The First Liberian Civil War
History 132Professor Patricia Gloster-Coates
Liberia’s First Civil War
In the latter half of the 20th century, Africa has borne witness to some of the most bloody and violent conflicts in recent history. With the newfound right to rule their own nations, Africans found they also had the right to wage war and topple the fledgling establishments that grew from the skeletons of European colonies. Liberia is a nation that had retained independence from the great European powers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Much like Sierra Leone, Liberia’s inhabitants originally consisted of ex-slaves from the United States of America. In spite of this, Liberia was no exception to the cycle of African conflict and warfare. Initially a prosperous democracy, by the 1980s Liberia was virtually a dictatorship under regime of Samuel Doe, and a country that would soon see war on its soil. The war which accounted for over 200,000 lives lost and the displacement of millions was a culmination of years of mismanagement, corruption and poor decision-making by then president Samuel Doe. Before going into the origins of the war it is important to determine the type of war the Liberian Civil War truly was. There is little disagreement that the war was a civil war as it was between the people of the nation and the goal was clearly to overthrow the government and reform the country. It can also be determined that the Liberian Civil War was a guerrilla war because much of the opposition to Doe's government was guerrilla parties such as the National Patriotic Front of Liberia which was a rebel unit that had invaded from the Ivory Coast. Finally, when classifying the war against Doe's regime, it is important to note that the war was by all definitions, a total war as it was contained within the nation state and all sides of the conflict, civilian or otherwise, put forth all their resources to win. When it comes down to it the war did not take place in battlefields, but in village roads and city streets, the deaths we see from this war were not all soldiers, in fact a good percentage were civilians without any formal training at all. Of course, the aforementioned conflict did not spring up in a day. Liberia was established by freed American slaves with the idea that former slaves would have further freedom and equality there. When developing the blueprint for the state the early founders had a choice to build a united Liberia or to form a civilized state with the mission to civilize and Christianize the “savage and barbaric” indigenous population as a precondition for citizenship and land ownership in the land of their birth and nativity. By adapting a Euro-American style of civilizing and Christianizing, over time their mission degraded the majority of the indigenous inhabitants, and ex-slave settlers. This dominated political discourse and served as the foundation of the Liberian state. The second historical root cause of the Liberian conflict finds basis in the intimidating use of force and authority to sustain the settlers’ control as it relates to culture, the acquisition of land and the corresponding issues of identity and trade. The American Colonization Society and settlers’ mentality dominated the native’s culture and practices as being inferior and uncivilized. In order to be employed or conduct trade one had to be civilized which meant indefinitely assuming a new identity. Natives were required to change their name, religion, social orientation, and their dress code if they wanted to function within society which was a means of living. This mandated practiced enraged natives because they were forced to strip unique personal aspects of their life in order to surivive. William Tolbert was an Americo-Liberian who belonged to one of the largest Americo-Liberian families in Liberia. The former vice president took control of Liberia in 1972. During his presidency...
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