Friday, 6 December 2013

Liberia - Ten random facts

As usual, I learned more interesting things about Liberia than I have had time to blog about – so I’m going to leave you with some interesting facts about this small West African country, to give you a taste of my wider learning experience.

1. In 1968, Liberia overtook the UK as the country with the highest number of registered ships in the world. This might seem a little bit strange until you find out more about the murky business of ‘flags of convenience’. First used by US companies, who starting registering their ships in Panama in the 1920’s, in an effort to keep costs down, there are now quite a few countries around the world that allow foreign companies to register ships in their country and fly their national flag. Liberia, Panama and the Marshall Islands are the top three countries of this type – other countries that are seen to operate ‘flags of convenience’ are the Bahamas, Barbados, Cyprus, Honduras, Mongolia (despite the fact that it’s a landlocked country), North Korea and Sri Lanka

Downtown Monrovia by David Sasaki
2. Liberia is sub-divided into fifteen counties and each county has its own flag. The newest county is Gbarpolu, created in 2001, it has a diamond on its flag, no doubt due to Gbarpolu’s proximity to Sierra Leone

3. Before its foundation in the early 19th century, the area which is now Liberia was known as the ‘Pepper coast’ and also as the ‘Grain coast’, in reference to the melegueta pepper which grows there. As a spice, melegueta pepper was also known as ‘grains of paradise’

4. Liberia adopted the British West African pound as its national currency, in 1907. The British West African pound was originally used by Liberia’s English-speaking neighbours in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Ghana. Liberia switched to the US dollar in 1943 and this was the country’s main currency until 1982. Liberians now use their own currency and one US dollar currently buys around 80 Liberian dollars

The Mamba Point motorcycle shot by David Sasaki
5. The US company, Firestone, crops up again and again in Liberia’s history. A source of employment for local people, Firestone could also potentially be seen as a source of exploitation of local resources and labour and may have been somehow involved in the Liberian slavery/forced labour scandal, investigated by the League of Nations in the 1930’s. At one point, Firestone owned 4,000 km2 of Liberia, which they had hoped to turn into the world’s largest rubber plantation.

6. Although I read a lot about the Liberian ex-pat community in Staten Island, I learned that there are also substantial Liberian diasporas in Minneapolis and Providence, Rhode Island.

7. Charles Taylor’s son was nicknamed ‘Chuckie’ Taylor and lived in Florida until he was seventeen. He developed a fearsome reputation as a commander in his father’s 'anti-terrorist unit' and is currently serving a jail sentence in the US, for his role in human rights violations

Liberian fisherman by David Sasaki
8. The border area between Liberia and Sierra Leone is a notorious ‘hotspot’ for Lassa fever. One of the world’s deadliest diseases, it kills around 5,000 people every year and, like Ebola, it’s a haemorrhagic fever, which basically means that victims bleed to death

9. The Liberian constitution still discriminates on the basis of race, in that, only ‘black’ African inhabitants can claim Liberian citizenship – people from other races, including the 4,000 or so people of Lebanese descent, cannot claim Liberian citizenship or exercise the right to vote, even if they were born in Liberia or come from generations of Liberian-born immigrants 

10. Sanniquellie, in Nimba county, is often referred to as ‘the birthplace of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)’. In 1959, the political leaders of Liberia, Guinea and Ghana met to discuss the different paths to African unity. The talks later moved to Addis Ababa, where the organisation was officially founded in 1963

Image credits:

For this blog post, I wanted to highlight the photography of Flickr member oso, a.k.a. David Sasaki.  Originally from Seattle, David is now based in San Diego.  You can see more of his work on his photo stream.  Thanks David for sharing these images with us using the Creative Commons license. 

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