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2005 | 20 | 121-132

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The author's aim was to prove that the Liberian state, in spite of its long existence hardly overcame the five broad obstacles to state formation (discussed in the study) and that its eventual collapse was to a large extent a function of the inherent contradictions in its history. To attain successful statehood a state would have to confront five crises: of identity, of legitimacy, of penetration, of participation, and the crisis of distribution. Where a state is not able to overcome these obstacles, it may eventually collapse. The essential features of state collapse are: a paralysed and inoperative instrument for maintaining law and order, loss of legitimacy, inability to guarantee security for its people, loss of the state's power to confer a name on its people and give meaning to its social action, and loss of its role as a target of demands as it is no longer capable of providing supplies. Up to the 1890s, the Liberian state had been in existence for nearly 150 years. It was founded as a home for freed slaves from the USA and was never colonized by an European power. The declaration of Liberia's independence in 1847 should have provided an opportunity for the establishment of a common Liberian identity and the prevention of a fundamental social conflict. The 1947 Constitution ('We the people of the Republic of Liberia were originally the inhabitants of the United States of North America') confirmed the emergent segregated society. The citizenship was thus restricted to only those of the settler stock at the exclusion of the original inhabitants. Liberia was unable to effect any formal economic development policies in its first hundred years of statehood, in part because of the hostilities between the indigenes and the settlers. During Tubman's presidency (1944-71) two policies, the Open Door Policy and the Unification Policy were introduced. Tubman contributed towards the collapse of the Liberian state. In the 1970s Liberia faced serious problems: a declining economy, growing unemployment, a more politically conscious populace, and an unwieldy security apparatus. The political system was further weakened by ill-timed actions by the President Tolbert government. A military coup led by Samuel Doe in 1980 and a rebel incursion almost a decade later degenerated into a bloody seven-year civil war.The Liberia's case proves that longevity per se is no guarantee of successful statehood. Moreover, a long and personalized rule creates problems for successor regimes. Politics of exclusion, in which some groups within the state are deliberately favoured at the expense of others, carry its own seed of destruction. State collapse is also connected with the quality of leadership. Doe's regime was one of bad leadership because of his overambition for power and wealth as well as his style of governance.






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  • K. D. Frempong, Department of Political Science, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana


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