Liberia was founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves, thought the population was mostly composed of indigenous Africans. It is the oldest republic in Africa, but it became better known in the 1990s for a long-running and devastating civil war and its role in a rebellion in neighboring Sierra Leone.
The West African nation was relatively calm until 1980 when an overthrow of the government following food price riots brought in a period of instability. By the end of the decade, the situation devolved into open civil war with rebel groups, the Liberian army, and West African peacekeepers battling each other. Although peace was restored in 1995, anti-government fighting broke out again in 1999. War continued until 2003 when President Charles Taylor, accused of backing rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone, bowed to international pressure, stepped down and went into exile. A transitional government guided the nation to free elections in 2005 when Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was elected President of Liberia. She won re-election in 2011.
Approximately one quarter million people were killed in Liberia's civil war and many thousands more became refugees because of the fighting. The conflict left the country in economic ruin. Public utilities are still limited or non-existent. Unemployment remains high, and the country relies heavily on foreign assistance for revenue. The security situation remains fragile. Then, from 2014-2015, Liberia was one of the West African nations deeply affected by Ebola with almost 5,000 deaths. Following the epidemic, the United Nations decided to maintain peacekeeping troops within the country until late 2016.
Liberia had been a producer and exporter of basic products, primarily raw timber and rubber and is reviving those sectors. The country has rich natural resources including water, minerals, forests, and a climate favorable to agriculture. Liberia has the distinction of having the highest ratio of direct foreign investment to GDP in the world.
Liberia's economic future will depend on generous financial and technical assistance from donor countries and private foreign investment to rebuild the infrastructure and raise incomes.
(sources: BBC News Country Profiles and The World Factbook)