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Republic of Liberia

Coat of arms of Liberia
Coat of arms
Motto: "The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here"
Anthem: All Hail, Liberia, Hail!
Location of  Liberia  (dark green)
Location of  Liberia  (dark green)
and largest city
6°19′N 10°48′W / 6.317°N 10.800°W / 6.317; -10.800
Official languages English
Ethnic groups
  • 20.3% Kpelle
  • 13.4% Bassa
  • 10% Grebo
  • 8% Gio
  • 7.9% Mano
  • 6% Kru
  • 5.1% Lorma
  • 4.8% Kissi
  • 4.4% Gola
  • 4% Krahn
  • 4% Vai
  • 3.2% Mandinka
  • 3% Gbandi
  • 1.3% Mende
  • 1.2% Sapo
  • 0.8% Belle
  • 0.3% Dey
  • 0.6% other Liberian
  • 1.4% other African
  • 0.1% non-African
Demonym(s) Liberian
Government Unitary presidential constitutional republic
George Weah
Jewel Taylor
• House Speaker
Bhofal Chambers
Legislature Legislature of Liberia
House of Representatives
Formation and Independence from the American Colonization Society
January 7, 1822
• Independence declared
July 26, 1847
March 18, 1857
• Recognition by the United States
February 5, 1862
• United Nations membership
November 2, 1945
• Current constitution
January 6, 1986
• Total
111,369 km2 (43,000 sq mi) (102nd)
• Water (%)
• 2021 estimate
5,214,030 (123rd)
• 2008 census
• Density
40.43/km2 (104.7/sq mi) (180th)
GDP (PPP) 2019 estimate
• Total
$6.469 billion
• Per capita
GDP (nominal) 2019 estimate
• Total
$3.221 billion
• Per capita
Gini (2016) 35.3
HDI (2019) Increase 0.480
low · 175th
Currency Liberian dollar (LRD)
Time zone UTC (GMT)
Date format mm/dd/yyyy
Driving side right
Calling code +231
ISO 3166 code LR
Internet TLD .lr

The Republic of Liberia is a small country on the coast of West Africa. It has common borders with Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. The country has a size of about 520 kilometres (320 mi) by 270 kilometres (170 mi). As of 2021, there are about 5,000,000 people in Liberia. The capital city of Liberia is Monrovia. For ships, Liberia is a flag of convenience.


Liberia is a country in Southwest Africa, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Except for the coast, most of Liberia is low mountains, with an altitude of 300 metres (980 ft) to 500 metres (1,600 ft) above sea level. The coastal region is full of swamps, and reaches 30 kilometres (19 mi) to 50 kilometres (31 mi) inland. After that, there's a plateau at an altitude of about 400 metres (1,300 ft). About 60% of the country is covered with rainforest. To the north, there are higher mountains. There are nine big plantations of rubber trees, which are important for the economy. There are mangrove swamps near the coast. In 2019, estimates are that close to 5 million people live in Liberia. About half of them live in the capital, Monrovia. There are 15 administrative divisions, called counties. The main environmental issues in Liberia are that endangered species are hunted and eaten. This kind of meat is called bushmeat. Some of the poached animals are also sold to neighbouring countries. A big part of Liberia is rainforest. Like in other rainforest countries, Slash-and-burn agriculture is a problem. Illegal logging also is. In Monrovia, there is a lot of pollution.

Indigenous people

The presence of Oldowan Earlier Stone Age (earliest ESA) artifacts in West Africa has been confirmed by Michael Omolewa, attesting to the presence of ancient humans.

Undated Acheulean (ESA) artifacts are well documented across West Africa. 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) in northern, open Sahelian zones, and that they persisted until the Terminal Pleistocene/Holocene boundary (~12ka) in both northern and southern zones of West Africa. This makes them the youngest examples of such MSA 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.

The record shows that aceramic and ceramic Later Stone Age (LSA) assemblages in West Africa 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.

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.

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

Mande expansion

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.

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. 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.

People along the coast built canoes and traded with other West Africans from Cap-Vert to the Gold Coast.

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.

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. Formed in 1816, the American Colonization Society (ACS) was made up mostly of Quakers and slaveholders. Quakers believed blacks would face better chances for freedom in Africa than in the U.S. While slaveholders opposed freedom for enslaved people, they viewed "repatriation" of free people of color as a way to avoid slave rebellions.

In 1822, the American Colonization Society began sending free people of color to the Pepper Coast voluntarily to establish a colony. Mortality from tropical diseases was high — of the 4,571 emigrants who arrived in Liberia between 1820 and 1843, only 1,819 survived. 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. 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.

Mitchell Map Liberia colony 1839
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. 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.

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. Encounters with tribal Africans in the bush often became violent. Believing themselves different from and culturally and educationally superior to the indigenous peoples, the Americo-Liberians developed as an elite minority that created and held on to political power. In a conscious effort to emulate the American South, the Americo-Liberian settlers adopted clothing such as hoop skirts and tailcoats, and excluded natives from economic opportunities, including creating plantations on which natives were forced to work as slaves. Indigenous tribesmen did not enjoy birthright citizenship in their own land until 1904. Americo-Liberians encouraged religious organizations to set up missions and schools to educate the indigenous peoples.

Political formation

T. WILLIAMS (c1850) Residence of Joseph Roberts, President of the Republic of Liberia
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. On August 24, Liberia adopted its 11-striped national flag. The United Kingdom was the first country to recognize Liberia's independence. The United States did not recognize Liberia until 1862, after the Southern states, which had strong political power in the American government, declared their secession and the formation of the Confederacy.

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.

(1896) Departure of colored emigrants for Liberia - The Illustrated American, March 21, 1896
African Americans depart for Liberia, 1896. The ACS sent its last emigrants to Liberia in 1904.

By 1877, the True Whig Party was the country's most powerful political entity. 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.

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. 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. 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."

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. 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.

World Wars and interwar period

Liberia remained neutral during World War I until August 4, 1917, upon declaring war on Germany. Subsequently, it was one of 32 nations to take part in the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, which ended the war and established the League of Nations; Liberia was among the few African and non-Western nations to participate in both the conference and the founding of the League.

In 1927, the country's elections again showed the power of the True Whig Party, with electoral proceedings that have been called some of the most rigged ever; the winning candidate was declared to have received votes amounting to more than 15 times the number of eligible voters. (The loser actually received around 60% of the eligible vote.)

Soon after, 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. As a result of the report, President Charles D. B. King and Vice President Allen N. Yancy resigned.

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.

After the war, President William Tubman encouraged foreign investment, with Liberia achieving the second-highest rate of economic growth in the world during the 1950s. In international affairs, it was a founding member of the United Nations, a vocal critic of South African apartheid, a proponent of African independence from European colonial powers, and a supporter of Pan-Africanism. Liberia also helped to fund the Organisation of African Unity.

Technical Liberia
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. The coup leaders formed the People's Redemption Council (PRC) to govern the country. 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.

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

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. 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.

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. 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. A peace deal between warring parties was reached in 1995, leading to Taylor's election as president in 1997.

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. 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.

21st century

Downtown Monrovia 3348917715 67a2002529
The streets of downtown Monrovia, March 2009

In March 2003, a second rebel group, Movement for Democracy in Liberia, began launching attacks against Taylor from the southeast. 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. By July 2003, the rebels had launched an assault on Monrovia. Under heavy pressure from the international community and the domestic Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, Taylor resigned in August 2003 and went into exile in Nigeria. A peace deal was signed later that month.

The United Nations Mission in Liberia began arriving in September 2003 to provide security and monitor the peace accord, and an interim government took power the following October. The subsequent 2005 elections were internationally regarded as the freest and fairest in Liberian history. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a US-educated economist, former Minister of Finance and future Nobel Prize for Peace winner, was elected as the first female president in Africa. Upon her inauguration, Sirleaf requested the extradition of Taylor from Nigeria and transferred him to the SCSL for trial in The Hague.

In 2006, the government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the causes and crimes of the civil war. In 2011, July 26 was proclaimed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to be observed as National Independence Day. In October 2011, peace activist Leymah Gbowee received the Nobel Peace Prize in her work of leading a women's peace movement that brought to an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

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


Liberia Product Exports (2019)
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.
Liberia, Trends in the Human Development Index 1970-2010
Liberia, trends in the Human Development Index 1970–2010.
GDP per capita development of Liberia
Real GDP per capita development, since 1950

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%. GDP per capita peaked in 1980 at US$496, when it was comparable to Egypt's (at the time). 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. 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.

Economic history

Following a peak in growth in 1979, the Liberian economy began a steady decline due to economic mismanagement after the 1980 coup. 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 modern history. Upon the end of the war in 2003, GDP growth began to accelerate, reaching 9.4% in 2007. The global financial crisis slowed GDP growth to 4.6% in 2009, 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.

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. 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.

Following a decrease in inflation beginning in 2003, inflation spiked in 2008 as a result of worldwide food and energy crises, reaching 17.5% before declining to 7.4% in 2009. Liberia's external debt was estimated in 2006 at approximately $4.5 billion, 800% of GDP. 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.

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. The country acted as a major trader in Sierra Leonian blood diamonds, exporting over US$300 million in diamonds in 1999. 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.

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. These sanctions were lifted in 2006. 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. Liberia gained observer status with the World Trade Organization in 2010 and became an official member in 2016.

Liberia has the highest ratio of foreign direct investment to GDP in the world, with US$16 billion in investment since 2006. 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 ArcelorMittal, BHP and Sime Darby. 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. Since 1926 Firestone 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.

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.


Liberia's population from 1961 to 2013, in millions. Liberia's population tripled in 40 years.
Pyramide Liberia
Liberia's population pyramid, 2005. 43.5% of Liberians were below the age of 15 in 2010.

As of the 2017 national census, Liberia was home to 4,694,608 people. 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. Nimba County is the next most populous county, with 462,026 residents. As revealed in the 2008 census, Monrovia is more than four times more populous than all the county capitals combined.

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

Ethnic groups

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 (so named because many immigrants including those freed from slave ships arrived from ports at the mouth of the Congo River).

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. 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%. These latter two groups established political control in the 19th century which they kept well into the 20th century.

The Liberian constitution exercises jus sanguinis, which means it usually restricts its citizenship to "Negroes or persons of Negro descent." That being said, 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.


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

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