From the year it achieved independence in 1847 until 1980, Liberia was a one-party dominant state in which government was controlled by the settler minority (Africans manumitted from the United States and their descendants). The settler government marginalized the indigenous African majority. By the 1970s, mass organizations emerged and mobilized Liberian society around the demand for an end to one-party rule. On April 12, 1980, the army – largely comprised of indigenous Liberians – intervened in the politics of the country through a bloody coup d’état that overthrew the settler-controlled civilian administration. However, while the army was unable to bring about the social and economic changes desired by the population, it also refused to disengage from politics. The desire to hold on to power culminated in the rigging of the elections of October 1985. Thereafter, challenges to military rule not only increased, but also assumed violent forms.
In 1989, the country descended into civil war. Between 1989 and 2003, the war led to the total failure and collapse of the state. Both the military dictatorship of the 1980s (that emerged out of the coup) and the military bureaucratic state of the 1990s and early 21st century (that emerged out of the war) professed support for democracy, although with limited positive results. But in the comprehensive peace agreement that was fashioned in Accra, Ghana in August 2003, democratic politics finally surfaced as the most reasonable and generally agreed method for reconstituting the state, building the peace, and establishing political stability.
In 2005, Liberia seated Africa’s first female President through democratic elections, and embarked upon the building of democracy, following more than two decades of civil upheaval that had destabilized the population, destroyed infrastructure, and rendered governance institutions dysfunctional. The crisis left behind a legacy of failed institutions and presented the new government with enormous challenges of rebuilding infrastructure, reforming devastated institutions, and instituting democratic principles of governance.
After four years of democratic rule, what do Liberians think about the state of democracy in their country, the performance of democratic institutions, and the prospects for democracy? The country’s first Afrobarometer survey, conducted in December 2008, offers a chance to get some answers to these questions.