Liberia- A brief History
In the Beginning …1816 – 1847
The “The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America”, most popularly known as the American Colonization Society (ACS), was established in 1816. An early adopter and active contributor to the exercise was Robert Findley, a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey. The inaugural meeting was held in Washington, DC, and several prominent politicians and clergy attended, included James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, and Daniel Webster, with Henry Clay presiding over the meeting. Its co-founders were considered to be Henry Clay, John Randolph of Roanoke, and Richard Bland Lee
Efforts by Paul Cuffee, a wealthy, mixed-race, Quaker ship merchant, to establish a colony in African for free blacks foreshadowed the formation of the ACS. Cuffee’s aspirations found favorable disposition from the British government. Cuffee advocated the repatriation of free blacks back to Africa. In 1815, he commissioned and financed a trip; he made another trip in 1816, taking with him 38 free slaves. Cuffee and his entourage settled in Sierra Leone. Sadly, Cuffee’s death in 1817 precluded further expeditions to the Sierra Leone colony. However, his advocacy and personal excursions convinced many supporters about the feasibility of resettling free slaves in Africa.
Building on the success of Cuffee’s advocacy and expeditions, Charles Fenton Mercer, a Federalist member of the Virginia General Assembly, pushed the State of Virginia to support the idea of repatriating free slaves to Africa. Mercer’s friend and political ally in Washington City, John Caldwell, in turn contacted the Reverend Robert Finley, his brother-in-law and a Presbyterian minister, who endorsed the plan setting in motion of series of actions that to the formalization of the ACS. On December 21, 1816, the society was officially established in Washington at the Davis Hotel.
In the ensuing years, the ACS focused on raising funds to support the work of repatriating frees slaves to Africa. Fundraising efforts included selling of membership, seeking congressional appropriation, and soliciting state legislatures. While Congress remained largely ungenerous to the ACS, the amount of $100,000 was appropriated in 1819. Meanwhile, the state legislatures of New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Missouri made generous allotments for the operations of the organization.
The Society relentlessly pressured Congress and the President for support, receiving $100,000 from Congress in 1819. On February 6, 1820, the first ship, the Elizabeth, sailed from New York for West Africa with three white ACS agents and 88 emigrants aboard. The ship pulled in first at Freetown, Sierra Leone, from where it sailed south to what is now the northern coast of Liberia. The emigrants started to establish a settlement. All three whites and 22 of the emigrants died within three weeks from yellow fever. The remainder returned to Sierra Leone and waited for another ship. The Nautilus sailed twice in 1821 and established a settlement at Mesurado Bay on an island they named Perseverance (or Providence). It was difficult for the early settlers; nevertheless, in the next decade 2,638 African Americans migrated to the area. Also, the colony entered an agreement with the U.S. Government to accept freed slaves who were taken from illegal slave ships.
Jehudi Ashmun, an early leader of the ACS colony, envisioned an American empire in Africa. During 1825 and 1826, Ashmun took steps to lease, annex, or buy tribal lands along the coast and along major rivers leading inland. Like his predecessor Lt. Robert Stockton, who in 1822 established the site for Monrovia by “persuading” a local chief referred to as “King Peter” to sell Cape Montserado (or Mesurado) by pointing a pistol at his head; Ashmun was prepared to use force to extend the colony’s territory. His aggressive actions quickly increased Liberia’s power over its neighbors. In a treaty of May 1825, King Peter and other native kings agreed to sell land to Ashmun in return for 500 bars of tobacco, three barrels of rum, five casks of powder, five umbrellas, ten iron posts, and ten pairs of shoes, among other items.
During the next 20 years the colony continued to grow and establish economic stability. From the establishment of the colony, the ACS had employed white agents to govern the colony. In 1842, Joseph Jenkins Roberts became the first non-white governor of Liberia. In 1847, the legislature of Liberia declared itself an independent state, with J.J. Roberts elected as its first President.
The society in Liberia developed into three segments: settlers with European-African lineage, freed slaves from slave ships and the West Indies, and indigenous native people. These groups would have a profound effect on the history of Liberia.
The ACS remained operational until it was dissolved in 1964. All records are currently housed at the Library of Congress.
During this period, Liberia experienced periods of multi-party democracy; however, the dominant political party remained the True Whig Party. The following are elected presidents of Liberia:
Liberia- 1980 -1990
After 133 years of democracy, Liberians awoke to the news of a military coup on April 12, 1980. Seventeen enlisted soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia gained control of the state and government under the command of Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe. Over the next five years, Liberia would experience the vicissitudes of military rule. The self-styled People’s Redemption Council expressed the desire for a new Liberia, an objective that remained largely aspirational and illusive.
In the days following the coup, several members of the previous government were arrested. In addition, several government officials were publically executed. Below is a list of the officials known to have been executed:
1) Frank E. Tolbert, President pro-Tempore of the Senate, brother of President William Tolbert 2) Richard A. Henries, Speaker of the House 3) E. Reginald Townsend, National Chairman of the True Whig Party 4) P. Clarence Parker, General Treasurer of the True Whig Party 5) James A. Pierre, Chief Justice 6) Joseph J. Chesson, Minister of Justice 7) C. Cecil Dennis, Minister of Foreign Affairs 8) Frank J. Stewart, Director of the Budget 9) James T. Phillips, former Minister of Agriculture, former Minister of Finance 10) Cyril Bright, former Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs 11) David F. Neal, former Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs 12) John W. Sherman, Ass. Minister for Commerce and Trade 13) Charles T.O. King, Dep. Minister for Agriculture
The military junta promised to restore democracy and return power to elected officials. In 1981, a constitutional commission was set up to write a new constitution. Under the chairmanship of Dr. Amos Sawyer, the commission produced what is now the current version of the constitution of the Republic of Liberia. The new constitution would later take effect in January 1986.
Elections were scheduled for October 1985, and Samuel Doe and the National Democratic Party of Liberia emerged as winners. However, the political climate remained tenuous. A suppressed coup against Samuel Doe on November 12, 1985 further exacerbated feelings of mistrust among the population, fostering the environment that led to the civil war.
On January 6, 1986, Doe took the oath of office as the elected President of Liberia
A Nation at War (1990 – 2003)
The Liberian Civil War began on December 24, 1989. Under the leadership of Charles Taylor, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) launched a raid into Nimba County along Liberia’s northeastern border with Cote d’Ivoire. Within seven months, the NPFL held 95 percent of the country and was poised to seize Monrovia.
In very broad terms, the duration of the civil war can be divided into two periods: 1989 to 1997 and 1997 to 2003. Two major anti-government forces controlled most of the fighting during the first period, NPFL and the breakaway faction, Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) led by Prince Yormie Johnson.
In addition to the INFPL, two other anti- Taylor groups surfaced in 1991 including, Movement for the Redemption of Liberian Muslims (MRM), which was formed by Mandingo supporters of the late Samuel K. Doe, based in Guinea and headed by Doe’s former information minister Alhaji G. V. Kromah, along with Liberian United Democratic Front (LUDF), which was formed in Sierra Leone by former members of the AFL. By October 1991, MRM and LUDF had fused into the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO).
In addition to these groups, several smaller militias emerged at various times during the conflict. These militias included: Liberia Peace Council (LPC), Nimba Defense Force (NDF), Lofa Defense Force (LDF) and Bong Defense Front (BDF), while a permanent split developed within ULIMO, between ULIMO-J, headed by Roosevelt Johnson, and ULIMO-K, led by Kromah. By the end of 1994, the various military factions reportedly held the following territories: LPC along the coastal regions of Grand Kru, Since and River Cess; NPFL with northern Grand Gedeh and parts of Bong, Nimba, Margibi and Maryland; ULIMO-J in Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and lower Lofa; ULIMO-K in upper Lofa and western Bong.
Attempts to mediate the conflict resulted in several international conferences beginning with regional meetings in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Banjul, Gambia and Bamako, Mali in 1990. Other meetings were hosted in Lome, Togo, February 12, 1991; Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire, July-September 1991; Geneva, Switzerland, July 16, 1993; Cotonou, Benin, July 25, 1993; Akosombo, Ghana, September 12, 1994; Accra, Ghana, December 21, 1994; Abuja, Nigeria, July and August 1995.
Throughout the civil war, transitional governments were established to keep maintain stability while a permanent solution was determined. The following caretaker governments ruled during the conflict:
- Amos Sawyer (November 1990 – August 1993)
- Bismarck Kuyon (August 1993 – November 1993)
- Philip Banks (November 1993 – February 1994)
- David Kpormakor (February 1994 – September 1995)
- Wilton Sankawulo (September 1995 – September 1996)
- Ruth Perry (September 1996 – August 1997)
- First female Head of State
On July 19, 1997, internationally-monitored elections were held across Liberia, attracting 90 percent of the approximately one million registered voters. The presidency was won by Charles Taylor of the NPFL, with 75 percent of the votes.
The nation enjoyed a brief respite from war until 2001 when fighting resumed. This last round of fighting ended in 2003, when Charles Taylor resigned his position as President of Liberia and sought refuge in Nigeria, turning control of the country to his Vice President, Moses Blah. At a peace conference in Accra, Ghana in 2003, rebel commanders signed a peace agreement that formed a unity government and set elections for October 2005. Charles Gyude Bryant was selected as head of the transitional unity government.
In October 2005, war-wearied Liberians went to the polls in elections declared free and fair by the international community. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the Unity Party won the presidential elections in second round voting. She became Africa’s first elected female president.
President Sirleaf won a second term in 2011 in another round of multiparty election. Having convened two successful multi-party elections, Liberia’s nascent democracy is preparing for elections in 2017.
Political parties contesting the 2017 elections include Liberty Party, Unity Party, Congress for Democratic Change, among many others.
Liberia: Land, People, and Places
Liberia’s political sub-divisions:
Bomi, Bong, Gbarpolu, Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount, Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru, Lofa, Margibi, Maryland, Montserrado, Nimba, River Cess, River Gee, and Sinoe
Demographics of Liberia
Liberia is a multiethnic and multicultural country. Diversity has always been celebrated in Liberian culture in regard to cuisine, music, fashion, language and people.
There are sixteen major ethnic groups in Liberia including: Kpelle, the largest group; Bassa, Gio, Kru, often fishermen; Grebo, Mandingo, often in trade and transport; Mano, Krahn, Gola, Gbandi, Lorma, Kissi, Vai, Mende, Sarpo, and Bella.
Traditional Liberian hut Local market
Then there are Americo-Liberians, who are descendants of free-born and formerly enslaved African Americans who arrived in Liberia from 1822 onward and Congo (or Congau) People (descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean as well as slaves repatriated from captured slave ships), making up an estimated 5% of the population.
According to the 2010 revision of the World Population Prospects, Liberia’s total population was 3,994,000 in 2010. This is compared to 911,000 in 1950.
43.5% of Liberians were below the age of 15 in 2010. 53.7% were between 15 and 65 years of age, while 2.8% were 65 years or older.
Religion is an important aspect of life in Liberia. According to the 2008 National Census, 85.5% of Liberia’s population practice Christianity. Muslims comprise 12.2% of the population, largely coming from the Mandingo and Vai ethnic groups. The vast majority of Muslims are Malikite Sunni, with sizeable Shia and Ahmadiyya minorities. Traditional indigenous religions are practiced by 0.5% of the population, while 1.8% subscribe to no religion.
Geography of Liberia
Liberia has a mostly hilly terrain, from rolling plains along the coast to a rolling plateau and low mountains in the northeast. The lowest point on Liberia is at sea level on the Atlantic Ocean. The highest point on Liberia is 1380 m above sea level at Mount Wuteve.
Natural resources that are found in Liberia include iron ore, timber, diamonds, gold and hydropower.
The natural hazard that occurs in Liberia is a dust-laden harmattan wind that blows from the Sahara (December to March).
Environmental issues in Liberia include the deforestation of tropical rainforest, the hunting of endangered species for bushmeat, the pollution of rivers and coastal waters from industrial run-off and raw sewage, and the burning and dumping of household waste.
The climate is tropical and humid, with little change in temperature throughout the year. The mean is 27° C (81° F), with temperatures rarely exceeding 36° C (97° F) or falling below 20° C (68° F). On the coast the heat is tempered by an almost constant breeze. Yearly rainfall is as high as 510 cm (200 in) on the coast, decreasing to about 200 cm (80 in) in areas farthest inland. There are distinct wet and dry seasons, most of the rainfall occurring between late April and mid-November. Average relative humidity in the coastal area is about 82% during the rainy season and 78% in the dry, but it may drop to 50% or lower between December and March, when the dust-laden harmattan blows from the Sahara.
Liberia’s Rivers – Mano River, Mafa River, Lofa River, Saint Paul River, Mesurado River, Junk River, Saint John River, Timbo River, Cestos River, Sehnkwehn River, Sinoe, Dugbe River, Dubo River, Grand Cess River, and Cavalla River.
Agriculture in Liberia
Agriculture in Liberia remains largely subsistence – providing just enough food for each farmer his family. Rubber is the most important cash crop, though cocoa, coffee, and palm oil are also produced. Opportunities abound in the agriculture for investors to increase output and make the country self-reliant in food production.
Liberia has an eclectic mix of foods. Some of the more popular dishes are eaten with rice, Liberia’s staple, and include:
- Palm butter: a rich velvety stew made from oil palm
- Cassava Leaf: an appetizing stew made from the leaves of the yucca plant
- Potato Greens: an aromatic stew made from the leaves of potato plant
- Torpagee: an amber sauce that captivates the taste buds
- Pepper Soup: A dumpling of meats, fish, and vegetables combined in one pot.
- Dry Rice and Fried Fish (or with Gravy): steamed rice eaten with fried fish and pepper sauces. Another version is checked rice (rice hinted with leaves) and gravy.
- Jollof Rice: quite similar to jambalaya and is a mixture of rice, meet, chicken and other ingredients cooked to a delicious finish.
Other Liberian dishes include dumboy, fufu and GB, which are made by boiling and pounding cassava into a dough-like consistency (and eaten with stew), collard greens, palava sauce, okra sauce
Sample Liberian Recipe
Sweet Potato Greens (eaten with steamed Rice):
2 bags fresh potato greens (4 Cups pressed down) 1 lb. peeled shrimp 3 lbs. chicken and beef 1 cup smoked turkey 2 medium onions (chopped) 1 1/2 tsp salt 2 tsp seasoned salt 1/4 tsp ground black pepper Baking soda 1 cup cooking oil 2 cook spoon oil 2 Maggi Chicken Soup (optional) 1 or 2 pods hot pepper (optional)
Potato greens are the leaves of the sweet potato plant. They are highly nutritious, rich in antioxidants, proteins, and vitamin B. This green vegetable also contain some valuable minerals, including iron, calcium, and zinc.
First, you have to cook your chicken, meat, and shrimp.
Cut your chicken into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Cut stewing beef into 1 inch pieces. Peel and de-vein shrimp.
Combine and add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp seasoned salt. Stir to spread seasoning evenly. Separate shrimp from beef and chicken.
Add two cook spoon of oil to a large skillet. Heat oil on medium high. When oil is hot, fry chicken until both sides are golden brown. Remove from oil.
Next, fry shrimp until golden brown and add. Reduce heat to medium and sauté beef until cooked. Cut turkey in small 1/2 inch pieces and add to pot. Set aside.
Then, prepare your greens.
Remove the leaves from the stems. Do this by snapping the stem about 1/2 inch from the leaf base. Rinse the leaves and transfer to a pan of water. Sprinkle a pinch of baking soda over leaves.
Rub the leaves. Pretend you are scrubbing and washing a piece of cloth between your two hands. Then wring the leaves using your two hands. Transfer to a clean pan.
Now, cook your greens.
Heat one cup of oil in a deep cooking pot on medium high. Sprinkle a pinch of baking soda. Add chopped greens, onions, and pepper. Fry for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 more minutes stirring frequently. Add cooked chicken, beef, turkey, and shrimp. Simmer on low about 15 minutes, continuing to stir.
Your greens are ready. Eat on a bed of rice.
Liberia is a diverse society; whether it is our foods, colorful clothing or rhythmic music, Liberia captures the love and exuberance of its people.