Liberia is a country in West Africa, bordering Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. On the Atlantic coast, the capital city of Monrovia is home to the Liberia National Museum, with its exhibits on national culture and history. Around Monrovia are palm-lined beaches like Silver and CeCe. Along the coast, beach towns include the port of Buchanan, as well as laid-back Robertsport, known for its strong surf. Today, we’ve unearthed 14 interesting facts about the West African nation for your enjoyment.
1. It was created for freed slaves
The American Colonization Society founded Liberia in 1821 as a place for free African Americans to migrate to. More than 10,000 made the journey across the Atlantic, aided by the society, until Liberia declared independence in 1847. Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a freed slave from Virginia, became the first president.
Its recent history has been far more torrid, starting with Samuel Doe’s coup of 1980, and continuing with years of civil war and the despotic rule of Charles Taylor, which ended in 2003. The Ebola outbreak of 2014, now officially over, once again put its recovery on the back foot.
2. The average resident is under 18 years
Liberia is 171 years old today, but it is also one of the world’s youngest countries. According to the CIA World Factbook, the average age of its citizens is 17.9 years. By way of comparison, a typical resident of Monaco, the world’s most elderly country, is 51.1.
3. The world’s biggest cruise ships are registered there
The cruise industry is regularly accused of flying a “flag of convenience” by registering their ships in countries where employment laws are less stringent. All but one of NCL’s ships are registered in the Bahamas; Carnival and MSC register theirs in Panama; Oceania Cruises in the Marshall Islands, and P&O Cruises in Bermuda. And Royal Caribbean International, which possesses the three largest cruise ships on the planet, is incorporated in Liberia, along with 12 per cent of the world’s entire maritime fleet.
4. Most Liberians speak English
According to David Crystal’s book English as a Global Language, more than half the population in 45 countries (excluding the UK) speak good English. They include The Philippines, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Singapore, Austria, Finland, Malaysia, Belgium, Greece – and Liberia. Indeed, while more than 20 indigenous alternatives are spoken, it is the country’s official language.
5. It has Africa’s cleanest cities
The World Health Organization (WHO) tracks air quality at 1,622 urban locations in 92 countries. Pakistan’s urban areas are, on average, the world’s most polluted, followed by Qatar and Afghanistan. Europe’s most polluted cities are found in Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia.
Of the 92 countries to feature, Australia has the least polluted urban areas, followed by Brunei and New Zealand, while Liberia comes 10th, ahead of the likes of Spain, Japan, the US and the UK.
6. The lack of smokers might help
Liberia is among the 20 countries on Earth that smoke the fewest cigarettes per capita – just 104 per adult per year. Montenegro, where 4,124.53 cigarettes are smoked per adult per year, according to 2014 figures from the WHO, is top of the pile, while Belarus, Macedonia, Russia, Slovenia and Bosnia also make the top 10.
7. There’s an eerie abandoned hotel
Once one of West Africa’s most lavish hotels, Ducor Palace in Monrovia was popular with moneyed tourists, visiting dignitaries and business people, but political uncertainty led to its closure in 1989 and the former five-star resort has since become home to local squatters.
8. But no World Heritage Sites
Unesco has seen fit to recognise a staggering 1,073 World Heritage Sites, but not a single one belongs to Sierra Leone, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, South Sudan, Bhutan – or Liberia.
9. There’s a spectacular national park
One contender for Unesco to look at might be Sapo National Park. It is the country’s largest protected reserve and home to 125 types of mammal and 590 types of bird. Among them are a number of threatened species, such as the pygmy hippopotamus and the African golden cat. You’ll also find African forest elephants, crocodiles, leopards, seven species of monkey and three species of pangolin, one of the weirdest looking animals you’re likely to see.
10. Its airlines are banned from Europe
There are currently more than 100 airlines – most of which you probably haven’t heard of – banned from EU airspace, or facing operational restrictions, as they don’t meet safety or regulatory standards. They include every airline from Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Sudan. In practice, however, that doesn’t mean much. Since Liberia Airways ceased operations in 2006, no airlines have been registered there.
Britons could once fly direct to the capital, Monrovia, with BA. Now they must go with Royal Air Maroc, stopping in Casablanca en route.
11. Tourism is rather undeveloped
So few visit Liberia that neither the World Bank, nor the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), have figures for foreign arrivals. Those who do make it are faced with a rather creaking infrastructure. Power shortage are common, facilities at tourist attractions rudimentary, the only proper hotels (in the Western sense) are clustered in Monrovia, and roads often little more than dirt tracks.
Indeed, the very concept of tourism is a mystery to most. “It’s not recognised in this part of the world that you might want to just come here to travel, so explaining to immigration authorities is sometimes a challenge,” Alastair Goodridge, a director of London-based travel company Overlanding West Africa, told the Financial Times in 2016. “They’re not suspicious, they just don’t understand. They ask: ‘What are you really here for? The Church? Journalists?’”
12. And it’s heaven for surfers
Several surfing beaches can be found in and around Monrovia, but the coastal town of Robertsport, around 50 miles from the capital, has been described as the greatest undiscovered surf spot in Africa, offering vast stretches of deserted beaches.
13. Its president played football for Chelsea
For years Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was one of the few female leaders on the continent, and known as Africa’s Iron Lady. Since 2018, however, George Weah has had the top job. Recognise the name? That might be because he used to play football for Monaco, PSG, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City and Marseilles.
14. You need a visa to get there
What’s stopping you going to Liberia? The need for a visa is one small barrier. Just 47 countries require Britons to apply in advance for permission to visit, and Liberia is one. The Foreign Office deems the country safe to visit, but offers warnings about crime on its website.