Repatriated Former Slaves in Africa: Liberia (Part 1)

Liberia, located on the West coast of Africa, is the first republic on the continent. Together with Ethiopia, it shares the distinction of being the only African countries to never have been colonized. Liberia was formed as a settlement for freed American and Caribbean slaves. It was first a commonwealth (Commonwealth of Liberia) of former-slave settlements in West Africa, and finally a self-declared independent state in 1847.

Between 1822 and 1882, about 20,000 former slaves of African descent from the Americas were resettled in Liberia, which was formerly known as the ‘Pepper Coast’. These efforts were largely driven by the American Colonization Society, who believed that freed slaves would be better off repatriated in Africa. Their proposal had several supporters as well as strong opposers, both black and white. The resettlement process was not without its challenges. Some freed slaves intermarried with the local Kru tribe; however, there were multiple incidents of clashes between the free African-Americans and the indigenous community. In early Liberian society, indigenous tribes were heavily marginalized by the resettled former slaves, politically, socially and economically.

The country’s system of governance was closely modelled after the United States’ and the society was based on strong Christian foundations. The first president of the new independent state was a free-born African-American: Joseph Roberts.

As one of the earlier independent countries on the continent, Liberia was central in the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), as well as the United Nations (UN). In 1980, rising political tensions resulted in a coup, which led to almost two decades of civil war. This period of instability officially died out with the presidency of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2005. She was the first democratically elected female head of state in Africa and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

By Edel Were

(Image: Wikimedia)

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