Portuguese explorers established contacts with Liberia as early as 1461
and named the area Grain Coast because of the abundance of grains of Malegueta
Pepper. In 1663 the British installed trading posts on the Grain Coast,
but the Dutch destroyed these posts a year later. There were no further
reports of European settlements along the Grain Coast until the arrival
of freed slaves in the early 1800s.
Liberia, which means "land of the free," was founded by freed slaves
from the United States in 1820. These freed slaves, called Americo-Liberians,
first arrived in Liberia and established a settlement in Christopolis now
Monrovia (named after U.S. President James Monroe) on February 6, 1820.
This group of 86 immigrants formed the nucleus of the settler population
of what became known as the Republic of Liberia.
Thousands of freed slaves from America soon arrived during the following
years, leading to the formation of more settlements and culminating in
a declaration of independence on July 26, 1847 of the Republic of Liberia.
The idea of resettling free slaves in Africa was nurtured by the American
Colonization Society (ACS), an organization that governed the Commonwealth
of Liberia until independence in 1847. The new Republic of Liberia adopted
American styles of life and established thriving trade links with other
The formation of the Republic of Liberia was not an altogether easy
task. The settlers periodically encountered stiff opposition from African
tribes whom they met upon arrival, usually resulting in bloody battles.
On the other hand, the newly independent Liberia was encroached upon by
colonial expansionists who forcibly took over much of the original territory
of independent Liberia.
Liberia's history until 1980 was largely peaceful. For 133 years after
independence, the Republic of Liberia was a one-party state ruled by the
Americo-Liberian-dominated True Whig Party (TWP). Joseph Jenkins Roberts,
who was born and raised in America, became Liberia's first President. The
style of government and constitution was fashioned on that of the United
States. The True Whig Party dominated all sectors of Liberia from independence
until April 12, 1980, when indigenous Liberian Master Sergeant Samuel K.
Doe--from the Krahn ethnic group--seized power in a coup d'etat. Doe's
forces executed President William R. Tolbert and several officials of his
government, mostly of Americo-Liberian descent. As a result, 133 years
of Americo-Liberian political domination ended with the formation of the
People's Redemption Council (PRC).
Doe's government increasingly adopted an ethnic outlook as members of
his Krahn ethnic group soon dominated political and military life in Liberia.
This caused a heightened level of ethnic tension, leading to frequent hostilities
between the politically and militarily dominant Krahns and other ethnic
groups in the country.
Political parties remained banned until 1984. Elections were held on
October 15, 1985, in which Doe's National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL)
was declared winner. The elections were characterized by widespread fraud
and rigging. The period after the elections saw increased human rights
abuses, corruption, and ethnic tensions. The standard of living, which
had been rising in the 1970s, declined drastically. On November 12, 1985,
former Army Commanding Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa invaded Liberia by way of
neighboring Sierra Leone and almost succeeded in toppling the government
of Samuel Doe. Members of the Krahn-dominated Armed Forces of Liberia repelled
Quiwonkpa's attack and executed him in Monrovia.
On December 24, 1989, a small band of rebels led by Doe's former procurement
chief, Charles Taylor, invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast. Taylor and
his National Patriotic Front rebels rapidly gained the support of Liberians
because of the repressive nature of Samuel Doe and his government. Barely
6 months after the rebels first attacked, they had reached the outskirts
The 1989-1996 Liberian civil war, which was one of Africa's bloodiest,
claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and further displaced
a million others into refugee camps in neighboring countries. The Economic
Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened and succeeded in preventing
Charles Taylor from capturing Monrovia. Prince Johnson--who had been a
member of Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) but broke
away because of policy differences--formed the Independent National Patriotic
Front of Liberia (INPFL). Johnson's forces captured and killed Doe on September
An Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) was formed in Gambia
under the auspices of ECOWAS in October 1990, and Dr. Amos C. Sawyer became
President. Taylor refused to work with the interim government and continued
fighting. By 1992, several warring factions had emerged in the Liberian
civil war, all of which were absorbed in the new transitional government.
After several peace accords and declining military power, Taylor finally
agreed to the formation of a five-man transitional government.
After considerable progress in negotiations conducted by the United
States, United Nations, Organization of African Unity (now the African
Union), and ECOWAS, disarmament and demobilization of warring factions
were hastily carried out. Special elections were held on July 19, 1997,
with Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Party emerging victorious.
Taylor won the election by a large majority, primarily because Liberians
feared a return to war had Taylor lost.
For the next 6 years, the Taylor government did not improve the lives
of Liberians. Unemployment and illiteracy stood above 75%, and little investment
was made in the country's infrastructure. Liberia is still trying to recover
from the ravages of war; six years after the war, pipe-borne water and
electricity were still unavailable, and schools, hospitals, roads, and
infrastructure remained derelict. Rather than work to improve the lives
of Liberians, Taylor supported the bloody Revolutionary United Front in
Sierra Leone, fomenting unrest and brutal excesses in the region, and leading
to the resumption of armed rebellion from among Taylor's former adversaries.
On June 4, 2003 in Accra, Ghana, ECOWAS facilitated the inauguration
of peace talks among the Government of Liberia, civil society, and the
rebel groups called “Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy”
(LURD) and “Movement for Democracy in Liberia” (MODEL). LURD and MODEL
largely represent elements of the former ULIMO-K and ULIMO-J factions that
fought Taylor during Liberia’s previous civil war (1989-1996). Also on
June 4, 2003, the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone
issued a press statement announcing the opening of a sealed March 7 indictment
of Liberian President Charles Taylor for “bearing the greatest responsibility”
for atrocities in Sierra Leone since November 1996. By July 17, 2003 the
Government of Liberia, LURD, and MODEL signed a cease-fire that envisioned
a comprehensive peace agreement within 30 days. The three combatants subsequently
broke that cease-fire repeatedly, which resulted in bitter fighting that
eventually reached downtown Monrovia.
On August 11, 2003 under intense U.S. and international pressure, President
Taylor resigned office and departed into exile in Nigeria. This move paved
the way for the deployment by ECOWAS of what became a 3,600-strong peacekeeping
mission in Liberia (ECOMIL). Since then, the United States has provided
limited direct military support and $26 million in logistical assistance
to ECOMIL and another $40 million in humanitarian assistance to Liberia.
On August 18, leaders from the Liberian Government, the rebels, political
parties, and civil society signed a comprehensive peace agreement that
laid the framework for constructing a 2-year National Transitional Government
of Liberia, effective October 14. On August 21, they selected businessman
Gyude Bryant as Chair and Wesley Johnson as Vice Chair of the National
Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL). Under the terms of the agreement
the LURD, MODEL, and Government of Liberia each selected 12 members of
the 76-member Legislative Assembly (LA). The NTGL was inducted on
October 14, 2003 and will serve until January 2006, when the winners of
the scheduled October 2005 presidential and congressional elections take