Wednesday, June 2, 2010

From Resettling to Rebuilding

Just as Liberia was emerging from 14 years of civil war, I was arriving in Africa for the first time. I am ashamed to say that I was not fully aware of what was going on at the time. I wish I could blame it on the little access I had to current events and world news, but I won’t. I should have been aware…we all should have.
Liberia, a West African country about the size of Tennessee, is home to over 3 million people. That’s over 3 million people affected by the war, still recovering from the war, and forever traumatized by the war.
Liberia’s relationship with America began in the early 1800’s when the American Colonization Society was formed to help resettle slaves back to Africa (because they would be happier in Africa? Would be able to help Christianize Africa? Because they wouldn’t come up against racial prejudice? Or maybe we decided we didn’t “need” them anymore? ...). The society they formed on the western coast of Africa became the independent nation of Liberia in 1847. By 1867, over 13,000 emigrants (soon to be known as Americo-Liberians) had arrived and disputes between the freed slaves and the indigenous people of Liberia were on the rise. For great historical insight into Liberia during the time of colonization I would suggest reading The History of Liberia by J.H.T McPherson.
Let me fast forward to the year I was born (1980) when 133 years of tense Americo-Liberian rule finally ended. A coup led by Samual Doe, a member of the Krahn ethnic group, overthrew (meaning ‘executed’…as is the case in much of Liberian history) the Americo-Liberian president William Tolbert. After gaining power, Doe and his government became increasingly corrupt- banning political opposition, shutting down newspapers and arresting journalists. Doe solidified his control after the fraud-filled elections (are you really that surprised?) in 1985 and the corruption, tension and abuse continued. Yet, Doe was able to establish good relations with the United States and even met with President Ronald Regan twice. Hmm.
On Christmas Eve in 1989, while I anxiously waited for Santa Claus to come, Charles Taylor (an Americo-Liberian) entered Liberia from the Ivory Coast and the first Liberian civil war began. Taylor and his rebel forces gained a lot of support in Liberia (remember that Doe’s time in power was characterized by corruption and brutality; I’d want to support someone else too) and were able to move quickly towards the capital city. In 1990, Taylor was prevented from capturing Monrovia, and Doe was overthro… I mean executed by rebel forces. An interim government was soon set up, but was not recognized by Taylor. From 1989 to 1996 over 200,000 Liberians were killed and a million more were displaced. Finally in 1997, Taylor agreed to a transitional government until special elections were held. Charles Taylor won the elections… Surprise! I’d like to say things got better after these ‘free’ elections, but they got worse.
Soon after elections, the second Liberian civil war broke out and continued until 2003. These years were filled with sickening brutality and abuse. I suggest watching the documentary Liberia: An uncivil war for a closer look at what happened over these years.
On June 4, 2003, peace talks were held in Ghana and a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed . To see how women played a role in these peace talks, take a look at the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell.
After some international pressure, Taylor stepped down from power and was exiled to Nigeria. He left behind a bankrupt country with no healthcare or education system, an unemployment and illiteracy rate above 75%, and a devastated infrastructure.
In 2006, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in as president and became Africa's first democratically elected female president. To learn more about Ellen, watch Iron Ladies of Liberia or read her memoir, This Child Will be Great.
Liberia is now beginning to rebuild, improve security, and enjoy relative stability.


  1. I'm already captivated! Can't wait until you get into the nitty gritty (although not giardia):)

  2. Wow! I never knew "we" sent slaves back! And the rest...