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Geography

  • Area: 111,369 sq. km. (43,000 sq. mi.). Slightly larger than Ohio.
  • Cities: Capital--Monrovia (pop. 1,010,970). Principal towns--Ganta (pop. 41,000), Buchanan (pop. 34,000), Gbarnga (pop. 34,000), Kakata (pop. 33,000), Voinjama (pop. 26,000).
  • Terrain: Three areas--Mangrove swamps and beaches along the coast, wooded hills and semideciduous shrub lands along the immediate interior, and dense tropical forests and plateaus in the interior. Liberia has 40% of West Africa's rain forest.


People

  • Nationality: Noun and adjective--Liberian(s).
  • Population (2008): 3.49 million.
  • Annual growth rate (2008): 2.1%.
  • 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 (2005)--42.5 years.
  • Work force: Agriculture--70%; industry--15%; services--2%. Employment in the formal sector is estimated at 15%.


Government

  • Type: Republic.
  • Independence: From American Colonization Society July 26, 1847.
  • Constitution: January 6, 1986.
  • Political parties: 30 registered political parties.


Economy

  • GDP (IMF 2007 est.): $473.9 million.
  • Real GDP growth rate (2008, projected): 9.6%.
  • Per capita GDP (2006): $185.50.
  • Average annual inflation (2008, projected): 9.0%.
  • Natural resources: Iron ore, rubber, timber, diamonds, gold, and tin. The Government of Liberia believes there may be 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 (2007, provisional): Exports--$184.1 million (of which rubber $170.9 million). Major markets--Germany, Poland, U.S., Greece. Imports--$498.7 million (petroleum $125 million; rice $65.3 million).


People

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 comprise part of Liberia's business community.

The Liberian constitution restricts citizenship to only people of Negro descent, and land ownership is restricted to citizens. Liberia was traditionally noted for its academic institutions, iron-mining, and rubber. Political upheavals beginning in the 1980s and a 14-year civil war (1989-2003) largely destroyed Liberia's economy and brought a steep decline in living standards.

History

Portuguese explorers established contacts with Liberia as early as 1461 and named the area Grain Coast because of the abundance of "grains of paradise" (Malegueta pepper seeds). In 1663 the British installed trading posts on the Grain Coast, but the Dutch destroyed these posts a year later. There were no further reports of European settlements along the Grain Coast until the arrival of freed slaves in the early 1800s.

Liberia, "land of the free," was founded by free African-Americans and freed slaves from the United States in 1820. An initial group of 86 immigrants, who came to be called Americo-Liberians, established a settlement in Christopolis (now Monrovia, named after U.S. President James Monroe) on February 6, 1820. Thousands of freed American slaves and free African-Americans arrived during the following years, leading to the formation of more settlements and culminating in a declaration of independence of the Republic of Liberia on July 26, 1847.

The drive to resettle freed slaves in Africa was promoted by the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization of white clergymen, abolitionists, and slave owners founded in 1816 by Robert Finley, a Presbyterian minister. Between 1821 and 1867 the ACS resettled some 10,000 African-Americans and several thousand Africans from interdicted slave ships; it governed the Commonwealth of Liberia until independence in 1847.

 

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