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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 111,369 sq km (43,000 sq miles)
Population: 3.8 million (2011 estimate)
Capital City: Monrovia
People and languages: the main ethnic groups are Kpelle, Bassa, Krahn, Gio, Mano, Mandingo and Kru. English is the official language. Indigenous languages are widely spoken.
Religion: Christianity, Islam and indigenous religions.
Currency: Liberian Dollar (LDR). The US Dollar is widely used.
Major political parties: Normal party political activity was disrupted under Charles Taylor's rule. Parties have re-emerged since the end of the civil war and, following the elections of October 2005, there are 11 parties represented in the legislature, the biggest of which are the Unity Party, the Liberty Party, The Congress for Democratic Change and the Coalition for the Transformation of Liberia.
President: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Foreign Minister: Olubanke King Akerele.
Membership of international groupings/organisations: United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Development Bank (AFDB) and Mano River Union (MRU).

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HEALTH

Health Requirements: NHS Scotland's Fit For Travel (http://www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk/)

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$1.691 billion (2010 est)
Annual Growth: 5.1% (2010 est)
Inflation: 11.2% (2007 est)
Major trading partners: Recent figures are unreliable but main trading partners are the European Union, Japan, Sierra Leone, the United States and China
Exchange rate: £1 is approximately 117 LRD.
Liberia is rich in timber, gold, diamonds, iron ore and has extensive rubber plantations. In the past, the economy flourished on the basis of these resources. During the civil war a corrupt and predatory economy developed, devastating Liberia's infrastructure and economy, and leaving the country with little in the way of a public administration or official records. There is a history of extremely poor financial management, both under Taylor and under the NTGL.

The economy is now growing due to grow in exports (especially rubber) and donor funding. UN sanctions on timber were lifted in June 2006 and sanctions on the export of diamonds were lifted in April 2007. The iron ore works at Yekepa in northern Liberia, closed down at the beginning of the civil war, have been restarted.

IMF Country Reports - Liberia (http://www.imf.org/external/country/LBR/index.htm)

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HISTORY

Liberia was established as an independent state by freed slaves from America in 1847. They were joined by Africans released from slave ships off the West African coast. For more than 130 years from its founding, politics were dominated by the small minority of the population descended from these original settlers, known as the Americo-Liberians or Congo. During that era, Liberia was renowned for its stability, its functioning economy and the large amount of foreign investment it attracted in the rubber plantations and the iron ore mines. But the indigenous Africans were largely excluded from political power.

In 1980 Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, a member of the indigenous Krahn ethnic group, seized power in a violent military coup. Key members of the Americo-Liberian elite, including the President and his Cabinet were summarily executed in public on the beach. The USA, a traditional strong ally of Liberia, withdrew its support. Doe mismanaged the economy and transformed the armed forces into an ethnic Krahn militia which committed extensive human rights abuse against Liberia’s other ethnic groups.

In 1989 the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), led by Charles Taylor, began a revolt against the Doe regime. It quickly became a vicious civil war. The Doe dictatorship collapsed and he was murdered by a rebel faction in September. At this point Taylor (and to a lesser extent other rival warlords) already controlled large parts of Liberian territory. Despite occasional truces and no fewer than a dozen abortive peace agreements, the conflict continued for a further 6 years. During this period the rival warlords, and West African peace keeping forces, looted the country’s natural resources and state revenues.

Democratic elections were finally held in July 1997. Taylor won but the elections bought only temporary respite. Taylor's government set about plundering the state of its assets and stifling opposition activity. In 1999 fighting began and by July 2003 Taylor had lost control of most of the country, including much of Monrovia. Peace talks in Accra in August led to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in September. A new ECOWAS peacekeeping force was deployed, which has since been replaced by the 15,000 strong UN force (UNMIL). Taylor was forced into exile in Nigeria. Indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), Taylor was arrested in Nigeria on 29 March 2006 and subsequently transferred to the Special Court in Freetown where he was charged on 3 March with offences relating to the Sierra Leone civil war. He has subsequently been transferred to The Hague Mandate where his trial is ongoing.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

The civil war in Liberia spilled over into conflict with neighbouring countries. Taylor backed the 10-year RUF rebellion in Sierra Leone from 1991 and profited from the trade in Sierra Leone diamonds, illegally mined and smuggled by the RUF. Since the end of the war political relations with neighbours have improved. Many Liberian refugees across west Africa have returned over the last 2 years.

Liberia, together with its neighbours Guinea and Sierra Leone, belong to the Mano River Union (MRU), established in 1973. Difficult political relations between the 3 countries meant that it never got off the ground. It was re-launched in May 2004 with a focus on mutual security. An International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL) was launched in September 2002. It's chaired jointly by the Nigerians and European Commission, while ECOWAS acts as the Secretariat. The UN, African Union, United States, UK, France, Germany, Sweden, Ghana and the World Bank are all members. At the international level, its mandate was expanded in September 2004 to include Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone and its name changed to the International Contact Group for the Mano River Basin (ICG-MRB), although the ICL still meets at the local level in Monrovia.

A United Nations peacekeeping mission was established in Liberia in 2003. At its peak it comprised of over 15,000 troops and a significant police component. In September 2007 its numbers were reduced by 2,450, a reduction scheduled to take place over 1 year (UN Security Council Resolution 1777, 2007).

The UN Security Council imposed sanctions against Liberia in 2001 in response to President Taylor's support for the RUF in Sierra Leone, comprising of an arms embargo, a ban on the trade of rough diamonds and the timber trade, and a travel ban for certain named individuals. The bans on timber and diamonds have now been lifted. On 12 March 2004 the UN Security Council imposed an assets freeze against Charles Taylor, his close family and associates to prevent them using misappropriated funds to undermine peace and stability in Liberia. Successive Panels of Experts have monitored the implementation of these sanctions and advised on how structures may be put in place to allow them to be lifted.

Documents relating to the work of the Liberia sanctions committees and Panels of Experts can be found at:

UN Security Council (http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/committees/INTRO.htm)
UNMIL (http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unmil/)

Liberia's Relations with the UK

Diplomatic Representation

The British Ambassador to Liberia resides in Freetown. A UK political officer is based in Monrovia, accommodated in the US Embassy. Residents in Liberia wishing to travel to the UK should make visa applications at the British High Commission in Accra.

Policy

For parliamentary interest in Liberia see the Hansard website (http://www.parliament.uk/hansard/hansard.cfm) .

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GEOGRAPHY

Liberia lies just north of the Equator on the Atlantic coast in West Africa. It borders Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire. It has a tropical climate and is one of the wettest countries in the world, with an average annual rainfall of 200 inches. Inland from the coastal plain, much of the country is rainforest.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and Investment with the UK

UK imports in goods from Liberia in 2009 were £3 million. For the same period UK exports in goods to Liberia were approximately £15 million up from £11.35 million in 2005.

Development

Decades of mismanagement and conflict have made Liberia one of the world's poorest countries. The civil war left thousands of people brutalised and traumatised and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced. It left a generation of Liberians with no education and few skills to use in peace time. The state, its institutions, its security forces, its education and health services all have to be rebuilt from scratch. Donors have committed some US$500 million for reconstruction, funds which are tied to progress on the Governance and Economic Management Plan (GEMAP), put in place in early 2005. Liberia is currently implementing an IMF staff monitored programme, and is looking to negotiate a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper with the IMF and other donors, possibly next year. The new President has maintained the provisions of the GEMAP but has stated that her intention is to see it become part of a more normal relationship with the IMF and World Bank.

The UK Department for International Development has supported Liberia through its funding of UN agencies and NGOs working in the country. Total UK aid received by Liberia in 2008/2009 was £17 million.

World Bank (http://web.worldbank.org)
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (http://www.undp.org/)
United Nations Human Rights Commissioner (UNHCR) (http://www.unhcr.org)

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POLITICS

Following the signing of the CPA, a vast DDR programme (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) disarmed over 100,000 combatants in 2005, although reintegration programmes have had only patchy success. UNMIL are deployed over the entire territory to provide security. The CPA created the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), made up of representatives from former rebel groups, political parties, the former Taylor government and civil society. It has been accused of extensive corruption.

In 2005 Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won the Presidential elections, with 59% of the vote in the second round run off against the former footballer George Weah. She was inaugurated President of the Republic of Liberia on 16 January 2006, in the presence of high profile international guests including the US Secretary of State, the First Lady of the United States and FCO Envoy Chris Mullin. The judicial system and the security sector in particular need to be rebuilt almost from scratch. The reconstruction of the army has taken longer than hoped.

Presidential and Legislative elections took place in October/November 2011 – the final results are yet to be announced.

BBC News Country Profile: Liberia (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/country_profiles/1043500.stm)

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HUMAN RIGHTS

The Liberian civil war saw appalling human rights abuses by all sides. The warring factions used sexual violence and torture as weapons, and recruited child soldiers. President Taylor's regime was contemptuous of democratic principles and human rights. Since the end of the civil war, there have been no significant prosecutions for human rights abuses, but the human rights environment has significantly improved. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was officially inaugurated on 20 February 2006, with the mandate to gather evidence and testimony concerning the decades of violence the country has suffered. The TRC is mandated to recommend prosecutions or amnesties for individual cases. It has made a slow start. Labour rights remain a contentious subject, particularly with regard to conditions in the rubber and diamond sectors. The death penalty was reintroduced in 2008.

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Last Updated: November 2011

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