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Home > World

Liberia: what a mess.

I Love You Liberian Girl,
All The Time (Girl)
I Love You Liberian Girl,
All The Time (Girl)
I Love You Liberian Girl,
All The Time (Girl)
I Love You I Love You Baby (Girl)
I Want You I Love You Baby (Girl)
Ooh! I Love You Baby,
I Want You Baby, Ooh! (Girl)'

- Liberian Girl by Michael Jackson

"I don't think you'll find a Liberian since 1990 who hasn't been displaced, and I don't think you'll find a Liberian since 1990 who hasn't lost a loved one"

- Benjamin D. Lartey, general secretary of the Liberia Council of Churches

26 July 2003

Cynics might question whether Michael Jackson has ever been romantically attached to a Liberian girl in real life, but if he had, she'd probably have been a cheap date. Liberia suffers from 70 per cent unemployment and 80 per cent of its people live on the poverty line. And that's poverty by Liberian standards, not British ones - ie. only having three sets of polyester/nylon mix Adidas sportswear.

Liberia is in the news because its ongoing civil war has flared up yet again. Hundreds of people have died and thousands have been injured since rebels launched their latest attack on the countryís capital on Saturday. Outside help is desperately needed to stop the killing and the US in particular is under pressure to act.

Reverend Jesse Jackson (remember him? 'Rainbow coalition'? America's first black president? Ah, the past is a different country...) recently said: "The silence of secretary Powell, security chief Rice and Mr Bush is deafening". A 4,500-strong US force is apparently 'preparing' to deploy in Liberia, but that could mean anything.

The reason there's pressure on the US to act is that Liberia ('land of the free') was founded by freed American slaves and has since maintained strong links with the US. The slaves arrived in the 1820s with the US government's support, and their first settlement was named Monrovia (now the Liberian capital) after James Monroe, then president of the US.

Thousands more freed slaves arrived, and Liberia became independent in 1847. However the black settlers hadn't heard of political correctness or Afrocentricity, and there were many bloody clashes with the native tribesmen. To this day, there are still tensions between descendants of the settlers and descendants of the original inhabitants.

However, apart from the early battles, life in Liberia was pretty peaceful. Although it was a one-party state ruled by the Americo-Liberian dominated True Whig Party, the style of government and constitution was modelled on the US, and it worked OK for 133 years.

Problems really began in the 1980s when indigenous Liberian Master Sergeant Samuel Doe seized power. Doe's forces executed President William Tolbert and various Americo-Liberian government officials. Americo-Liberian political rule came to an abrupt end.

Not long after, the current president Charles Taylor led an armed rebellion, starting a civil war. In 1997 Taylor was elected president, although fighting continued between Taylorís forces and rebels loyal to a former factional leader, Roosevelt Johnson (we hope there are people in Liberia called Nixon Lincoln, Carter Truman and Dubya Mondale).

The current fighting (largely hit-and-run-and-steal guerrilla warfare) is mainly between Taylor's government forces and two rebel groups. Since 1999 the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) group has been fighting to oust Taylor. The other big opposition group is the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model), which controls large parts of Liberia and has cut off the income from Liberiaís timber industry, a valuable source of cash for Taylor.

Itís safe to say that Taylor is not likely to win any popularity contests in the near future. He has been accused of operating like a warlord and has alienated whole ethnic groups in Liberia. Heís having difficulty paying his own troops, and international sanctions are stopping him getting hold of weapons.

Taylor has also been accused of destabilising neighbouring countries, especially Sierra Leone where he made a fortune by supporting rebels operating in diamond mining areas (guns for diamonds). However, the fighting is mainly over in Sierra Leone, and this particular source of income has dried up.

Not many people, even Tony Blair, would want to be Charles Taylor at the moment. While Taylor was in Ghana for peace talks last month, a warrant for his arrest was issued by a UN-backed war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone. Sensibly, Taylor has said he is ready to resign and go into exile in Nigeria - although peacekeepers must arrive first.

But Taylorís problems pale in comparison to those of the general Liberian population. Government and rebel fighters have indiscriminately slaughtered civilians, abducting girls as sex slaves and boys to become soldiers and servants. Aid groups estimate that fighting has forced a third of Liberia's three
million people from their homes.

The current state of play is that the US would like to see international peacekeepers move in to Liberia before it commits its own forces. But Liberian rebels say that if Taylor waits for the peacekeepers, he may decide to stay on because his position will have been shored up.

What a mess. That's really all there is to say.

Apart from: "We're glad we don't live in Liberia."

The difficulty of aid work: article from the National Geographic

CIA World Factbook entry:


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