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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #26 of 54: Lesotho | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #28 of 54: Libya »

June 12, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #27 of 54: Liberia

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) ---
27. LIBERIA
Flag of Liberia

Formal Name: Republic of Liberia.

Formal Name: Republic of Liberia.

Term for Citizen: Liberians.

Capital: Monrovia. Population: 491, 000

Independence Achieved: July 26, 1847, from the USA.

Major Cities: Monrovia.

Geography:

Liberia is in West Africa. Sierra, Leone, Ivory Coast, and the Atlantic Ocean border Liberia. Liberia’s size is 43, 000 square miles. The climate is tropical, characterized by year round humid wet and dry seasons. The Rainy season is between April and November, and some coastal regions receive up to 180 inches of rainfall annually. Average daily temperature is 80.F.

Society:

The population of Liberia is estimated at 3,367,000. 66% of the population is largely rural and 34% urban.

Ethnic groups:

The main ethnic groups are: returned Americo-Liberians, Kpelle, Kissi, Gola, Grebo, Kru, Mandingo, Bassa, Belle, Dey, Gbandi, Gio, Krahn, Loma, Mano, Mende, and Vai.

Languages:

Each of the ethnic groups speaks its own language but all of them are variations of the Niger-Congo West African languages. English is the official language.

Religion:

About 50% of the population adheres to indigenous African beliefs, the other half are equally divided between Christians and Muslims.


Education:

Elementary and junior secondary school education (age six to sixteen) is compulsory. Literacy rate is about 57.5%.


Economy:

Agriculture occupies at least 80% of the economy. Mining and light manufacturing is present but not well developed. Trade with the United States is strong. GDP estimate: $3.5 billion; Per Capita GDP: $1, 100. Monetary Unit: Liberian Dollar (LRD).


History and Government:

Liberia is a unique African country. Liberia was begun by returned African Americans. During the struggle to free American slaves, there was movement to return freed slaves to Africa and Liberia was one such experiment. The returned African Americans settled at Monrovia, and eventually incorporated surrounding Africans into an expanded country and ruled them. Tension arose between the African Americans and the local Africans. This tension eventually led to the toppling of the African American government at Monrovia by Sergeant Samuel Doe. Charles Taylor, in turn, overthrew President Doe and a civil war ensured. Liberia is divided into 15 counties and these are further subdivided into districts and chiefdoms. The national president appoints the superintendents for each of the counties. On paper, Liberia has the American model of government but the president is very powerful and the other branches of government are weak. The country is characterized by a central cleavage, the struggle for leadership between the returned Americans and the Africans. Until recently, the returned Americans ruled the country and maintained fragile peace but when President Tolbert was overthrown and replaced by Samuel Doe, the country experienced instability. President Charles Taylor’s rule was characterized by civil war and mayhem. The defeat and removal from office of Mr. Taylor seems to mean a return to political stability?


CONTEMPORARY HISTORY AND POLITICS

Liberia was founded by freed African-American slaves. Those slaves, primarily from the Southern USA, began coming back to Africa in1821. In 1847 they declared their independence.

The returned ex-slaves, although they were fleeing from a society where they were looked down upon, brought the same prejudicial attitude to the Africans they found in their new African home. On the whole, they carried themselves as if they were superior to native Africans and, indeed, considered them inferior. They organized themselves in their little enclave in Monrovia but did not make vigorous efforts to relate to the 95% natives in interior Liberia. Nor did they make efforts to show the supposed inferior natives how superior they were by setting up schools for them. It took missionaries from the slave owning countries to open up interior Liberia and build schools for Africans.

Liberia is composed of the 5% returnees from America and 95% African natives. The natives came from many tribes. The Kpelle constitute the largest ethnic group in Liberia.

In the meantime, the 5% returnees proceeded to rule the natives and shut them out from participating in the governance of the country. They set up their political party, modeled after 19th century American Whig party, and essentially kept the natives out from participating in it and that way the leaders of that Whig party cycled through the president’s office. It was all in the family, that is, the returnees ruled the roost. These people tried to replicate in Africa’s soil the antebellum racist practices in the Southern USA that they were fleeing from! What a creature is man!

Obviously, they set the stage for eventual crisis and violent overthrow of their sham democracy. In 1980, Sergeant Samuel Kenyon Doe, a member of the Krahn tribe, led a bloody vengeance coup that overthrew the returnees ruling class. The last president of the phony democrats, President Tolbert, was killed in his bed.

Doe, unfortunately, was ill prepared for governance and made more mess than he inherited. In 1990, Doe was killed by other coupist, just as he had killed his predecessor. Thereafter, Liberia went into a free fall and until 2003; there was no stability. Attempts were made to bring about an end to the bloodbath between the various factions vying for power: returnee against Africans, Africans against returnees, one tribe against another etc, but they failed and civil war was in full bloom.

In 2003, West African countries, like Nigeria, under the auspices of Africa Union and the United nations eventually managed to broker a peace arrangement and the reigning war lord, Charles Taylor, was granted asylum in Nigeria. A transition government headed by Gyude Bryant took over and in 2005 an election was conducted and Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf was declared the winner. Her opponent, the popular soccer star, George Weah, for a while claimed that the election was rigged but eventually conceded defeat and Johnson-SirLeaf was crowned the first female president of Liberia.

Liberia is divided into 15 American type counties.

The Liberian economy was devastated by the decade long civil war that the country went through. Militias on all sides controlled the exploitation of the country’s minerals (particularly diamond) with which they bought military weapons to fight their wars. With peace, the mining of iron ore and other minerals that could yield substantial revenue for Liberia resumed. American companies like Firestone/Bridgestone, hopefully, will resume work in their massive rubber plantations.

Liberia has a long way to go in rebuilding its shattered economy. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is said to have training in economics and had background in the world of finance; let us therefore hope that she puts those skills to positive use and for the first time lays the foundation for a strong and prosperous economy for her country. She is a native Liberian (although her grandfather is German) and presumably does not have the arrogance of the returned slaves who isolated themselves in the enclave, Monrovia, which they named after a slave holding American President, Monroe. We hope that Johnson-Sirleaf gets down to working to improve the backward economy she inherited. She made Africa proud to be the first female elected president, now let us see if she would also make it proud as the first efficient manager of her country’s public affairs.

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at June 12, 2006 03:03 AM

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