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The Republic of Liberia has a long coast on the Atlantic Ocean, and is bounded by Sierra Leone, the Republic of Gineau, and Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast).

Liberia is the oldest republic in Africa, and it was never colonized by European powers. It is also the first African nation to elect a female leader.

The first people to settle the area now known as Liberia came from other parts of Africa in the 1100s, and were the ancestors of many of the people who still live in Liberia today. By the early 1800s, there were sixteen different tribes in Liberia.

Most of Africa had come under European rule between the 1500s and 1600s, as Belgium, England, France, Portugal, and other European powers claimed large sections of the continent. Between 1461 and the late 1600s, British, Dutch, and Portuguese traders bartered goods with the local people, and had trading posts in the region, but did not colonize it.

In 1822, freed slaves from the United States began immigrating to Liberia with the assistance of an organization known as the American Colonization Society, a group of American politicians, abolitionists, and slaveholders who believed that freed slaves would fare better in Africa than in the United States. There was also a concern that freed slaves might threaten the stability of slave societies in the South. The organization raised money and negotiated with tribal leaders to purchase the land that became Liberia.

Over a quarter of a century, freed blacks left the United States for Liberia. In 1847, they declared their independence and formed a government patterned after the United States. Liberia became Africa's first republic.

Their new-found freedom was not without troubles, however. The American born Liberians controlled the country's wealth, and they had the control of the government, but they were a small minority. The new arrivals tried to convert tribal people to Christianity, but the tribes had no desire to give up their traditional religions. Tensions led to violence on several occasions.

In 1980, a military coup led by Sergeant Samuel Doe, an ethnic Krahn, overthrew and killed the Liberian president, then executed most of the government's cabinet and other Americo-Liberian government officials. In this, Doe received financial backing from the United States. Doe was elected president in a subsequent election, which was condemned as fraudulent. After a failed counter-coup in 1985, Doe's troops executed several members of the Gio and Mano tribes.

In 1989, a civil war erupted. Several groups fought for power, and by the time the war ended in 1996 one out of every seventeen Liberians had been killed. This included children, as thousands of boys and girls, as young as eight, were kidnapped and forced to join tribal armies. Charles Taylor, who had ties with the Americo-Liberians, was elected in 1997.

A second civil war began in 1999. In an effort to overthrow Liberian President Taylor, rebel forces in northern Liberia began killing people and destroying homes and property. More than 250,000 Liberians had fled the country by 2002. In response to heavy international pressure, and from the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, Taylor resigned his office in 2003, going into exile in Nigeria.

In 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia. She had been sentenced to ten years in prison in 1985 for speaking out against President Doe but was later pardoned. Arrested again in 1985, she fled to the United States in 1986, returning to Liberia to run for president in 2005.

Today, just over 2% of the population of Liberia are descendants of the freed slaves who formed the government after coming there from America. The Kpelle tribe makes up more than 20% of its population, and are its largest ethnic group, joined by sixteen indigenous groups and a small number of immigrants from Lebanon, India, and White Africans of European descent. Only those of African descent have the rights of citizens.

English is the official language of Liberia, although more than thirty indigenous languages are also spoken. Close to 90% of Liberians practice Christianity, mostly of Protestant denominations, and just over 12% practice Islam. Many Liberians who identify as Christians are also members of traditional religious secret societies.

Liberia's literacy rate is higher than 60%. In some parts of Liberia, primary and secondary education is free and compulsory, although enforcement of school attendance is lacking. Many of the country's rural areas are without adequate schools, teachers, and educational supplies.

Liberia has one of the highest rates of sexual violence against women in the world, rape being the most often reported crime, and adolescent girls are the most likely to become victims. A third of married women are in polygamous marriages.



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