In the 1970s, as an enthusiastic young graduate in his twenties, the author left the Netherlands for the West-African country of Liberia. He lectured at the University of Liberia where his students included future ministers. One later emerged as a feared warlord, while one of his colleagues even became the country's president. During his many years in Liberia, the author travelled to every corner of the country, visited rubber plantations and iron ore mines, and spoke to managers and workers. In the capital, Monrovia, he met political activists, journalists, ministers, civil servants and academics, from whom he learned much about the country: Africa's first independent republic, founded in 1847 by freed slaves from the United States of America. Forty years later, in this personal account, the author looks back on the country he has grown to love. In 2012, he returned to Liberia and found a country in the process of recovering from two gruesome civil wars that cost the lives of an estimated 250,000 people and left an unknown large number of people wounded and traumatized. How could a country that was considered to be one of the most stable in Africa descend into such chaos and anarchy? What went wrong? And how is itto move forward? The author tries to answer these questions, based on his own observations. He focuses particular attention on Liberia's current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first democratically elected female president and joint winner ofthe Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, and her role in the country's new start after the forced resignation of warlord-president Charles Taylor.This new start aims at both national unification - made more difficult by the scars of the civil wars and the lack of attention for national reconciliation - and the country's economic development. To achieve the latter, president Sirleaf has revived Liberia's traditional 'Open Door Policy' - attracting foreign capital and knowhow in exchange for favourable business conditions - but these efforts were severely compromised in 2014 by the Ebola epidemic, which devastated Liberia's already weak public health system. [Book abstract]



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Fredericus Philippus Maria van der Kraaij
Afrika-Studiecentrum, Leiden