Africa’s Oldest Republic Celebrates 173 Years Of Independence
By Kasise Ricky Peprah
Liberia is Africa’s oldest republic, but it became known in the 1990s for its long-running, ruinous civil war and its role in a rebellion in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Around 250,000 people were killed in Liberia’s civil war, and many thousands more fled the fighting. It has been asserted that much of the conflict was fueled by control over Liberia’s natural resources but that barely captures the complexity of the causal factors. A long period of domination by the Americo-Liberians whose claim to infamy was their disdain for and mistreatment of the indigenes coupled with a deliberate policy to exclude them from governance culminated in a pent up discontent that saw vent in Master Sgt Doe’s mutinous project escalate into a civil war. The conditions for war had ripened over time and all that was needed was a clarion call.
Founded in 1822 by freed American and Caribbean slaves, Liberian independence was proclaimed in 1847 and has strong Baptist roots. Its city and county names are decidedly incongruous to Africa: Marshall, Buchanan, Maryland, Dirt Hole but no doubt can be explained away with a reference to the influences brought to it by its founders.
Although founded by freed slaves, Liberia is mostly inhabited by indigenous Africans, with the slaves’ descendants comprising 5% of the population. Its main settlement was named Monrovia, which is the present-day capital. The country enjoyed relative stability until a rebellion in 1989 escalated into a destructive civil war in the 1990s that did not fully cease until 2003. Liberia is bounded by Sierra Leone to the northwest, Guinea to the north, Côte d’Ivoire to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south and west.
The country’s first post-conflict elections, held in 2005, were noteworthy for the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the presidency, as she was the first woman to be elected head of state in Africa. More recently, Liberia has made the news by electing ‘another first’, the first retired professional footballer, George Oppong Weah as its president. He was the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995.
The people of Liberia are classified into three major groups: the indigenous people, who are in the majority and who migrated from the western Sudan in the late Middle Ages; black immigrants, mainly resettled slaves, from the United States (known historically as Americo-Liberians) and the West Indies; and other black immigrants from neighbouring western African states who came during the anti-slave-trade campaign and European colonial rule. The Americo-Liberians are routinely credited with founding Liberia. Most of them migrated to Liberia between 1820 and 1865 but continued migration has been intermittent.
Like the migrants in the United States of America and Australia, Liberia’s migrant population soon contrived to gain and maintain control over governmental affairs until a military coup in 1980, led by Master Sgt Doe, himself an indigene, riding on the popular support of the indigenous population and the general discontent with the disproportionate power and wealth of the Americo-Liberians.
Under President Weah’s ‘Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development’ (PAPD), Liberia’s medium-term growth prospects are expected to improve as macroeconomic stabilization and structural reforms get implemented. Following the expected contraction in 2019, GDP growth is projected to recover to 1.4% in 2020 and further to 3.4% in 2021, driven by the recovery in the non-mining sector and a moderate expansion in the mining sector. It must be noted, however, that the Covid 19 pandemic has most likely negatively affected these modest prospects.
July 26 1847 was the day on which freedom was proclaimed from the USA and it was on the same day that a constitution was adopted.
That day, every year, has been celebrated in a rather grand style but the scourge of Covid 19 will no doubt change the hue and scale of the celebrations. In consonance with constitutional requirement of Liberia, President George Weah, by Proclamation declared Sunday, July 26, 2020, as Independence Day to be celebrated with strict adherence to the prescribed COVID-19 health protocols under the theme “Standing Together in Time of Pandemic”. One can almost certainty predict that the celebration will be hushed and even possibly austere.
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