Liberia. A unique history

Liberia, a colony founded in 1822 by an American philanthropic society to welcome freed slaves and spread Christianity across the African continent, became a state in the full sense of the term in 1847. After facing great hardship, the settlers established a system that was so unfair to the indigenous people that they were accused of practicing slavery and forced labor. The country had to resign itself to hosting an international inquiry under the League of Nations in 1930 in order to establish the facts. The arrival of American forces as a result of the Second World War allowed Liberia to recover from this disastrous episode. The post-war period brought stability and growth, albeit in a regime that remained autocratic and devoid of redistribution. In 1980 a military coup led by Sergeant Doe overthrew the government of colonial descendants. Despite being supported by the United States the new power drifted towards despotism and ethnic discrimination in the management of its affairs. In 1989, a second coup, led by Charles Taylor, sought to overthrow Doe. The catastrophic civil wars that followed swept neighboring Sierra Leone into turmoil. The violence and cruelty of the fighting astounded western media. In 2003, when a fragile peace was finally established by the United Nations, the government and the country had to be rebuilt.

After a successful democratic transition and the beginnings of an economic recovery under Mrs Sirleaf’s two presidential terms, Liberia underwent another dramatic episode with the devastating Ebola epidemic in 2017. Former footballer George Weah won the presidential elections at the end of the same year and took office in January 2018.

By combining historiography, sociology and development economics, this book seeks to determine the driving forces behind this tragic path. It refers to the background contexts and themes in relation to how this unique history took place: pre-colonial Africa, the Atlantic slave trade, colonization and colonialism, forced labor and domestic slavery, the secret societies of the forest, Marcus Garvey and the Back to Africa movement, Pan-Africanism, the “États faillis”  (failed states) and their reconstruction. This work endeavors to identify the common thread within a set of sometimes contradictory or antagonistic presentations and interpretations: Liberia’s unique history has given rise to veritable wars of narration.

This book fills a gap in the realm of history books in French about a country, that despite its exceptional past remains largely unknown in the francophone world.

Not only is this book the sole work in the English-speaking world to cover such an extensive period (1822-2018) but also it addresses an unusually wide range of issues. It is currently being translated. The author is the holder of the rights for the English language edition.

Liberia

A unique history
Thierry Paulais

Published by Cavalier bleu, Paris

300 pages

2018

Map of Cape Mesurado drawn up by Chevalier des Marchais, 1700
Following an interview given in 2014, President Sirleaf kindly agreed to sign her book of memoirs
A banknote with the effigy of President Doe, 2011
View of the river Mesurado in Monrovia. The island on the right is where the settlers set up their first camp on 7th January 1822. It was called Dozoa and they named it Perseverance. It was later renamed Providence. The bridges visible in the photo were the scene of violent clashes during the civil wars. Photo Thierry Paulais
The West End, the neighborhood that the authorities attempted to quarantine without success during the Ebola crisis. Photo Thierry Paulais
The Firestone plantation is an integral part of the country’s history. View of the tanks where rubber is stored. Photo Thierry Paulais