National integration in Liberia: an evolving pursuit.

Author:Oritsejafor, Emmanuel O.


After over one hundred sixty years of independence the Liberian state was close to total collapse as a result of fourteen years of civil war. The state's failure and breakdown of central authority has had debilitating social, economic, and political consequences, such as; destruction of valuable infrastructure, internal and cross-border refugee problems, unemployment, hunger and violation of human rights. The challenge for a post-conflict state such as Liberia is the consolidation of democracy and the implementation of the necessary steps required to achieve sustainable development (i)

Thus, the quest for national integration in Liberia should be a development imperative in order to avert some of the inherent political and economic crisis that led to the near collapse of the state system. This paper also suggests that a partnership between local communities and the state could bring about national integration rather than a development model that is state centered that would require that informal institutions in Liberia play an integral role in the political and economic development of the post-conflict state.

Hence, I will also provide an abridged history of Liberia, followed by the methodology, a conceptual framework of the paper, a literature review, and an analysis of national integration in Liberia.

Historical Context

The history of Liberia can be traced as far back as 1816 with the formation of the American Colonization Society (ACS). (ii) The primary objective of the organization was to promote and execute a plan for settling in Africa freed people of color residing in the United States. (iii) From 1818 to 1847 the American Colonization Society with the support of the United States government began the process of emigration and repatriation of free persons of African heritage back to Africa. The process began with the passage of the Congressional Anti-Slave Trade Act of 1819, when the president of American Colonization Society Bushrod Washington was granted permission by President James Monroe to execute the Congressional Act in Africa (iv).

However, between 1822 and 1847 Liberia was under the colonial administrative control of the United States government, which apart from protecting Liberia from other neighboring European interests, it was also preoccupied with mounting opposition from the majority indigenous groups. Against this background, the settlers created their own ethnic identity, hence the Americo-Liberians. (v)

On achieving independence, the young republic of Liberia encountered several socio-economic problems; one of which was the hostility between the indigenous people and the Americo-Liberians. One of the causes of this hostility was the land tenure system and land ownership. Thus, opposition by indigenous groups who were the original land owners in Liberia became common. Another reason for this hostility was cultural misunderstanding. The settlers, because of their acquired Western values, had become acculturated in Western culture while their counterparts lived according to traditional African mores. (vi)

The Americo-Liberians viewed the culture of indigenous Liberians as primitive and saw themselves as a civilizing force. Accordingly, President Jenkins Roberts, an Americo-Liberian leader, stated that Americo-Liberians had a manifest destiny to bring civilization to the tribal heathen of the hinter land." (vii) The hostility between Americo-Liberians and the indigenous groups led to several ethnic conflicts that were apparent in some of the inter-ethnic land conflict in Liberia when the first settlers arrival during the pre-independence period of the republic. According to Gus Liebenow, "The initial misunderstanding was over the traditional concept of land tenure, which was based upon use rather than ownership through purchase ..." (viii) "This was compounded by the subsequent failure of the settlers or the American Colonization Society to pay even the low prices agreed upon; by the seizure of land for alleged insults against the colonists or for nonpayment of debts; and by constant disputes over land boundaries." (ix)

The land issue was subsequently complicated by the policies and practices in the use of native labor on farms owned by Liberian settlers. The native labor policies reinforced social inequities between Americo-Liberians and the indigenous groups. For instance, indigenous Liberians lacked basic amenities on farmlands, while Americo Liberians had the power to fine their indigenous employees. Also, the apprenticeship system under which indigenous youth were assigned to Americo Liberian families until they came of age was extensively abused and was at the root of a labor discord during the early period. (x)

However, these actions created a situation in Africa not unlike the very one against which the repatriated Americo Liberians themselves had rebelled against in America. The indigenous Africans were expected to give freely their labor for road construction and other public works; as well as their payment of taxes to an alien people. It is under these inhumane conditions that a conflict between the Americo Liberians and the indigenous Africans was further exacerbated. The Americo-Liberians were committed to Western culture and the capitalist system of labor exploitation. Consequently, they showed cultural hostility towards the indigenous inhabitants. Gus Liebenow addressed the manner in which this hostility was shown as follows:

"The settlers' arrogance was demonstrated in relations with the Vai, the Dei, and other indigenous with whom they were in intimate contact created a climate of hostility which still persists today. Ruling during the early period against nudity, wage differentials between settlers and tribal persons, the reluctance of the settler to marry or provide dowry for tribal women with whom the established informal liaisons, continuing efforts at conversion to Christianity, and the patterns of segregation that emerged in housing and education demonstrated the settlers contempt for the tribal persons and their culture" (xi)

Although over the years many of the abuses have been curbed and even a certain amount of assimilation has taken place across the settler indigenous line, the prescribed form of integration was decidedly on Americo Liberian terms and conditional upon the acceptance by the indigenous person of various facets of the settler culture and not the reverse. The norms that were imposed by the Americo Liberians were modeled after those of the society of North America which had denied them full membership. It is against this background that this paper argues that national integration in Liberia is a political and economic imperative for nation building. Thus, the issue of national integration is even far more profound given the near collapse of the state as a result of the civil war and the post war challenge of nation building.


In an attempt to critically analyze the challenges of political and economic integration in Liberia we selected the exploratory method as our main research tool. An exploratory method could be dominated by an intensive analysis of the data and information available or even through valuable interviews. (xii)

This study resorted principally to a critical analysis of the data and information available as well as useful recorded speeches. We used primary and secondary data in our effort to analysis the problems of political and economic integration in Liberia. The limitation of an analysis of this type is the inability to observe these problems as an outside and inside observer. Therefore, one has to settle for available primary and secondary data.

The exploratory approach is an important and effective way of ferreting out information about the issues. It is a valuable and dependable tool of research because it can generate answers and results that approximate reality (xiii) In addition; the exploratory method provides many insights into complex social issues and furnishes answers as to how these complexities could be resolved. As Earl Babbie strongly contends, "Exploratory studies are valuable in social scientific research; they are essential because they yield new insights to topics that are of scholarly interest." (xiv)

Theoretical Framework

In an attempt to provide an adequate analysis of the challenges of national integration in Liberia, this paper also advances a political economy framework with a focus on class relations. The premise of this analysis is that class divisions and the attendant social cleavages compounded the problem of economic and political integration.

Identifying the class divisions in Liberia disproves the notion that African societies are classless and changeless. And the truth of the social system in Africa has been adequately analyzed by Samir Amin wherein he posits that "The fallacy of the changeless and classless social system in the functionalist premises of the social anthropology of Africa was once again challenged in the history of African political economy." (xv) Thus, the Trans-Saharan trade enabled the whole world, including the Mediterranean, the Arab and the European to obtain gold from what was the principal producing area before the discovery of America: namely, upper Senegal and Ashanti. These trade relations contributed greatly to the emergence of class oriented structural formations in tropical Africa, and were in Amin's view integrated at an early stage in the nascent capitalist system. (xvi) Clearly the Trans-Saharan trade, more than any other factor, produced socio-political conditions in Africa that fostered the development of social differentiations, the constitution of states and empires, and the progress of productive forces that led to improvements in the instruments of production, and the adaptation of techniques and products. (xvii)

A class analysis as advanced above provides the context in which one can better understand class relations...

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