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Brent Beardslee

Liberia Backgrounder

As the world begins its slow transcendence from rivaling nation states in a balance of power, to a multi-national cooperative world, there are still many problems. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union there have been more than forty armed conflicts throughout the world, most of which are civil wars within states. The United Nations plays a key role in shaping the future of the world, and attempting to bring peace across the globe. The nation of Liberia has faced a very violent history, and currently continues to experience atrocious human suffering within its borders. As members of the United Nations Security Council we must find a way to rebuild this war-torn nation and help its citizens.

Liberia has a unique history unlike that of many other African nations. Liberia is one of only two African countries that were not colonies of Western imperialist powers and therefore developed uniquely. By the dawn of the 19th century, many American states within the Union were considered slavery-free states, and slaves from the south of the United States risked their lives to reach a state free of human slavery. However many African Americans had few labor skills and hardly any education at all. Former slaves found themselves living in poverty in the large urban cities and contributing to a swelling black lower class in America . Many African Americans were discriminated in the North of America as well. This hatred towards blacks in America made many wonder what it truly meant to be a free man. During the 19 th century a theory of “repatriating” came about which consisted of sending freed slaves in America back to their homelands. Instead of trying to assimilate African Americans into contemporary society, many believed that the freed slaves could benefit their people in Africa better. Although this idea was popular with some people in America , many blacks disagreed with the idea because they felt they were truly Americans rather than natives of Africa .

In 1816 the first ship sailed to Liberia with eighty-eight volunteer emigrants, but these people all died of yellow fever. Subsequent ships landed and settled on the coast of Liberia , but these emigrants had to contest with the Malinke tribes who resented these blacks from America . In the next few decades the colonists were gradually accepted, and in 1841 the first black governor (Joseph Jenkins Roberts) was elected. Roberts later drafted a constitution based on the United States version, and 1847 Liberia achieved the status of an independent republic. The first nation to recognize Liberia as a legitimate state was Great Britain in 1848. Large loans from Europe and the United States added to the Americo-Liberians might, and slowly they began to dominate large tracks of the country. In exchange for such cooperation from the United States , Liberia allowed the US military to use its land as a base from which to fight the Germans in World War I and the Axis Powers in World War II.

Although Americo-Liberians had been denied their freedom in America , many did not think to extend their new liberty to the native Malinke. Liberians treated many Malinke like second-class citizens and denied them voting rights under their US-based constitution. Natives were also used as forced labor until an admonishment from the League of Nations in 1931 halted the practice.

The nation of Liberia was aligned with US democratic ideals, but Liberian politics have been incredibly authoritarian. William Tubman was elected in 1944 and was one of the most prominent presidents of Liberia ever. Tubman encouraged foreign capital investments, granted the franchise to women, encouraged tribes-people to participate in government, built up public schools, and expanded revenues, public services, and the army. He insisted that customary tribal laws be maintained insofar as they were "humane and reasonable" but also tried to encourage the immigration of westernized blacks from the United States, the West Indies, and the British West African colonies. Tubman was president of Liberia until his death in 1971. Following the death of William Tubman, William R. Tolbert assumed power during Liberia 's golden age. Tolbert attempted to improve the economic and political climate by introducing many new changes. But the damage of the past seemed irreparable. The majority of the population was poor and lacked basic amenities such as access to safe water and electricity. These grave disparities of the Liberian people led to incredible violence.

Soldiers in the army sympathized with the Liberian demonstrators, but others strongly believed in the power of the military. In 1980, a group of enlisted men led by Samuel K. Doe, a 28-year-old indigenous master sergeant, fought their way into the presidential mansion and shot Tolbert to death. Shortly afterwards, 13 members of the Cabinet were publicly executed. Hundreds of government workers fled the country, while others were imprisoned. Many people welcomed the new leader, but their high hopes quickly waned in light of Tolbert's corruption.

In 1985, Doe declared himself the winner of a presidential election he had actually lost. His corrupt government became more repressive, shutting down newspapers and banning political activity. The government's mistreatment of certain ethnic groups, particularly the Gio (or Dan) and the Mano in the north, resulted in divisions and violence among indigenous populations. Liberians who were upset with Doe fled to nearby countries and some were eventually trained by Charles Taylor. On Christmas Eve of 1989 Taylor and a hundred trained supporters joined thousands of Gio and Mano citizens, and a brutal citizen war ensued. In September 1990, Doe was captured and tortured to death by another rebel group originally associated with Taylor .

In 1997 Charles Taylor was elected president of Liberia in hopes that he would bring an end to the bloodshed in Liberia . Although the killing in Liberia slowed considerably, it did not end. Seven years of civil war undid much of what Liberia had achieved. Most of the country's infrastructure and public buildings were destroyed. Two hundred thousand people were killed, and another 800,000 displaced from their homes. Close to another 700,000 became refugees in neighboring countries.

During 2003 violence erupted again, and thousands of Liberians were slaughtered by militant rebels controlled by Taylor . In light of these grave human rights abuses the United States and the United Nations entered Liberia on a peace-keeping mission. The future of Liberia remains uncertain though as this war-torn nation struggles to rebuild itself after years of civil war.

The United Nations Security Council has a tough task ahead of itself to determine how to help reconstruct Liberia and make it a strong African state once again. With its large natural resources Liberia is a key trading partner with many industrial states. Liberia 's industrial infrastructure has been badly damaged and thousands have lost their lives in this nation. The Security Council must seek ways to help Liberia and make sure that such atrocities don't happen ever again.


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