Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed takes place in 2003, during the final year of Liberia’s Second Civil War. Below, we have created timelines of contemporary Liberian history and provided summaries of some of the war’s major players, including Charles Taylor, LURD, and the Liberian Women’s Initiative. (For a more in-depth information, stay tuned for an upcoming entry which features a digest of Liberian current events throughout 2003.)
A Condensed Early History of Liberia
In 1816, prominent Americans found The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America (also known as the American Colonization Society) to facilitate the return of “Africans in America” to Africa. The first ACS ship arrives on the coast of what will become Liberia and settlers stake their claim in 1821, meeting resistance from the indigenous people. A series of wars between settlers (and their descendents) and the native tribes (including the Dei, Bassa, Kru, Vai, and Grebo) rage off and on for the next hundred years. This tension-and the continued economic and political power of settlers’ descendents (called Americo-Liberians) at the expense of the indigenous people-remains a dominant current throughout Liberian history.
Timeline of Contemporary Liberian History
1979—Liberian President William Tolbert refuses citizens the right to non-violently protest his increase on the cost of rice; a violent “Rice Riot” begins, resulting in over forty deaths.
1980—Non-commissioned officers in Liberia’s armed forces stage a coup, assassinating Tolbert and creating a military government, People’s Redemption Council (PRC), with Master-Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, a member of the Krahn tribe, as head of state.
1980-9—The Doe Era, marked by instability and ethnic conflict. Foreign anxiety regarding violent overthrow instigates a downward economic spiral; despite this, government wages increase, amplifying Liberia’s national debt.
1989—Charles Taylor, a former government official under Doe, and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) leads insurgency against Doe and attack government posts in Nimba County. Beginning of Great War/First Civil War.
1990—Following a dispute with Taylor, Prince Johnson and others separate from the NPFL and form Independent NPFL (INPFL). INPFL captures and kills Doe; four warlords, including Taylor, claim the presidency.
1992—NPFL initiates “Operation Octopus” and attacks ECOMOG, a cease-fire monitoring group organized by ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States. Many rebel factions emerge.
1993—Cotonou Peace Accord provides for Liberian Transitional Government that includes faction representatives and civilians, and organizes the processes of disarmament and democratic elections. Fighting continues in the countryside.
1994—Founding of Liberian Women’s Initiative, one of many women’s organizations that advocates peace.
1996—War arrives in Monrovia; cease-fire begins in September; end of First Civil War; Ruth Perry leads transitional government.
1997—Election: Taylor wins the presidency (70%); his National Patriotic Party (NPP) wins 21 of 26 Senate Seats and 49 of 64 House seats.
1999—Liberian government observes large military movement of rebel Liberian soldiers in Sierra Leone; the rebels eventually seize most of Lofa County. The group is eventually discovered to be LURD, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, a recently emerged faction.
2000—US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering and other international delegates meet in Monrovia and declare that if civil war does not cease, Liberia will be recognized as an international pariah.
2002—Taylor declares State of Emergency; many flee Monrovia as LURD troops encroach.