Utafiti: Journal of African Perspectives


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This was intended to be the year that Liberia made major steps towards peace, stability and the rehabilitation of its government after 14 years or more of war. At the beginning of the year, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), established on 1 October 2003, was still building up to its full strength of some 14,785 soldiers, 215 military observers, 755 civilian police, 360 uniformed police units, 635 international staff, 798 national staff and 431 United Nations volunteers. The UN General Assembly had been asked to appropriate some $ 840 m for UNMIL for the 12 months beginning 1 August 2003, indicating the size of the budget required for the world's largest UN mission. UNMIL enjoyed a robust Chapter 7 mandate, with authority to disarm and reintegrate former fighters, to assist in the reconstruction of Liberia's national police force and to assist in reestablishing national authority throughout the country. The UN mission was empowered to work with the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), an interim administration established by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Accra on 18 August 2003 between the former government of Liberia and the two main armed factions opposed to it. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was intended to put a final stop to the war that had been fought in Liberia in fits and starts since the 1980s. It was made possible by the departure into exile of Liberia's elected president, Charles Taylor, on 11 August 2003 and his replacement by a government composed of members of the three armed factions that had been disputing control of the country, under a chairman of their choosing, the former businessman C. Gyude Bryant.


The political and social environment was marked by protests, a reminder of the country’s continuing fragility. The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was transitioning to take a smaller political role. By year’s end, UNMIL’s military strength stood at 5,869, its police strength at 1,612, and its civilian personnel strength at 1,518, reflecting a slow and calibrated downsizing. The opposition called for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to resign or be impeached. Corruption remained a key concern. A study commissioned by UNMIL reported a 44% increase in incidents of mob violence over a five-month period in 2013 compared with the same period in 2012. The UN also recorded murders and armed robbery, more than a third of which involved the use of firearms. As a mark of its enhanced international prestige, Liberia early in the year hosted the third UN High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the post-2015 MDGs, co-chaired by President Sirleaf, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. On the economic front, the country registered a growth rate of 8.1% – the third highest in West Africa.


The country was overwhelmed for most of the year by a devastating Ebola epidemic, which struck Liberia like a biblical plague in March. Efforts to eliminate the virus overtook all other state priorities and nearly led to political instability. The despatch of 4,000 us troops to build dozens of treatment centres and provide other support helped stabilise Sirleaf’s faltering regime. The death toll from the disease rose to over 3,600 by year’s end, making Liberia the country most affected by the outbreak. The toll on the country’s economy was also dramatic. Growth dropped from about 6% at the beginning of the year to only 1% by year’s end, and inflation reached double digits.


The year was in large part dominated by the Ebola Virus Disease (evd) outbreak, though who tentatively declared the outbreak over on 9 May. The economy suffered throughout the year, largely as a result of falling commodity prices. Corruption scandals, including some related to misappropriation of funds meant to combat the evd epidemic, dominated the political scene, revealing the depth of public distrust of national institutions and the inefficiency of state bureaucracy. The debate between and within political parties was highly divisive. Although the un Mission in Liberia suggested that it might soon be leaving the country, its military and administrative capacity remained untouched. Liberia’s foreign policy was dominated by the government’s attempts to attract development funds to combat the consequences of the evd epidemic.


Preparations for the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for October 2017 – including the emergence of a multiplicity of political parties, the controversial formation of one coalition that included the party of former president and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor, and preparations for voter registration – dominated public discussions. Corruption scandals rocked the government. Several government ministers, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and the chair of the governing Unity Party (up) were indicted. The government took over full security responsibilities from the un Mission in Liberia (unmil), including border and maritime patrols, ordinance disposal and vip protection. President Sirleaf became the first woman to be elected chair of ecowas. The unsc authorised the reduction of the unmil mission. The economy stagnated. The country’s total revenue for the national budget amounted to only $ 550 m for 2016/2017, a reduction of 11% compared with 2015/16. This was due in large part to the global decline in commodity prices. The imf estimated a negative growth rate of 1.2% for 2016. Inflation stood at 12.5% by year’s end, compared with 7.7% in 2015.

Presidential and legislative elections were the main political event in Liberia in 2017. The stakes were high as these would be the first post-war elections for which the Liberian security sector was solely responsible. They were hotly contested, with 20 presidential candidates and over 980 candidates for the 78 seats in parliament. The process went well, with disputes resolved in court rather than on the streets. Populist George Weah was elected president.

The inauguration of newly elected president George Weah in January was a historic event, marking the first peaceful transfer of power for decades. Weah vowed to help the poor and fight corruption. Nevertheless, his first year in power was marked by one of the biggest corruption scandals in Liberia, when L$ 15.5 bn cash (around $ 104 m) went missing from the Central Bank of Liberia (cbl) in September. Though it was later claimed to have been found, the matter had not been cleared up by year’s end. The unmil peacebuilding mission left the country, transitioning to a un country office. The new government was unable to engage as well with international donors as under the leadership of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Inflation increased dramatically, reaching an all-time high of 26.6% in October, and averaged at 21.3%. The budget for the financial year 2018/19 was slightly higher than the previous one, at $ 570.1 m. Economic growth was the same as in 2017, at 2.5% of gdp, slightly below predictions.

The government of President George Weah faced serious tests of stability and legitimacy in 2019. Rapid decline in economic activities, coupled with the government’s failure to pay civil servants’ salary on time, sparked numerous protests at government agencies and ministries. The opposition similarly rallied and staged the largest protest in the country since the return to civilian rule in 2006. The government’s response to the financial challenges was to enrol in an imf programme for a $ 213 m loan with several conditions, including harmonising public sector wages and retrenchment of personnel. President Weah’s party also faced humiliating defeat in a major by-election for Montserrado County, a traditional heartland of his Congress for Democratic Change party, the largest party in the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (cdc). Proposals for a constitutional referendum – including provisions to reduce the length of tenure of the president and that of members of the legislature – were finally enacted during the year. President Weah made efforts to deepen the country’s international relations and cooperation by deepening ties mainly with countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

Political and socioeconomic developments in Liberia, in 2020, were dominated and severely affected by the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). Liberia’s rapid and proactive response may well have saved the country from mass community transmission. Long before the first case was recorded in Africa, Liberia was among the first countries in the world to institute epidemic control measures. Early in February, Liberia instituted a thorough virus control protocol (hand washing, temperature checks, and contact tracing) at its international airport for travellers coming from abroad. On 16 March, the country recorded its first official case of the virus in a government official. With experience from dealing with the Ebola virus disease epidemic (evd, 2014–16), the Liberian government reactivated emergency response measures, and communities quickly adapted to new rules and went on high alert. This saved the country from widespread community transmission of the virus throughout the year; but due to the spread of the virus in other parts of the world, particularly Europe and America, and mutual border closures that affected the movement of goods and people in the sub-region, the fallout from the outbreak of Covid-19 weighed heavily on political and social development in the country. Production slumped, and workers in many sectors suffered lay-offs. The greatest blow to the government was its defeat in the senatorial election held in December, when the ruling party lost in 12 of the 15 senate elections. Alongside the senatorial election, Liberians finally voted on proposed changes to the country’s constitution after years of debate on constitutional reform. The opposition called for a boycott of the referendum or a ‘no’ vote on all items while the government supported a ‘yes’ vote on all items, but no item was passed in the referendum.

The Liberian political landscape saw a major change in January when new senators, mostly from opposition parties, were inaugurated after winning elections in December 2020. But the opposition disintegrated after recording such impressive gains against the government. Covid-19 infections surged in June and July, but the economy remained resilient, growing at 3.6%, thanks to recovery measures put in place that encouraged the reopening of some sectors. Moderate gains were made against corruption, but the governance and service challenges continued unabated. With in-fighting within the opposition, the government faced less scrutiny of its policies. Though it also had unresolved internal tensions, the ruling coalition made efforts to build new alliances with some smaller parties and influential politicians, while members of the main opposition coalition were engaged with internal factional battles over the leadership of the coalition.