Among Liberia’s indigenous peoples, no dominant kingdom ruled, resulting in a number of smaller independent tribal kingdoms. In 1461, Portuguese explorers visited Liberia’s coasts and for the next 250 years small-time trade was conducted between European merchants and African coastal people (including much slave trading).
Beginning in 1821, black American freedmen and former slaves established settlements among the indigenous people along the Pepper Coast of Africa, backed by controversial colonization societies in the US who advocated the migration of free blacks and former slaves to Africa as a way to end slavery. These settlers took control of the current site of Monrovia in 1832, after a series of conflicts with the local tribespeople. On July 26, 1847, they declared themselves the independent, free and sovereign nation of Liberia to protect their claim from the encroachment of European colonization. The elite ruling class that grew out of the settlers, known as the Americo-Liberians, Congos, or honorables, controlled the government until they were ousted by a military coup d’état in 1980. When the new government did not fulfill promises to enfranchise the citizens of Liberia and establish democratic rule, warring factions arose in 1989 and disrupted the nation for the next 14 years.
With rich natural resources such as iron ore and industrial diamonds, and tropical cash crops such as rubber, hardwood and oil palm, Liberia experienced a boom in mid-twentieth century, and was hailed as a model of development. The civil war halted this growth, finally ending in 2003. After a UN-supervised disarmament, a democratically-elected government was installed in 2007, headed by President Mme. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. She was elected to a second term in 2011.
However, in 2014, Liberia was disrupted again by an outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease, which had not previously been detected in the region. Nearly 11,000 cases were recorded in Liberia, with 4,809 deaths, but it is believed that many cases and deaths went unrecorded. Monrovia and the western counties of Liberia bordering Sierra Leone and Guinea experienced the rapid spread of the disease, while the southeastern region and their eastern neighbor la Côte d’Ivoire was spared. The World Health Organization declared the epidemic to be over in January 2016, but isolated outbreaks are expected to occur along with monitoring and precautions to contain them.
In 2017, George Manneh Weah was elected and a peaceful transition of power was accomplished in 2018. Improvements to the country’s infrastructure and governance are being accomplished slowly, but the challenges are innumerable.