Monday, July 6, 2009

Why Write about Liberia?

For twenty years, Liberia,in one way or another,has been a focus in my life. Since being introduced to Liberia in 1989, I have taken a special interest in learning more about this small tropical West African nation that was founded in 1822 by emancipated and free-born African Americans. This learning quest included extensive independent and scholarly research on its history and current situation, and personal observations of livelihoods and culture from past visits and current residency. Based on this knowledge and experience, I hope that I can give my readers a glimpse into this nation that is enriched with a vivid culture, a vast tropical landscape and an abundant supply of natural resources.

My Experience Traveling and Living in Liberia

I first visited Liberia in late 1998; a year after Charles Taylor was elected President [1]. It was during this visit that a child, a preteen boy, captivated my heart when he perfectly recited President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation during a program facilitated by a tuition-free school for over 200 war-orphaned and abandoned children. As I listened to this boy, I sat wondering as the tears filled my eyes, if anyone in the U.S. could accomplish such a feat with one of our most sacred documents.


My next visit was in mid-2005 a few months before the commencement of the first post-war elections. The country was radiating this amazing energy, because Liberians were eager and excited to cast their votes on October 11 for change. These were people who were completely tired and fed up with living through 14-years of civil war that completely destroyed their country; they were now ready for something different. Amazingly, they would participate in no ordinary election for their next President that had to be decided in a run-off election on November 22. The final results marked a historical moment for Liberia when Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected President of Liberia thus becoming the first female head of state in all of Africa.

I moved to Liberia in mid-2007 to volunteer my services and to develop a business partnership in promoting Liberian employment and supporting programs for education and other child-focused projects. My experience with the partnership met with some unfortunate circumstances; however, through my experience residing in Liberia, I assessed how most people live and how they manage to barely survive, if at all, on nearly nothing.

Since coming to Liberia, I have had the opportunity to spend some time out in the interior. During my visit in 1998 as part of humanitarian delegation from Minnesota, I traveled by road from Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire (neighboring country to the east) to Monrovia. At this time Liberia’s international airport could not serve large commercial jets, so international flights were diverted to neighboring countries; however, it could land smaller jets. However, as a first time traveler out of the U.S. it was more rewarding to see Liberia’s countryside by road than by air.


Since this first trip, I continue to discover more about Liberia as I venture beyond Monrovia. It is my goal to visit all fifteen counties to understand the livelihoods of the various ethnic groups and to explore the highly diverse ecosystem of the tropical rainforest. So far, I have traveled as far north as Foya City in Lofa County, as far east as Yarpa Town in River Cess County, and as far west as Clay in Bomi County. As I experience different parts of the interior, I have grown to appreciate the peace and serenity of being out in the bush with its beautiful array of flora and the various sounds of nature. It is the perfect escape from the noise and pollution of the overpopulated city of Monrovia.

My Research of Liberia

In combining my personal experience and educational studies I have done a great deal of research to learn about this often forgotten and misunderstood nation. In doing so, I have closely examined Liberia’s relationship with the United States. To first understand how Liberia was created, I had to delve into the darkest realms of U.S. History—the Slavery era. The idea of re-colonization to Africa developed shortly after the U.S. Revolutionary War and it turned into ongoing discussion with U.S. Leaders starting with President Thomas Jefferson. As the United States of America was declaring their independence in 1776, there was a growing population of emancipated and free-born African Americans. This increase in population became the focal point of the discussion for a colony in Africa, because there were concerns and fears that the African Americans would not assimilate into this new independent nation.


After many decades of debate and financial constraints, this concept became a reality when President James Monroe signed the Anti-Slave Trade Act in 1819. This law authorized the President to resettle Africans rescued from captured slave ships by navy patrols to an American-sponsored colony in West Africa. Since this act appropriated $100,000 USD to establish this colony, it also paved the way for the immigration—under the auspicious oversight of groups like the American Colonization Society—of African Americans seeking freedom from their oppressive state. It was from this enactment of U.S law that prompted the new settlers to name the Monrovia after President Monroe.


Nearly two hundred years, Liberia and the U.S. have had a very strained “child-parent” relationship. During the nineteenth century, it took nearly two decades before the U.S.—in the midst of its own civil war—acknowledged Liberia’s Declaration of Independence of 1847, because of its entanglement with slavery in the southern states. During the twentieth century, there were times of collaboration as strategic allies during the two World Wars followed by the Cold War, and there were the times of separation as unapologetic foes during Liberia’s Civil War. Now during the twenty-first century, there seems to be stronger ties between these two nations in effort to rebuild Liberia into a self-sustaining country. Regardless of this historically strained relationship, the Liberian people continue to love and value their U.S. brothers and sisters.


As Liberia recovers from the destruction and debris left in the wake of its civil war, they are trying to rebuild their physical infrastructure, re-establish their rule of law, strength their education system, and energize their economy by promoting domestic and foreign investment. Rebuilding a country from the bottom up takes a great deal of time, human resources and money, and with some of these constraints Liberia continues to make noticeable improvements little by little. Yet, much more needs to be done to bring this country back to glory and have its people feel at home.

So, as Liberia moves forward with their post-war rehabilitation, I will post various topics that deal with these efforts and some of the challenges that might impede their progress. Also, I hope that these posts can open a thoughtful dialog where anyone can share ideas or experiences; because through information sharing, we are “Uniting Distant Stars”.

[1] Former President Taylor is on trial at The Hague for War Crimes committed in the Sierra Leone Civil War.

1 comment:

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