Area: 111,369 sq. km. (43,000 sq. mi.). Slightly larger than Ohio.
Cities: Capital–Monrovia (est. 1,000,000). Principal towns–Buchanan (est. 300,000), Ganta (est. 290,000), Gbarnga (est. 150,000), Kakata (est. 100,000), Harbel (est. 136,000).
Terrain: Three areas–Mangrove swamps and beaches along the coast, wooded hills and semideciduous shrublands along the immediate interior, and dense tropical forests and plateaus in the interior. Liberia has 40% of West Africa’s rain forest.
Nationality: Noun and adjective–Liberian(s).
Population (2004): 3.4 million.
Annual growth rate (2004): 2.4%.
Ethnic groups: Kpelle 20%, Bassa 16%, Gio 8%, Kru 7%, 49% spread over 12 other ethnic groups.
Religions: Christian 40%, Muslim 20%, animist 40%.
Languages: English is the official language. There are 16 indigenous languages.
Education: Literacy (2003)–20%.
Health: Life expectancy (2003)–47 years.
Work force: Agriculture–70%; industry–15%; services–2%. Unemployment is 80% in the formal sector.
There are 16 ethnic groups that make up Liberia’s indigenous population. The Kpelle in central and western Liberia is the largest ethnic group. Americo-Liberians who are descendants of freed slaves that arrived in Liberia early in 1821 make up an estimated 5% of the population.
There also are sizable numbers of Lebanese, Indians, and other West African nationals who make up a significant part of Liberia’s business community. The Liberian constitution restricts citizenship only to people of Negro descent; also, land ownership is restricted by law to citizens.
Liberia was traditionally noted for its hospitality and academic institutions, iron mining and rubber industry booms, and cultural skills and arts and craft works. But political upheavals beginning in the 1980s and the brutal 14-year civil war (1989-2003) brought about a steep decline in the living standards of the country, including its education and infrastructure.
Independence: From American Colonization Society July 26, 1847.
Constitution: January 6, 1986.
Political parties: 30 registered political parties
Liberia has a bicameral legislature consisting of 66 representatives and 30 senators. Historically, the executive branch heavily influences the legislature and judicial system, the latter being largely dysfunctional for now.
There is a Supreme Court, criminal courts, and appeals court and magistrate courts in the counties. There also are traditional courts and lay courts in the counties. Trial by ordeal is practiced in various parts of Liberia. Locally, political power emanates from traditional chiefs (town, clan, or paramount chiefs), mayors, and district commissioners. Mayors are elected in principal cities in Liberia. Superintendents appointed by the president govern the counties. There are 15 counties in Liberia.
GDP (IMF 2005 est.): $548.4million.
Real GDP growth rate (2004): 2.0%.
Per capita GDP (2005): $119.4.
Consumer Price Index (2004): 7.0%.
Natural resources: Iron ore, rubber, timber, diamonds, gold and tin. The Government of Liberia has reported in recent years that it has discovered sizable deposits of crude oil along its Atlantic Coast.
Agriculture: Products–coffee, cocoa, sugarcane, rice, cassava, palm oil, bananas, plantains, citrus, pineapple, sweet potatoes, corn, and vegetables.
Industry: Types–agriculture, iron ore, rubber, forestry, diamonds, gold, beverages, construction.
Trade (2004): Exports–$103.8 million: rubber 93%; cocoa 3.5%. Major markets–Germany, Poland, U.S., Greece. Imports–$268.1 million: mineral fuels and lubricants; food and live animals; machinery and transport equipment; manufactured goods; pharmaceuticals; and tobacco.
The Liberian economy relied heavily on the mining of iron ore and on the export of natural rubber prior to the civil war. Liberia was a major exporter of iron ore on the world market. In the 1970s and 1980s, iron mining accounted for more than half of Liberia’s export earnings. Following the coup d’etat of 1980, the country’s economic growth rate slowed down because of a decline in the demand for iron ore on the world market and political upheavals in Liberia. Liberia’s foreign debt amounts to about $3.5 billion.
The 1989-2003 civil war had a devastating effect on the country’s economy. Most major businesses were destroyed or heavily damaged, and most foreign investors and businesses left the country.
As the second-largest maritime licenser in the world–with more than 1,800 vessels registered under its flag, including 35% of the world’s tanker fleet–Liberia earns some $14 million annually from the flag registry. There is increasing interest in the possibility of commercially exploitable offshore crude oil deposits along Liberia’s Atlantic Coast.
Liberia’s business sector is largely controlled by foreigners, mainly of Lebanese and Indian descent. There also are limited numbers of Chinese engaged in agriculture. There also are significant numbers of West Africans engaged in cross-border trade.
Liberia is a member of ECOWAS. With Guinea and Sierra Leone, it formed the Mano River Union (MRU) for development and the promotion of regional economic integration. The MRU became all but defunct because of the Liberian civil war, which spilled over into neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea. There was some revival of MRU political and security cooperation discussions in 2002.
With a new, democratically elected government in place since January 2006, Liberia seeks to reconstruct its shattered economy. The Governance and Economic Management Program (GEMAP), which started under the 2003-2006 transitional government, is designed to help the Liberian Government raise and spend revenues in an efficient, transparent way. Success under GEMAP and solid economic performance should result in Liberia being able to attract investment and begin rebuilding its economy.
Liberia is a founding member of the United Nations and its specialized agencies and is a member of the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Development Bank (ADB), the Mano River Union (MRU), and the Non-Aligned Movement.