Liberia at a glance
By the Times staff
Published August 5, 2007
Area: Slightly larger than Tennessee.
Ethnic groups: indigenous African, 95 percent; Americo-Liberian, 2.5 percent (descendants of freed U.S. slaves); Congo People, 2.5 percent (descendants of former Caribbean slaves).
Religions: Christian, 40 percent; Muslim, 20 percent; indigenous beliefs, 40 percent.
Languages: English (official) and about 20 ethnic group languages.
The situation: One of the world's poorest countries. Electricity is scarce, as is running water. Just 26 doctors practice in the country.
Leaders, old and new
Samuel K. Doe
Born in 1951, Doe joined the army after the 11th grade. In 1980, a group of military men from the indigenous Liberian population killed President William Tolbert, took control of the government and installed Doe as president. Initially popular, he was faced with widespread rebellion by 1989, led by Charles Taylor. Doe was captured and killed in September 1990 by rebels loyal to Prince Johnson, another factional leader.
Born in 1948, Taylor was educated in the United States. In 1980, he joined Doe's administration. Accused of embezzlement, Taylor fled to the United States but later made his way back to Africa and began building an armed force. In 1989, he led it in a rebellion against Doe. A peace agreement and elections brought Taylor to the presidency in August 1997. In 2003, a U.N. tribunal indicted Taylor for war crimes. He went into exile and later was brought before a U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone. His trial, moved to The Hague, Netherlands, began in June 2007.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Born in 1938, in Monrovia. In 1957, she married James Sirleaf, a Liberian business student. She received a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University. She served in the early 1970s as a finance minister for President William Tolbert. She fell out with Doe, who overthrew Tolbert, and spent most of the '80s outside the country in international banking. Johnson Sirleaf supported the 1989-90 coup by Charles Taylor, but soon opposed his autocratic rule. She was sworn in as Africa's first elected female president Jan. 16, 2006. Known to Liberians as Ma Ellen, the 68-year-old grandmother is an economist trying to turn around one of the world's most damaged nations with a fierceness that has earned her another nickname: the Iron Lady.
Sources: Information Please, Times wires, CIA World Factbook, World Book