Roberts International Airport is Liberia’s only international airport. The airport is about 35 miles (60km) outside of Downtown Monrovia.
Reasons for Urban Migration to Monrovia
Geo-climatic and Historical Factors
Mosquitoes and jungle beasts proliferate the dense forests that comprise Monrovia. For this reason, rural areas were typically left to the tribal chiefs and general population growth would occur in more urbanized areas, Monrovia being the largest.
Monrovia is the largest commercial, financial and administrative center in Liberia. This centralization leads to an urban bias in policymakers to dispense more resources and have a higher concentration of development in Monrovia which, in turn, draws in the population to the city for economic opportunities and governmental benefits. Furthermore, according to LISGIS & Macro International (2008), urban respondents and those in Monrovia are much more likely to fall in the highest wealth quintile.
War and Internal Displacements
The civil crisis fought intermittently from 1989 to 2003 led to major population shifts within and out of the country. Since most people were forced to leave Liberia for safety reasons, many were also uprooted from their places of residence and moved to other parts of the country. During the first half of the 1990s when Monrovia was under the control of the ECOMOG peacekeepers and governed by the various Interim Governments, many moved from rebel controlled rural Liberia to Monrovia.
But this trend increased during the last version of the war from 1999 to 2003. During the final phase of the war, the western frontier seemed hostile as an escape route for forced migrants from Lofa, Gbarpolu, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties who were always reminded about the reprisal attacks they faced in Sierra Leone during the RUF Invasion of 1991. With the LURD and MODEL controlling the Northwestern and Eastern routes to Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, most people fleeing from the war moved into Monrovia and its environs for safety, harboring the hope that the war would remain a jungle affair. Now that the war has ended, many of the internally displaced persons or IDPs (especially youths and young adults) have remained in Monrovia after getting used to the urban way of life or are compelled to stay due to schooling, business or the pursuit of better standard of living. This has also led to the increase in the population of Monrovia relative to its size and available infrastructural and social services.
One of the exercises in the course is to rectify or use control points to accurately overlay historic maps of our cities in worldmap.
Here is a map of Monrovia in 1969 overlaid onto the current map.
They were published last month in assessment of the policies in place from the last PRSP. I will be writing a policy paper on the changes and considerations that might be projected from this most recent PRSP. I’ll let you guys know when it’s done.
To understand the “debate” around homosexuality in Liberia today, I must call your attention to a bit of privileged historical knowledge of Liberia’s relationship with media (in this case print media) and religion.
Monrovia, because of the conditions of its inception, had a number of newspapers that were started pretty early in the cities life. One of the earliest was the Liberia Herald, which began in 1826 by Charles Force, an American freed slave. He died some months later, but the title was revived in 1830 by Edward Blyden, the anti-colonial thinker and academic, who moved from the Caribbean island of St. Thomas to Liberia. This is important because it marked the beginning of an African press which was critical of the European presence in Africa .
The Maryland Colonization Journal was another American monthly journal published in Baltimore, Maryland that ran in two series from May 1835 to May 1841 and the New Series from June 1841 to 1861.
The October 1841 volume cites the relationship between the 2,000 or so repatriates in the first couple of years in Liberia and the “Baltimore-American“ home base making provisions to export freed blacks, which were as many as 60,000 people at the time. The journal as a whole showcases three main themes: the first is the importance of establishing agricultural stability for the early colonizers; the second is incorporating a strong religious curriculum; and the third is proliferating science and other educational facilities.
One epic quote that really highlights some of these aspirations is a provocation to the state to allocate more attention to agriculture in the colony:
It is the desire of the Maryland State Society to see agriculture made the object of primary importance-not only as placing the means of their own sustenance in the hands of the colonists, and rendering them independent of remote places or the native inhabitants for food; but because nine-tenths, if not a far greater proportion of the emigrants from this country would make better farmers than traders
…the emigrants, finding employment, in agricultural puruits, from the moment of their arrival, and occupied with healthful labour, would have their minds in the best state to receive and preserve those sentiments of religion and morality, which it was the wish of the state society should form the character of the population. It was believed, also, that an agricultural community, spreading itself to the interior, would not only present better examples to the surrounding heathen, whom it was designed to bring to Gospel light, but would afford greater facilities for a rapidly increasing emigration from this country, than could be afforded by trading towns, however prosperous they might be….” (p. 66)
The tone of this quote really shows the invisible hand of the American Colonization Society at work. The writer seems to be pleadingly making the case for agricultural investment and ever so delicately steering the argument towards what appeared in the journal to be a preconceived mantra of maintaining, within this new colony, a sense of holiness and morality; a mantra that Congress – providing $200,000 a year for the colony – had defined.
Another portion of the journal, written by Jabez A. Burton, accounts the Liberian Mission Conference Seminary’s efforts to establish schools and an observatory at the seminary building at Cape Mesurado. Burton states, “we are doing all we can to spread the light of science in company with ‘Spiritual holiness, over these lands.’” (p. 76)
This point of the undertone of religious enlightenment being coupled with development and financial investment is one that speaks to this notion of Black Christian Republicanism as elucidated by Carl Patrick Burrowes . I’ll have to come back this in a later post but keep that in mind as we enter this discussion on homosexuality in Liberia.
Anti-Gay Sentiments Across Africa Today
In keeping in this question of the foundations of religion in Liberia, I want to call your attention to the a video I watched this weekend about a Kenyan man, David Kuria, who happens to be a gay activist and is running for Senate.
Kuria is running even though homosexuality is criminalized in Kenya. The video captures interviews of people off the street responding to the legitimacy of homosexuality in Kenya, a place where homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years of imprisonment. Multiple people cite it as immoral and one mans account cites a divergence from sanctity stating, “If we can know what is causing them to be on the other side than we can bring them to Christ.”
Anti-Gay Sentiments in Monrovia Today
Homosexuality is not part of our existence as a people…We have never been like that. -Fox News
The assertive nature of the quote makes me question what Massaquoi believes the Liberian people to be. I’m interested in the legitimacy of the assertion, considering the complex story of the repatriation of Monrovia. Because the story of Monrovia is comprised of such a tenuous agglomeration of the Americo-Liberians and tribal natives, it is worth questioning where the African-American story in Monrovia ends and where the Liberian story begins. This type of interrogation into the degree to which Western culture has penetrated or, dare I say, defined Liberian culture would really help to frame the discussion around homosexuality in Liberia today; and I’ll tell you why.
I draw your attention back to the point made earlier of the Maryland Colonization Journal and how the mantra of holiness and morality was coupled with development and financial investment. Consider now that recently, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a government-wide policy to push for the decriminalization of homosexuality overseas. Also consider that Liberia receives $200 million annually from the US government. The Fox article states:
Liberian media outlets have consistently reported that the policy calls for the revocation of foreign assistance in countries that don’t guarantee gay rights, despite assurances from U.S. officials to the contrary. -Fox News
Could you imagine the backlash that would be incited against the homosexual underground in Liberia if the population was convinced that the U.S. gave Liberia an ultimatum to decriminalize homosexuality? The U.S. knows this.
So here is what I’m saying. It can be said that same Black Christian Republican mantra that was imported from Maryland and was readily on the tongues of Americo-Liberians in the past to be coupled with development and allocation of funds for investment, is still present today and used by Liberian media and politians to legitimize the criminalizing of homosexuality. The Fox article states:
The U.S. Embassy in Monrovia has remained silent on the issue, even as gay rights campaigners have come under attack.
In an interview last week, outgoing U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said she was concerned that further comment from the Embassy might only inflame anti-gay sentiment, especially in light of “occasionally irresponsible” reporting by local media.
“I can’t be guaranteed that a public statement that we give will be put out in the way that we want the statement put out,” she said. -Fox News
Although Massaquoi confirmed that he had met privately with U.S. officials who stressed that foreign assistance to Liberia would not be conditional on gay rights, the U.S. is short on words and, it would seem, actions to counter Massaquoi’s bill because they must tread lightly for fear of the mutated, re-purposed ghost of its own outdated exported ideologies of “holiness” and “morality.”
Irony much? I’ll continue to follow this story in the weeks and months to come. It’s too tragically comedic not to.
Akpan, M. B. “Liberia and the Universal Negro Improvement Association: The Background to the Abortion of Garvey’s Scheme for African Colonization” The Journal of African History , Vol. 14, No. 1 (1973), pp. 105-127 Published by: Cambridge University Press Article. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/180779
There are multiple sources that one can access to gather a varying range of opinion of Monrovia. One such resource is a National Geographic Blog by Teri Weefur, a Digital Media employee at NatGeo. A native of Liberia, she left in 1990 in the onset of civil war. She has an awesome flickr page that gives you a sense of landscapes and textures around the city.
I include this link to a recent article in the Economist as it proposed a question of a deficit in postwar documentation. The author, reading “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy inquired why there had not been a similar novel that details the accounts of wartime events from the peoples perspective. Nevertheless a thought provoking article, the comments section seems to be the most insightful section, with a number of responses that
How about President Sirleaf’s Autobiography, or her fellow Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee’s recent memoir, or Helen Cooper’s House on Sugar Beach?
For non-Liberian authors, what about Johnny Steinberg’s excellent “Little Liberia” published last year in the UK and now for sale in the US, that recounts a host of harrowing personal trials during the worst days of the conflict? More academically, there’s the exhaustive account in Stephen Ellis’s The Mask of Anarchy, for starters.
That’s not to mention the dozen of award-winning documentary and drama films about the Civil War, such as Pray the Devil Back to Hell, or Johnny Mad Dog.
There are other such comments in that give name to documentation around the war if one is so inclined to check it out.
Architecture Masonic Temple
One of the oldest buildings in Monrovia, the now ruined Masonic Grand Lodge House was once Monrovia’s major landmark. The Masonic Order of Liberia was established in 1867. It is one of 17 lodges in Liberia. Since most Masons were Americo-Liberian descendants of the original settlers, the Temple was a prominent symbol of previous regimes, and was vandalised after the 1980 coup when the Masonic Order was banned. It was used as a refugee center during the recent civil war. A grand master’s throne from the temple, once used by William Tubman, sits on dusty display at the National Museum.
A testament to its Americo-Liberian significance, the temple is adjacent to the Embassy of the United States on a perch that overlooks the peninsula.
1| Write a short history of your city. When was it founded, by whom, and in what circumstances? What does the name of your city mean? What is the broader significance of this history and name? What questions does this name raise?
2| Provide a short bibliography of key academic or primary sources on you city.
Monrovia, founded in 1822 as Christopolis, had its name changed to Monrovia in honor of the fifth U.S. President James Monroe, a prominent supporter of the colonization of Liberia. Along with Washington, D.C., it is one of only two national capitals in the world to be named after a U.S. President. Monrovia was founded thirty years after Freetown, Sierra Leone, the first permanent Black American settlement in Africa. A campaign by Thomas Jefferson to return the displaced and marginalized freed African Americans to the land of their origin, in 1817 the American Colonization Society was formed and two years later the US Congress allotted $100,000, (which according to www.measuringworth.com would be equivalent to $1,690,000 today) “for the keep and deportation of the liberated Negroes.” It really begs the question of intention behind the establishment of the nation. Both Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe admittedly saw deportation as more preferable than emancipation in America; but for whom? Was it to benefit the white Americans that were not ready to see an integrated society in which freed blacks were their equivalent, or were the sympathies genuine. Perhaps Monroe foresaw the long fight that would ensue for true equality or he thought that African Americans themselves all wanted to return to Africa.
A Brief History
1820 was the year that early settlers crossed the Atlantic on the Elizebeth. Initially landing at the British settlement comparable to the American deportation efforts, Sherbo Island – near Freetown, Sierra Leone – the settlers continued South to escape the deplorable health conditions. They arrived at what would be called Monrovia. They settled at Cape Mesurado and, with much hardship the foundations were laid between 1822 and 1828, through the help of Jehudi Ashmun, a white American. To follow were the establishment of Liberian Independence and its constitution, neighboring British and French colonies redrawing Liberia’s borders, the establishment of an anti-European Frontier Force with the aid of the British and a subsequent “cold war” so to speak in which British Government besieged the Monrovian shores with gunships in the face of mutiny.
The coup did not occur, but the Monrovian Government requested American assistance in the efforts of “maintaining the independence of the Republic.” There call was answered by President William Taft and was to be followed by years of negotiation, debt accrual and settlements with British, French and Germans all jockeying for position in the wealth of resources the country had to offer. Those resources included a major export of palm oil – used for the production of munitions – and rubber, which by the early 20th century, Britain had 3/4 of the market share in the Far East. Such was the setting for the Firestone Company swooping in under a 99 year contract agreement for plantations on up to 100 acres of land in the Liberian public domain. American Harvey S. Firestone Jr. would be the overseer of the operation in Monrovia which led to the advancement of the nation with large infrastructural investments; such as highways, railroads, and telecommunications; education and workforce training facilities that taught pigeon English to flatten the 27 initial tongues of the region; of which Kpelle was the most widely used; and socio-anthropological and geographical surveying that uncovered the complexity and richness of the Liberian land and its people.
Liberia itself is described as having “no harbor worth while. The surf breaks in tumult upon every mile of its coast, guarded by reefe and sand bars. The several rivers bring down deposits of silt that block every passage. From end to end it is a dangerous coast.” Ships had to anchor a mile away from the coast and only small native boats could navigate the streams and inlets along the coast. This and other features has everything to do with why Liberia’s population is centered at Monrovia.
Fraenkel, Merran. Tribe and Class in Monrovia. London: Published for the International African Institute by the Oxford UP, 1964. Print.
Young, James C. Liberia Rediscovered. New York: Doubleday, Doran &, 1934. Print.
Cassell, C. Abayomi. Liberia: History of the First African Republic. New York: Fountainhead Publishers, Inc., 1970. Print.
Alexander, Archibald, D.D. A History of Colonization on the Western Coast of Africa. Philadelphia: William S. Martien, 1846. Print.