Liberia, situated in West Africa, is a country that has grown from a colonial settlement of freed slaves from the United States in the 19th century to its current status as an independent republic.
The journey of African American slaves from the United States to Liberia did not come without its complications, and many former slaves were reluctant to give up the freedoms and support network they enjoyed in the US to relocate to an untested African colony. Despite this, the American Colonization Society continued to grew, receiving support from both white abolitionists and slave owners.
The society ultimately secured funding from the US Congress in 1822, and in 1847, established Liberia as a sovereign nation. After the transfer of the colony and its citizens to the Liberian government, the new nation adopted a modified version of the US Constitution.
Though Liberia was initially viewed as a land of opportunity for former slaves, it quickly became apparent that the American Colonization Society’s motives were not purely humanitarian.
To begin with, the American Colonization Society heavily influenced the politics of Liberia. The society favored certain groups of colonists and imposed their own rules on the citizens. They also financed the new Liberian government, and refused to allow any of the native inhabitants to be granted citizenship until 1911. This led to a period of racial tension during which native Liberians were often on the receiving end of discrimination and oppression.
In addition, American Colonization Society members refused to invest in the nation’s infrastructure and maintenance. While the US offered aid to Liberia to encourage its independent status and keep the government in line, most of the country remained in poverty and lacked basic necessities like roads and bridges.
Most importantly, the American Colonization Society’s motives were not pure. By repatriating thousands of African Americans to Africa, the US rid themselves of a large segment of their black population, freeing them of the financial burden of slavery and helping preserve the racial hierarchy of the United States.
The unheard truth is that Liberia was never colonized, but established as a settlement of US citizens, isolated from its African neighbors, where racial tensions and inequity still exist today. While the American Colonization Society was founded on noble intentions, its motives and subsequent actions had lasting repercussions for the Liberian people.
Given the tumultuous history of colonization in Africa, it is noteworthy that Liberia has remained independent and relatively prosperous despite attempts by European powers to claim it for their own. To uncover the reasons for why this is the case, it is useful to look at the history of Liberia and consider why it resisted colonisation.
When the settlers, mostly former slaves, settled the area in 1822 the colony was named Liberia and had a school, public library and printing press already by 1826. While commerce had brought some prosperity to the colony, illness and conflict with the indigenous population began to plague the settlers of the new colony. Leading to the eventual declaration of the Republic of Liberia in 1847, Joseph Jenkins Roberts became the first president of the new independent nation.
The Virginian-born Roberts was a leading advocate of emigration of African Americans back to Africa, and with the passing of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which provided greater incentive for people to be coerced into slavery, he became even more determined to help the cause of African-American trekking across the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, a further 5,000 settlers migrated to Liberia during the years 1840s and 50s.
However, the growing population of African-American immigrants in Liberia created friction with indigenous Africans, eventually leading to open borders, military skirmishes and the creation of two countries of Liberia and what is now known as the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire. These tensions as well as diseases such as malaria limited the capacity of the country to conquer and control other territories in West Africa, which in turn acted as a deterrent to large-scale colonization by European powers.
In addition, the Liberian settlement was able to carve out a relatively successful and stable society despite these odds. This was due to the determination of the new settlers who refused to give up the dream of a free African state. Furthermore, the diplomatic skills of Liberia’s early presidents.
In the 19th century, the western world began to look at Africa as a potential source of wealth and valuable resources. The western world eagerly wanted to carve up the “Dark Continent” and exert political control over the African people. Surprisingly, they left one African country off their list: Liberia. Although there have been varying interpretations of why Liberia was spared from colonization, a closer look at Liberia’s past reveals the truth behind its special status in the eyes of the world.
Throughout most of its history, Liberia has maintained close ties with the United States and other European countries. In the early 19th century, the United States had already begun founding a settlement in Liberia, known as the American Colonization Society (ACS). By 1867, over 20,000 people had been moved from the United States to Liberia and half of them died along the way. This was, in part, due to the harsh conditions of transatlantic travel at the time.
Although the Americo-Liberians, as they eventually became known, only comprised around 5% of Liberia’s population, they had a stranglehold on power and resources in the country. This was due to their better access to resources and education, making them key players in Liberia’s politics and economy. Even after the Americo-Liberians took power in the 1880s, their close ties with the United States effectively deterred European powers from attempting to colonize the country.
Another important factor that helped Liberia avoid colonization relates to the country’s relative isolation from the rest of Africa. Because of its location on the West African coast, it was much harder for European powers to gain a stronghold in the region compared to other parts of the continent. In addition, the European nations already had their sights set on more “strategically” valuable areas, such as the Congo and other inland countries.
The combination of Liberia’s ties with the United States and its remote location ultimately factored into why Liberia was able to remain an independent country throughout the 19th century. Even after the Americo-Liberians lost power in the 1980s, Liberia has largely continued to rely on strong relations with the United States. Liberia’s remote location also made it Less attractive to European colonizers. Consequently, Liberia was one of the few African countries that was never colonized by a European power. The combination of Liberia’s close relationship with the United States and its remote location ultimately allowed it to remain an independent country throughout the 19th century.
In conclusion, the primary reason why Liberia was never colonized is because of the country’s strategic location. Situated between two European colonies, Liberia was used as a buffer zone to prevent hostile takeover. Additionally, the Liberian government was resistant to European encroachment, and the terrain made it difficult for colonialists to establish a foothold. These factors combined to create a perfect storm that discouraged colonization.