Liberia: Country and Foreign Investment
History, Population, Language and Culture
This page was last updated on 9 April 2021.
The area now known as Liberia was settled by African peoples at some time from the 12th to the 16th centuries AD. From as early as 1462, Portuguese explorers made contact with indigenous peoples, naming the region Costa di Pimenta (Pepper Coast).
The American Colonization Society established a colony of freed slaves on the west coast of Africa in the 1820s, with an aim to create a republic on libertarian lines. The first settlement was named Christopolis, later renamed Monrovia after the American President James Monroe, and the colony as a whole was referred to as Liberia. Other colonization societies soon followed, most of which merged in 1839 to form the Commonwealth of Liberia, which adopted a new constitution and appointed a governor. On 26 July 1847, Liberia declared its independence, thus becoming the first newly independent black African nation.
Liberia gradually extended its territory, though at times there was conflict between the freed settlers and indigenous peoples. For more than a century, the settlers dominated the country’s political, economic and social spheres while excluding the more populous indigenous tribes.
Finally, on 12 April 1980, the True Whig government was toppled. President William Tolbert was assassinated along with several Cabinet ministers in a bloody coup d'état led by a relatively unknown master sergeant, Samuel Doe. While this coup brought to an end 133 years of Americo-Liberian political dominance over Liberia, it led to a long period of instability.
The hopes of many Liberians were dashed as Doe’s government suspended the constitution, banned political parties, declared martial law and went on to commit gross human rights violations. Under internal pressure, the ban on political parties was lifted, a new constitution adopted in 1986 and elections held in which Doe was declared the winner amid widespread accusations of fraud.
In December 1989, Charles Taylor of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) attacked Liberia from the Ivory Coast. In less than six months, this led to a full-blown civil war during which the Doe government disintegrated. It was a brutal war in which much property was destroyed, over 250,000 Liberians were killed and many more were displaced.
Concerned that the war in Liberia would spill over into neighbouring countries, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened, deploying a peacekeeping force to maintain law and order. An interim government was installed and after several peace agreements, elections were held in 1998, resulting in Charles Taylor becoming president, for a short while.
Taylor and his government also abused human rights and did nothing to improve Liberia’s deplorable social and economic conditions. Unable to contain warring factions within the country, Taylor resigned as president in August 2003. In his place, a transitional government brought peace to Liberia.
With UN assistance, democratic presidential elections were held in late 2005; Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became president and the first elected female Africa head of state. By the end of 2010, Liberia’s national debt had been erased and Johnson-Sirleaf helped to increase foreign investment in the country.
In 2014 there was an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus; though this was contained in two years, it caused a great deal of disruption. In January 2018, former footballer George Weah was inaugurated as president.
Liberia's population is estimated at 5,060,000 (April 2021). According to the 2008 census, 86% of the population are Christian, 12% Muslim and 2% have indigenous beliefs.
English is the official language, but there are more than two dozen indigenous languages including Kpelle, Bassa and Grebo.