perhaps as a sequel to these governmental retaliations, perhaps as another circumscription of these same events: Doe’s Krahn tribe began attacking other tribes, particularly in Nimba County in the northeast of Liberia, bordering on Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and on Guinea. Some Liberian northerners fled for brutal treatment from the Liberian army into the Ivory Coast.

Charles Taylor and the NPFL 1980-’89

Charles Taylor, born 1948, is son to a Gola mother and either an Americo-Liberian or an Afro-Trinidadian father. In 1977 he earned a degree in economics at a college in Massachusetts, U.S.. After the 1980 coup d’état he served some time in Doe’s government until he was sacked in 1983 on accusation of embezzling government funds. He fled Liberia, was arrested in 1984 in Massachusetts on a Liberian warrant for extradition, and jailed in Massachusetts; escaped from jail in 1985, and probably fled to Libya. Some time later, Taylor in Ivory Coast assembled a group of rebels into the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), mostly from the Gio and Mano tribes.


December 1989, NPFL invaded Nimba County in Liberia. Thousands of Gio and Mano joined them, Liberians of other ethnic background as well. The Liberian army (AFL) counterattacked, and retaliated against the whole population of the region. Mid 1990, a war was raging between Krahn on one side, and Gio and Mano on the other. On both sides, thousands of civilians were massacred.


By the middle of 1990, Taylor controlled much of the country, and by June laid siege to Monrovia. In July, Yormie Johnson split off from NPFL and formed the INPFL, based on the Gio tribe. Both NPFL and INPFL continued siege on Monrovia. Bloodshed was all over. In August 1990, ECOWAS, an organisation of West African states, created a military intervention force called ECOMOG of 4,000 troops, to restore order. President Doe and Yormie Johnson (INPFL) agreed to this intervention, Taylor didn’t. 9 September, President Doe paid a visit to the barely established headquarters of ECOMOG in the Free Port of Monrovia, was at the ECOMOG headquarters attacked by INPFL, taken to the INPFL’s Caldwell base, tortured and killed. November 1990, ECOWAS agreed with some principal Liberian players but without Charles Taylor, on an Interim Government (IGNU) under President Dr. Amos Sawyer. Sawyer established his authority over most of Monrovia, the rest of the country was in the hands of factions or gangs. June 1991, former AFL fighters formed rebel group ULIMO, entered western Liberia in September ’91, and gained territories from the NPFL.

1993 - 1996

1993, ECOWAS brokered a peace agreement in Cotonou, Benin. On 22 September ’93, the UN established an observer mission UNOMIL to support ECOMOG in implementing the Cotonou agreement. March 1994, the ‘interim government’ of Sawyer was succeeded by a Council of State collective presidency of six members headed by David D. Kpormakpor. May 1994, renewed armed hostilities broke out and held on. Somewhere 1994, ULIMO broke into two militias: ULIMO-J, a Krahn faction led by Roosevelt Johnson and ULIMO-K, a Mandigo-based faction under Alhaji G.V. Kromah. September ’94, factional leaders agreed to the Akosombo peace agreement in Ghana, but to little consequence. October ‘94, the UN reduced its number of UNOMIL observers to about 90 because of the lack of will of combatants to honour peace agreements. December ’94, factions and parties signed the Accra agreement, but fighting continued. August 1995, factions signed an agreement largely brokered by Jerry Rawlings, Ghanaian President; Charles Taylor agreed. September ’95, Kpormakpor’s Council of State is succeeded by one under civilian Wilton G. S. Sankawulo and with the factional heads Charles Taylor, Alhaji Kromah and George Boley in it. April 1996, followers of Taylor and Kromah assaulted the headquarters of Roosevelt Johnson in Monrovia, and the peace accord collapsed. In August ’96, a new ceasefire is reached in Abuja, Nigeria. 3 September 1996, Ruth Perry followed Sankawulo as chairwoman of the Council of State, with the same three militia leaders in it.

Rule Charles Taylor and ‘Second Civil War’, 1997-2003

(See also: First Liberian Civil War, Charles Taylor and Second Liberian Civil War)

Elections 1997

July 1997, assisted by widespread intimidation, Charles Taylor won presidential elections with 75 percent of the vote. The election was judged free and fair though by some observers. August 2nd, Taylor took office.


Bloodshed in Liberia did slow considerably, but it did not end. Violence kept flaring up. During his entire reign, Taylor had to fight insurgencies against his government. Suspicions were, Taylor continued to assist rebel forces in neighbouring countries, like Sierra Leone, selling them weapons against diamonds.

1999 - 2003

Some ULIMO forces reformed themselves as the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), backed by the government of neighbouring Guinea. In 1999, they emerged in northern Liberia, in April 2000 they started fighting in Lofa County in northernmost Liberia. By the spring of 2001 they were posing a major threat to the Taylor government. Liberia was now engaged in a complex three-way conflict with Sierra Leone and the Guinea Republic.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council in March, 2001 (Resolution 1343) concluded that Liberia and Charles Taylor played roles in the civil war in Sierra Leone, and therefore:

  • banned all arms sales to, and diamonds sales from Liberia; and
  • banned high Liberian Government members to travel to UN-states.

By the beginning of 2002, Sierra Leone and Guinea were supporting the LURD, while Taylor was supporting opposition factions in both countries. By supporting Sierra Leonean rebels, Taylor also drew the enmity of the British and Americans.

Other elements of the former ULIMO-factions formed another new rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). Early 2003, MODEL emerged in the south of Liberia.

Another UN embargo, and arrest warrant against Taylor

On March 7, 2003, the war tribunal Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) decided to summon Charles Taylor and charge him with war crimes and crimes against humanity, but they kept this decision and this charge secret until June that year.

May 6, 2003, the UN Security Council (Resolution 1478) decided to an embargo also on Liberian “round logs and timber products”.

By mid-2003, LURD controlled the northern third of the country and was threatening the capital, MODEL was active in the south, and Taylor's government controlled only a third of the country: Monrovia and central Liberia.

On June 4, 2003, ECOWAS organized peace talks in Accra, Ghana, among the Government of Liberia, civil society, and the rebel groups LURD and MODEL. On the opening ceremony, in Taylor’s presence, the SCSL revealed their charge against Taylor which they had kept secret since March, and also issued an international arrest warrant for Taylor. The SCSL indicted Taylor for “bearing the greatest responsibility” for atrocities in Sierra Leone since November 1996. The Ghanaian authorities did not attempt to arrest Taylor, declaring they could not round up a president they themselves had invited as a guest for peace talks. The same day, Taylor returned to Liberia.

Pressure of rebels, Presidents, and UN: Taylor resigns

June 2003, LURD began a siege of Monrovia. July 9, the Nigerian President offered Taylor safe exile in his country, if Taylor stayed out of Liberian politics. Also in July, American President Bush stated twice that Taylor “must leave Liberia”. Taylor insisted that he would resign only if American peacekeeping troops were deployed to Liberia. 1 August 2003, the Security Council, (Resolution 1497) decided on a multinational force in Liberia, to be followed-on by a United Nations stabilization force. ECOWAS sent troops under the banner of 'ECOMIL' to Liberia. These troops started to arrive in Liberia probably as of 15 August. The U.S. provided logistical support. 11 August, under U.S. and international pressure, President Taylor resigned, and flew into exile in Nigeria. Vice-President Moses Blah replaced Taylor as interim-President. Under pressure from the United States, a hastily assembled ECOWAS-ECOMIL force of 1000 Nigerian troops was airlifted into Liberia on August 15, to halt the occupation of Monrovia by rebel forces. Meanwhile, U.S. stationed a Marine Expeditionary Unit with 2300 Marines offshore Liberia.

Recent events

Peace Agreement, Transitional Government 2003-05

On August 18, 2003, the Liberian Government, the rebels, political parties, and leaders from civil society signed a peace agreement that laid the framework for a two-year National Transitional Government of Liberia. August 21, they selected businessman Charles Gyude Bryant as Chair of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), effective on October 14. These changes paved the way for the ECOWAS peacekeeping mission to expand into a 3,600-strong force, constituted by Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.

On October 1, 2003, UNMIL took over the peacekeeping duties from ECOWAS. Some 3,500 West African troops were provisionally ‘re-hatted’ as United Nations peacekeepers. The U.N. Secretary-General commended the African Governments who have contributed to UNMIL, as well as the United States for its support to the regional force. October 14, 2003, Blah handed power to Charles Gyude Bryant.

Fighting initially continued in parts of the country, and tensions between the factions weren’t vanished right away. But fighters were being disarmed; in June 2004, a program to reintegrate the fighters into society began; the economy recovered somewhat in 2004; by year's end, the funds for the re-integration program proved inadequate; also by the end of 2004, more than 100,000 Liberian fighters had been disarmed, and the disarmament program was ended. In light of the progress made, President Bryant requested an end to the UN embargo on Liberian diamonds (since March 2001) and timber (since May 2003), but the Security Council postponed such a move until the peace was more secure. Because of a supposed ‘fundamentally broken system of governance that contributed to 23 years of conflict in Liberia’, and failures of the Transitional Government in curbing corruption, the Liberian government and the International Contact Group on Liberia signed onto the anti-corruption program GEMAP, starting September 2005.

Elections 2005

The transitional government prepared for fair and peaceful democratic elections on October 11, 2005, with UNMIL troops safeguarding the peace. Twenty three candidates stood for the presidential election, with George Weah, internationally famous footballer, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and member of the Kru ethnic group, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former World Bank economist and finance minister, and Harvard-trained economist.
In the first round, no candidate took the required majority, Weah won this round with 28% of the vote. A run-off between the top two vote getters, Weah and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, was necessary.
The second round of elections took place on November 8, 2005. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won this runoff decisively. Both the general election and runoff were marked by peace and order, with thousands of Liberians waiting patiently in the Liberian heat to cast their ballots.
Johnson-Sirleaf claimed victory of this round, winning 59 per cent of the vote. However, Weah alleged electoral fraud, despite international observers declaring the election to be free and fair. Although Weah was still threatening to take his claims to the Supreme Court if no evidence of fraud was found, Johnson-Sirleaf was declared winner on November 23, 2005, and took office on January 16, 2006.

Allegations of labor rights abuses by Firestone

In November 2005, the International Labor Rights Fund filed an Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) case against Bridgestone, the parent company of Firestone, alleging “forced labor, the modern equivalent of slavery”, on the Firestone Plantation in Harbel. In May 2006, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) released a report: “Human Rights in Liberia’s Rubber Plantations: Tapping into the Future” which detailed the results of its investigation into the conditions on the Firestone plantation in Liberia.

Extradition and trial of Charles Taylor, arrest of Bryant

Under international pressure, President Sirleaf requested in March 2006 that Nigeria extradite Charles Taylor, who was then brought before an international tribunal in Sierra Leone to face charges of crimes against humanity, arising from events during the Sierra Leone civil war (his trial was later transferred to The Hague for security purposes). In June, 2006, the United Nations ended its embargo on Liberian timber (effective since May 2003), but continued its diamond embargo (since March 2001) until an effective certificate of origin program was established, a decision that was reaffirmed in October 2006.

In March 2007, former interim president Bryant was arrested and charged with having embezzled government funds while in office. In August 2007, the Supreme Court of Liberia allowed the criminal prosecution for this to proceed in the lower courts. The court ruled that Bryant was not entitled to immunity as the head of state under the Constitution as he was not elected to the position and he was not acting in accordance with law when he allegedly stole USD $1.3 million in property from the government.


In July 2008, the Legislature reintroduced the death penalty into Liberian law, with President Sirleaf signing the bill into law. The law allowed for executions for convictions of armed robbery, rape, terrorism, and hijacking.

See also


Further reading

  • Boley, G.E. Saigbe, Liberia: The Rise and Fall of the First Republic. New York: MacMillan Publishers, 1983
  • Cassell, C. Abayomi, Liberia: The History of the First African Republic. New York: Fountainhead Publishers', Inc, 1970.
  • Dunn, Elwood D., and Hails, Svend E., Historical Dictionary of Liberia. African Historical Dictionaries Series. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1985.
  • Johnston, Harry, Liberia. London: Hutchinson, 1906.
  • Liebenow, J. Gus, Liberia: the Quest for Democracy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.
  • Nelson, Harold D., ed., Liberia: A Country Study. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985.
  • Shick, Tom W., Behold the Promised Land: The History of Afro-American Settler Society in Nineteenth-Century Liberia. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980
  • Smith, James Wesley, Sojourners in Search of Freedom: The Settlement of Liberia of Black Americans. Lanham: University Press of America, 1987.
  • Staudenraus, P.J., The African Colonization Movement, 1816 - 1865. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961; reprint, New York: Octagon Books, 1980.

External links

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