A brief history of Liberia

Monrovia Travel Blog

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This is by far not the complete history of Liberia and may or not be correct; I got this information from different websites, word of mouth and documentaries that we’ve watched.  There are some horrific things that have happened in the Liberia’s past and present, I want you know a little bit about what has happened.  Please read with an open heart and mind and say a prayer for our brothers and sisters here in this beautiful country, they have been through much and ask for so little. 

For those who don't know and would like to, Liberia was settled in the early 1800's by freed slaves from America, brought over by the Quakers, who wanted to spread Christianity to the savages and rich southern land owners, who feared an uprising.  They settled in what is now Monrovia, and then branched out into the surrounding areas, encountering the natives that already lived here.  Needless to say, that the different groups didn't get along.  I think there are about 12 different tribes in Liberia.  So in 1847, Liberia declared Independence from America and became its own country.  It based its constitution, government and way of life on America, often building their homes as replicas of the old southern plantation houses they were familiar with.  Liberia became the first independent nation in Africa and was used as an example for many other nations who would later become free.  In the 50's and 60's, President Tubman turned the nation into a very prosperous nation.  He made alliances with the US, allowing military outposts to be constructed and an anti-communism broadcasting station erected.  Five star hotels were built and Liberia was a travel destination for Europeans and adventurers.  Then Tubman got power hungry and went from being president to being a dictator of sorts.  He changed the law on how many terms he could be in office.  He took bribes and used the country’s treasury as his own.  He served in office for 27 years before his death in 1971.

After Tubman’s death, his vice president was elected, Tolbert who served until April 12, 1980 when he was assassinated in a bloody coup, lead by Samuel Doe, who then stepped in as president.  Doe was a master sergeant in the army and only had an 8th grade education; he had been a member of the RPC (People’s Redemption Council).  After the death of President Tolbert, the majority of the cabinet officials were tied to stakes and executed.  Doe played favorites, allowing his tribe to have free rein, but he still kept a pro-west attitude and was invited to the White House by President Reagan.  In 1985, elections were held and Doe rigged the election to ensure his continued reign.  His presidency had been filled with blood and dishonesty, but all that changed on Christmas Eve 1989, when Charles Taylor led a group into Nimba County (which is about 7 hours west of Monrovia) and slowly started taking over the majority of the country.  In September of 1990, President Doe was captured, tortured and executed.

Charles Taylor was Liberian born, but went to America for schooling; he returned after the death of Tolbert and joined Doe’s army.  After a falling out with Doe, Taylor fled, actually got arrested in Massachusetts, escaped from prison and fled back to Africa, its unclear where to.  The Christmas invasion was the start of a bloody civil war that left 200,000 people dead, a reported 50,000 were children.  The war ended temporary in 1997 with Taylor’s election, but lest than a year later he had to face the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).  The heaviest fighting occurred here in Monrovia, over the 2 bridges that are about a 15 minute walk from the ship.  Whoever controlled the bridges controlled what came into the country.  The armies of both sides where made up of mainly young boys, some as young as 7.  The boys were high on drugs and alcohol and carrying AK-47s.  Citizens were caught in the cross fire, the shells and gunfire ricocheting off buildings and killing the innocent.  They were displaced, living in camps.  Children were separated from their families. The city was left in ruins, its once prosperous streets were now unsafe to venture out into, bullet holes covered the walls of buildings, shells rained from the sky.  The soldiers on both sides were taking prisoners and torturing many, mutilating them and then executing them in the streets.  Body parts were cut off, arms, legs, ears, genitals; some would then eat the body parts of their victims in order to gain their strength.  Women were raped with the barrel of gun jammed down their throats.  There was no order, no relief from the terrors.  The people of Liberia were asking for help, but the western world was ignoring them.  They piled the dead outside the US embassy to protest US’s uninvolvement.  LURD was calling for Taylor to step down, but Taylor said he wouldn’t leave until peacekeepers were in the streets.   The UN and the US finally got involved and sent marines from Iraq and UN peacekeepers to Monrovia in 2003.   August 11, 2003, President Taylor stepped down and was exiled to Nigeria.  Taylor was responsible for the death and mutilation of tens of thousands of people; he is accused of the embezzlement of large sums of money, serious human rights violations, war crimes for his contribution to Sierra Leone rebels, abuse of power, even cannibalism.   He escaped arrest from the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal but late 2003 the Bush Administration put a prize of US $ 2 million on Taylor’s head after it was discovered that he allowed Al Qaeda to operate in Liberia and reap the benefits of the illicit diamond smuggling from within Sierra Leone.

The UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) has a strong presence here, its one of the largest mission if not the largest in the world.  They are working to restore the country by training the police, fixing roads, securing the ports and maintaining order in a fragile county.  There are still problems within the country and the government itself.  Secret societies are very common here and it’s rumored that they use children as sacrifices, children seem to disappear and a couple months ago a riot broke out in Bong Town when a body of a 5year old was found with body parts missing.  We were told that many people within the government belong to these secret societies, which is a scary thought.  Voodoo has a big role in the lives of these people.  Liberia has a long way to go to return to its pre-war state.

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Monrovia
photo by: Bluenose