Liberia is Africa's oldest republic, but it became better known in the 1990s for its long-running, ruinous civil war and its role in a rebellion in neighboring Sierra Leone. Although founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves, Liberia is mostly made up of indigenous Africans, with the slaves' descendants comprising 5% of the population.
Fighting intensified as the rebels splintered and battled each other, the Liberian army, and West African peacekeepers. In 1995 a peace agreement was signed, leading to the election of Charles Taylor as president. The respite was brief, with anti-government fighting breaking out in the north in 1999. Mr. Taylor accused Guinea of supporting the rebellion. Meanwhile Ghana, Nigeria, and others accused Mr. Taylor of backing rebels in Sierra Leone. By the late 1980s, arbitrary rule and economic collapse culminated in civil war when Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) militia overran much of the countryside, entering the capital in 1990, soon after resulting in the execution of Samuel Doe, the former military leader and president of Liberia.
Matters came to a head in 2003 when Mr. Taylor — under international pressure to quit and hemmed in by rebels — stepped down and went into exile in Nigeria. A transitional government steered the county towards elections in 2005. Around 250,000 people were killed in Liberia's civil war and many thousands more fled the fighting. The conflict left the country in economic ruin and overrun with weapons. The capital remains today without electricity and running water. Corruption is rife, and unemployment and illiteracy are endemic.
The infrastructure is in ruins. The United Nations (UN) voted to lift a ban on diamond exports, which fueled the civil war in April 2007. A ban on timber exports was lifted in 2006.
The UN maintains 15,000 soldiers in Liberia. It is one of the organization's most expensive peacekeeping operations. Ex-president Taylor was convicted in The Hague in 2012 for war crimes for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone; Liberian refugees are scattered across the region.
President: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
US-educated economist and former finance minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won the second round of presidential elections in November 2005 and in January 2006 she was inaugurated as Africa's first elected woman head of state. The poll was intended to draw a line under Liberia's war.
Known in Liberia as the "Iron Lady", Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf drew much of her support from women voters, and from Liberia's small educated elite. She faces the twin challenges of trying to rebuild the country and of fostering reconciliation. One of her priorities is to reintegrate into society former child soldiers. She has declared a "zero tolerance" of corruption.
The president served as finance minister under President William Tolbert in the late 1970s and fled the country after the Tolbert government was overthrown. She has worked for the UN and the World Bank. Some of the opposition to Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf stems from her one-time association with former Liberian leader Charles Taylor. She briefly supported the then warlord in his quest to overthrow military leader Samuel Doe.
Born in 1938, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is a widowed mother-of-four.
Years of civil war left Liberia's broadcasters and publishers with the task of repairing damage caused by fighting and looting and the need to find resources to pay staff.
The state-run broadcaster has no television service and operates a single radio service. The station does not have national coverage. Many private radio stations were shut down by former president Charles Taylor, leaving the airwaves dominated by stations run by Mr Taylor's Liberian Communication Network (LCN).
In its heyday LCN ran a TV service, FM radio stations, a shortwave radio station and two newspapers. Community radio stations are on the air, some of them supported by international agencies.
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