Republic of Liberia

Republic of Liberia

Liberia, officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the West African coast.

It is bordered by Sierra Leone to its northwest, Guinea to its north, Ivory Coast to its east, and the Atlantic Ocean to its south-southwest. It covers an area of 111,369 square kilometers (43,000 sq mi) and has a population of around 4,700,000 people. The coastal country is characterized by a humid, tropical climate with mean rainfall ranging from 2,000 mm farthest inland to over 5,000 mm at the coast. English is the official language and over 20 indigenous languages are spoken, representing the numerous ethnic groups who make up more than 95% of the population. The country’s capital and largest city is Monrovia.

Liberia, the “Land of the Free”, was founded, established, colonized, and controlled by citizens of the United States and ex-Caribbean slaves as a colony for former African American slaves and their free black descendants. It was the first African republic to proclaim its independence and is Africa’s first and oldest modern republic. It is one of only two sovereign countries in the world that were started by citizens and ex-Caribbean slaves of political power as a colony for former slaves of the same political power, the other being Sierra Leone, established by Great Britain. The settlement of former slaves was organized by the American Colonization Society (ACS). The mortality rate of these settlers was the highest in accurately recorded human history. Of the 4,571 emigrants who arrived in Liberia from 1820 to 1843, only 1,819 survived until 1843.

In 1847, the ACS encouraged Liberia to proclaim independence, as it no longer wanted to support it. On January 3, 1848, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a wealthy, free-born African American from Virginia who settled in Liberia, was elected as Liberia’s first president after the people proclaimed independence in 1947.

GOVERNANCE

The government of Liberia, modeled on the government of the United States, is a unitary constitutional republic and representative democracy as established by the Constitution. The government has three co-equal branches of government: the executive, headed by the president; the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Legislature of Liberia; and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and several lower courts.

The president serves as head of government, head of state, and the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. Among the other duties of the president are to sign or veto legislative bills, grant pardons, and appoint Cabinet members, judges, and other public officials. Together with the vice president, the president is elected to a six-year term by majority vote in a two-round system and can serve up to two terms in office.

The current President of the Republic of Liberia is Mr. George Oppong Weah.

George Oppong Weah, President of Liberia

The Legislature is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House, led by a speaker, has 73 members apportioned among the 15 counties on the basis of the national census, with each county receiving a minimum of two members. Each House member represents an electoral district within a county as drawn by the National Elections Commission and is elected by a plurality of the popular vote of their district into a six-year term. The Senate is made up of two senators from each county for a total of 30 senators. Senators serve nine-year terms and are elected at-large by a plurality of the popular vote. The vice president serves as the President of the Senate, with a President pro tempore serving in their absence.

Liberia’s highest judicial authority is the Supreme Court, made up of five members and headed by the Chief Justice of Liberia. Members are nominated to the court by the president and are confirmed by the Senate, serving until the age of 70. The judiciary is further divided into circuit and specialty courts, magistrate courts and justices of the peace. The judicial system is a blend of common law, based on Anglo-American law, and customary law. An informal system of traditional courts still exists within the rural areas of the country, with trial by ordeal remaining common despite being officially outlawed.

 

ECONOMY

Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its economy is extremely underdeveloped, largely due to the First Liberian Civil War in 1989-96. The civil war destroyed much of the country’s economy, especially the infrastructure in and around Monrovia.

It is a low-income country that relies heavily on foreign assistance and remittances from the diaspora. It is richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forests, and a climate favorable to agriculture. Its principal exports are iron ore, rubber, diamonds, and gold. Palm oil and cocoa are emerging as new export products. The government has attempted to revive raw timber extraction and is encouraging oil exploration.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, civil war and government mismanagement destroyed much of Liberia’s economy, especially infrastructure in and around the capital. Much of the conflict was fueled by control over Liberia’s natural resources. With the conclusion of fighting and the installation of a democratically elected government in 2006, businesses that had fled the country began to return. The country achieved high growth during the period 2010-13 due to favorable world prices for its commodities. However, during the 2014-2015 Ebola crisis, the economy declined and many foreign-owned businesses departed with their capital and expertise. The epidemic forced the government to divert scarce resources to combat the spread of the virus, reducing funds available for needed public investment. The cost of addressing the Ebola epidemic coincided with decreased economic activity reducing government revenue, although higher donor support significantly offset this loss. During the same period, global commodities prices for key exports fell and have yet to recover to pre-Ebola levels.

In 2017, gold was a key driver of growth, as a new mining project began its first full year of production; iron ore exports are also increased as Arcelor Mittal opened new mines at Mount Gangra. The completion of the rehabilitation of the Mount Coffee Hydroelectric Dam increased electricity production to support ongoing and future economic activity, although electricity tariffs remain high relative to other countries in the region and transmission infrastructure is limited. Presidential and legislative elections in October 2017 generated election-related spending pressures.

Revitalizing the economy in the future will depend on economic diversification, increasing investment and trade, higher global commodity prices, sustained foreign aid and remittances, development of infrastructure and institutions, combating corruption, and maintaining political stability and security.

 

AGRICULTURE

Agriculture is the primary livelihood source for more than 60 percent of Liberia’s population and provides sustenance for many households who engage in farming of rubber, rice, oil palm, cocoa, and sugarcane.  However, low agricultural productivity results in Liberia importing more than 80 percent of its staple food, making the country vulnerable to global food price volatility.  Poorly integrated, the sector lacks basic infrastructure such as machines, farming equipment/tools, farm-to-market roads, fertilizers and pesticides, and food storage capacity.  Cassava and rice are the primary staple food crops.  The main cash crops and foreign exchange-earners are rubber, cocoa, and timber.  Rubber is the most important cash crop for households and one of the dominant generators of state revenues accounting for nearly 34.6 percent of the total export receipts in 2016.  An estimated 30,000 people are employed by commercial rubber farms and up to 60,000 smallholder households are involved in growing of rubber trees.  Firestone Rubber Plantation, covering almost 200 square miles, is the largest single natural rubber operation in the world and the biggest private-sector employer in Liberia.

Another significant cash crop is oil palm, which has traditionally been produced for the domestic market.  Recently, there has been considerable interest from both smallholders and large investors in expanding export production.  However, uncertainty with regard to land tenure is a significant challenge for potential oil palm farmers and investors.  Stakeholders in the oil palm sector include smallholder farmer cooperatives, individual farmers, large multinational corporations and concessionaires, as well as individuals playing various intermediation roles and support services.  Another obstacle to investment in the sector is the lack of capital and professional expertise to increase farm productivity.

The country has favorable climate and fertile soil for cocoa production and there is increased investment in the rehabilitation of cooperative and smallholder farms in the country.  Although cocoa production is small scale, it is expected to increase as farmers continue to reclaim and rehabilitate their farms.  As with the agriculture sector in general, smallholder cocoa farmers and local cooperatives are challenged by inadequate farm-to-market roads, lack of familiarity with measurement and quality standards, lack of storage facilities, and limited access to updated price and market information.

Besides the cash crops, there are market opportunities and potential for agribusiness investment, which focuses on developing the value chain of the available food crops such as rice, cassava, vegetables, fruits, poultry, and fish.  Liberia has a suitable climate for horticulture such as the production of peppers, okra, onions, tomatoes, bitter balls, etc., which are in high demand throughout the country all year round. Lowland cultivation and low-cost irrigation would give smallholders an opportunity to increase productivity and expand the market share of these valuable crops.  Liberia has an Atlantic coastline spanning about 580 kilometers endowed with abundant marine fish stocks.  The coastline and abundant freshwater resources provide breeding grounds for varieties of marine species including crab, lobster, shrimp, tilapia, tuna, shark, croaker, and barracuda.

INDUSTRY

The industrial sector contributes 5.4% to the country’s GDP and employs almost 8% of the working population. The major Liberian industry sectors include mining, oil, and electricity.

Before the outbreak of the civil war, the country had an evolving rubber industry, which accounted for almost US$100 million in exports annually. The discovery of iron ore in the late 1950s gave another major boost to the country’s economic growth. In the 1960s and 1970s, Liberia was one of the major largest exporters of iron ore.

During the military regime and the civil war period, the Liberian economy was heavily exploited. The rubber and iron industries were the most exploited since they used to generate foreign currency. After the restoration of a democratic set up in 1997, the government took measures to reinstate the major industrial sectors. However, no significant results were achieved due to severe depletion in the availability of raw materials.

Some of the major Liberia industry sectors are:

 

Oil sector

The country has a modest oil sector. The upstream oil industry is insignificant due to no major oil and gas discoveries. For the downstream oil industry, all the raw material is imported from the neighboring oil-producing nations. The Ministry of Land, Mines, and Energy regulates the oil sector in the country.

 

Mining sector

Since the outbreak of the civil war, the mining sector has lost all its foreign investment. This has resulted in an underdeveloped mining sector in the country. Diamond and gold are the primary mining products for the country. The industry also produces other minerals such as tin, phosphates, zinc, copper, nickel, molybdenum, beach sand, bauxite, kyanite, uranium, chromite, and silica sands. The country’s mining sector is a victim of smuggling across the borders of Sierre Leone, Guinea, and Cote de Ivoire.

 

Electricity

Liberia Electricity Corporation is responsible for generating and distributing power in the country. The corporation has two electric power generation plants in the capital city of Monrovia.

 

Manufacturing

Before the civil war, manufacturing and construction accounted for around 20 percent of the GDP; that figure dropped to 10 percent by 2000. Manufacturing was dominated by iron-ore production and rubber processing, but domestic and industrial consumer goods were also produced.
Liberia’s manufacturing sector is a virgin territory with unlimited potential. Manufacturing in Liberia has a wealth of opportunities in plastic and rubber goods such as car tires, shoes, pipes, toys, furniture, as well as bio-fuel, etc. With plentiful raw materials, limited competition, abundant and low-cost labor, a strategic coastal location, ports, and its role in the regional and subregional economic groupings of ECOWAS and MRU make Liberia the perfect staging ground to produce goods for these markets as well.

 

SERVICES

The services sector consists mainly of wholesale and retail distribution, telecommunications, postal service, transport, hotels and restaurants, repairs, financial services, tourist services, and government administration, but all such services are quite limited. For the most part, these services support the other sectors of the economy. The main exception is the charges made for the use of Liberian registration by merchant ships owned by private shipping companies from other countries, the so-called “flag of convenience.”

Financial Sector

The government has made progress in stabilizing the financial sector, but overall the sector remains fragile.  As the policy discourse moves from short-term stabilization, which is largely complete, to medium-term initiatives designed to create and support a sustainable financial sector that can support economic growth, a number of outstanding policy issues, many of which are interlinked, require consideration by regulatory and legislative bodies. The financial sector constitutes 9 Commercial banks, 1 Deposit-taking Microfinance Institution, 1 Non –bank Financial Institution, 13 Microfinance Institutions, 10 Rural Community Finance Institutions (RCFI), About 256 Credit Unions – Monitored but not licensed. The financial sector is mostly dominated by banks.

 

Banks

A partial view taken on September 27, 2017, shows the Central Bank of Liberia, Monrovia. / AFP PHOTO / CRISTINA ALDEHUELA

The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) is responsible for licensing, regulating and overseeing the financial sector in Liberia. There are nine commercial banks, eight of which are foreign banks.  Foreign banks or branches can establish operations in Liberia, and are subject to prudential measures or other regulations required by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL). Liberian banks are poorly capitalized and remain in a semi-fragile state.

 

Construction

Construction offers many potential prospects for investment.  The capital city Monrovia has an estimated population of 1.2 million people, triple the population the city was originally planned for.  There is a growing demand for property renovation, and construction of office buildings, shopping malls, business centers, and low-to-middle income housing units.  The demand is even more acute in the mining and agricultural concession areas as well as the commercially active regions, along the north-central-south corridor (growth corridor).

Activity in the real estate sector is expected to pick up because of improving security. Initial demand will be driven mostly by Liberians abroad many of whom have experience with mortgages abroad. They are expected to seek easy, hassle-free ways to purchase second homes in Liberia.  This will lead to a large market in Liberia for quality homes that have all the required amenities.  These sorts of planned communities have been very popular in other countries in Africa.

Currently, there is no single institutionalized large real estate developer operating in Liberia. The reconstruction of the countries battered infrastructure is creating opportunities for investors.  The National Housing Authority (NHA), a state-owned institution, is the only entity providing housing on a large scale.

 

Communication

Communications in Liberia is the press, radio, television, fixed and mobile telephones, and the Internet. There are six major newspapers in Liberia, and 45% of the population has mobile phone service. Also, the radio stations in Liberia are abundant to the extent that there are over 70 radio stations in the entire country (Liberia). As for Montserrado County, there exist about 30 radio stations.

Even as it struggles with economic and political constraints, Liberia’s media environment is expanding. The number of registered newspapers and radio stations (many of them community stations) is on the rise despite limited market potential. And politically critical content and investigative pieces do get published or broadcast.

 

Transportation

Transport in Liberia consists of railways, highways, seaports, and airports.

Road Networks: The majority of roads in Liberia are unpaved and unable to provide all-year access to either county or district headquarters. Roads are often impassable during the rainy season. Consequently, vehicle tariffs, operating costs and transportation fares tend to be high. When traveling outside Monrovia, four-wheel-drive vehicles are advised. Liberia has a tropical climate with the rainy season beginning in May through October and the dry season from November through April.

Aviation: Roberts International Airport (RIA) is a single runway airport located near a town called Harbel, about 40 miles (64 km) outside Monrovia. There are few car rental agencies or bus or taxi services in Monrovia which offer on-site airport services upon request, and these have to be pre-arranged. Visitors should avoid yellow taxis by pre-arranging transportation through a hotel or business contact. James Spriggs Payne Airport is a smaller single-runway airport located in Monrovia.

Sea Ports: The country has four ports including Freeport of Monrovia, Buchanan Port, Greenville Port, and Harper Port.  The Freeport of Monrovia accounts for nearly all of Liberia’s maritime trade.

 

TOURISM

Image: Kpatawee Waterfall, Liberia

Liberia’s tourism sector possesses unique and competitive assets that remain largely untapped. The country is endowed with a rich culture and a wide variety of natural beauty ranging from plains to spectacular white-sand beaches to rainforest. Liberia enjoys three main touristic features: coastal and marine sites, natural sites/features and cultural and historical sites.

The potential for Liberia’s tourism sector is massive. Liberia’s natural attractions include two natural forest reserves, wetlands and mangroves, and biological and landscape diversity. Liberia is endowed with approximately 42% of the Upper Guinea Forest of West Africa, rich in endemic flora and fauna. There are two upper Guinea biodiversity hotspots: East Nimba Natural Reserve and the Sapo National Park. Both are home to rare birds, and high diversity of mammals such as elephants, monkeys, antelopes, and Liberia’s national symbol, the Pygmy Hippopotamus. All sorts of touristic services can be tapped around these natural sites, such as ecotourism activities, e.g. birds watching, and rural tourism activities, e.g. village tours.

The infrastructure deficit is one of the critical factors that discourage entrepreneurs from investing in this sector.  Despite its infrastructural deficit, prospects are abundant for the sector to contribute to the economy. There are good opportunities in the hospitality sector. Currently, the demand for hotel rooms outstrips supply as a result of the activities of donor agencies, international NGOs, the UN, and increasing business visitors. As the security situation improves, tourism is also expected to pick up.

 

CULTURE

The culture of Monrovia has two distinct roots, the Southern US heritage of the freed Americo-Liberian slaves and the ancient African descendants of the indigenous people and migratory tribes. Most former Americans belonged to the Masonic Order of Liberia, outlawed since 1980, but originally playing a huge part in the nation’s politics. Settlers brought the skills of embroidery and quilting with them, with both now firmly embedded in the national culture. The haunting slave music and songs of the American South with ancient African rhythms and harmonies blended well with indigenous musical traditions of the region.

Image: Liberia Culture Ambassador Drummers

The diverse tribal ethnicities making up the population of Liberia today have all added to the richness of cultural life in the country. Christian music is popular, with hymns sung acapella in the iconic African style. Spirituality and the region’s ancient rituals are reflected in the unusually intricate carving style, and modern Liberian artists are finding fame outside the country. Dance is a valued heritage, with the Liberian National Culture Group giving performances both in the country and overseas based on traditional themes. The gradual integration of all Liberia’s ethnic groups has given rise to a renewed interest in its tribal culture as a reminder of the diverse roots of the new country.

 

SOCIAL ACTIVITIES

Liberians celebrate festivals and observe holidays in remembrance of a notable individual or event in the nation’s history. The capital city annually hosts the Monrovia Children’s Day, a festival which, as its name suggests, is held for the nation’s children. Numerous activities geared towards the young generation including live performances, games, and contests take place during the festival which sees thousands of children from all over Liberia come together. An important national holiday in the country is Independence Day which is observed each year on July 26th. Liberia also observes religious holidays including Christmas, Easter, and Eid al Fitr. The country has a close relationship with the United States as it was established during the repatriation of slaves in the 19th Century. A testament to the close relationship shared between the two countries is the observation of “Thanksgiving Day in Liberia.” The observation of the holiday is provided for by law and is observed on November 4th each year.

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