Civil War in Liberia

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The civil war in Liberia lasted for 14 years from 1989 to 2003. It was one hand to ethnic conflicts between ethnic groups in Liberia , on the other hand, the struggle between warlords ( warlords ) for political power and the resources of the country.

Background and history

During the reign of President William S. Tubman , who is revered as a charismatic leader , Liberia experienced an economic boom from the 1950s onwards, which was mainly brought about by foreign investments and companies. In the last few years of his presidency, Tubman tried to promote the mostly underdeveloped areas of the hinterland, he had several government projects worked out, which, however, could only be implemented slowly due to the high national debt, so the gap between the coastal region and the hinterland remained largely intact . Tubman's successor, Tolbert , was put under massive pressure by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to modernize the already heavily indebted Liberian economy.

The financial aid requested by Tolbert forced his government to tackle development aid and economic projects as a matter of priority and to tolerate foreign financial controllers in its own authorities.

The 1979 rice riots

One of the agricultural projects was supposed to promote the additional cultivation of coffee and cocoa, which in international trade brought in far higher revenues than traditional rice cultivation. As a result, the rice supply in Liberia collapsed after just two years, as many farmers, on the advice of the government, had planted their rice-growing areas with coffee and cocoa bushes without actually reclaiming fallow land as planned in the project. At the same time, natural disasters in the Sahel zone destroyed the harvests of many East and Central African countries, the price of rice on the world market rose continuously and Liberia could no longer procure the missing quantities on the world market.

The supply situation became particularly critical in the spring of 1979 when the Tolbert government drastically increased the state-regulated retail price for rice in order to cap rice consumption. Rice is considered the staple food of the Liberians, which is why violent protests and riots broke out from April 15, which was particularly evident in the capital Monrovia and the larger cities.

Power struggle in the Tolbert government

With the "rice unrest", confidence in President Tolbert had waned and even within his government there were initial tensions and power struggles as early as 1979, as there was no short-term way out of the misery. Opposition forces called for a general strike in early March 1980, which worsened the situation in the capital Monrovia. Nearly 100 demonstrators were killed during police operations to break up protest rallies. On March 10, 1980, the most serious crisis in the Tolbert administration was manifested with the arrest of Minister George Boley . In an immediately opened stand trial , which Justice Minister Joseph Chesson had initiated against him, Boley was of high treason found guilty and sentenced to death . This legal scandal prompted a small group around Sergeant Samuel K. Doe , who, like Boley, was a member of the Krahn people, to risk a military coup in which the previous President Tolbert, some of his ministers and state officials were killed. The coup succeeded because Tolbert was unwilling and unable to implement far-reaching political and economic reforms in favor of the underprivileged peoples of Liberia. The era of the True Whig Party ended with Tolbert .

Liberia under President Doe

Immediately after the Do's coup, many Liberians and the African states expected a military counter-attack from the USA, as it later happened in the conflicts in Grenada or Panama , but US foreign policy was already in 1980 due to the unfavorable developments in Nicaragua , Honduras and El Salvador and distracted by Manuel Noriega's activities in Panama and focused on Central America . It is possible that this military option was rejected because Liberia was completely dependent on the US economically and financially. Indeed, Liberia's economic situation deteriorated further under President Doe. Heralded social improvements and small benefits that should put Doe's rule among the Liberians in a better light had little success. As a result of the announced democratization, Doe also had to deal with the parliamentary opposition.

A friend and co-organizer of Doe's military coup was Thomas Quiwonkpa , an ambitious officer from the Gio people . Doe immediately promoted him to general after the seizure of power and appointed him chief of the Liberian army and defense minister. Years later, when Quiwonkpa no longer wanted to agree to Doe's political and economic course, a break occurred. After his release, Quiwonkpa fled into exile in Sierra Leone and prepared two coup attempts from there to overthrow his former companion. After a first attack on April 1, 1985 by a bought assassin Nelson Toe (member of the Presidential Guard) failed miserably, Quiwonkpa personally led the second attack on November 12, 1985, but this attempt was also foiled by the loyal Presidential Guard. The fugitive Quiwonkpa was caught on the run, tortured several times and executed on November 15, 1985; his body was then mutilated. The act of General Quiwonkpa ultimately served Doe as a pretext to take massive action against opponents of the regime and minorities, the Gio were particularly affected by this. This arbitrary and brutal approach claimed over 1,000 deaths and was the trigger for the actual Liberian civil war.


First civil war 1989–1996

Nigerian ECOMOG soldier in Liberia 1997

Starting in 1989, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor - of mixed American-Liberian and indigenous Liberian descent - started an armed uprising against Samuel Doe from neighboring Ivory Coast . He was quickly defeated and tortured to death the following year by an ally of Taylor's, Yormie Johnson . Johnson later split off from Taylor with his supporters and founded the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia INPFL. A transitional government was formed under Amos Sawyer .

Thereupon the followers of Does, especially Krahn and Mandinka , founded the rebel organization United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy ULIMO. The fighting flared up again with even greater cruelty against the civilian population, with the youthful warlord Joshua Milton Blahyi - notorious as General Butt Naked - who is said to have killed 20,000 people with his child soldiers and who was in a phase of satanic possession until 1996 lived. The fighting between NPLF, INPLF and ULIMO continued. The Liberian civil war was also linked to the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone , where Charles Taylor supported the RUF rebels and is said to have traded in " blood diamonds ". Libya and Burkina Faso under Blaise Compaoré participated by supporting the troops of Taylor. The UN imposed an embargo on Liberia, which was intended to prevent the delivery of war material, but also contributed to food shortages in the country.

Troops of the West African Economic Community ECOWAS ( ECOMOG ) intervened on the side of the transitional government in the conflict to restore peace. There were several attempts at armistice and peace agreements, but these were broken. The warlords were also not very interested in an early peace, especially since they were able to enrich themselves in the country's raw materials in the midst of the chaos of war.

The first civil war lasted seven years until 1996, when a peace agreement was signed in Abuja , Nigeria that year . In 1997 elections were held in which Charles Taylor was elected president with about 75% of the vote. These elections were judged to be free and fair, with many voting Taylor believing that if he lost, he would start the civil war again.

Second civil war 1999-2003

Charles Taylor's opponents did not want to come to terms with his election victory and the occasional authoritarian exercise of government. In 1999 the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) was formed in northern Liberia and fought against the government. This consisted mainly of Mandinka and Krahn and was sponsored by the Guinean government. In 2003 the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) was added, which operated from the Ivory Coast and was supported by the local government. In the summer of 2003, the government still controlled a third of the country. At the same time, an international arrest warrant was issued against Taylor for involvement in RUF war crimes in Sierra Leone.

Under pressure from LURD and MODEL, the US government and ECOWAS, Taylor finally agreed to resign and leave Liberia. The Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo assured him of a safe exile in his country. The rebels ceased the armed struggle and US, UN and ECOWAS peacekeeping forces were deployed ( see UNMIL ).

A transitional government was set up under former Vice President Moses Blah , and Gyude Bryant later became the transitional president. In the 2005 election, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected president. In 2006 Charles Taylor was transferred to the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone , where he will have to answer in The Hague for his involvement in war crimes in Sierra Leone.


Around 250,000 Liberians died as a result of the civil war, and a million were displaced - some of them to neighboring countries. Child soldiers were used on all sides. Atrocities such as cannibalism on the part of the fighters have been reported, which are said to go back to traditional "ritual murders".

Since the situation eased, most of the IDPs have returned to their hometowns; Some of the Liberian refugees in neighboring countries have settled there permanently, and some are also beginning to return.

The civil war had a serious impact on Liberia's economy, which continues to this day. Unemployment is around 85%.

Liberians in exile

The coup led by Doe already led to the flight of numerous Liberians, most of whom subsequently went into exile in the USA. The Union of Liberian Association in the Americas (ULAA) was founded there as a reservoir and lobby group , and its current president, Anthony Kesselly, is a lobbyist for his home country.

War Criminal Trials

The legal management of the countless war crimes poses numerous problems for the international judiciary and also has consequences for the further development of the destroyed country, since the parties to the conflict in the country do not want to accept what they consider to be an unjustified conviction of their leaders.

The following processes are currently being conducted or prepared:

  • the Charles Taylor War Crimes Trial takes place before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, it initially only deals with the role of Liberian President Charles Taylor in the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
  • The Chuckie Taylor Trial in Florida sentenced US citizen and son of former President Charles Taylor to 97 years in prison for war crimes in Liberia.
  • the trial of the Liberian warlord and US citizen George Boley for participating in war crimes - in particular the combat deployment of child soldiers - is being prepared in New York .
  • The International Court of Justice supports the establishment of a Liberian Court of Justice to deal with and deal with war crimes.


  • Amnesty International (ed.): Liberia: Time to take human rights seriously - placing human rights on the national agenda (Document AFR: 34/05/97) . 1997. ( full text (PDF; 58 kB) as digitized version)
  • Dirk van den Boom : Civil War in Liberia: Chronology - Protagonists - Forecast . In: Studies in Political Science; Department B, research reports and dissertations . tape 80 . Münster / Hamburg 1993, ISBN 3-89473-623-2 .
  • Denis Johnson: In Hell: Look into the abyss of the world . Tropenverlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-932170-90-3 , p. 186 .
  • George K. Kieh Jr .: The first Liberian civil war: the crisis of underdevelopment . In: Society and politics in Africa . tape 17 . Lang, New York 2008, ISBN 978-0-8204-8839-4 , pp. 211 .
  • Michael Jentzsch , Benjamin Kwato Zahn: Blood Brothers. Our friendship in Liberia . Bastei Lübbe, Cologne 2009, ISBN 978-3-404-61656-5 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b c Emil Maria Claassen, Pascal Salin: The Impact of stabilization and structural adjustment policies on the rural sector . Rome 1991, ISBN 92-5102894-X , Liberia's dual agricultural economy and the urgend need for currency reform, p. 133-147 . ( Full text as digitized version)
  2. ^ A b c David Lea, Annamarie Rowe: A political chronology of Africa . Europa Publications, London 2001, ISBN 0-203-40995-7 , Liberia, pp. 228-234 .
  3. ^ A b Ian Smillie: Blood on the Stone: Greed, Corruption and War in the Global Diamond Trade . Anthem Press, London / New York 2010, ISBN 978-1-55250-498-7 , pp. 81-84 .
  4. ^ A b Sanford J. Ungar: Liberia: A Revolution, or Just Another Coup? In: The Atlantic Monthly . tape 247 , 1981, ISSN  1072-7825 , pp. 23-30 . ( Full text as digitized version)
  5. ^ The Liberian Crisis: 1980-1996. In: The Liberian Tragediy. Archived from the original on August 9, 2010 ; Retrieved January 2, 2011 .
  6. Stephen Ellis : The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Roots of an African Civil War . C. Hurst & Co, London 2007, ISBN 978-1-85065-417-9 , pp. 350 .
  7. AG: Liberia: Ex-rebel leader confesses 20,000 murders . In: The press . January 21, 2008. Vienna. ( Full text as digitized version)
  8. ↑ General map of the UN on the course of the fighting (2003)
  9. ^ Robert Collins Painter: Weak States and Political Constraints: Experiments with Truth in Liberia and Sierra Leone . In: Macalester College, Political Science Department (Ed.): Project Papers . tape 20 , p. 137 . ( Full text as digitized version)
  10. a b c d e War Crimes Controversy in Post-War Liberia, The Liberian Dialogue (web portal), January 2, 2011