Developments in Liberia

Published: 17 June 2009 Updated: 2 September 2014

In recent years, belief in the future has returned to Liberia, a country that has suffered greatly from a 14-year civil war. However, the situation remains difficult for many people, particularly women.

The name Liberia originates from the Latin word liber, meaning free. The country was founded in the mid-1800s as a haven for former slaves from the United States. They formed an upper class that ruled the country until the military seized power in a coup d’état in 1980. That became the beginning of a period of turmoil and economic ruin. The situation deteriorated further in 1989, when a rebellion led by Charles Taylor sparked a bloody civil war. Several peace agreements were signed, but only to be followed by renewed fighting. It wasn’t until 2003 that hopes of a more lasting peace were awakened. A UN force of up to 15 000 men has helped to restore security and disarm militias. But the wounds of war run deep and the security situation is dependent on how well the state's legitimacy is developed among citizens, especially regarding participation and decentralization.

In 2005, Liberia inaugurated Africa’s first democratically elected female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Two years previously a peace agreement had been signed, bringing an end to the 14-year civil war. Since then, the situation in the country has slowly improved. One of the government’s first actions was to provide electricity and water to parts of the capital, Monrovia.

However, six out of 10 Liberians are still living in poverty and a large proportion of the population do not participate in the political life. A large majority depends on subsistence farming and fishing.

Since few people have had the chance of higher education, the state apparatus functions poorly. There are instead many informal power networks that function alongside the formal structures. Corruption is common, which means that confidence in the judicial system is low, even though the situation has improved in recent years.

Although peace has been strengthened, the respect for human rights is very low. Women and girls have a particularly difficult situation in Liberia. During the civil war, rape was used as a weapon to frighten and humiliate the civilian population and many women were abused. Rape is still the second most common crime in the country and most of the victims are children.

A new law against rape was introduced in 2006 and the government has campaigned to reduce sexual violence. This is why part of the dialogue between Sweden and Liberia concerns the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

Almost half of Liberia’s population is under the age of 15. The economy will largely determine whether the fragile peace will be maintained. If there is a good economic growth and many Liberians share the benefits, this will reduce the risk of new conflicts.

The government is therefore negotiating for membership with the World Trade Organization (WTO), and for trade agreements with the EU through its membership in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It also wants to try to increase foreign investments in the country in the areas of minerals, forestry and rubber. There is also a dream that this beautiful country, with its long coastline, will one day attract tourists.

The situation in Liberia is directly dependent on the situation in the neighbouring countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. The political situation remains unsettled in many parts of the region.

Sweden’s priorities in Liberia:

  • democratic governance and human rights
  • agricultural development and business life, including regional and international trade.

Read more about Sida's work in Liberia.

Page owner: Department for Africa

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