Asoka Ranaweera gives a brief history of Liberia from its foundations up to the modern day, discussing the disastrous effects that civil war and instability have had upon the region. In Ranaweera‘s opinion, the election of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf marks a new chapter in Liberia‘s history with the possibility for economic growth and prosperity. But, Ranaweera warns, positive change cannot be made without the support of the international community.
Asoka Ranaweera is a political analyst and the Chief Executive Officer of “Grid2Grid Networks Powered by People“, based in Metropolitan Washington DC. He is an expert in the Eurasia and Caspian Sea Region. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Grid2Grid’s clients, partners and/or affiliates.
IN A WORLD CONSUMED WITH THE ONGOING CONFLICTS IN IRAQ, NORTH KOREA AND ISRAEL, it is uncommon to hear anything at all about the current states of dozens of other countries. And so, I must confess that the title of my article was meant to provoke you; to draw you in and keep you attuned, for at least a few moments, to the situation in Liberia, a country far removed from international headlines.
A HISTORY OF THE LAND OF THE FREE
Liberia, which means land of the free in Latin, was founded by freed American slaves on July 26th 1847. In a continent otherwise beset by instability and poverty, Liberia became a relatively prosperous democracy, and developed successfully for over a century.
In 1980, however, a coup carried out by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe signaled the beginning of a period of extreme chaos, wanton destruction, and severe human rights violations, all of which, in whole and/or part, were exported regionally to countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast.
ROUND I (1989-96)
In 1989 Sergeant Doe’s friend turned foe Charles Taylor invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast, subsequently ending Doe’s inept, authoritarian administration. The country then descended into a period of violent instability, which lasted until 1996, as various factions fought for political control.
During this period, Sierra Leone plummeted into chaos, as its rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) allegedly sponsored by Mr. Taylor, led a brutal civil war.
It would be difficult, even now, to forget the widely publicized images of mutilation, murder, and brutality inflicted by the RUF upon the civilian population in Sierra Leone, whose bloody campaigns bore catchy names like Operation No Living Thing.
ROUND II (1997-2003)
Amazingly after such barbarity, Mr. Taylor was elected President of Liberia and was soon fighting another civil war with a rebel group that had invaded from neighboring Guinea. The motivation for all of these wars was Liberia’s bountiful natural resource of timber and diamonds, which soon became known as logs of war and blood diamonds.
International activists pressured the UN into imposing embargos on the trade of these resources, and eventually Mr. Taylor was forced into exile in Nigeria as rebel armies began to near the capital.
Today Mr. Taylor is on trial in the Netherlands for alleged crimes against humanity. Although nobody knows for sure how many people were affected during Taylor’s presidency, it is known that upward of 200,000 people were killed and more than a million were displaced from their homes, not to mention the masses of dead and displaced in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in the region.
RETURN TO DEMOCRACY
On November 8th of 2005, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a grandmother, Harvard graduate, political exile and one time international civil servant, was elected as Liberia’s first female president and as the first female President of an African country.
A motherly figure with a sharp intellect and great determination, she set about the task of rebuilding Liberia.
Together with a team of former-exiles, most of whom had spent years working in the US and Europe, she faces many difficult challenges.
THE TIME TO ACT
With all of the talk of capacity building and institutional reform, many people are losing sight of the actual needs of Liberia. In order for President Johnson-Sirleaf to be able to bring stability and prosperity to her country, she will need the financial support of the world community.
Without international investment, and the pardoning of Liberia’s hefty external debt, the new government will be incapable of providing the basic services of water and electricity to its people, let alone establishing a minimum standard of education.
The world cannot just sit by and ignores Liberia’s needs. The region has had its fill of war and violence. What Liberia needs now is peace. The first step has already been taken: we are aware of the situation.
Now the time has come to act.