Written by Nichelle Lemmer
Liberia is Africa’s oldest republic, but definitely not the most prosperous country on the continent. In the 1990s it became better known for its long-running civil war than its status as the oldest republic. The country is mostly inhabited by indigenous Africans.
It is a low-income country that is heavily reliant on foreign assistance for revenue. Liberia’s economy is in dire straits as government mismanagement left a path of destruction and created economic uncertainty. Combining this problem with a civil war suffocated the economy.
Today Liberia is recovering from the lingering effects of the civil war and related economic dislocation, with about 85% of the population living below the international poverty line.
Location: Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone. Climate: Tropical, hot, humid, dry winters with hot days and cool to cold nights, wet, cloudy summers with frequent heavy showers. Terrain: Mostly flat to rolling coastal plains rising to rolling plateau and low mountains in the northeast. Elevation extremes: • Lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0m. • Highest point: Mount Wuteve 1 380m.
Natural resources: Iron ore, timber, diamonds, gold, hydropower.
Land use: • Arable land: 3,43% • Permanent crops: 1,98% • Other: 94,59% (2005)
Natural hazards: Dust-laden harmattan winds blow from the Sahara (December to March). Environment: Current issues are tropical rain forest deforestation, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, pollution of coastal waters from oil residue and raw sewage.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $1,836-billion (2011 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $1,2-billion (2011 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 6,9% (2011 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP): $400 (2011 est.)
GDP – composition by sector: • Agriculture: 76,9% • Industry: 5,4% • Services: 17,7% (2002 est.)
Population below poverty line: 80% (2000 est.)
Industrial production growth rate: NA
Electricity – production: 335-million kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity – consumption: 311,6-million kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity – exports: 0 kWh (2009 est.)
Electricity – imports: 0 kWh (2009 est.)
Oil – production: 0 bbl/day (2010 est.)
Oil – consumption: 4 500 bbl/day (2010 est.)
Oil – exports: 23,37 bbl/day (2009 est.)
Oil – imports: 4 552 bbl/day (2009 est.)
Oil – proved reserves: 0 bbl (1 January 2011 est.)
Natural gas - production: 0 cu m (2009 est.)
Natural gas – consumption: 0 cu m (2009 est.)
Natural gas – exports: 0 cu m (2009 est.)
Natural gas – imports: 0 cu m (2009 est.)
Natural gas – proved reserves: 0 cu m (1 January 2011 est.)
Current account balance: -$511,2-million (2011 est.)
Exports: $362,3-million (2011 est.)
Exports - commodities: Rubber, timber, iron, diamonds, cocoa, coffee. Imports - commodities: Fuels, chemicals, machinery, transportation equipment, manufactured goods, foodstuffs. Imports: $763-million (2011 est.)
According to the website www.bbc.co.uk, Portuguese explorers established contacts with Liberia as early as in 1461 and named the area the Grain Coast because of the abundance of Malegueta pepper seeds. In 1663 the British installed trading posts on the Grain Coast, but the Dutch destroyed these posts a year later. There were no further reports of European settlements along the Grain Coast until the arrival of freed slaves in the early 1800s.
Liberia was founded by free African-Americans and freed slaves from the United States in 1820. An initial group of 86 immigrants, who were called Americo-Liberians, established a settlement in Christopolis on 6 February 1820. Thousands of freed American slaves and free African-Americans arrived during the following years, leading to the formation of more settlements and culminating in a declaration of independence of the Republic of Liberia on 26 July 1847.
From the 1800s up until recently political upheavals and a 14-year long civil war largely bought a steep decline in living standards. The last presidential and legislative elections and the subsequent presidential run-off were declared free and fair by the African Union, the Carter Centre and other observers. President Johnson Sirleaf defeated Winston Tubman of the CDC by 90,7% to 9,3% in the run-off to win the re-election. She was inaugurated on 16 January 2012.
Liberia was traditionally noted for its academic institutions, iron mining and rubber. The Liberian economy relied heavily on the mining of iron ore and on the export of natural rubber prior to the civil war. The country was a major exporter of iron ore on the world market. In the 1970s and 1980s, iron mining accounted for more than half of Liberia’s export earnings. Following the coup d’état of 1980, the country’s economic growth rate slowed down because of a decline in the demand for iron ore on the world market and political upheavals in Liberia.
During the 1989-2003 civil war, most major businesses were destroyed or heavily damaged, and most foreign investors and businesses left the country. Iron ore production stopped completely, and the United Nations banned timber and diamond exports from Liberia. UN sanctions on Liberian timber were removed in 2006. Diamond sanctions were ended by the UN Security Council in April 2007 and Liberian diamond exports resumed after that.
Liberia’s economy has been growing modestly, despite the global economic downturn and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects’ strong GDP growth through 2012.
Renewable energy resources
According to www.reegle.info, Liberia has enormous renewable energy potential. The website states that studies on alternative energy sources indicate that the country is endowed with biomass, hydro and solar resources that could be developed to meet some critical energy needs across the country. “While there is no current data on wind speed across the country, observation along the coastal regions shows good prospects for the development of wind power,” the website cites.
The prolonged civil war and insecurity in Liberia has hindered the development of renewable energy systems, with harmful effects on social and economic development across the country. “Despite this, the role of renewable energy services as a major input for survival and socio-economic activities has not been recognised for a long time in Liberia.”
The website further states that in Liberia, as in nearly all the sub-Saharan African countries, woody biomass is the primary energy source used for domestic cooking and heating. “Rural inhabitants and the poor account for a large proportion of firewood and charcoal use in the country,” the website notes.
According to the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), a total of 14 800kg of charcoal was produced in 1998. “The CBL reported that charcoal production increased to 255 600kg in 1999 with about 90% of households using firewood and charcoal as an energy source,” the website cites.
The latest data obtained from the National Charcoal Union of Liberia (NACUL) in 2005 showed that charcoal production in Liberia now stands at 36 500 000kg (36 500 tons) per annum. According to www.reegle.info, there is no confirmation data on firewood consumption in Liberia, but findings from a survey conducted by CSET in 2004 indicated that a scarcity of firewood is coming.
The website www.reegle.info states that although Liberia has a high rainfall, annual solar isolation shows good prospects for the application of solar technologies such as photovoltaic and solar thermal for health, education, agriculture and micro-enterprises. “Despite the lack of national data on solar resources in Liberia, global weather data obtained from RETScreen International of Canada and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Department of Energy shows that the monthly average daily solar radiation on the horizontal surface in Liberia is between 4,50 to 6,0 kWh/m2,” it cites. Liberia’s population includes 16 indigenous ethnic groups and various foreign minorities. Indigenous people comprise about 95% of the population, the largest of which are the Kpelle in central and western Liberia. A total of 31 indigenous languages are spoken within Liberia, none of which is a first language to more than a small percentage of the population. English is the official language and serves as the lingua franca of the country. Full acknowledgement and thanks are given to www.reegle.info, www.bbc.co.uk and www.state.gov for the information given to write this article.