Liberia and its relationship to the United States has been in the news again lately. It reminded me of something I read the last time Liberia was topical, in 2001. It’s an excerpt from Ryszard Kapuscinski‘s Shadow of the Sun. This sad story is one of how a conflict in contemporary Africa has its roots in probably one of the least known legacies of the institution of slavery in the early United States:

Every year from [1821] on, ships came from America carrying groups of liberated slaves, who began to settle in the area of present-day Monrovia. They did not constitute a large population. By the time the Republic of Liberia was proclaimed, in 1847, there were only 6,000 of them. It is quite possible that their number never even reached 20,000: less than 1% of the country’s population. They called themselves Americo-Liberians. …

From their experience in the American South, the Americo-Liberians knew only one type of relationship: master-slave. Their first move upon arrival in this new land, therefore, was to recreate precisely that social structure, only now they, the slaves of yesterday, were the masters, and it was the indigenous communities whom they set out to conquer and rule.

… The Americo-Liberians proclaimed that only they could be citizens, denying that right to the other 99% of the population. Laws were passed defining this majority as merely “tribesmen”, people without culture – savage, heathen.


[…Samuel] Doe‘s coup [in 1980] was not simply the exchange of a corrupt political boss/bureaucrat for a semi-illiterate in uniform. It was simultaneously a bloody, cruel, and caricature-like revolt of the downtrodden, half-enslaved masses from the African jungle against their hated rulers – the descendants of slaves from American plantations.</blockquote>