Liberian Elections: Will Democracy Hold?

Liberia, with a population of 3.4 million, is raising hopes for the future, as it is once again about to conduct democratic presidential elections, in a tough West African neighborhood, located next to Sierra Leone (northwest), Guinea (north), and Ivory Coast (east).

Liberia is an interesting nation, as it was created by U.S. President Monroe in 1822, as a place for freed American slaves. It became the second oldest black republic in the world, behind Haiti, when Joe Roberts, a native of Virginia, became their first President.

During the 28-year reign of President Tubman (1943-71), Liberia enjoyed some economic development, as the WWII allies built an airport and broke ground on a new seaport. Upon completion of the new harbor in 1948, many international ships commenced flying the Liberian flag. Tubman also succeeded in the 1960s in opening a power plant, an oil refinery, and an iron-ore facility.

Political instability began in 1980, when President Tolbert (1971-80) was overthrown by Sam Doe, with the support of the Krahan Tribe. Doe had promised equal treatment for native blacks, who had been mistreated historically by descendants of U.S. Slaves.

When Doe was overthrown in 1989, and executed in 1990, by Charles Taylor, Prince Johnson, and the National Patriotic Front, a civil war broke out. A framework for peace, known as the Yamoussoukro Accord (1991), failed to stop the fighting, and military units from the Organization of African Unity were also unable to end the conflict, when they intervened in 1992.

Following a UN imposed arms embargo in 1993, an Observer Mission (1993-97) was sent to monitor elections, which in 1997 resulted in a win for Taylor, who was later implicated in the violence in Sierra Leone and Guinea, where there was a struggle over the gold and diamond mines, located near the border.

Meanwhile, the Liberian Civil War continued, until Taylor finally fled to Nigeria in 2003, allowing for a peace agreement, monitored by a 2nd UN Mission in Liberia. An estimated 200,000 died in the civil war, while thousands became refugees.

Nigeria extradited Taylor to the Special Court of Sierra Leone, sitting in the Hague, Netherlands in 2006, where he faced 5 counts of war crimes, 5 counts of crimes against humanity, and another count of using child soldiers. He is said to be responsible, among other things, for murder, mutilations, sex offenses, and forcing children to fight as soldiers. Proceedings against him began in 2007 and ended in 2010. A guilty verdict was returned in 2012.

After years of unrest, a fragile democracy returned in 2005, when Ellen Sirleaf became Liberian President. She reopened the diamond and timber export trade in 2007, and is today up for re-election. Only time will tell if Liberia’s new democracy will hold.


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