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Liberia Modern History

The years between 1980 and 2003 were the darkest in Liberia's history, characterized by war and economic mismanagement. A large part of the population saw their existence beaten into waste. Under the warlord and subsequently President Charles Taylor, Liberia came to pose a threat to the entire region. The situation has improved since a democratically elected regime under former World Bank economist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf could take office in 2006.

In April 1980, President William Tolbert and several members of government were assassinated in a military coup led by 28-year-old fanboy Samuel Doe from the Krahn People's Group. The 133-year-old constitution was repealed and a new one came into force in 1986. Doe came to rule the country for ten years, a time of instability and decay. General elections were held in 1985 under questionable forms. Shortly thereafter, at least 600 people were killed when a coup attempt failed. Almost all prominent opposition politicians were arrested.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Liberia. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

On Christmas Eve 1989, a guerrilla group called Liberia's National Patriotic Front (NPFL) crossed the Ivory Coast border. The NPFL was led by Charles Taylor, a senior former civil servant who went on the run accused of embezzlement. The battles between NPFL and Do's army (AFL) quickly developed into an ethnic conflict between, on the one hand, the Krahn people, who dominated the AFL, on the other, the gio (which Taylor belongs to the mother) and mano. Both parties committed grievous abuses against the population and within a year hundreds of thousands of people had moved to neighboring Ivory Coast and Guinea.

Contemporary History of LiberiaAfter the guerrilla took control of almost the entire country in the middle of 1990, the West African cooperative organization Ecowas sent an armed force, called Ecomog (Ecowas Monitoring Group), of around 4,000 men to Liberia to try to make peace. Immigrant politicians formed a provisional government led by Amos Sawyer. Still, guerrillas could capture Doe and torture him to death.

Peace agreement concluded

In October, Ecomog drove the rebels out of Monrovia and Sawyer was installed as interim president. Taylor set up his own administration in Gbarnga northeast of Monrovia. Following the mediation of Ecowas, a peace agreement was signed in October 1991. Prior to that, however, Doe supporters who moved to Sierra Leone had formed a new movement, Liberia's United Liberation Movement for Democracy (Ulimo), which opposed the peace agreement. Struggles between Ulimo and NPFL delayed peace. Ecomog tried to force the rebels into submission and in January 1993 occupied the entire coastal area between Monrovia and the port city of Buchanan. In July of that year, the UN and Ecowas succeeded in bringing all parties to a conference, which culminated in a new peace agreement.

However, the attempts to form a new government dragged on over time, partly because of Taylor's suspicions of Ecomog and the situation was complicated by the formation of new rebel movements.

Although an agreement to form a unifying government was concluded in September 1995, the fighting continued and in April 1996 parts of Monrovia were destroyed. Up to 20,000 civilians sought protection at the US embassy, ​​from where foreigners were evacuated by US warships. A new peace agreement was signed in August 1996 and supported by rules on punishment of those who violated it. Ecomog was strengthened and a new transitional government was formed. The militias began to abandon their weapons and were converted to political parties. NPFL was transformed into National Patriotic Party (NPP), old parties revived and exiled politicians returned.

In May 1997, the UN began to help the over 700,000 refugees in neighboring countries return home and in July general elections were held. Charles Taylor received just over 75 percent of the vote in the presidential election and his party NPP gained a large majority in both chambers of parliament. On August 2, Taylor was installed as president and formed a government where several rival militias were given positions.

Taylor's election victory was largely based on his threat of a new war if he lost. Although foreign observers considered the election itself to be correct, many are believed to have voted Taylor more for fear than for conviction. The election movement was also characterized by Taylor's dominance over the media.

New battles erupt

The Liberians only experienced a brief period of calm, before Taylor cleared out all rivals and new riots broke out. In 1999, sporadic fighting took place near the border with Guinea. The unrest escalated in 2000 and 2001 and the hitherto anonymous rebels appeared under the name United Liberians for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd). A year later, riots also erupted in the country's southeastern parts, where a new rebel group was formed under the name Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model). At the same time, Lurd Monrovia approached along two fronts. The fighting drove hundreds of thousands of people to flight.

In early June 2003, the conflict took on a new dimension when the UN-backed war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone brought charges against Taylor for his support of the Sierra Leonean RUF guerrilla (see Foreign Policy and Defense). At the same time, the rebels moved into Monrovia's suburbs. Foreign nationals were evacuated from the capital, while tens of thousands of Liberians fled away from the fighting. At least 400 civilians and soldiers were killed.

After strong international pressure, and after the rebels took control of most of the country, Charles Taylor resigned on August 11, 2003 and went on the run in Nigeria. By then, Ecowas had already intervened with UN approval and began sending a peace force. At the same time, US navy soldiers had landed, primarily to protect the US embassy but also to help stabilize the situation in the country.

A week later, an interim government led by Vice President made peace with Lurd and Model. A unifying government took over the board in October, while a provisional legislative assembly with 76 nominated members was installed. The leader of the transitional government was elected the fairly unknown politician Gyude Bryant. A strong force behind the peace agreement was women at all levels of society who subjected warlords and politicians to strong pressure to lay down arms.

The West African force managed to restore order in the larger cities, but in the countryside, the fighting and violence against the civilian population continued.

The UN sends in troops

On September 15, 2003, the United Nations Security Council decided to send 15,000 soldiers to restore security and disarm militia. The UN force, which was named Unmil, would have the roughly 3,500 Ecowas soldiers on duty. Sweden contributed a few hundred heavily equipped soldiers from the spring of 2004 to November 2006.

By March 2005, over 100,000 people were said to have left their weapons. Despite unrest, with, among other things, bloody rattles in Monrovia, assessors considered that the disarmament had been relatively successful.

After a transitional period, general elections were held in October and November 2005. Harvard-educated economist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, with a past in the UN system, defeated former football star George Weah in the crucial second round of the presidential election. She thus became Africa's first elected female president. Weah's party The Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), in turn, was the largest in the House of Representatives with 15 of the 64 seats. But the seats were so evenly distributed among a large number of parties that none of them could dominate the congregation.

Difficult task for the new government

With the 2005 presidential election, Liberia took a decisive step away from civil war and provisional rule. New President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf faced a difficult task. Liberia must build up demolished infrastructure such as electricity grids, roads and water pipes, get schools and health services up and running a functioning judiciary. In addition, the country must have a military and police force that could be trusted.

The civil war had cost Liberia enormous amounts, but corruption had also cost the country dearly. A UN investigation found that Bryant's interim government had cut nearly half the state budget for 2005. Johnson Sirleaf revoked a number of contracts the government has concluded. All interim government ministers were charged with travel bans and three of them were indicted for embezzlement. Gyude Bryant was personally accused of stealing the equivalent of about SEK 9 million from the Treasury. (The Provisional Supreme Court granted 2007 clear signs to bring Bryant to justice. However, he was eventually released on all counts, which was interpreted as a defeat of the judiciary).

In March 2006, Nigeria extradited Charles Taylor, who after his return to Liberia was transferred to Sierra Leone, where he was prosecuted at the country's Special War Crimes Court (see Foreign Policy and Defense). For security reasons, the trial was conducted in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

In an effort to heal the wounds after the wars, in 2006 a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was appointed to investigate the human rights violations committed in 1989–2003.

In the beginning of 2008, the Supreme Court decided that local elections should be suspended due to lack of money. Instead, the president was allowed to appoint mayors after consulting local politicians. No local elections have been held in the country since 1985.

Johnson Sirleaf admitted in the fall of 2008 that corruption was still a major problem, and a new commission, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, was created to address the problems. Prosecutors had then criticized the fact that too few high-ranking officials had been prosecuted for corruption. According to media reports, several of the president's close associates were involved in corruption deals.

In July 2009, the TRC presented its final report recommending that fifty politicians, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, be banned from holding public office for 30 years. Johnson Sirleaf had admitted that she initially supported Charles Taylor's rebellion in 1989 but that she soon broke the contacts when she realized what he was going for. She now apologized to the nation for being on his side for a short time.

According to the TRC, other persons should be brought before a special tribunal for crimes against humanity and the laws of war as well as for financial crime. Among them were Taylor as well as Prince Johnson, after the war elected in the Senate but previously one of the most feared warlords whose soldiers, among others, tortured former President Samuel Doe to death.

TRC also recommended that children who participated in the conflict should be granted amnesty, that respect for human rights should be strengthened and compensation paid to victims. Amnesty could also be granted to persons who admitted their crimes and otherwise cooperated with the Commission. It was further stated that all parties were responsible for violations of international humanitarian law, sexual abuse and the recruitment of child soldiers.

The recommendations would be turned into law if they were approved by Parliament, where the opposition had a majority. There, the criticism was great, as several of the people appointed were MPs. From the outside world came sharp criticism of the idea that President Johnson Sirleaf, who enjoyed great confidence abroad, should be dismissed. In January 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the TRC's recommendations violated the Constitution's guarantee for everyone to have their cases reviewed under the law and that the government would thereby violate the Constitution if it banned any person from political activity.

The next presidential election was held in the fall of 2011. Before the election, a referendum was held to change the electoral law, but only one of four proposals was approved: candidates in parliamentary elections or municipal assemblies could be elected by a simple majority, so that the second round of elections could be abolished for savings. Parts of the opposition had pleaded for a boycott of the referendum because it was held so close to the election and turnout was low.

Among the president's top rivals were Winston Tubman, a Harvard-trained lawyer from the Democratic Change Congress (CDC) who appointed George Weah as his vice presidential candidate, as well as former warlord Prince Johnson.

During the election, local media reported acts of violence directed at politicians in Monrovia and surrounding areas. The tone between the government and the opposition was high, but all major media supported the government side.

It was far from certain that Johnson Sirleaf would win, much because of dissatisfaction with the slow reconstruction work, high unemployment and a number of corruption deals. The criticism was often that the President was more comfortable with the Western countries than dealing with the problems at home.

Nobel Peace Prize influences the election?

A few days before the election, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In the early 2000s, Gbowee led Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace that brought together women from all walks of life in their work for peace. The group had played an important role in getting Charles Taylor to participate in the negotiations leading up to the 2003 peace agreement.

Winston Tubman described the award to the president as a pure provocation and a meddling in the country's politics, but the Norwegian Nobel Committee defended accusations that it was trying to influence the exit.

Election day on October 11 was calm and turnout was high. Johnson Sirleaf received just under 44 percent of the vote and Tubman nearly 33 percent, which is why a second round of elections was necessary between the two of them. Tubman, however, objected to the result and said he had evidence that the Election Commission had cheated in Johnson Sirleaf's favor. After pushing the Election Commission chairman to resign, he first said that he would stand in the second round, but still withdrew and called for an election boycott instead. He also said he did not intend to recognize the new government.

The second round of voting on November 8 was preceded by violence and despite the president's calls, only 39 percent of voters voted. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf received more than 90 percent of the vote, but the low turnout became a smattering of joy.

In the parliamentary elections, Johnson Sirleafs Unity Party (UP) became the largest in the House of Representatives with 24 of the 73 seats, while the CDC got 11. In the Senate, where half of the seats were at stake, UP lost a mandate but still became the largest with a total of 10 out of 30.

 
 

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