July 26 is Liberia’s Independence Day! To celebrate it, we have unearthed seven interesting facts about the West African nation for your pleasure.
Countries are weird places. So many of our identities are tied to random lines on maps. Robert Anton Wilson said: “Each national border marks the place where two gangs of bandits got too tired to kill each other and signed a treaty.” Is that true? Maybe it is.
In the first of our series on strange facts about countries, we look at Liberia.
1. Founded by American slaves
Liberia has initially been an American colony founded by a coalition of slave traders and abolitionists. Long ago, in the progressive days of the anti-war United States, some forward-thinking and moderate slave owners realized that the days of slavery were numbered.
Despite this realization, it was a step too far to consider that blacks and whites would one day be equal. The slave owners may have been forward-thinking for their time, but they still had other people.
The American Colonization Society (ACS) was founded by a coalition of abolitionists and slave traders who believed that free blacks could never live with whites in America. So the ACS thought the best solution was to send emancipated slaves to Liberia to live freely.
After the AC’s bought land in Liberia, the first settlers (who used to be slaves) arrived there in 1822. But they died of ridiculous diseases in the swamps. So technically, the second group of former slaves made the country okay.
2. First African president convicted Of War Crimes
Charles Taylor is, to put it mildly, not a nice man. In 2012 he was convicted for his role in the Sierra Leone conflict, using child soldiers, rape, and amputation as his choice. But Taylor was at least as cruel to his people. To maintain the precarious peace between the different ethnic groups, he was never indicted for his crimes in Liberia.
After the 1980 coup that ended 133 years of government by descendants of freed slaves, Taylor immediately embezzled $1 million from his country and fled to the US. Arrested for this crime, Taylor escaped from prison and joined Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Taylor claims the CIA helped him escape.
With Gaddafi’s support, Taylor overthrew the Liberian government (the Samuel Doe regime), which he had helped install. But Taylor was denied victory by his lieutenant who broke, formed his army, imprisoned President Doe, and tortured Doe to death.
This led to a new civil war that became an ethnic conflict that cost more than 600,000 lives. Before the first Liberian Civil War ended in 1997, Taylor was very fond of drugging and brainwashing children to be his soldiers. They wore wedding dresses and blond wigs that they thought would be immortal. The consequences of Taylor’s cruelty persist today, as former child soldiers try to lead healthy lives alongside the victims of the horrible ethnic cleansing.
“History will be kind to me,” Taylor said on leaving office. “I have accepted this role as a sacrificial lamb.”
3. There is no World Heritage Sites
Unesco has deemed it necessary to recognise a staggering number of 1,073 World Heritage Sites, but none belong to Liberia. Not surprising because the slave masters bought the land for the freed black slaves.
4. Lack of smokers
Liberia is one of the twenty countries on earth that smoke the least cigarettes per capita – only 104 per adult per year. Montenegro, where 4,124. Fifty-three cigarettes per adult per year are smoked; according to 2014 WHO figures, is the top of the pile, while Belarus, Macedonia, Russia, Slovenia, and Bosnia are also the top 10.
5. Wildlife doesn’t welcome tourists
Although Liberia is home to the absolutely cute pygmy hippopotamus, it stands alone. Any other animal in Liberia is crazier than a motorcycle bar full of meth-addicted vampires. We know that 90 percent of Liberian snakes are non-toxic.
But that leaves the rhinoceros Adder, the western green mamba, and three species of cobra (one of which spits poison on you). There are also poisonous pythons, ASPs, tree snakes, and other snakes that hide in the grass, climb trees, or swim. Suffice it to say that we are surprised that Liberia is not one big snake ball.
Of course, if the snakes don’t get you, there are a dozen other ways to die in Liberia – even if you actively try to preserve the wildlife there. In April 2017, two rangers were murdered by people living illegally in a Liberian rainforest.
The problem is that the population is dependent on bushmeat for protein, which leads to poaching. Angry gangs often kill forest rangers who try to protect the endangered species of the rainforest. But it doesn’t stop there.
6. Second-Largest Commercial Fleet Of Ships On Earth
Because of its laissez-faire attitude towards unpleasant matters such as the law of the sea, Liberia has more ships registered under a flag of convenience than any other country except Panama. About 12% of the world’s ships fly the flag of Liberia.
According to the Liberian register, “Liberia has earned international respect for its dedication to marking the safest and safest ships in the world.” Yet, an American company manages the registry itself.
Even though so many shipowners benefit from Liberia’s lax maritime legislation, those flying the flag of around 4,000 ships have benefited very little from registration fees. Charles Taylor is believed to have diverted part of the funds to non-governmental projects.
With registration fees accounting for almost 25 percent of Liberia’s tax revenue, it is unlikely that the government will be eager to reform maritime laws on behalf of other countries. Although ships are expected to employ Liberian sailors, this is rarely applied due to the closure of the Merchant Navy Academy in 1992.
7. First female president in Africa
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the 24th President of Liberia in 2006. Sirleaf, nicknamed “The Iron Lady”, also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Although this is great in the field of gender equality, Liberia has repressive laws regarding homosexuality.
President Sirleaf has not repealed these laws. However, in the context of Liberian politics, it is clear that the nation is simply not ready to accept homosexuality as part of normal sexual behavior.
To force the issue would be political suicide for Sirleaf. As the largest president in the history of Liberia, this is a result that the country cannot afford.