A BRIEF HISTORY OF LIBERIA

Liberia has a unique history. It was never a colony of any European power, but from time to time foreign governments and banks have managed its financial affairs. The Liberian coast was known to Phoenicians and Egyptians as early as 600 B.C. and to the Carthagians in 500 B.C. Europeans first set up trading posts on the coast in the 14th century. These included the Portugese, English and Dutch. The principal item of trade was pepper. No one seemed much inclined to establish a permanent colony and from the mid 17th century to the early 19th century, there was little interest in the country.

In 1816, the American Colonization Sociaety, an organization interested in founding a homeland for American emancipated slaves, became interested in Liberia. The first freed slaves landed in in 1822. More freed slaves arrived and at the suggestion of the American Colonization Society, the country declared independence in 1847 and was recognized by most world powers in 1848. However, the U.S., a great supporter of Liberia over the years, did not grant recognition until 1862. A democratic government with a constitution and elected officials was established. Monrovia, the capital city, is named after the US President Monroe.


A map of Liberia from 1845, as compiled by the data from the first ACS-settlers


The new immigrants, who were taller and huskier with generally better health and often mixed Caucasian blood and better educated, never got along with the native tribes very well. A few coastal tribes learned English and adopted Christianity, but the interior tribes were slower to adjust to the new country. English is the official language of the country, but it may be difficult for an outsider to understand at first. Names such as Johnson, Taylor, Brown, Smith and Jones are not uncommon among the decendents of freed slaves. Until this day, the physical differences between the two groups is apparent. Over the years, the government has made strides in overcoming differences between the immigrants and native population.

In 1923, the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. started to experiment with rubber trees and this resulted in the great Firestone plantations east of Monrovia near Roberts airport. This effort also resultad in many smaller native-owned rubber plantations with Firestone acting as buying agent. Firestone built a hospital on the plantation open to all people that is considered to be among the finest in Africa. At the outbreak of WW II, they operated a long-wave radio transmitter that was years in advance of most radio technology and they talked with Akron, Ohio, as if it were across the street.

The shortest distance across the Atlantic is between Natal, Brazil, and Liberia. When the US got into WW II, they ferried twin engine bombers with limited range across the Atlantic on this route, which was out of range of hostile aircraft. The US built Roberts airport to service the incoming planes on their way to North Africa, and to be near the Firestone infrastructure.

The airport is named for Joseph J. Roberts, on octoroon from the US and the first President of Liberia; he remained in office from 1848 to 1856. Despite the dedication of Liberia to freedom, an illegal slave trade from remote Liberian ports continued until about 1856 when it was halted by the British Navy. During WW II, the free port of Monrovia was built by the US. Liberia was officially at war with the Axis Powers.

William V.S. Tubman became president in 1943 and was elected for a fifth four-year term in 1963; he was in office during the formative years of the Bong Mining Co. project. The government of Mr. Tubman was stable but alleged to be quite corrupt. Mr. Tubman lasted until July 23, 1971, and at his death he was followed by the vice president William Tolbert. The Tolbert administartion tried to solve the political and economic problems caused by diminishing tax revenues and rising energy costs with little success. Opposition groups were suppressed by force. In 1980 in a military coup, Seargent Samuel K. Doe took power after killing President Tolbert and most of his cabinet. During the years that followed, Liberia´s economy continued to deteriorate.

On Christmas eve of 1989, the NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia), a rebel group under Charles Taylor, invaded Liberia from the neighboring Ivory Coast. Ten months later he controlled most of the country. A joint military force, the ECOMOG troops from the 16- nation "Economic Community of West Africa", invaded the country to attempt to top the civil war. The ECOMOG forces were alleged in several press sources to have sided with a competing rebel group under Prince J. Johnson. Some splinter group opposed to Charles Taylor is alleged to have killed President Doe and his bodyguards on Sept. 9th, 1990. (Bong had already shut down in May of 1990 after Taylor´s forces had occupied Bong Town.) At this time, half of the country´s 2.6 million population had fled into exile and an estimated 20,000 people had been killed (some sources place the numbers much higher) as the conflict degenerated into bloody ethnic massacres. There was much needless destruction of no strategic value to any of the combatants such as blasting of one of the main bridges on the Bong railroad and the destruction of a dam and power plant built with USAID funds.

The current situation in Liberia is reffered to by many major news agencies and many independent observers as one of Africa´s most bloody and difficult to resolve conflicts which reflect the old policies of the cold wars super powers in Africa.
Being out of sight of major international interest this conflict will probably drag on for years to come and the attrocities committed against the Liberian people by the rivaling factions in Liberia will commence without any media coverage.


© Robert W. Kranz