Liberia, founded in 1821 by the American Colonisation Society for freed black slaves from the United States, gained independence in 1847. It is the second oldest independent state in Sub-Saharan Africa after Ethiopia. The country was never colonised. The freed slaves who had settled in Liberia became the new elite to govern the country. There was a big gap between these Americo-Liberians and the indigenous population of the area.
In 1926, the first rubber plantation was opened. Important heads of state in the following period were Presidents William Tubman (1943-'71) and William Tolbert (1971-'80). Thanks to foreign - mainly American - investments in plantations and mining, the country's economy grew. In the large underdeveloped region of the West African coast, Liberia was for a long time a remarkable economic enclave. Since the revenues were mainly used to maintain the privileged elite, the development of the country as a whole was not forthcoming. Furthermore, the oil crises of the 1970s caused a sharp deterioration in the terms of trade of Liberia's export products, with negative consequences for the economy.
A coup d'état in 1980 brought Samuel Doe to power. The professional corps of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) was abolished; the country's pre-existing political instability increased and the government's position weakened. Financial discipline continued to weaken and economic mismanagement led to large-scale capital flight. Combined with increasing ethnic strife, the country fell into a state of civil war in the late 1980s.
In 1989, Charles Taylor, as leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) invaded Liberia from neighbouring Ivory Coast. After eight years of civil war, he finally managed to become president through elections in 1997. The Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) of the regional organisation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) played a crucial role in ending the civil war.
Under Taylor, there was no reconstruction of the country. He ruled as a dictator, causing opposition groups to take up arms again. Fighting quickly spread again in 2002 and 2003.
After several unsuccessful (international) peace initiatives, a cease-fire agreement was signed by the Taylor government and the rebel groups LURD and MODEL on 17 June 2003 in Accra, Ghana, under international pressure and the auspices of the regional organisation ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). After several breaches of the ceasefire, culminating in heavy fighting in Monrovia in June and July 2003, weeks of diplomatic wrangling and the deployment of a Nigerian-led ECOWAS force, a peace agreement was finally reached in Accra on 18 August 2003. The peace agreement provided for the disarmament of armed fighters and the establishment of a transitional government. This government included the three former belligerents, together with representatives of mainstream - i.e. unarmed - political parties and civil society.
The implementation of the peace agreement proceeded at a snail's pace between August 2003 and November 2004. The internationally supported transitional government, installed on 14 October 2003 and led by businessman Gyude Bryant, suffered from lack of loyalty among government members, corruption and a leadership crisis within LURD. As a result, the government was unable to implement reforms at the desired pace or to regain authority throughout the country, leaving the former warring parties in control in large parts of the country. There were also fears of the influence of former President Taylor, who on leaving for Nigeria - where he has been in exile since 11 August 2003 - had indicated that he would not be leaving Liberia for good. Taylor has been indicted by the Special Court in Sierra Leone for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
After a period without major security crises, serious disturbances broke out in Monrovia and several other cities at the end of October 2004, killing 16 people and wounding 208. Shortly afterwards, in November 2004, LURD, MODEL and the fighters of the former government signed an agreement by which they disbanded as armed groups and the disarmament process of ex-combatants was completed.
On 11 October 2005, Liberia held the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections, the first free and democratic elections since the inauguration of the controversial President Taylor in 1997 and the ensuing civil war. After the first round, none of the candidates reached the 50:00 threshold and two candidates remained for the run-off/second round. Ex-football star George Weah secured the highest percentage of votes in the first round, namely 28%, while former finance minister and ex-top IMF and World Bank bureaucrat, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf finished second with 19% of the votes. The latter, however, somewhat surprisingly and comfortably won the second round, held on 8 November, with 59% of the vote, against Weah with 41%. The elections were closely supervised by the UN peacekeeping force in Liberia, UNMIL, and judged by the various election observation commissions to have been free and fair. This was also the final conclusion of the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) with regard to the conduct of both rounds. This makes Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf the first female Head of State of Africa.
In June 2007, the trial of former President Charles Taylor begins in The Hague. He is on trial for war crimes. In February 2009, Johnson-Sirleaf confessed before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that she had wrongly supported Charles Taylor in the past. October 2011 is an important month for Johnson-Sirleaf. She receives the Nobel Peace Prize and wins the elections, which were boycotted by the opposition. In April 2012, Charles Taylor is sentenced to 50 years in prison. He must serve his sentence in Britain. In the summer of 2013, despite a government programme, the illegal trade in timber is found to be widespread. If this continues, the forests will disappear at a rapid pace. From 2014 to 2016, Liberia is hit hard by an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, around 5,000 people die. In December 2017, former football star George Weah is elected president. The next elections are scheduled for 2023.
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