- Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Liberia has the or one of the highest population growth rate in the world at 4.5% per year (different sources claim different things). Half of the population is under the age of 18. Life expectancy is 44-60 depending on which source you believe. Estimates are that 85% of the country is unemployed – the second highest rate of unemployment in the world. 57% of the population is literate. 85% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.
- Liberia has the first female head of state in Africa – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard trained economist. She was inaugurated in January 2006, almost defeated by George Weah, a famous Liberian footballer. Elections are coming up again in 2011. Get ready! I love that every reference you ever find on President Sirleaf has to mention the “Harvard” background. That is funny.
- 15,000 UN peacekeepers keep the country running. This is one of the largest most expensive UN operations in the world.
- There is a small surfing movement in Liberia. Seriously. In Robertsport, west of Monrovia. Check it out. Look up Liberia surfing on the internet and see what you find. There’s even been a movie made about it – Sliding Liberia.
- Liberia has the highest ratio of direct foreign investment to GDP in the world. Liberia’s economic history has included export of iron ore, rubber, timber,and diamonds. The country survives on foreign assistance and concessions given to multinational corporations interested in steel, oil, rubber and other raw resources. There is a very large Chinese presence there, like the rest of Africa. The Chinese have taken over the continent and you should be concerned.
- There is a large population of Lebanese merchants, families and businessmen who "own" or run many of the large businesses in Liberia (similar to what you see with large South Asian communities in east and southern Africa). Some families have been there a very long time since the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But they do not have citizenship rights and I don't believe they can really own anything, certainly not property. They can however secure 100 year leases to "own" the businesses for now.
|Young rubber trees - photo by me|
- The American owned Firestone Rubber Plantation Company has been in Liberia since 1926. It is an interesting business with an interesting history. A lot of controversies, but probably also one of the better businesses in Liberia. They stayed during the war. They seem to be doing a lot for Liberians. Their hydropower plant powers Roberts International Airport. It is the only hydropower plant that survived the wars. Mount Coffee, the large hydropower facility that powered Monrovia, was destroyed during the war and remains in disrepair. This means the city is powered on diesel generators.
- A very cool peace movement was formed by 1000s of women, led by social worker Leymah Gbowee, called Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. These women staged silent protests, sit-ins, and refused to sleep with their husbands until Charles Taylor agreed to attend peace talks in Ghana. I believe many would agree they played a major role in bringing peace. See the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell for more details. Once again - women rock.