[Note: This diary is the first of 10 stories the world should hear more about as identified by the United Nations for 2006, a Booman Tribune Group Project suggested and coordinated by ManEegee. For further information see Group Project: 10 Most Underreported Stories.]

LIBERIA: Development challenges top agenda as the nation recovers from years of civil strife


With a GDP per capita of US$140, Liberia emerges from 14 years of conflict as one of the poorest countries in the world. More than 80% of the population lives on less than $1 per day and 52% live in extreme poverty. Unemployment stands at 85%. One in six Liberians depends on international food assistance. (ref: WHO-Liberia–Health action in crises)

Liberia’s 14 years of civil warfare left tens of thousands of men, women and children dead and half a million of Liberia’s 3 million population fled for their lives. Many have spent the last decade and a half living as refugees in camps in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea or Sierra Leone. (ref: UN refugee agency short of funds to help Liberians home)

Since December 2003, close to 100,000 ex-combatants have been disarmed and demobilized. The deployment of the UN peace-keeping forces has increased access to vulnerable groups, but new challenges are emerging with the imminent return of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, ex-combatants and refugees. (ref: WHO-Liberia–Health action in crises)

(Globe from: United Nations Mission in Liberia)

It is these challenges — reconstruction, reintregration, and rehabilitation — that make Liberia a country the world needs to know more about.


Freed slaves from the United States and Caribbean (ref: BBC–Country profile: Liberia) founded Liberia on the west coast of Africa in 1820. Calling themselves Americo-Liberians, 86 people established a settlement they called Monrovia (which is now the capital city) after then U.S. president James Monroe. They declared independence on July 16, 1847. (ref: CBC–Land of the free)

(See: History Of Liberia: A Time Line)

Only a small fraction of the country’s population was made up of former slaves, termed Americo-Liberians. Ninety-five per cent of the people were members of various tribes that had lived in the area for generations. While the Americo-Liberians often clashed with the indigenous peoples of the region (ref: CBC–Land of the free), they would dominate the country’s politics for 133 years after independence. During that time, each successive leader would institute increasingly repressive policies that would silence critics and opposition parties. By the 1970s, the majority of the population was living in squalor, lacking access to safe water and electricity. (ref: CBC–Land of the free)

The Americo-Liberian’s rule ended when President William Tolbert was assassinated and the government overthrown by Sergeant Samuel Doe in 1980. Doe was subsequently executed in 1990 when Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia militia overtook the country. Taylor was elected president after a peace agreement was signed in 1995, but civil war broke out again. The horrors “perpetrated by the various factions includ[ed] the conscription of thousands of child soldiers, and numerous acts of sexual violence against women and girls.” (ref: Foreign Affairs and International Trade–Liberia Background)

The Liberian Civil War (1989-1996), and the Second Liberian Civil War (1999-2003) killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and destroyed both the economy and the social structures of the country. (ref: Wikipedia–Liberia) Taylor was forced into exile, and has subsequently been arrested for war crimes and is awaiting trial. For current news regarding the trial of Charles Taylor, see Human Rights Watch–Liberia.

In 2005, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa’s first democratically elected female leader, capturing over 59% of the vote. (ref: Reuters Alertnet.org Liberian reconstruction)

(Map from: CIA – The World Fact Book — Liberia)


President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

  • Born in 1938.
  • Harvard-trained economist.
  • Assistant minister of finance in President William Tolbert’s government, 1979.
  • Sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1985 for criticizing regime of President Samuel Doe.
  • Lived in exile in Kenya until 1997.
  • Finished second in 1997 election, with 10 per cent of the vote.
  • Charged with treason by President Charles Taylor.
  • Played active role in transitional government after Taylor’s resignation.
  • Won November 2005 presidential election, becoming first female head of state in Africa.

(ref: CBC–A brief history)

(Photo from: CBC–Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf: Liberia’s ‘Iron Lady’)


Key Demographics and Vital Statistics

Total population — 3,283,000

GDP per capita (Intl $, 2004) — 386

Life expectancy at birth — males 39.0 years, females 44.0 years.

Healthy life expectancy at birth (years, 2002) — males 33.6, females: 37.0

Child mortality m/f (per 1000) — males 249, females  220

Total health expenditure per capita (Intl $, 2003) — 17

Total health expenditure as % of GDP (2003) — 4.7

(ref: WHO–Liberia)



Liberia is a country in the remaking.

It is truly staggering to consider the numerous tasks that the nation must address in the rebuilding process. The Johnson-Sirleaf Government, working with various partners (such as The World Bank, European Commission, WHO, various countries: US, UK, etc.) have crafted a national renewal plan, called 150 Day Action Plan: A Working Document for a New Liberia, which details the objectives, actions, and timelines required to rebuild and stabilize Liberia (See: Government of Liberia: 150 Day Action Plan-pdf). The Action Plan is broken down into 4 major initiatives or “pillars,” and include the following:

  1. Enhancing Peace and Security,
  2. Revitalizing the Economy,
  3. Rebuilding Infrastructure and Basic Services, and
  4. Strengthening Governance and Rule of Law.

Each one of these initiatives would be a monumental challenge on their own — combined they are overwhelming in scope. I’ve highlighted only a few specific objectives for each of the four initiatives in order to provide an understanding of the activities that are key to the country’s stability.

1. Enhancing Peace and Security – Objectives

  • Build an accountable military force with proper training, including demobilization of ex-combatants.
  • Strengthen the national security institutions.
  • Strengthen the national police force.
  • Facilitate the return of, and integrate thousands of refugees (70,000) and displaced persons (50,000).

Action: “As at 15 February 2005, a total of 101,495 fighters have been disarmed and demobilized, consisting of 68,162 men, 22,370 women, 8,523 boys and 2,440 girls.” Peacekeepers have collected a total of 28,314 weapons, 33,604 heavy munitions of other categories, and 6,486,136 rounds of small arms ammunition have been surrendered. (ref: Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Rehabilitation)

Action: Since repatriation began in October 2004, approximately 70,000 refugees have been helped home. (ref: UN refugee agency short of funds to help Liberians home)

2. Revitalizing the Economy  – Objectives

  • Establish sound financial management, balance the budget, and institute legislation to prevent government branches from altering budget allocations.
  • Increase revenues and control expenses.
  • Work with the International Monetary Fund to deal with the large external debt burden, and with other international financial controllers to monitor government economic management.
  • Provide seeds, tools, and other supplies to the people, as well as training programs for ex-combatants and food assistance programs for families.

Action: Approximately 37,500 households (225,000 people) were given rice, bean, and vegetable seed, as well as rice to be used as food. These families also received farming and building tools, including pick axes, cutlasses, hoes, axes, hammers, and bow saws to help them prepare their land and rebuild their dwellings. Household items, including sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen sets, buckets, clothing and tarpaulins, were also distributed to the families. (ref: Liberia: ICRC delivers aid to rural needy)

Action: Demobilized combatants are offered training programs, including formal education, auto mechanics, generic skills training, driving, tailoring, agriculture, and masonry. (ref: Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Rehabilitation)

3. Infrastructure and Basic Services – Objectives

  • Rebuild roads, bridges, electrical grid, water pipelines and points of access to water.
  • Rebuild schools, hospitals, and community health clinics.
  • Establish a national strategy to deal with HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB.

Action: Electricity has recently (July 26, 2006) been restored to parts of Monrovia, including government buildings, street lights, and churches. The next phase will be implemented in the coming 6 months, and cover residential areas. (ref: Water, Electricity Return to Monrovia)

Action: Status of Roads in Liberia-pdf

Action: To provide safe drinking water, and combat waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera, work has been done to construct and repair more than 1,000 water facilities. This remains an ongoing problem as more than 50% of Monrovia’s population does not have access to safe drinking water, and less than a third have adequate sanitation facilities. Electricity is also nonexistent in most places. (ref: UNICEF-supported water tanks bring clean water to communities in Monrovia)

4. Governance and Rule of Law – Objectives

  • Develop an anti-corruption strategy.
  • Develop a plan and a timeline for constitutional and legal reform.
  • Establish the Human Rights Commission.
  • Build a professional civil service.

Action: The four key human rights areas of work are: (1) monitoring, protection and reporting; (2) transitional justice and institution building; (3) child protection; and (4) capacity-building. (ref: Human Rights Protection)

Action: A shortage of qualified judges, prosecutors, and public defenders, as well as a lack of material infrastructure are some of the difficulties facing the judicial system.  Training and mentoring are ongoing, as well as securing funds for material projects and the establishment of a legal aid system.  (ref: Legal and Judicial System Support Division)

Action: “Civil Affairs officers deployed to the various Liberian agencies are assisting their counterparts in the civil service to set up systems and procedures, and organize logistics. Civil Affairs officers also advise political and civil society organizations on democratic rules and procedures.” (ref: Civil Affairs)



Please see the original UN link, Liberia: Development challenges top agenda as the nation recovers from years of civil strife, for contact information and related links.

[NOTE: 2006-08-02 1000h edited for sp. errors.]

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