THE HISTORY OF Liberia as a political entity begins with the arrival of the black American settlers?the Americo?Liberians, as they were to be known?who established a colony of "free men of color" on its shore in 1822 under the auspices of the American Colonization Society. The historical roots from which a majority of present?day Liberians derive their identity, however, are found in the varied traditions of the several tribal groups of indigenous Africans whom the settlers confronted in their struggle to gain a foothold in Africa and, later, to extend their control into the interior.
In 1847 the Americo? Liberians declared the independence of the Republic of Liberia. The settlers regarded the continent from which their forefathers had been taken as slaves as a "Promised Land," but they did not intend to become reintegrated into an African society. They referred to themselves as "Americans" and were recognized as such by tribal Africans and by British colonial authorities in neighboring Sierra Leone. The symbols of their state?its flag, motto, and seal?and the form of government that they chose reflected their American background and immigrant experience. The social customs and cultural standards of the Americo? Liberians had their archetypes in the antebellum American South. These ideas strongly colored the attitudes of the settlers toward the indigenous African people. The new nation, as they conceived of it, was coextensive with the settler community and with those Africans who were assimilated into it. A recurrent theme in the country's subsequent history, therefore, was the usually successful attempt of the Am erico?Liberian minority to dominate people whom they considered "uncivilized" and inferior.
The founding of Liberia was privately sponsored by American religious and philanthropic groups, but the colony enjoyed the support and unofficial cooperation of the United States government. Liberia's government, modeled after that of the United States, was democratic in structure, if not always in substance. After 1877 the True Whig Party monopolized political power in the country, and competition for office was usually contained within the party, whose nomination virtually ensured election. Two problems confronting successive administrations were pressure from the neighboring colonial powers, Britain and France, and the threat of financial insolvency, both of which challenged the country's sovereignty. Liberia retained its independence but lost its claim to extensive territories that were annexed by Britain and France. Economic development was retarded by the deco .te of markets for Liberian goods in the late nineteenth century and by indebtedness on a series of loans, payments on which drained the economy.
Two events were of particular importance in releasing Liberia from its self?imposed isolation. The first was the grant in 1926 of a large concession to the American?owned Firestone Plan? tations Company; that move became a first step in the moderniza? tion of the Liberian economy. The second occurred during World War II, when the United States began providing technical and eco manic assistance that enabled Liberia to make economic prog? ress and introduce social change.
In 1944 Liberian president William Vacanarat Shadrach Tuhman introduced the Unification Policy to bring tribal Africans into the mainstream of Liberian political life. The Open Door Pol? icy, which he announced in his inaugural address that year, in? vited large?scale foreign investment that further aided in trans? forming the economy. Wide disparities in the distribution of in? come and public services were continuing sources of unrest. De? spite the strides made during Tubman's administration, that of his successor, William Richard Tolbert, was unable to satisfy rising economic expectations and demands for greater participation in political decisionmaking by the indigenous. majority. Opposition to the Americo?Liberian elite mounted, and dissatisfaction was expressed at every level over the corruption associated with the Tolbert administration.
On April 12, 1980, a successful military coup was staged by a group of noncommissioned officers of tribal origins led by Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe, and Tolbert was assassinated. Constituting themselves the People's Redemption Council, Doe and his associates seized control of the government and brough an end to Liberia's "first republic."
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