Liberia, officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the West African coast. It is
bordered by Sierra Leone to its northwest, Guinea to its north, Ivory Coast to its east, and
the Atlantic Ocean to its south-southwest. It covers an area of 111,369 square kilometres
(43,000 sq. mi) and has a population of around 4,900,000. English is the official language,
but 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.
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 February 5, 1862, during the American Civil War.
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-Caribbean’s, relocated to the
settlement. The settlers carried their culture and tradition with them. The Liberian constitution and
flag were modelled 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 Liberia’s
first president after the people proclaimed independence. ]
Liberia was the first African republic to proclaim its independence and is Africa’s first and oldest
modern republic. It 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 indigenous tribesmen were excluded from birthright
citizenship in their own land until 1904, in an echo of the United States’ treatment of Native
Americans. Americo-Liberians promoted religious organizations to set up missions and schools
to educate the indigenous peoples.
In 1980 political tensions from the rule of William R. Tolbert resulted in a military coup during
which Tolbert was killed, 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) and the displacement of
many more, and shrank Liberia’s economy by 90%.  A peace agreement in 2003 led to
democratic elections in 2005, in which Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President, making
history as the first female president in the continent. National infrastructure and basic social
services were severely affected by the conflicts, with 83% of the population now living below
the international poverty line.
Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries, with a formal employment rate of 15%. GDP per
capita peaked in 1980 at US$496, when it was comparable to Egypt’s (at the time). In 2011 the
country’s nominal GDP was US$1.154 billion, while nominal GDP per capita stood at US$297,
the third lowest in the world. Historically the Liberian economy has depended heavily on foreign
aid, foreign direct investment and exports of natural resources such as iron ore, rubber,
In 2010, the literacy rate of Liberia was estimated at 60.8% (64.8% for males and 56.8% for
females). In some areas primary and secondary education is free and compulsory from the ages
of 6 to 16, though enforcement of attendance is lax. In other areas children are required to pay a
tuition fee to attend school. On average, children attain 10 years of education (11 for boys and 8
for girls). The country’s education sector is hampered by inadequate schools and supplies, as
well as a lack of qualified teachers.
Higher education is provided by several public and private universities. The University of
Liberia is the country’s largest and oldest university. Located in Monrovia, the university opened
in 1862. Today it has six colleges, including a medical school and the nation’s only law
school, Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. ]
In 2009, Tubman University in Harper, Maryland County was established as the second public
university in Liberia. Since 2006, the government has also opened community
colleges in Buchanan, Sanniquellie, and Voinjama.
Due to student protests late in October 2018, newly elected president George M. Weah
abolished tuition fees for undergraduate students in the public universities in Liberia.