Roots of Liberian Strife


Liberia was originally settled by freed American slaves under a grant by President James Monroe in 1822. In 1847, it became Africa's first declared republic.

Strife developed between the elite Americo-Liberians and the indigenous peoples, who resented the denial of basic rights and services. Sgt. Samuel Doe, of the Krahn ethnic group, threw off Americo-Liberian rule in 1980, killing the president and 13 government ministers.

But Sergeant Doe turned out to be equally despotic. The civil war began in December 1989 when forces loyal to rebel leader Charles Taylor overthrew Doe. Captured by a breakaway group, Doe was executed in 1990.

What began as a popular rebellion degenerated into tribal warfare. The intent was to liberate Liberia from a cruel despot. Now the warlords themselves are slaughtering people.

The United Nations estimates 150,000 people have been killed in the fighting. More than half the population has been made homeless because of the war.

Previous accords failed. A new accord signed Aug. 19, 1995, called for leaders of rival factions to share power, pending national elections. A transitional Council of State took office Sept. 1. Squabbles ruined a promising start, and a promised disarmament has not even begun.

Some viewed the arrangement from the start as inherently unstable. Each of the leaders signing the accord has his own troops, and each wants to rule.

Key Players

Charles Taylor: National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). A descendant of original American settlers. Part of the coalition, he has the largest faction.

Alhaji Kromah: United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO). Another coalition member. Both men talk of being president, but have joined forces to battle those of Roosevelt Johnson for control of the capital.

Roosevelt Johnson: Formed his own faction, Ulimo-J. A former coalition member, he was fired after being charged with murder. The latest fighting started Saturday when government forces attempted to capture him.

Who's Doing What About It?

Various international attempts to get warring sides to the table have been made; all failed.

Many Liberians see the situation as the West standing by and watching while the slaughter goes on. The primary effort has come from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), led by Ghana's President Jerry Rawlings, which sent a military force to impose a peace in 1990 in Liberia, one of its member nations.

The 12,000-strong peacekeeping force (ECOMOG) was sent in to establish a cease-fire.

Last December, 64 of them were killed by Mr. Johnson's militia, some say because they were moving in on an illegal diamond trade.

The US has not sent troops but has sent money to help support the West African and United Nations efforts.

Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned the Security Council that the situation in Liberia was "rapidly deteriorating" because warlords had failed to live up to their commitments under the 1995 peace agreement.


Location: Liberia is surrounded by Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast in West Africa.

Size: 43,000 miles, about the size of Virginia.

Population: 2.7 million

Ethnic makeup: Indigenous peoples belong primarily to four groups, which are subdivided into six main tribes.

Economy: Primarily agricultural; rice, coffee, sugar. Industries: mining.Unemployment is estimated at 90 percent.

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