Settlement of freed slaves from the US in what is today Liberia began in 1822 and by 1847, the Americo-Liberians were able to establish a republic. William Tubman, president from 1944-71, did much to promote foreign investment and to bridge the economic, social, and political gaps between the descendents of the original settlers and the inhabitants of the interior. With a considerable wealth of natural resources, particularly of iron ore, Liberia was one of the more prosperous and stable countries in West Africa for many years.
Liberia was relatively calm until 1980 when William Tolbert was overthrown by Sergeant Samuel Doe after food price riots. The coup marked the end of dominance by the minority Americo-Liberians, who had ruled since independence and the start of a decade of authoritarian rule.
By the late 1980s, arbitrary rule and economic collapse culminated in civil war when Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) militia overran much of the country. Mr Doe was executed. In 1995 a peace agreement was signed, and Charles Taylor was elected as president. The respite was brief, however, and anti-government fighting broke out in parts of the country in 1999. The Taylor government was accused of supporting the civil war in Sierra Leone, of fostering their armed conflict by the acquisition and sale of ‘conflict diamonds', and of attempting to invade and destabilise neighbouring Guinea. Taylor stepped down in 2003, under international pressure, bringing an end to an intermittent 14-year civil war. He is now facing trial in The Hague for alleged war crimes for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone.
A transitional government steered the country towards elections in 2005, when US-educated economist and former finance minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was inaugurated as Africa's first elected woman head of state. This Government is anxious to encourage economic development, particularly through mining and other activities, that will provide immediate government revenue and employment opportunities for Liberian workers.
The Government is actively pursuing the investment of foreign capital and management expertise as the best means of expediting economic recovery. Recent success saw the withdrawal of UN sanctions on the export of diamonds and timber from Liberia.
The UN currently maintains some 15,000 soldiers in Liberia. The civil was displaced thousands and resulted in the destruction of much of its viable infrastructure. However, Liberia is now experiencing a period of stability and growth.
Fauna and Flora
Liberia houses two-thirds of the Upper Guinean Rainforest Ecosystem, a rainforest belt which once covered Liberia and parts of Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo. It has been identified as a biodiversity hotspot by global conservation groups as a region that is rich in native species. As Liberia reconstructs itself after decades of conflict, threats to the forest area have emerged. These include destruction of habitat from illegal logging, mining, human settlement and fragmentation.