Main Languages: English, Liberian-English (pidgin), Kpelle, Bassa, Grebo, Bandi, Dan, Gola, Kisi, Klao, Krahn, Loma, Mann, Manya, Mende, Sapo, Vai
Main religions: Christianity 2,975,675 (85.6 per cent), Islam 424,685 (12.2 per cent), traditional 20,134 (0.6 per cent), other 5,426 (0.2 per cent), none 50,688 (1.5 per cent) (2008 national census)
Main ethnic groups: Kpelle 705,554 (20.3 per cent), Bassa 466,477 (13.4 per cent), Grebo 348,758 (10 per cent), Gio 276,293 (8 per cent), Mano 273,249 (7.9 per cent), Kru 209,993 (6 per cent), Lorma 178,443 (5.1 per cent), Kissi 167,980 (4.8 per cent), Gola 152,925 (4.4 per cent), Vai 140,251 (4 per cent), Krahn 139,085 (4 per cent), Mandingo 110,596 (3.2 per cent), Gbande 105,250 (3 per cent), other African 47,453 (1.4 per cent), Mende 46,413 (1.3 per cent), Sapo 43,327 (1.2 per cent), Belle 26,516 (0.8 per cent), other Liberian 20,934 (0.6 per cent), Dey 11,783 (0.3 per cent), non-African 4,508 (0.1 per cent) (2008 national census).
The West African forest belt that covers large areas of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria has long been populated by multiple ethnic groups. In Liberia there are at least sixteen ethnic groups, each belonging to one of three major language groupings.
The southeastern Kru linguistic group comprises Kru, Bassa, Grebo, Krahn and Dei. Kru live along the southern coast bordering Côte d’Ivoire. According to oral tradition, Kru migrated from the north-east to the coast of West Africa in the sixteenth century and became fishermen and sailors. Kru political organization was traditionally decentralised, each subgroup inhabiting a number of autonomous towns. Rural Kru engage in fishing and rice and cassava production but their region, criss-crossed with rivers, has seen little development and many young Kru have migrated to Monrovia.
Bassa have their own writing system, called ‘Bassa’ or ‘Vah,’ which was developed around 1900. They practice Christianity and indigenous religions. Many Dei and Bassa settled in Monrovia as the Liberian nation developed.
Grebo live along the coast in Eastern Liberia, on both sides of the Cavalla (Cavally) River, which serves as a border between Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. The Grebo migrated to Liberia during the sixteenth century. They lacked strong central structures; village ties were the primary focus rather than clan affiliation.
The ethnic kin of the Krahn in Liberia are known as the Wee in Côte d’Ivoire. Krahn live in Nimba, Grand Gedeh and Sinoe Counties, along the border with Côte d’Ivoire. When Samuel Doe took power in a 1980 coup, Krahn, in particular those from Doe’s own village, became more dominant. Krahn (Wee) from Côte d’Ivoire made up the Executive Mansion Guard. In 1990, during the civil war, Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) attacked Krahn civilians in Nimba County and elsewhere as they moved through the country, especially in Grand Gedeh County, and many fled to Côte d’ Ivoire. The small Dei group lives in Montserrado County near the coast and Monrovia, primarily between the Lofa and St. Paul rivers. Dei were among the first to encounter the settler immigrants, settling in Monrovia early on.
The second largest linguistic group, the Mande, is located in the north-west and central regions and is subdivided into the Mande-Ta (Mandingo and Vai) and the Mande-Fu (Kpelle, Gio, Mano, Loma, Gbandi and Mende).
The Mandingo population migrated from Guinea over the past 200-300 years and is widely scattered throughout Liberia, albeit concentrated in upper Lofa County. Their trade routes linked other Liberian populations with the savanna. Mandingos settled amongst Mano and Vai and became involved in agriculture and craft industries, including blacksmithing, leather and gold work. Mandingos were seen as distinct because of their Islamic religion. Further they were viewed as outsiders by both the Americo-Liberian government and other groups, as a group whose main ties lay in Guinea.
Vai live on both sides of the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone. Traditionally Vai are engaged in trade and are mostly Muslims converted by itinerant traders. The Vai are known for their indigenous syllabic writing system, developed in the 1820s. Over the course of the 19th century, literacy in the writing system became widespread. Its use declined over the 20th century, but modern computer technology may enable a revival. Vai were part of the large-scale migration in the sixteenth century.
The Mande-Fu includes the Kpelle, Dan, Ma, Loma, Gbandi and Mende. The largest single Liberian group, the Kpelle, also live in Guinea, where they are known as the Guerze. They inhabit central and northern Liberia. Kpelle moved from Guinea into Liberia during the sixteenth century. They united and held out for many years against the imposition of Americo-Liberian rule. Kpelle are predominantly rice farmers, though many have migrated into the capital and other cities.
Dan are more commonly known as Gio in Liberia, but the term Dan is preferred and used by the people themselves. The Dan are a southern Mande-speaking group and primarily living in Nimba County. The Dan also inhabit the mountainous west-central Côte d’Ivoire.
The Ma are Mano, a name given to them by the Bassa and meaning literally ‘Ma-people’ in Bassa. They reside in Nimba County in north central Liberia and also live in Guinea.
The Lorma live in Northwest Liberia in upper Lofa County and are also found in Guinea where they are known as Toma.
Gbandi and Mende also live in upper Lofa County. The Gbandi and the Mende formed part of the migration into Liberia from Guinea in the mid-sixteenth century as political refugees from Mandingo expansion in the northwest.
Multiple Liberian ethnic groups organize leadership and coming-of age rituals through the poro and the sande, respectively male and female secret societies. These societies enforce social norms through their courts, socialise young people through initiation schools, and provide bonds that unite members from different kin, territorial, or even tribal units. Other ethnic communities in Liberia have other forms of secret societies, including the Americo-Liberians who brought Freemasonry with them to Liberia.
The Gola and Kissi, who also live in Sierra Leone, are known to be the oldest inhabitants of Liberia. The Gola and Kissi belong to a third linguistic group known as the Mel group (West/Southern Atlantic). These groups live in the north and in the coastal region of the northwest. The Gola live in a 6,000 square kilometer area in the western Liberian hinterland, along the St. Paul and Mano rivers in Lofa and Grand Cape Counties, and also in eastern Sierra Leone. The Gola used to live in the forested mountains of north-east Liberia and south-east Sierra Leone but migrated to the coast as traders. Kissi live in a belt of hills covered by wooded savannas where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet, and are surrounded by Mandingo groups. Other members of this group live in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Kissi and Gola are the only groups in Liberia who are descendants of Liberia’s original peoples.
The Americo-Liberians and Congo arrived in the 1820s to settle in the territory that became known as Liberia. This group, which includes descendants of freed slaves from the US and the Caribbean, of free-born African Americans, and of slaves who were captured during the Atlantic crossing, makes up less than five per cent of the population. There are also a sizeable number of Lebanese, Indians and other West African nationals who make up a part of Liberia’s business community. Under Liberia’s Constitution, non-Africans are excluded from citizenship.
Liberia confronts myriad challenges as it continues to recover from almost two decades of civil conflict and brutal civil wars. Enduring internecine conflict, endemic poverty, damaged infrastructure and the continued rehabilitation, demobilization and reintegration of former fighters have dogged the country for the past 15 years. In 2014, to add to Liberia’s immense challenges, the country confronted a devastating regional outbreak of Ebola virus. The epidemic, which was finally declared over in January 2016, dealt a devastating blow to Liberia’s public health and economy, with more than 4,800 deaths.
Due to Liberia’s precarious security environment, a United Nations mission and peacekeeping force (UNMIL) remained in the country between 2003 and 2018 to support implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, with a mandate that included civilian protection, advising on justice and security reform, supporting the promotion, protection and monitoring of human rights, and efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence. The UNMIL Force was initially 15,000 troops strong and was mandated for a period of one year. Reauthorized to remain in country multiple times over the years, UNMIL began the official transfer of security responsibilities to the Liberian authorities in 2016.
The Liberian government has much work to do maintaining peace and security in the absence of neutral UNMIL troops. Many of the factors that contributed to the outbreak of civil conflict in the country – Americo–Liberian political and economic dominance, ethno-regional divisions, profound inequalities and high levels of poverty, particularly in rural and outlying areas – remain. Troublingly, given the country’s slow pace of development, many of Liberia’s large population of former combatants have not been able to find employment or alternative livelihoods.
Ethnic conflict has been a long-term struggle in Liberia, from the early days of Americo-Liberian rule. Religious conflict, however, is a relatively new phenomenon. The long-standing ‘country-Congo’ divide between the descendants of indigenous Liberians (known as ‘country’) and the descendants of resettled slaves and free-born African Americans (known as ‘Congo’) has been a feature of Liberian life since the 1820s. During the country’s 2017 election, the discussion of whether the leadership of the country should be in the hands of a ‘country’ or ‘Congo’ politician was a constant backdrop to campaigning. In the end, the electoral run-off was between two ‘country’ candidates, Joseph Boakai and George Weah. Conflict between ethnic groups also has been a feature of life in Liberia for some time, but it became especially salient during the country’s civil wars. Most of the fighting factions during Liberia’s civil conflict were composed along ethnic lines and this has led to lasting animosities between certain groups.
The situation in Nimba County – which borders Guinea and Ivory Coast – highlights the fragile situation in many parts of Liberia. Predominantly populated by the Gio and Mano peoples, longstanding hostilities between Nimba residents and Mandingo settlers, as well as between Niba and neighbouring communities in Grand Gedeh, persist against a backdrop of land disputes, dispossession and perceived state harassment. Nimba County was a center of conflict throughout the Liberian civil war and was the county from which Charles Taylor launched his NPFL invasion of Liberia in an effort to overthrow Samuel Doe.
Religious tolerance and coexistence had been a feature of Liberian life for more than a century. However, the civil conflict in the country began to undermine this history of coexistence, as primarily Muslim ethnic groups such as the Mandingo found themselves in conflict with other predominantly Christian ethnic communities. Mosques and churches were occasionally targeted during the war. After the official end of hostilities, a 2004 land conflict involving the leader of a former rebel faction escalated into conflict between Christians and Muslims and ultimately erupted into riots.
In recent years, some prominent politicians and Liberian church leaders have supported an effort to constitutionally designate Liberia as an officially Christian nation. The effort was seen as an attack on the Muslim minority in Liberia, and an effort to marginalize them politically. Until the constitutional reform process of the 1980s, Liberia was officially designated as a Christian nation, but that was changed with the adoption of the 1986 Constitution. While the Constitution was not amended in line with the Christianization agenda during the last constitutional referendum in 2011, the effort to insert new language into the Constitution continues to cause political divisions within the country. In 2015 the National Constitutional Review Conference publicly recommended that Liberia should be designated a ‘Christian nation’. This recommendation attracted widespread resistance, including condemnation from the Liberia Council of Churches, and was subsequently shelved by then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The issue remerged during the 2017 elections, though since gaining power the current President, George Weah, has reportedly taken steps to reach out to the Muslim minority.
Liberia is located on the west coast of Africa, with a land area of 110,080 sq km and a coastline of 560 km that stretches along the Atlantic Ocean. The country is bordered by Sierra Leone to the west, Guinea to the northwest, and Côte d’Ivoire to the northeast and the east. The country is divided into 15 counties with a population of approximately 4.5 million people. Most of the country lies below 500 m in altitude, and rain forest and swamplands are common. Liberia experiences its main rainy season from July through September, while December and January are largely dry. Liberia has substantial timber reserves and has been a longtime exporter of rubber. Liberia also exports palm oil and cocoa, along with minerals from its substantial deposits of iron-ore, gold and diamonds. Offshore oil exploration is an emerging economic driver.
Most of Liberia’s ethnic groups came to the forest belt in southward waves of migration. Liberia’s first inhabitants were ancestors of the Gola and Kissi peoples from north-central Africa who arrived as early as the 12th century. They were joined by the Kruan people (Kru, Kuwaa, Bassa, Krahn and Dei ethnic groups), moving in from the north and east. Around the 15th century, people of the Mande language group (including Gio, Mano, Loma, Gbandi, Mende and Kpelle) migrated into the region. The seventeenth century brought the arrival of the Vai and Mandingo, migrating from the north.
As a reaction to the social crisis in the United States created by the use of Africans as slave labor, a group of prominent Americans began a movement to return free African Americans to Africa. In 1816 the American Colonization Society (ACS) was founded to locate land in Africa to which freed slaves and free-born blacks could return. Some of the ACS founders were abolitionists who viewed a return of former slaves to Africa as the best way to restore the dignity of victimized blacks, while others saw the scheme as a vehicle to rid the United States of free blacks, spread Christianity in Africa or make money through trade.
Beginning in 1820, the first settlers arrived in West Africa and eventually established the settlement of Monrovia, named after US President James Monroe, who had been involved in fundraising for the ACS. More settlers gradually arrived and established separate colonies, negotiating treaties with indigenous chiefs to expand their territory and ensure the settlers’ safety. The settlers spoke English and established in Liberia many of the customs of America’s southern states, including social stratification, southern-style forms of social interaction, religion, dress and architecture. The colonizers looked down on the indigenous tribes of Liberia, discriminated against them in political rights, hiring and education, and attempted to replace their indigenous beliefs with Protestant Christianity. Many actions of the colonial government served to strengthen and crystallize ethnic self-identification among the indigenous peoples.
In 1847, Liberia became the first independent nation in sub-Saharan Africa. The new nation faced a variety of problems, including resistance to the government by the local population, a decline in demand for Liberian sugar cane and coffee exports, and territorial encroachment by the British, French and Germans. Liberia was only able to maintain its independence with support from the US, although Washington did not formally recognize its nationhood until 1862 and its borders were not finally defined until 1892. Liberian settler politics from 1883 onward was dominated by a small clique of settler families and their allies who governed through the True Whig Party.
The settlers established a system of military and administrative control over what was known as the ‘hinterland’, consisting of territory outside of ACS settlements that had been recognized by the international community as under the control of the settler-led government in Monrovia. The hinterland made up the vast bulk of Liberian territory, with indigenous Liberians making up the majority of the population. The Liberian Frontier Force, which later became the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), was used as the primary instrument of control in the hinterland. Indigenous Liberians generally received little economic benefit from developments such as agricultural improvement and foreign investments. Through sheer weight of numbers, the indigenous population dominated the armed forces. Any hint of unrest was punished, however, and Americo-Liberians pursued a policy of divide and rule in maintaining control over the army through ethnic stereotyping. The ruling True Whig Party maintained a kind of feudal oligarchy until well into the third quarter of the twentieth century, monopolizing political power and subjugating the indigenous population with the help of the Liberian Frontier Force. While settlers along the coast developed an elaborate lifestyle reminiscent of America’s ante-bellum South, indigenous Liberians endured poverty and lack of development in the hinterland.
Liberia’s rich natural resources led to the establishment of significant international commerce from its coast. During the 1860s, however, Liberia began to face economic problems. Liberia took out high-interest loans from the United States and European nations in the 1870s, becoming economically dependent on other countries. Liberia signed a concession agreement with the Firestone corporation in 1926. Under the agreement, Liberia leased one million acres of land to Firestone for 99 years at an annual cost of six cents per acre. Rubber soon became Liberia’s biggest export. The Firestone plantation became a major driver of Liberia’s economy, employing thousands of workers. Liberia’s relationship with Firestone led to international criticism when the True Whig Party was accused of forcibly recruiting laborers to work on the Firestone plantation and elsewhere in a system known as pawning. This led to an inquiry by the League of Nations, which concluded that officials of the Liberian government had pursued a policy of forcing indigenous Liberians to work in slavery-like conditions. Although the President of Liberia was forced to resign, the True Whig Party remained in power.
The regime of President V.S. Tubman (1944-71) saw the beginning of enhanced development and increasing opportunity for indigenous Liberians. Tubman modernized Liberia’s economy and developed some of Liberia’s basic infrastructure. Indigenous Liberians gained the right to vote and participate in political processes in 1946. Tubman rewarded loyalty with public money and suppressed political opposition, however, and the stratification of Liberian society between Americo-Liberians and indigenous Liberians persisted.
When Vice-President William Tolbert succeeded Tubman in 1971, many indigenous Liberians were frustrated by the widespread poverty, lack of basic government services, and political domination by Americo-Liberians. In 1972, the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) was organized by professors and students at the University of Liberia. In 1975, the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) was established by Liberians living in the United States, and PAL opened an office in Liberia in 1978. The country began to experience more frequent labour disputes, riots over food prices, and political unrest, while the populace’s expectations for social change weren’t compatible with Liberia’s outdated political oligarchy.
On the night of 12 April 1980, a group of AFL soldiers staged a military coup. President Tolbert was assassinated. The military junta, or People’s Redemption Council (PRC), assumed power and chose Samuel K. Doe, an indigenous Krahn, as PRC co-chair and head of state. On August 22, 1980, thirteen members of President Tolbert’s cabinet were marched down to a beachside military barracks, tied to poles, stripped and executed by firing squad. Many political figures fled the country, and many others were imprisoned.
Doe promised to liberate the masses from the corrupt and oppressive domination of the few and pledged a more equitable distribution of wealth, but made little progress in this regard. Doe feared for his security and increasingly surrounded himself with Krahn kinsmen. Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), with new majority Krahn leadership, proved a law unto themselves, and there were persistent reports of looting, arson, floggings, arbitrary arrests, rape, summary executions and brutality. The economy entered a steep decline despite enhanced American aid to Liberia under the administration of President Reagan.
After years of pressure to return to civilian rule, Doe agreed to a process of constitutional reform culminating with elections in October 1985. While numerous political parties participated, the elections were widely seen as fraudulent. Doe declared himself winner. A month after the election, PRC co-founder Thomas Quiwonkpa, a Gio, attempted a coup to topple Doe. The attempt was violently quashed. The coup attempt resulted in Doe’s enhanced targeting of Gio and Mano peoples in northern Nimba County. The AFL subjected them to arrest, torture, rape and killings.
On 24 December 1989, Charles Taylor, an Americo-Liberian/Gola former bureaucrat in the Doe administration who had been educated in the United States but had fled Liberia after being charged with embezzling government funds, launched an invasion from Côte d’Ivoire. Throughout 1990, Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) seized control of increasing amounts of territory. Within six months, Taylor’s NPFL had reached Monrovia, and reports of human rights abuses and an impending humanitarian crisis demanded international action.
A multinational (mostly Nigerian) West African force called ECOMOG entered Liberia in August 1990 to try to restore peace. A month later, however, a breakaway rebel group the Independent (I)-NPFL group led by Prince Yormie Johnson, captured and brutally murdered Doe. ECOMOG installed an interim government headed by Amos Sawyer and gradually established control in Monrovia. Taylor’s forces controlled most of the countryside, dubbed ‘Greater Liberia’, while former members of Doe’s army controlled the two western provinces.
The NPFL and Doe’s soldiers signed a ceasefire agreement in November; a second peace agreement was signed between an interim government, the NPFL and Doe’s supporters in December. Notwithstanding the peace agreements, the fighting continued. The United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO), a rebel group composed of Doe supporters from neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone, was formed to oppose Taylor. ULIMO invaded Liberia in April 1991.
While additional peace agreements were signed throughout 1993 and 1994, the conflict continued, and new armed factions emerged. In 1995, Taylor agreed to a ceasefire and a timeline for the demobilization and disarmament of his troops. Taylor, along with five other factional leaders, became members of a collective transitional presidency. Elections were held in 1997, and Taylor won the presidential election.
The civil unrest persisted, however. In 1999, exiled Liberians formed armed groups to oppose Taylor. Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) launched military campaigns against Taylor’s government. Throughout the civil conflict, horrifying violence was perpetrated against the Liberian population. Rape, torture, murder and use of child soldiers were commonplace and all fighting factions were complicit in atrocities and human rights abuses.
Conflict in Liberia was spilling into Sierra Leone and vice versa. In March 2003 the prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone – a UN-backed international war crimes tribunal established to bring to justice those ‘bearing greatest responsibility’ for atrocities in Sierra Leone – issued a sealed indictment for President Charles Taylor on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. When Taylor traveled to Accra, Ghana for peace talks with LURD and MODEL in June 2003, Taylor’s indictment was unsealed. Ghana refused to make the arrest and Taylor returned to Monrovia. The rebels continued their advance on the capital, and the international community increased pressure on Taylor to step down. As casualties mounted in Monrovia, the United Nations, US, UK, African Union and ECOWAS brokered a deal with Taylor. Taylor stepped down in exchange for asylum in Nigeria on 11 August 2003. Soon thereafter, the warring factions and an interim government signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Accra, Ghana, which provided for a transitional government until the 2005 elections. Gyude Bryant was selected to lead the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL).
On 23 November 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President of Liberia. Sirleaf was the first democratically elected female president in Africa. An assistant Minister under Tolbert, and an appointee in Doe’s government, Sirleaf had been imprisoned in 1985 and 1986 for criticizing Doe’s administration. Sirleaf had initially supported Taylor’s NPFL invasion but later disassociated herself from the group.
For three years, Taylor remained in exile in Nigeria beyond the Special Court’s reach. It was not until a request by the Liberian government that Nigerian President Obasanjo delivered Taylor to the Special Court on 29 March 2006. To preserve regional stability, Taylor’s trial was transferred to The Hague, Netherlands. In 2012, Taylor was convicted and sentenced to 50 years’ imprisonment for crimes committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Taylor is serving his prison sentence in the United Kingdom.
Since the end of the civil conflict in 2003, the Liberian Senate has been a home for many prominent political figures as well as former leaders of fighting factions. George Weah, the current President, has been the senator for Montserrado County since 2009. Weah’s Vice-President, Jewel Howard-Taylor, is the former wife of Liberian rebel leader and later President Charles Taylor, serving as first lady of Liberia during Taylor’s Presidency. Howard-Taylor has been the Senator for Bong County since 2005. She divorced Charles Taylor in 2006. The senior Senator from Nimba County is Prince Johnson, the notorious rebel leader of the INPFL who captured, tortured and murdered Liberia’s then-President Samuel Doe.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established by the transitional government, and it operated from 2006 until 2009. The TRC interviewed thousands of Liberians inside the country, in refugee camps and in the diaspora, and held public hearings both in Liberia and in the US state of Minnesota, which is home to the globe’s largest Liberian diaspora population. Sirleaf, despite having supported the TRC, ultimately failed to provide testimony to the body or support its recommendations. The TRC’s final report was issued in 2008 in ‘unedited form’ and reissued in 2009 with edits. The TRC recommended a long list of individuals be barred from serving in public office in Liberia (including Sirleaf, who was President at the time) because of their role in the civil conflict. In 2011, the Liberian Supreme Court held that the TRC’s recommendations banning individuals from public service were unconstitutional. The TRC made extensive recommendations on institutional reform, national dialogue around peace and healing and reparations, but virtually none of the TRC’s recommendations have been implemented.
Reestablishing governance in Liberia after almost two decades of civil conflict and many years of brutal warfare has been an immense challenge. Some sources estimate that a third of Liberia’s population became refugees during the civil wars and that another third of the population was internally displaced. Virtually every Liberian experienced some form of war-related trauma, whether displacement or violence. The transitional government of Liberia established in 2003 and headed by Gyude Bryant, was dogged by corruption claims. President Sirleaf’s administration, though lauded by the international community, also dealt with continual claims of corruption and nepotism. Sirleaf’s 12 years in power did not bring the development progress and reductions in poverty and inequality that most Liberians were hoping for.
Liberia held its most recent elections in October 2017. George Weah was elected President in a December 2017 run-off.
Liberia is a democratic republic with government structures modeled on that of the United States. According to the Constitution, ‘Liberia is a unitary sovereign state divided into counties for administrative purposes. The government has three separate branches: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
The Liberian presidency – along with virtually all other political positions – was held by the Americo-Liberian dominated True Whig Party throughout Liberia’s history until the 1980 coup. After comprehensive peace accords were signed in 2003, a transitional government was appointed with Gyude Bryant as Chair. From 2005 to 2018, the presidency was held by Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf of the Unity Party. The current President is former international football star George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change.
The Liberian legislature is bicameral with a House of Representatives and a Senate. Like the US, the House is apportioned based on county population, currently with 73 members, and the Senate is apportioned based on geography, with two Senators from each county for a total of 30.
The Liberian courts operate on a common law system similar to that of the US. The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of constitutional interpretation and is the last court of appeal for matters from subordinate courts. The Liberian judicial system has struggled for years to ensure access to justice. The large majority of cases that go through the circuit courts remain unresolved, due to lack of police investigation, outdated rules of court, lack of capacity and other obstacles. Liberia also has a system of tribal courts administered by tribal chiefs. Liberia recognizes both formal and informal legal authority.
Liberian counties roughly approximate territories claimed by Liberia’s various ethnic groups. Each county is governed by an administrator appointed by the national government, but counties are also divided into smaller administrative units, which in turn are governed by chiefs or paramount chiefs. Chiefs preside over the informal justice system, which continues to use methods such as trial by ordeal in ascertaining the guilt or innocence of suspects.
Centre for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE)
Centre for Law and Human Rights Education
Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (FOHRD)
Friends of Liberia (US)
Liberia Human Rights Chapter
Regional Watch for Human Rights
National Association on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (NATPAH)
West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) (Ghana)
Updated June 2020
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