THE LIBERIAN CONFLICT


Liberia has effectively ceased to exist as a state.
For 133 years after independence, the Republic of Liberia was a one-party state ruled by the Americo-Liberian dominated True Whig Party (TWP). The True Whig Party dominated all sectors of Liberia from independence until 1980. In the presidential election of May 1951, women and indigenous property owners voted for the first time, but the few thousand Americo-Liberians living in the coastal region still retained control of the government. The incumbent William V. S. Tubman, candidate of True Whig Party, was reelected without opposition. The government had suppressed the Reformation and United People's parties.

Under President William R. Tolbert's leadership during the 1970s, Liberia loosened its close ties with the United States. In 1974 it accepted economic aid from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and in 1978 it joined with other developing countries in a trade agreement with the European Community. Domestically, emphasis was placed on bringing the isolated interior into national political life and on improving the economic conditions of the indigenous population. In 1979 the country was paralyzed by riots caused by a proposed increase in the price of rice, the staple food. More than 40 people were killed in the violence.

Juju, as sorcery is called in Liberia, has long been an important element of Liberia's political culture. Practices such as ritual human sacrifice and cannibalism are usually associated with people seeking power or to those who fear losing it. Little reliable information is readily available about traditions associated with ritual killings. Ritual killings, in which body parts used in traditional indigenous rituals were removed from the victim, continued to occur. The number of such killings was difficult to ascertain, since police often described deaths as accidents even when body parts were removed. Deaths that appeared to be natural or accidental sometimes were rumored to be the work of ritual killers. It was believed that practitioners of traditional indigenous religions among the Grebo and Krahn ethnic groups concentrated in the southeastern counties most commonly engaged in ritual killings. The victims were usually members of the religious group performing the ritual. Body parts of a member whom the group believed to be powerful were considered to be the most effective ritually. Body parts most frequently removed include the heart, liver, and genitals. The rituals involved have been reported in some cases to entail eating body parts, and the underlying religious beliefs may be related to incidents during the civil war in which faction leaders sometimes ate (and in which one faction leader had himself filmed eating) body parts of former leaders of rival factions. Removal of body parts for use in traditional rituals is believed to be the motive for ritual killings, rather than an abuse incidental to killings committed for other motives. Ritual murders for the purpose of obtaining body parts traditionally were committed by religious group members called "heart men"; however, since the civil war, common criminals inured to killing also may sell body parts.


© Robert W. Kranz (2005) 
Information courtesy of: www.GlobalSecurity.org