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Liberia: The independent land of the free

Unlike other African countries, Liberia is the only African republic to have self-proclaimed independence without gaining independence through revolt from any other nation, being Africa’s first and oldest republic. Liberia maintained and kept its independence during the European colonial era.

Liberia is Africa’s oldest republic, founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves in 1822. It also has Africa’s first female president, with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf elected in 2005, two years after the end of a brutal 14-year conflict.

Since then, and now that the Ebola crisis is over, Liberia is picking itself up and can also boast that Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2011 for her efforts to secure peace, promote economic and social development and strengthen the position of women.

Situated on Africa’s West coast, Liberia is bordered by Sierra Leone to its west, Guinea to its north and Ivory Coast to its east. It covers an area of 111,369 square kilometres and is home to 4,5 million people. The slave descendants make up only about 5% of the population now and English is the official language while over 20 indigenous languages are spoken.

Forests on the coastline are composed mostly of salt-tolerant mangrove trees, while the more sparsely populated inland has forests opening onto a plateau of drier grasslands. Liberia has about 40% of the remaining Upper Guinean rainforest.

The climate is equatorial, with significant rainfall during the May–October rainy season and harsh dry and dusty harmattan winds from the Sahara winds the remainder of the year.

Monrovia is the wettest capital in the world, with annual rainfall heavy here and along the coast. Temperatures range from 23°C to 32°C in Monrovia, and are slightly higher inland. Forested areas tend to feel slightly cooler.

The December to July dry season is the most popular time to visit. During the rains, which usually begin in May or June and peter out in October, there are spectacular storms and good waves for surfers.

Away from the coast, Sapo is Liberia’s only national park, a lush expanse of rainforest containing some of West Africa’s last remaining primary rainforest, as well as forest elephants, pygmy hippos, chimpanzees, antelopes and other wildlife.

It is about an hour’s drive from Monrovia (by 4×4) and it is best to go on an organised tour, like Barefoot Safari.

A low-income country dependent on foreign aid, Liberia is rich with water and mineral resources and its climate favourable for agriculture. Principle exports are iron ore, rubber (it has the biggest rubber plantation in the world, run by Firestone), gold and timber.