Perspective: Wild West of Africa; Few of Us Could Have Pinpointed Liberia on a Map until the Recent Coverage Given to the Long and Brutal Civil War. Now There Is a Worldwide Aid Appeal for This West African nation.Caroline Foulkes Takes a Look at a Country Born out of Good Intentions but with a History of Conflict

Article excerpt

Byline: Caroline Foulkes

The breakfast is waffles with maple syrup, the currency is the dollar and the accent is pure Deep South.

But this is not America. This is Africa.

Being a colony itself for so long, America never got the kind of toehold in Africa that European countries achieved. It never got to build an empire, stamp its hallmark on it then watch it crumble.

It got Liberia instead. An African state with the dark, troubled soul of the Deep South.

It started out well enough. After the American Revolution, many of the African Americans brought to the New World by slave traders continued to suffer hardship. A number of white Americans took it upon themselves, for a variety of reasons, to lend them a hand, and the American Colonization Society (ACS) was born.

In 1820 the ACS arranged for a group of immigrants to be sent to Sherbro Island, Sierra Leone, to establish a new life. But many of them succumbed to the island's swampy, unhealthy conditions. A representative was then dispatched further up the West coast of Africa to the Cape Mesurado area to seek out better land for the colony. Although the heads of the Dey and Bassa tribes who populated the region were initially reluctant to give up their land to total strangers they were eventually persuaded, possibly at gunpoint, to part with a strip of land '36 miles long and three miles wide' running along the coast.

Christened Christopolis, the new colony was governed by an ACS representative. Yet tensions soon arose. Settlers objected to the ACS authoritarian policies and in 1824 the representative was forced to flee.

The situation was resolved a year later when a constitution and government were established. The settlement was renamed Monrovia after the then US president, James Monroe, and the colony itself was named Liberia -the free land.

Yet it was not until July 26, 1847 that Liberia became truly free, when the Liberian Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed. In the text, the Liberians charged the US with injustices that made it necessary for them to leave the country and start a new life elsewhere and called for the international community to recognise them as an independent sovereignty. The USA refused to do so until after the Civil War.

In spite of this enmity, the influence America had on Liberia was, and is, evident. Despite the African origins of the settlers, most had never known anything other than the American way of life. Hence they transferred many of the habits of the Deep South to the new colony. Buildings sprang up that would have been more at home on the banks of the Mississippi. Long, drawn-out drawls of accents from Carolina, Virginia and Louisiana dominated. They still do. And like the good ole US of A, Liberia has its own Capitol Building. The flag that flies over it is a diluted version of the Star Spangled Banner, bearing a single blue star and half a dozen red stripes.

They also adopted some of the worst traits of life in the American South. As time went on, immigration from the States slowed, and the AmericoLiberians began to depend on immigrants from the surrounding African countries to swell the population of the new republic. And just as their white American masters had seen themselves as superior to the Americo-Liberians when they were slaves, so the Americo-Liberians saw themselves as superior to the native Africans with whom they shared a common history. The Americo-Liberians began to form the upper tier of society and treated the native Africans like the slaves they had once been, forming a unique case of black-on-black apartheid. And when independence was declared, all the hardships of the past were forgotten

as the Africans were denied citizenship. Those who dared to protest were dealt with harshly.

It was not until 1904 that Africans gained any recognition in the eyes of the law, when an administrative system was put in place that brought indigenous peoples into an indirect political relationship with the central government through their own paid officials. …