The former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, was sentenced in 2012 for aiding rebels who committed atrocities in the Sierra Leone Civil War (rapes, brutal murders, amputations, the use of child soldiers, etc). Taylor has been held in the Netherlands until now; today, he arrived in the U.K. to serve the remainder of his prison sentence there. The man is a monster and has been accused of many horrendous things (accepting bribes with blood diamonds, for example).
It’s a shame that the headlining news stories about Liberia are ones of rape, murder, and other terrible atrocities. I see this as a perfect opportunity to remind everyone of Liberia’s founding history- it’s intriguing and does not reflect the terribleness that’s going on over there now. How did this happen?
Liberia was Africa’s first republic! It was founded as a colony by United States citizens for freed African slaves. During the 1800’s, abolitionists in the U.S. were thinking of ways to alleviate slavery, and decided to establish a colony in Africa for freed slaves. The story is a sort of doubled-edged sword because although the aim was to free the slaves, people of the United States didn’t necessarily want blacks to be immersed in mainstream society. So, why not send them back to their native land? The first ship set sail in 1820 with 86 people, and from 1821-1838 the American Colonization Society (ACS) helped to set up the very first settlement, which would be called Liberia. (Source)
They originally landed in Sierra Leone, but moved a couple of times due to dangerous land qualities. Survivors of the move arrived at Cape Mesurado and began to build their settlement. The American Colonization Society (ACS) governed the colony through its representative, Dr. Eli Ayres. After a while, though, a missionary named Jehudi Ashmun replaced Ayres as the representative, and some colonists greatly objected to his authoritarian policies. The disagreements created tension.
In fact, a few of the settlers armed themselves and forced Ashmun to flee the colony. Ashmun eventually returned and he and the ACS created a system of local administration and codified the laws. This resulted in an actual government, a constitution and digest of laws for Liberia; slavery and participation in the slave trade were forbidden.
Over the course of 40 years, about 12,000 slaves voluntarily made the trek to Liberia, and in 1847 Liberia gained its independence (actually created a declaration of independence) and called itself the Free and Independent Republic of Liberia. The inhabitants of Liberia weren’t very pleased with their native home, America. You can read for yourself in their declaration of independence.
The point is, for a country with such an interesting and seemingly “freedom-loving” foundation, they sure aren’t doing very well on the human rights scale. You’d think that a colony of freed slaves would do everything in their power to establish a free society…
*P.S. I first learned about Liberia from the game, Trivial Pursuit. Ha! I love that game!