This week in 80 Days, we looked at Liberia, a small country on the west coast of Africa. Founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves, Liberia is Africa’s oldest republic and takes its name from the the Latin phrase meaning “Land of the Free.” Unfortunately, the country is best known for a long and bloody civil war that look place in the 1990s and 2000s, and more recently for the Ebola epidemic of 2014. The lush, rainforested country is just 700 kilometres or 430 miles north of the equator, and is bordered by Sierra Leone to its west, Guinea to its north and Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) to its east. Today, the country is home to around 4.5 million inhabitants, although most are native Africans rather than the descendants of freed slaves. It maintains strong ties to America, and even has a flag that strongly resembles the flag of the US, although it has only one star and 11 stripes. Discussing Liberia are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Hong Kong, the UK and Switzerland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)
We thought when we researched Nauru previously that it was the most depressing place we would ever encounter. But we were wrong! Liberia is at the bottom end of most tables you want to be near the top in (GDP, communications infrastructure, life expectancy, infant mortality) and has suffered from all the plights you can expect in the region and more, all as a result of inequality, corruption, disease and civil war, but nonetheless, it has a unique story worth telling. Some sources which we found particularly useful in researching the episode were:
- “Firestone and the Warlord” a very comprehensive and well-made documentary by FRONTLINE and ProPublica investigating the secret history of Firestone Rubber Company in Liberia, in particular their relationship with former warlord and president Charles Taylor. (Original Upload Date: 11/18/2014)
- “VICE Guide to Liberia” – VICE sent a crew to Liberia in 2012 to look at the devastating effects of the civil war on life, particularly in the capital Monrovia. Features interviews with various former civil war generals, including General Bin Laden and General Butt Naked (who is now a Christian evangelist).
- “Liberians – an Introduction to their History and Culture“ – Donald A. Ranard, Editor, Culture Profile No. 19, April 2005, Published by the Cultural Orientation Resource Center)
- “Tell Me the One About Ebola: How Jokes Spread Awareness“, article by
- “Liberia Past and Present” a website by Dr Fred van der Kraaij about Liberia
- “Ebola in Liberia: An Epidemic of Rumours“: article by Helen Epstein in The New York Review of Books, December 2014. Deals with suspicion of government and conspiracy theories which complicated the reaction to the spread of the disease
- “US Covert and Overt Operations in Liberia, 1970s to 2003” academic article by Neils Hahn, Air & Space Power Journal – Africa and Francophonie Fall 2014
- Liberia has famously unprofessional-looking county flags, such as River Gee County and Gbarpolu County
- Music from Monrovian street musician Weesay; you can see the video of his song “Oh Chips!” on YouTube and an article explaining the story behind it
- An Ebola awareness song “Ebola in Town” was produced by Liberian musicians D12, Kuzzy and Kuzzy of 2 Kings (link to PRI article about the song)
I would recommend you read, watch and listen to some of these sources if you want to learn more about the country than we could cram into the podcast.