It wasn’t long ago that Liberians talked with obvious nostalgia of ‘normal days’. Now, well over a decade after the war has ended, ‘normal days’ are back in this gorgeous green land. They can be seen in the Liberian designer who’s launched a fashion store in Monrovia; the former refugee who runs a motorbike-taxi business; the Liberian surfer who’s touring West Africa and the salesman investing in ecotourism. You might be among his customers, leaning back in a string hammock on the edge of a forest singing with tropical birds.
Or you might visit Monrovia, exploring the relics of Liberia’s rich history and the American influence that still shapes it. Sapo National Park is one of the most stunning patches of rainforest left in West Africa, while the sands of pretty Robertsport are shingled with fishing canoes and huge granite gems.
Official Name. Republic of Liberia
Capital and largest city. Monrovia 6°19’N 10°48’W
Languages. Official English. Spoken and national Liberian English
Ethnic groups. 20.3% Kpelle, 13.4% Bassa, 10.0% Grebo, 8.0% Gio, 7.9% Mano, 6.0% Kru, 5.1% Lorma, 4.8% Kissi, 4.4% Gola, 20.1% others
Government. Unitary presidential republic. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Senate and House of Representatives
Formation and Independence. Settled by the American Colonization Society 1822. IndependenceJuly 26, 1847
Area. Total 111,369 km2 (103rd), Water (%) 13.514
Population. 2015 estimate 4,503,000. 2008 census 3,476,608 (130th). Density. 40.43/km2 (180th)
GDP (PPP). 2016 estimate. Total $3.879 billion. Per capita $881
GDP (nominal) 2016 estimate. Total $2.106 billion. Per capita $478
When to Go
Jan–May This is the hot, dry season, so head to the beaches. The mercury can easily top 32°C.
Jun–Oct Spectacular storms and impressive surf, but country roads are impassable.
Oct–Dec A touch of harmattan breeze from the Sahel occasionaly cools the air.”
MONEY. Liberian dollars(LRD). US Dollar (USD) widely accepted.
There are limited ways to use credit cards. Bring US dollars in cash with you (most transactions at Western businesses are done in USD) or transfer money through Moneygram or Western Union. Ecobank on Randall Street is used by many foreigners. You can cash travellers cheques, although you need proof of purchase-paper. If someone gives you Liberian Dollars in change, accept it because it will be useful to have some on hand for very small purchases, but once you have a little, be sure to get dollars back (except when your change is less than a dollar, they use local currency in lieu of coins).
There are now several ATMs in central Monrovia that issue US dollars for VISA card holders.
VISAS. Required by all except Ecowas countries. 30-days only. A letter of invitation and a yellow fever vaccination certificate are necessary. For US citizens, a 3-month visa costs USD140, for all others the fee is USD100. One, two & three year multiple-entry visas are also available. In a pinch, airport visas can be obtained but you must have a company apply to immigration ahead of time and someone mus tbring the visa to meet your plane at the airport. Extensions – Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) in Monrovia to apply. Multiple-entry visas may also require a ‘re-entry letter’ approved by the BIN for all subsequent trips.
The embassy in Conakry has been moved out-of-town to the town of Kipe. At the Freetown embassy service is next day and no hassle.
Liberia is a country on the West African coast. Liberia means “Land of the Free” in Latin. It is bordered by Sierra Leone to its west, Guinea to its north and Ivory Coast to its east. It covers an area of 111,369 square kilometres and has a population of 4,503,000 people. English is the official language and over 20 indigenous languages are spoken, representing the numerous tribes who make up more than 95% of the population.
Forests on the coastline are composed mostly of salt-tolerant mangrove trees, while the more sparsely populated inland has forests opening onto a plateau of drier grasslands. The climate is equatorial, with significant rainfall during the May–October rainy season and harsh harmattan winds the remainder of the year. Liberia possesses about forty percent of the remaining Upper Guinean rainforest. It was an important producer of rubber in the early 20th century.
The Republic of Liberia, beginning as a settlement of the American Colonization Society (ACS), declared its independence on July 26, 1847. The United States did not recognize Liberia’s independence until during the American Civil War in 1862. Between 1822 and the American Civil War, more than 15,000 freed and free-born Black Americans from United States and 3,198 Afro-Caribbeans relocated to the settlement. The Black American settlers carried their culture with them to Liberia. The Liberian constitution and flag were modeled after those of the United States. On January 3, 1848 Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a wealthy, free-born Black American from Virginia who settled in Liberia, was elected as Liberia’s first president.
Liberia is the only African republic to have self-proclaimed independence without gaining independence through revolt from any other nation, being Africa’s first and oldest republic. Liberia maintained and kept its independence during the European colonial era. During World War II, Liberia supported the United States war efforts against Germany and in turn the United States 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.
Political tensions from the rule of William R. Tolbert resulted in a military coup in 1980 soon after his death, 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 and displacement of more than half a million people and devastated Liberia’s economy. A peace agreement in 2003 led to democratic elections in 2005. Recovery proceeds but about 85% of the population live below the international poverty line.
Liberia’s economic and political stability was threatened by an Ebola epidemic; it originated in Guinea in December 2013, entered Liberia in March 2014, and was declared officially ended on May 8, 2015.
The Pepper Coast, also known as the Grain Coast, has been inhabited by indigenous peoples of Africa at least as far back as the 12th century. Mende-speaking people expanded westward from the Sudan, forcing many smaller ethnic groups southward toward the Atlantic Ocean. The Dei, Bassa, Kru, Gola and Kissi were some of the earliest documented peoples in the area. This influx was compounded by the decline of the Western Sudanic Mali Empire in 1375 and the Songhai Empire in 1591. Additionally, as inland regions underwent desertification, inhabitants moved to the wetter coast. These new inhabitants brought skills such as cotton-spinning, cloth-weaving, iron smelting, rice and sorghum cultivation, and social and political institutions from the Mali and Songhai empires. Shortly after the Mane conquered the region, the Vai people of the former Mali Empire immigrated into the Grand Cape Mount County region. The ethnic Kru opposed the influx of Vai, forming an alliance with the Mane to stop further influx of Vai.
People along the coast built canoes and traded with other West Africans from Cap-Vert to the Gold Coast. Arab traders entered the region from the north, and a long-established slave trade took captives to north and east Africa.
Between 1461 and the late 17th century, Portuguese, Dutch and British traders had contacts and trading posts in the region. The Portuguese named the area Costa da Pimenta (“Pepper Coast”) but it later came to be known as the Grain Coast, due to the abundance of melegueta pepper grains. European traders would barter commodities and goods with local people.
Early settlement. In the United States, there was a movement to resettle American free blacks and freed slaves in Africa. The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 for this purpose, by a group of prominent politicians and slaveholders. But its membership grew to include mostly people who supported abolition of slavery. Slaveholders wanted to get free people of color out of the South, where they were thought to threaten the stability of the slave societies. Some abolitionists collaborated on relocation of free blacks, as they were discouraged by discrimination against them in the North and believed they would never be accepted in the larger society. Most African-Americans, who were native-born by this time, wanted to improve conditions in the United States rather than emigrate. Leading activists in the North strongly opposed the ACS, but some free blacks were ready to try a different environment.
In 1822, the American Colonization Society began sending African-American volunteers to the Pepper Coast to establish a colony for freed African-Americans. By 1867, the ACS (and state-related chapters) had assisted in the migration of more than 13,000 African-Americans to Liberia. These free African-Americans and their descendants married within their community and came to identify as Americo-Liberians. Many were of mixed race and educated in American culture; they did not identify with the indigenous natives of the tribes they encountered. They intermarried largely within the colonial community, developing an ethnic group that had a cultural tradition infused with American notions of political republicanism and Protestant Christianity.
The ACS, the private organIzation supported by prominent American politicians such as Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, and James Monroe, believed repatriation of free blacks was preferable to widespread emancipation of slaves. Similar state-based organizations established colonies in Mississippi-in-Africa and the Republic of Maryland, which were later annexed by Liberia.
The Americo-Liberian settlers did not identify with the indigenous peoples they encountered, especially those in communities of the more isolated “bush.” They knew nothing of their cultures, languages or animist religion. Encounters with tribal Africans in the bush often developed as violent confrontations. The colonial settlements were raided by the Kru and Grebo from their inland chiefdoms. Because of feeling set apart and superior by their culture and education to the indigenous peoples, the Americo-Liberians developed as a small elite that held on to political power. It excluded the indigenous tribesmen from birthright citizenship in their own lands until 1904, in a repetition of the United States’ treatment of Native Americans. Because of ethnocentrism and the cultural gap, the Americo-Liberians envisioned creating a western-style state to which the tribesmen should assimilate. They encouraged religious organizations to set up missions and schools to educate the indigenous peoples.
Independence. On July 26, 1847, the settlers issued a Declaration of Independence. The constitution was based on the political principles denoted in the United States Constitution.
The leadership of the new nation consisted largely of the Americo-Liberians, who initially established political and economic dominance in the coastal areas that had been purchased by the ACS; they maintained relations with United States contacts in developing these areas and the resulting trade. Their passage of the 1865 Ports of Entry Act prohibited foreign commerce with the inland tribes, ostensibly to “encourage the growth of civilized values” before such trade was allowed.
By 1877, the Americo-Liberian True Whig Party was the most powerful political power in the country. It was made up primarily of people from the Americo-Liberian ethnic group, who maintained social, economic and political dominance well into the 20th century, repeating patterns of European colonists in other nations in Africa. Competition for office was usually contained within the party; a party nomination virtually ensured election.
Pressure from the United Kingdom, which controlled Sierra Leone to the west, and France with its interests in the north and east led to a loss of Liberia’s claims to extensive territories. Both Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast annexed some territories. Liberia struggled to attract investment in order to develop infrastructure and a larger, industrial economy. There was a decline in production of Liberian goods in the late 19th century, and the government struggled financially, resulting in indebtedness on a series of international loans.
20th century. American and other international interests emphasized resource extraction, with rubber production a major industry in the early 20th century. In the mid-20th century, Liberia gradually began to modernize with American assistance. During World War II, the United States made major infrastructure improvements to support its military efforts in Africa and Europe. It built the Freeport of Monrovia and Roberts International Airport under the Lend-Lease program before its entry into the world war.
After the war, President William Tubman encouraged foreign investment in the country. Liberia had the second-highest rate of economic growth in the world during the 1950s. It became a vocal critic of the South African apartheid regime. Liberia also served as a proponent both of African independence from the European colonial powers and of Pan-Africanism, and helped to fund the Organisation of African Unity.
On April 12, 1980, a military coup led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe of the Krahn ethnic group overthrew and killed President Tolbert. Doe and the other plotters later executed a majority of Tolbert’s cabinet and other Americo-Liberian government officials and True Whig Party members. The coup leaders formed the People’s Redemption Council(PRC) to govern the country. A strategic Cold War ally of the West, Doe received significant financial backing from the United States while critics condemned the PRC for corruption and political repression.
After Liberia adopted a new constitution in 1985, Doe was elected president in subsequent elections, which were internationally condemned as fraudulent. On November 12, 1985, a failed counter-coup was launched by Thomas Quiwonkpa, whose soldiers briefly occupied the national radio station. Government repression intensified in response, as Doe’s troops retaliated by executing members of the Gio and Mano ethnic groups in Nimba County.
Civil War. The National Patriotic Front of Liberia, a rebel group led by Charles Taylor, launched an insurrection in December 1989 against Doe’s government with the backing of neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. This triggered the First Liberian Civil War. By September 1990, Doe’s forces controlled only a small area just outside the capital, and Doe was captured and executed in that month by rebel forces. The rebels soon split into various factions fighting one another. The community of West African States organized a military task force to intervene in the crisis. From 1989 to 1996 one of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars broke out, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and displacing a million others into refugee camps in neighbouring countries. A peace deal between warring parties was reached in 1995, leading to Taylor’s election as president in 1997. Under Taylor’s leadership, Liberia became internationally known as a pariah state due to its use of blood diamonds and illegal timber exports to fund the Revolutionary United Front in the Sierra Leone Civil War.
The Second Liberian Civil War began in 1999 when Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, a rebel group based in the northwest of the country, launched an armed insurrection against Taylor. In March 2003, a second rebel group, Movement for Democracy in Liberia, began launching attacks against Taylor from the southeast. Peace talks in Accra in June indicted Taylor for crimes against humanity. By July 2003, the rebels had launched an assault on Monrovia. Under heavy pressure from the international community, Taylor resigned in August 2003 and went into exile in Nigeria.
A peace deal was signed, The United Nations Mission in Liberia began arrived in September to provide security and monitor the peace accord. The subsequent 2005 elections were internationally regarded as the most free and fair in Liberian history. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist and former Minister of Finance, was elected as the first female president in Africa. Upon her inauguration, Sirleaf requested the extradition of Taylor from Nigeria and transferred him to the SCSL for trial in The Hague. In 2006, the government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the causes and crimes of the civil war.
Liberia is situated in West Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean to the country’s southwest. It lies between latitudes 4°and 9°N, and longitudes 7° and 12°W.
The landscape is characterized by mostly flat to rolling coastal plains that contain mangroves and swamps, which rise to a rolling plateau and low mountains in the northeast. Tropical rainforests cover the hills, while elephant grass andsemi-deciduous forests make up the dominant vegetation in the northern sections. The equatorial climate is hot year-round with heavy rainfall from May to October with a short interlude in mid-July to August. During the winter months of November to March, dry dust-laden harmattan winds blow inland, causing many problems for residents.
Liberia’s watershed tends to move in a southwestern pattern towards the sea as new rains move down the forested plateau off the inland mountain range of Guinée Forestière in Guinea. Cape Mount near the border with Sierra Leone receives the most precipitation in the nation.
Liberia’s main northwestern boundary is traversed by the Mano River while its southeast limits are bounded by the Cavalla River. Liberia’s three largest rivers are St. Paulexiting near Monrovia, the river St. John at Buchanan and the Cestos River. The Cavalla is the longest river in the nation at 515 kilometres (320 mi).
The highest point wholly within Liberia is Mount Wuteve at 1,440 metres (4,724 ft) in the northwestern Liberia range of the West Africa Mountains and the Guinea Highlands. However, Mount Nimba near Yekepa, is higher at 1,752 metres (5,748 ft) but is not wholly within Liberia as Nimba shares a border with Guinea and Ivory Coast and is their tallest mountain as well.
Pygmy hippos are among the species illegally hunted for food in Liberia. The World Conservation Union estimates that there are fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos remaining in the wild.
Endangered species are hunted for human consumption as bushmeat in Liberia – elephants, pygmy hippopotamus, chimpanzees, leopards, duikers, and other monkeys. Bushmeat is often exported to neighboUring Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, despite a ban on the cross-border sale of wild animals.
Bushmeat is widely eaten in Liberia, and is considered a delicacy. A 2004 public opinion survey found that bushmeat ranked second behind fish amongst residents of the capital Monrovia as a preferred source of protein. Of households where bushmeat was served, 80% of residents said they cooked it “once in a while,” while 13% cooked it once a week and 7% cooked bushmeat daily. The survey was conducted during the last civil war, and bushmeat consumption is now believed to be far higher.
Liberia is a global biodiversity hotspot – a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is under threat from humans. Liberia hosts the last remaining viable populations of certain species including western chimpanzees, forest elephants and leopards. Liberia contains a significant portion of West Africa’s remaining rainforest, with about 43% of the Upper Guinean forest – an important forest that spans several West African nations.
Slash-and-burn agriculture is one of the human activities eroding Liberia’s natural forests. A 2004 UN report estimated that 99 per cent of Liberians burnt charcoal and fuel wood for cooking and heating, resulting in deforestation.
Illegal logging has increased in Liberia since the end of the Second Civil War in 2003. In 2012 President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf granted licenses to companies to cut down 58% of all the primary rainforest left in Liberia. After international protests, many of those logging permits were canceled. Liberia and Norway struck an agreement in September 2014 whereby Liberia ceases all logging in exchange for $150 million in development aid.
Pollution is a significant issue in Liberia’s capital city Monrovia. Since 2006 the international community has paid for all garbage collection and disposal in Monrovia via the World Bank.
Liberia’s highest judicial authority is the Supreme Court, nominated by the president. The judicial system is a blend of common law, based on Anglo-American law, and customary law. An informal system of traditional courts still exists within the rural areas of the country, with trial by ordeal remaining common despite being officially outlawed.
Between 1877 and 1980, the government was dominated by the True Whig Party. Today, over 20 political parties are registered in the country, based largely around personalities and ethnic groups. Most parties suffer from poor organizational capacity. The 2005 elections marked the first time that the president’s party did not gain a majority of seats in the Legislature.
Corruption. Corruption is endemic at every level of the Liberian government. When President Sirleaf took office in 2006, she announced that corruption was “the major public enemy.” In 2014 the US ambassador to Liberia stated that corruption there was harming people through “unnecessary costs to products and services that are already difficult for many Liberians to afford”. Liberia scored a 3.3 on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt) on the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index. This gave it a ranking 87th of 178 countries worldwide and 11th of 47 in Sub-Saharan Africa. This score represented a significant improvement since 2007, when the country scored 2.1 and ranked 150th of 180 countries. When dealing with public-facing government functionaries 89% of Liberians say they have had to pay a bribe, the highest national percentage in the world.
Military. For virtually all of its history, the AFL has received considerable material and training assistance from the United States, especially from 1941–89.
Foreign relations. After the turmoil following the First and Second Liberian Civil Wars, Liberia’s internal stabilization in the 21st century brought a return to cordial relations with neighboring countries and much of the Western world. In the past, both of Liberia’s neighbors, Guinea and Sierra Leone, have accused Liberia of backing rebels inside their countries.
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. 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 and timber.
Following a peak in growth in 1979, the Liberian economy began a steady decline due to economic mismanagement following the 1980 coup. This decline was accelerated by the outbreak of civil war in 1989; GDP was reduced by an estimated 90% between 1989 and 1995, one of the fastest declines in history. Upon the end of the war in 2003, GDP growth began to accelerate, reaching 9.4% in 2007. The global financial crisis slowed GDP growth to 4.6% in 2009, though a strengthening agricultural sector led by rubber and timber exports increased growth to 5.1% in 2010 and an expected 7.3% in 2011, making the economy one of the 20 fastest growing in the world.
Current impediments to growth include a small domestic market, lack of adequate infrastructure, high transportation costs, poor trade links with neighboUring countries and the high dollarization of the economy. Liberia used the United States dollar as its currency from 1943 until 1982 and continues to use the U.S. dollar alongside the Liberian dollar.
Following a decrease in inflation beginning in 2003, inflation spiked in 2008 as a result of worldwide food and energy crises, reaching 17.5% before declining to 7.4% in 2009. Liberia’s external debt was estimated in 2006 at approximately $4.5 billion, 800% of GDP. As a result of bilateral, multilateral and commercial debt relief from 2007 to 2010, the country’s external debt fell to $222.9 million by 2011.
While official commodity exports declined during the 1990s as many investors fled the civil war, Liberia’s wartime economy featured the exploitation of the region’s diamond wealth. The country acted as a major trader in Sierra Leonian blood diamonds, exporting over US$300 million in diamonds in 1999. This led to a United Nations ban on Liberian diamond exports in 2001, which was lifted in 2007 following Liberia’s accession to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.
In 2003, additional UN sanctions were placed on Liberian timber exports, which had risen from US$5 million in 1997 to over US$100 million in 2002 and were believed to be funding rebels in Sierra Leone. These sanctions were lifted in 2006. Due in large part to foreign aid and investment inflow following the end of the war, Liberia maintains a large account deficit, which peaked at nearly 60% in 2008. Liberia gained observer status with the World Trade Organization in 2010 and is in the process of acquiring full member status.
Liberia has the highest ratio of foreign direct investment to GDP in the world, with US$16 billion in investment since 2006. Following the inauguration of the Sirleaf administration in 2006, Liberia signed several multibillion-dollar concession agreements in the iron ore and palm oil industries with numerous multinational corporations, including BHP Billiton, ArcelorMittal, and Sime Darby. Especially palm oil companies like Sime Darby (Malaysia) and Golden Veroleum (USA) are being accused by critics of the destruction of livelihoods and the displacement of local communities, enabled through government concessions. The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company has operated the world’s largest rubber plantation in Liberia since 1926.
Shipping flag of convenience. Due to its status as a flag of convenience, Liberia has the second-largest maritime registry in the world behind Panama. It has 3500 vessels registered under its flag accounting for 11% of ships worldwide.
Telecommunications. There are six major newspapers in Liberia, and 45% of the population has a mobile phone service. Much of Liberia’s communications infrastructure was destroyed or plundered during the two civil wars (1989–1996 and 1999–2003). With low rates of adult literacy and high poverty rates, television and newspaper use is limited, leaving radio as the predominant means of communicating with the public.
Transportation. Liberia’s economic main links to the outside world come through Monrovia, via the port and airport in the capital.
Energy. Formal electricity services are provided solely by the state-owned Liberia Electricity Corporation, which operates a small grid almost exclusively in the Greater Monrovia District. The vast majority of electric energy services is provided by small privately owned generators. At $0.54 per kWh, the electricity tariff in Liberia is among the highest in the world. Total installed capacity in 2013 was 20 MW, a sharp decline from a peak of 191 MW in 1989 before the wars.
Completion of the repair and expansion of the Mount Coffee Hydropower Plant, with a maximum capacity of 80 MW, is scheduled to be completed by 2018. Construction of three new heavy fuel oil power plants is expected to boost electrical capacity by 38 MW. In 2013, Liberia began importing power from neighbouring Ivory Coast and Guinea through the West African Power Pool.
Oil. Liberia has begun exploration for offshore oil; unproven oil reserves may be in excess of one billion barrels. The government divided its offshore waters into 17 blocks and began auctioning off exploration licenses for the blocks in 2004, with further auctions in 2007 and 2009. An additional 13 ultra-deep offshore blocks were demarcated in 2011 and planned for auction.
Population. 2008 national census – 3,476,608 people. Of those, 1,118,241 lived in Montserrado County, home to Monrovia.
As of 2006, Liberia has the highest population growth rate in the world (4.50% per annum). Liberia’s population tripled in 40 years. In 2010 some 43.5% of Liberians were below the age of 15.
Ethnic groups. The population includes 16 indigenous ethnic groups and various foreign minorities. Indigenous peoples comprise about 95 percent of the population. Kpelle (20% of the population and are the largest ethnic group in Liberia, residing mostly in Bong County and adjacent areas in central Liberia), Bassa, Mano, Gio or Dan, Kru, Grebo, Krahn, Vai, Gola, Mandingo or Mandinka, Mende, Kissi, Gbandi, Loma, Fante, Dei or Dewoin, Belleh, and Americo-Liberians (2.5 % descendants ofAfrican American and West Indian, mostly Barbadian settlers), make up 2.5%or Congo people (2.5% descendants of repatriated Congo and Afro-Caribbean slaves who arrived in 1825). These latter two groups established political control in the 19th century which they kept well into the 20th century.
Numerous immigrants have come as merchants and become a major part of the business community, including Lebanese, Indians, and other West African nationals. There is a high percentage of interracial marriage between ethnic Liberians and the Lebanese, resulting in a significant mixed-race population especially in and around Monrovia. A small minority of Liberians of European descent reside in the country.[better source needed] The Liberian constitution restricts citizenship to people of Black African descent.
Languages. English is the official language and serves as the lingua franca of Liberia. Thirty-one indigenous languages are spoken within Liberia, none of which is a first language to more than a small percentage of the population. Liberians also speak a variety of creolized dialects collectively known as Liberian English.
Religion. Christianity 85.5%. Commerce is prohibited by law on Sundays and major Christian holidays.
Islam 12.2% largely represented by the Mandingo and Vai ethnic groups. Sunnis, Shias, Ahmadiyyas, Sufis, and non-denominational Muslims constitute the bulk of the Liberian Muslims. The government does not require businesses or schools to excuse Muslims for Friday prayers.
Unaffiliated 1.5% Indigenous0.5% While Christian, many Liberians also participate in traditional, gender-based indigenous religious secret societies, such as Poro for men and Sande for women. The all-female Sande society practices female circumcision. Also Bahá’í, Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist.
Education. 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 a number of 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. Cuttington University was established by the Episcopal Church of the USA in 1889 in Suakoko, Bong County, as part of its missionary education work among indigenous peoples. It is the nation’s oldest private university. 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.
Health. Life expectancy in Liberia is estimated to be 57.4 years in 2012. With a fertility rate of 5.9 births per woman, the maternal mortality rate stood at 990 per 100,000 births in 2010. A number of highly communicable diseases are widespread, including tuberculosis, diarrheal diseases and malaria. In 2007, the HIV infection rates stood at 2% of the population aged 15–49 whereas the incidence of tuberculosis was 420 per 100,000 people in 2008. Approximately 58.2% – 66% of women are estimated to have undergone female genital mutilation.
Liberia imports 90% of its rice, a staple food, and is extremely vulnerable to food shortages. In 2007, 20.4% of children under the age of five were malnourished. In 2008, only 17% of the population had access to adequate sanitation facilities.
Civil war ended in 2003 after destroying approximately 95% of the country’s healthcare facilities. In 2009, government expenditure on health care per capita was US$22, accounting for 10.6% of total GDP. In 2008, Liberia had only one doctor and 27 nurses per 100,000 people.
In 2014 an outbreak of Ebola virus in Guinea spread to Liberia. As of November 17, 2014, there were 2,812 confirmed deaths from the ongoing outbreak. In early August 2014 Guinea closed its borders to Liberia to help contain the spread of the virus. On May 9, 2015 Liberia was declared Ebola free after six weeks with no new cases.
According to an Overseas Development Institute report, private health expenditure accounts for 64.1% of total spending on health.
Crime. Rape and sexual assault are frequent in the post-conflict era in Liberia. The country has one of the highest incidences of sexual violence against women in the world. Rape is the most frequently reported crime, accounting for more than one-third of sexual violence cases. Adolescent girls are the most frequently assaulted, and almost 40% of perpetrators are adult men known to victims.
The religious practices, social customs and cultural standards of the Americo-Liberians had their roots in the antebellum American South. The settlers wore top hat and tails and modeled their homes on those of Southern slaveowners. Most Americo-Liberian men were members of the Masonic Order of Liberia, which became heavily involved in the nation’s politics.
Liberia has a long, rich history in textile arts and quilting, as the settlers brought with them their sewing and quilting skills.
A rich literary tradition has existed in Liberia for over a century. Edward Wilmot Blyden, Bai T. Moore, Roland T. Dempster and Wilton G. S. Sankawulo are among Liberia’s more prominent authors. Moore’s novella Murder in the Cassava Patch is considered Liberia’s most celebrated novel.
Polygamy. One-third of married Liberian women between the ages of 15–49 are in polygamous marriages. Customary law allows men to have up to four wives.
Food. Liberian cuisine heavily incorporates rice, the country’s staple food. Other ingredients include cassava, fish, bananas, citrus fruit,plantains, coconut, okra and sweet potatoes. Heavy stews spiced with habanero and scotch bonnet chillies are popular and eaten with fufu. Liberia also has a tradition of baking imported from the United States that is unique in West Africa.
Eating Liberian food can be enjoyable and easy on the pocketbook. Liberian meals like palm butter, cassava leaf, potato greens, chock rice, and jollof’s rice will barely leave a dent in your budget (USD2-3 with a soda). Portions are usually enormous. Another popular local dish is fufu (fermented dough made from the cassava plant) and soup (the most common are goat soup and pepper soup). Fried or roasted fish, especially snapper, can be delicious. And for those who like to eat on the go, fruit and snacks can be bought from street vendors throughout Monrovia. Peanuts, fried plantain chips, roasted ears of corn or plantains, bananas, mangos, and other fruits can be had for LRD5-20 (or USD0.10-0.30). Especially delicious are the various breads sold freshly baked in the morning. Some breads resemble banana bread, other breads are more like corn bread. All are delicious although somewhat oily.
Drink. Club beer is the staple drink, served everywhere. Local gin is also available but should be drunk with caution. In the countryside the adventurous can try the local palm wine. The fresh is sweet but ferments over time (days) and grows stronger and more bitter. Usually the palm wine equals a light beer in alcohol content, however there is no guarantee of purity or quality.
Bagged water is sold on most street corners. While it is supposed to be filtered and safe, it is not guaranteed to be. Stick with bottled water.
The most popular sport in Liberia is association football, with George Weah (the only African to be named FIFA World Player of the Year) the nation’s most famous athlete. The Liberia national football team has reached the Africa Cup of Nations twice, in 1996 and 2002.
The second most popular sport in Liberia is basketball.
Measurement system. Liberia is one of only three countries that have not officially adopted the International System of Units (metric system). The Liberian government has begun transitioning away from use of imperial units to the metric system. However, this change has been gradual, with government reports concurrently using both imperial and metric units. A 2008 report from the University of Tennessee stated that the changeover from imperial to metric measures was confusing to coffee and cocoa farmers.
While the country is now on the mend, it has not yet redeveloped the necessary infrastructure to sustain a large increase in tourism, with little for the average visitor outside Monrovia. Towns like Buchanan, Ganta etc are little more than a collection of shanty houses with no decent hotels or food. Monrovia in general is calmer than the more far-flung areas although the situation countrywide is improving with the presence of UN Peacekeepers. Fear should not stop you enjoying your visit but act with caution. Travel outside Monrovia is very difficult and not advisable on your own.
Regions. Northern Liberia – the area between the St Paul River and the borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone
Central Liberia (Monrovia, Paynesville, Buchanan) – the capital Monrovia and the main population centre
Southern Liberia (Greenville, Harper, Sapo National Park) – some beautiful Atlantic beaches and the country’s only national park
• Monrovia – the capital and with a population of around one million people. The Monrovia Visitors Map is a handy guide for getting around the city. It can be downloaded for free from www.monroviavisitorsmap.com – it contains 8 colour maps of the city and features useful attractions, government buildings, restaurants, bars, shops and places of interest. Get a history lesson walking around town.
• Robertsport – Coastal town with excellent surfing opportunities, a comfortable holiday lodge and a beachside campsite. For an interesting day trip, Robertsport offers a glimpse of Liberia’s cultural history as well as clean, beautiful beaches. A group of South Africans has set up a tent camp for those wishing to spend the night on the beach and the UN also offers accommodations on a first-come basis. Beware the strong tides. Ride the waves with Liberian surfers, running your hands through the phosphorescent swell and eating fresh lobster in the shade of the cotton tree.
• Harper – Located at the southeast of the country, Harper is the former capital of Maryland. It is known for its beautiful beaches and beach houses. Now these houses are dilapidated but its still possible to get a sense of the glory of the past. Hit the long, bumpy road to a town blessed with southern American architecture and an end-of-the-line feel.
• Paynesville – interesting for BASE-Jumpers
• Buchanan – Coastal city and home to Liberia’s second largest port, used predominantly by Arcelor Mittal to export iron ore from mines near Yekepa. A several hour car ride from Monrovia, also offers sublime beaches and a selection of restaurants and guest houses.
• Sapo National Park – Liberia’s sole national park. Explore the habitat of the endangered pygmy hippo, camp beneath the forest canopy and listen to the sounds of the rainforest.
• Blue Lake – 72 kilometres west of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, a natural wonder.
• Providence Island-is a tiny island between downtown Monrovia and the Freeport. It lies at the mouth of the Mesurado River where early settlers to Liberia first settled between 1820 and 1822.
• Lake Piso-is located in Grand Cape Mount County and is a saltwater lake with an open connection to the Atlantic Ocean.
• Atlantic Coastal Beaches. There are plenty of beaches around Monrovia. Out towards the airport after ELWA junction is ELWA beach, set inside a compound there is a marked safe swimming area, clean beach and plenty of families at the weekends. No facilities though. Further on is Thinkers (pronounced Tinkers) with a food and drinks service, though the waves are a bit rough here, and it is not safe to walk up or down the beach too far. CE beach out the other way, over the bridge out to Hotel Africa is very well set up with palm umbrellas, drinks service and a buffet, and a well protected swimming area.
• ‘Blo Degbo’ Human face rock in Paynesville, near Monrovia (Note: this is not a developed tourist destination, so make sure it is a safe place to visit)
• Rain forests are usually found in remote areas, most are unique and have many attractive features, but on the other hand some are risky because of their wildlife.
Immerse yourself in the local culture. Liberia has a thriving music scene, known as hip co, which blends hip hop with colloquial Liberian English. Artists like Takun J, Santos, Mr. Smith, Soul Smiter, and Nasseman are popular. In the dry season, especially, concerts are regularly held at venues across the country. Liberia also has several nightclubs. While places like Deja Vu cater to a largely expat crowd, explore places more popular with locals. 146 on Carey Street features Liberian music, freestyle sessions, and live performances from Liberia’s most popular musicians.
Air. Roberts International Airport (ROB) (often called Monrovia International Airport) is located some 60km from the city centre at Robertsfield. The trip from the airport to the city was once infamous. Today, the situation has improved significantly with the restoration of peace and order. The road is now fully protected by UNMIL and safe.
Delta Air Lines. New York (JFK) with a stop in Accra, Ghana. Delta Airlines service to Monrovia ended August 31st, 2014.
Ethiopia Airlines with layover in Addis Ababa. Royal Air Maroc via Casablanca.
British Airways flies from Heathrow on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday (returning the next day).
Brussels Airlines has flights on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Helicopter. By far the best way to travel, but helicopter flights are restricted to UN personnel. Poor weather in the rainy season often forces helicopters to return especially from Voinjama.
Train. There is no real train service. One track, which previously belonged to a mine, has been opened for tourists. It travels to the Bong mines, a massive, defunct German run ore-mining and processing plant.
The roads linking Roberts Airport to Monrovia and from Monrovia to the Sierra Leone border at Bo (Waterside) are paved and in excellent condition as of February 2010. Road conditions in some other areas are poor, so a 4×4 may be necessary for travel. During the rainy season, travel times are increased dramatically. Traffic through Monrovia can be slow, due to numerous traffic bottlenecks and damaged sections of road. Gas is sold in US gallons, not litres. Most distances and speed limits are posted in miles per hour.
Bus. There are no long distance buses for tourists. The government just received a few buses for public travel and they are usable for travel under the National Transit Authority (NTA) guidance with their main terminal in the Gardnerville suburb. An inter-city transportation is ongoing to cities like: Buchanan, Gbarnga, Tubmanburg, Kakata & Robertsport; with plans to extend to cities like Zwedru, Ganta, Bopolu. Tourist couches are arranged for chartered express. Meanwhile, the NTA criss-cross Monrovia by providing transportation to all suburbs & to the downtown area. Also series of private buses also ply the suburbs & to the central business district including: Lizard company & individual transportations. Be careful how you board buses & avoid rushing to get on-board because thieves, locally called “Rogue” take advantage to steal. Buses are also overloaded with passengers, so bring a fan along or sit near a window.
Taxi. The best way to get around Monrovia. Most Monrovia taxis on the streets will pick up several passengers en route, and are therefore often jam-packed. Ask people you trust if they know of a reliable taxi driver to contact, as getting robbed in a taxi is a possibility. If you are unable to find one, consider hiring a taxi to your destination for your own use exclusively.
Long distance shared taxis leave from “Douala Station” in a northern suburb of Monrovia for destinations around the country. They are typically older yellow Nissan station wagons that leave when 10 passengers have purchased tickets. Fares for shared taxis are reasonable. Alternatively, a “charter” taxi can be arranged for individual travel at a much higher price.
Boat. You can board a boat from the St. Paul River to Robertport other destinations will be made available soon.
Liberia is well-known for its beautiful masks. Masks are on sale around hotels and UN centres. After haggling, they will cost you about USD25 (depending on the size etc.)
There is beautiful printed fabric in Liberia. It is sold in lapas (usually 2), one lapa is 2 yards. 3 lapas of the best quality, real wax, will cost about USD15. There are series of modern and technological Supermarket or malls like; the Abi Jaoudi, Xclusive superstore, located downtown, the ERA Mall, Stop n Shop, Payless Center & the Sinkor Xclusive, all in the Sinkor Suburb, & the Save Way Supermarket at the ELWA Junction. The Sinkor Suburb is lined with top hotels & restaurants and has become Monrovia’s new mid-town.
Liberia can be very expensive or very inexpensive for a tourist depending on what amenities you want.
Hotels. Usually hotels are considered quite safe as the owners will employ guards. However, don’t be complacent and make sure that you are aware of your security also in the hotels. Be prepared to pay your entire bill in cash (USD). Prices for hotel are overpriced in the Monrovia area. It ranges from USD50 per night at Crown Hotel opposite the Paynesville City Hall – USD350 per night at Mamba Point Hotel – near the American Embassy with many others priced at the high-end in between.
There are also a number of guest houses and furnished apartments available especially in the Mamba Point and Sinkor areas.
Almost every international NGO operates in Liberia. It is very possible to find voluntary (unpaid) work here, if you are willing to stay for a bit. Paid work is almost exclusive through international organizations. Most of these organizations require foreign staff to be recruited abroad, so it is unlikely that you would be hired just because you managed to make it to Liberia.
Liberia has very high rates of unemployment. If you are in the country for longer, try to encourage local production and employment by buying local goods and paying for services.
Do not walk around at night, and make sure that your car doors are locked when you drive around. Thieves will often reach into a car when stopped and grab whatever they can, so keep the glass up especially in busy areas of Monrovia (redlight). Rape and armed robbery are common and on the rise. Hotels etc have private guards and are rather safe.
There are some gangs of former combatants, armed with machetes and guns, who walk around poorer areas of Monrovia (Redlight). There are also former combatants in the Palm Grove Cemetery on Center Street. Do not walk there alone at all. The corner of Randall and Carey is also considered dangerous and supposedly a hang-out for drug dealers. Avoid any desolate places, and stay in groups. Keep an eye on the locals, if they are carrying on as normal and you see plenty of women and children about, it is unlikely that there will be major sources of concern. If, however, people have disappeared from a usually busy location, or you find yourself surrounded only by youths, you should try and make a hasty retreat.
UNMIL has calmed the country (in general) but it is already now anticipated that when UNMIL leaves the security situation will be worse.
It is advisable to inform your embassy that you are in the country in case of evacuation.
Furthermore, learn as much about the security situation as you can. Locals are a key source of information. Be careful, however, not to believe everything you hear. Rumours spread like wildfire in Monrovia as they are the main source of news. Details, however, are often inaccurate.
Local newspapers are interesting reads. Daily Observer has the largest circulation.
Female travellers. Rape is on the increase so be hesitant to walk by yourself in previously unknown or remote areas. Men on the whole will treat women with respect. They may tell you how beautiful you are, that they “love you” or ask you to marry them (more for the status rather than the money), but will not grab hold of you or be in any way improper.
Stay healthy. When traveling in Liberia, always make sure to be sanitized properly and do not touch anyone that may look ill to you. As of the 10th of May, 2015, the nation of Liberia has been declared free of Ebola by the World Health Organization. Caution should still be taken, however, as the virus could easily resurface at a future point.
HIV, while still low, is on the increase.
Prostitution is rampant.
Typhoid, malaria, and worms are very common. Disinfectants and gels are also advisable (especially as handshakes are the norm).
There are few doctors usable by international travelers so getting medical help may pose problems. There is apparently a Jordanian wing at the Kennedy hospital for private patients. MSF will also see a traveler, but only in dire cases.
Bagged water is sold on most street corners. While it is supposed to be filtered and safe, it is not guaranteed to be. Stick with bottled water to be sure.
Liberians are very friendly and sociable. However, they do not take kindly to being ignored and will call you “rude”. Make sure that you greet as many people as possible and smile when you do so. Make friends with any guard, cleaner etc that you come across, introduce yourself and remember their names. Your security will also improve as the locals will warn you of security threats if they know you and know that they can talk to you.
Handshaking is the normality, usually followed by a finger snap. Shake hands with people you meet, even fruit sellers.
As Liberia’s economy is not at its best, you will inevitably be asked for money or help of some kind. Usually the most persistent beggars are former combatants. Giving money to the elderly or the physically disabled will not go amiss. However, with most children and others, it’s best to spend a little time with them, play a game, take digital photos (loved here) and then possibly give something as a gift to your friends. Liberians are proud people and their desperate need is no reason to treat them as beggars.
School fees are expensive (up to a USD100/year) so often foreigners are asked to pay for school, but this can also be used as a ploy.
Most people in Monrovia, with the exception of internally displaced people, are relatively well-off in Liberian terms. The worst conditions are in the countryside, where help is also most needed.
Rather than saying “no” to the requests, considered rude here, say “later” or “tomorrow” or “I will see what I can do”. Do not ignore people. However, be assertive when answering as they’ll often pester you and call you “boss” until you give in.
It is advisable to bring some business cards. They are given out at every function.
The wars of the 1990s and 2000s are very fresh in many people’s minds so it is advisable to stay away from the topic.
The higher the social status of an individual, the more respect is due to them, even though that does not mean you don’t give any respect to the extremely poor or bathe the wealthy with gifts of gratitude.
Telephone. Liberia has made a giant leap into the technological or digital age with the arrival of many mobile phone companies; like Lonestar/MTN Cell (the nation’s largest mobile company), Cellcom, Comium, Libercell formely AWI (Atlantic Wireless Inc) & the government own Libtelco. Mobile phone usage is the leading medium of contact to the outside with some (Lonestar and Cellcom) offering GPRS/internet modem usage. So when you arrive, visiting or staying, you need a mobile phone. These mobile companies use recharge card called “Scratch Card” locally to recharge. Landlines are used only at offices.
Internet is very slow & at times discouraging. Some restaurants, pubs, bars & hotels offer free internet services to customers or little payment. The Heineken pub between 18th & 19th streets offers a wireless coverage once a bottle is bought. With the arrival of the fibre optic cable in Monrovia, it is anticipated that Liberia’s internet would be fast.
Post. DHL operates in Liberia. Expedited Mail Service promises 5 day delivery to the US. Post cards will cost 30 Liberian dollars to send, and will probably arrive at their destination. Packages are packed on the premises. Do not send anything of value through the Liberian postal service. Numerous people have reported items being stolen while at the post office; in Liberia the postal system is new and very corrupt.