Liberia is in West Africa, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone. Roughly the size of the state of Tennessee, Liberia was established in 1822 as a settlement of freed slaves from the United States. The Republic of Liberia was founded in 1847.
In 1980, Samuel Doe organized a military coup that ended 133 years of single-party rule, but resulted in a decade of authoritarian rule – and ushered in years of political tumult. Charles Taylor led an opposition against Doe in 1989, which ultimately led to a fourteen-year civil war, impacting the entire region. In accordance with a 2003 peace agreement, Taylor resigned and a transitional government took power. The current President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was democratically elected in 2005, and won re-election in 2011.
Years of civil war and government disorganization left the economy in shambles. Liberia’s economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid and investment. The country’s reliance on commodity exports and food and fuel imports leaves it vulnerable to the inconsistency of world markets. In addition, a lack of job creation, resulting in high levels of unemployment, especially among young people, has further undermined economic growth.
Despite these difficulties, economic revitalization is underway. Although years of security concerns drove many businesses to relocate, the success of democratic elections in 2005 reversed that trend. An increase in land acquisitions by foreign investors attracted to Liberia’s rich natural resources and agriculture has provided the government with an important source of revenue, though concerns have been raised about potential economic, environmental, and societal risks. The country’s natural resources are also threatened by the possibility of climate change.
The civil war destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, including water systems and sanitation facilities. According to the Joint Monitoring Program’s 2014 report, 25% of the general population and 37% of the rural population still lack access to an improved water source. 60% of the general population and 75% of the rural population have no access to improved sanitation facilities. Liberia also lacks basic infrastructure, such as roads, electricity, and telecommunication systems, which has put the government under pressure to increase infrastructure investment.
Despite challenges associated with post-war reconstructions, the country is making a concerted effort to reduce poverty through peace building, strengthening governance, infrastructure rehabilitation, and the provision of basic services. Between 2007-2010, the percentage of people living below the poverty line dropped by 8%. In 2012, the government proposed an ambitious set of reforms in their “Agenda for Transformation” that aims to further improve poverty and social outcomes. Liberia has also met the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets for under-nutrition and child mortality, and is on track to meet MDG targets for food security, gender equality, and female empowerment.