Liberia (/laɪˈbɪəriə/ (About this sound listen)), officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the West African coast. It is bordered by Sierra Leone to its west, Guinea to its north and Ivory Coast to its east, the Atlantic Ocean to its south. It covers an area of 111,369 square kilometers (43,000 sq mi) and has a population of around 4,700,000 people. English is the official language and over 20 indigenous languages are spoken, representing the numerous ethnic groups who make up more than 95% of the population. The country’s capital and largest city is Monrovia.
Forests on the coastline are composed mostly of salt-tolerant mangrove trees, while the more sparsely populated inland has forests opening onto a plateau of drier grasslands. The climate is equatorial, with significant rainfall during the May–October rainy season and harsh harmattan winds the remainder of the year. Liberia possesses about forty percent of the remaining Upper Guinean rainforest. It was an important producer of rubber in the early 20th century.
The Republic of Liberia began as a settlement of the American Colonization Society (ACS), who believed black people would face better chances for freedom and prosperity in Africa than in the United States.The country declared its independence on July 26, 1847. The U.S. did not recognize Liberia’s independence until during the American Civil War on February 5, 1862. Between January 7, 1822, and the American Civil War, more than 15,000 freed and free-born black people who faced legislated limits in the U.S., and 3,198 Afro-Caribbeans, relocated to the settlement. The black settlers carried their culture and tradition with them to Liberia. The Liberian constitution and flag were modeled after those of the U.S. On January 3, 1848, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a wealthy, free-born African American from Virginia who settled in Liberia, was elected as Liberia’s first president after the people proclaimed independence.
Liberia was the first African republic to proclaim its independence, on July 26, 1847, and is Africa’s first and oldest modern republic. Liberia retained its independence during the Scramble for Africa. During World War II, Liberia supported the United States war efforts against Germany and in turn the U.S. invested in considerable infrastructure in Liberia to help its war effort, which also aided the country in modernizing and improving its major air transportation facilities. In addition, President William Tubman encouraged economic changes. Internationally, Liberia was a founding member of the League of Nations, United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity.
The Americo-Liberian settlers did not relate well to the indigenous peoples they encountered, especially those in communities of the more isolated “bush”. The colonial settlements were raided by the Kru and Grebo from their inland chiefdoms. Americo-Liberians developed as a small elite that held on to political power, and the indigenous tribesmen were excluded from birthright citizenship in their own lands until 1904, in a repetition of the United States’ treatment of Native Americans. The Americo-Liberians promoted religious organizations to set up missions and schools to educate the indigenous peoples.
Political tensions from the rule of William R. Tolbert resulted in a military coup in 1980 that overthrew his leadership soon after his death, marking the beginning of years-long political instability. Five years of military rule by the People’s Redemption Council and five years of civilian rule by the National Democratic Party of Liberia were followed by the First and Second Liberian Civil Wars. These resulted in the deaths of 250,000 people (about 8% of the population), the displacement of many more and shrunk Liberia’s economy by 90%. A peace agreement in 2003 led to democratic elections in 2005, in which Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President. Recovery proceeds but about 85% of the population lives below the international poverty line. Liberia’s economic and political stability was threatened in the 2010s by an Ebola virus epidemic; it originated in Guinea in December 2013, entered Liberia in March 2014, and was declared officially ended on May 8, 2015.
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