Liberia -Africa’s oldest republic – is a West African country bordered by Sierra Leone to the west, Guinea to the north and Ivory Coast to the east. Liberia is divided into 15 counties, which are subdivided into districts. It became known in the 1990s for its long-hauled, ruinous civil war that killed an estimated 250,000 people; with thousands mutilated and raped, often by armies of drugged child soldiers led by ruthless warlords.1 Politics in the world’s oldest republic bloomed in 1979, with the formation of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) – the first opposition political party to break the 133-year one party rule by the True Whig Party.2 Liberia’s political history has been characterised both by the struggle between American Liberians and ethnic Liberians, including conflicts between ethnic groups within Liberia.
As the only West African country to not have been formerly colonized, Liberia was formed in 1820 when U.S. philanthropists negotiated rights to settle freed slaves from the United States in the area. Liberia was declared a republic in 1847; in that year, the independent government of Liberia was founded and operated with political institutions modelled on those of the United States. Although founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves, Liberia is mostly inhabited by indigenous Africans, with the slaves’ descendants comprising 5% of the population.3
Ruling for 133 years the True Whig Party, which mostly consisted of the descendants of freed slaves, was the only significant political force. The party’s rule ended in 1980 when then President William Tolbert was assassinated in a violent coup staged by his successor, Sergeant Samuel Doe. Following Tolbert’s death, Sergeant Samuel Doe took power as head of the ruling 15-member military People’s Redemption Council (PRC).4 This military regime was marked by growing opposition, resulting in further attempted coups. On 24 December 1989, Charles Taylor, a former government employee, invaded the country with a small armed force from Côte d’Ivoire. His National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) gained popular support, and by June 1990 only Monrovia – the capital city- remained under Doe’s control. The fight for the capital became a 3-way contest between the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the NPFL, and a splinter group from the NPFL – the INPFL, all contending for control.5 Due to growing concern over the region’s state, The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent The Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), to take control of the capital. ECOMOG comprised of many nations, but the main constituent was Nigerian. Despite ECOMOG offering Doe protection, Doe was kidnapped and killed. A cease fire was signed in November 1990, but the NPFL refused to recognize the interim government; ECOMOG. (ECOMOG represented the interim government, NPFL was Charles’ party.)
After failed peace-making attempts, coupled with the continuous chaos caused by the armed rebel groups, a peace accord was signed following Charles Taylor’s visit to the Nigerian constituent. The accord set out plans for elections in 1996, with an interim 6-man Council of State that included representatives of the main factions and civilians, with the threat of sanctions if not achieved. As a result militias were formally disbanded in 1997,and elections took place in July 1997 with Taylor’s National Patriotic Party (NPP) winning the majority.
In 2003, following the arrival of United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), and the Nigerian-led ECOWAS mission in Liberia (ECOMIL), Taylor stepped down. In the same year, the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed, which made provisions for a transitional government to be established, leading to the elections which took take place in 2005.
The Unity Party (UP) is the party of incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; it was founded in Grand Bassa in 1985 and first ran against Samuel Doe in the 1985 elections. The 2005 elections saw the Unity Party (UP) win with 59.4% of the votes, and Sirleaf became Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state. The Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) – the main opposition party – was formed by ex-footballer George Weah for the 2005 presidential elections, where they lost a second round ‘run-off’ vote. The 2011 elections saw to another victory for the UP (43.9%) as CDC withdrew after the first round of voting with 32.7% of the vote.6 CDC received support from ex-combatants and youths, who protested violently and clashed with police following UP’s victory in the 2011 election. Sirleaf is currently serving her second term after winning the 2011 presidential election. The majority of UP support is based in the north-eastern and central regions, particularly Lofa, Gbarpolu, Margibi, and Bomi.
The only other viable party is the Liberty Party (LP). The LP continues to be a regional party, with strong backing from the Bassa ethnic group in Grand Bassa and River Cess Counties. LP party leader Charles Brumskine has been an outspoken critic of the Sirleaf administration. Brumskine is however said to ‘not have broad national appeal or political base, and like others, spends a lot of time home in the United States’.7
‘Most of Liberia’s political parties are formed for the sole purpose of joining political alliances in order to benefit from lucrative positions of the winning party’8 – as was the case during the 2005 Presidential elections. These parties usually wane away after elections are held and members who are lucky to be included in the elected government usually abandon their parties or join the ruling party. Overall, there are 20 registered political parties in Liberia.
|President||Ellen Johnson Sirleaf|
|GDP (2015)||US$ 2 billion9|
|Population (2016)||4.2 million10|
|Major language(s)||English and 29 African languages belonging to the Mande, Kwa or Mel linguistic groups.|
|Life Expectancy||56 (men), 59 (women)11|