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The African nation of Liberia celebrates the anniversaries of its founding 200 years ago and its declared independence from the USA 25 years later, much of the population is still struggling with extreme poverty.
Amid Independence Day festivities on Tuesday, many Liberians say the West Africa from the country the promise has not been fulfilled and many of its inhabitants continue to live in poverty.
“Liberia has regressed 50 years or more,” says Richard Cooper, a 67-year-old farmer from the Louisiana township, outside the capital, Monrovia.
“We’ve had government after government, people coming in and out of power, doing their own thing without consulting or satisfying the masses,” he told The Associated Press on a dusty driveway outside his two-bedroom home.
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Nearly 20 years after the country’s consecutive civil wars killed an estimated 250,000 people between 1989 and 2003, Liberia’s children still yearn for the chance to go to school, he said.
However, Information Minister Lederhood Rennie said major celebrations for these anniversaries are necessary to build national pride and honor the work of many in establishing the nation.
“This country has a rich history…Liberia stood as the pedestal of black independence south of the Sahara…Other black nations looked up to Liberia as a resplendent nation on the African continent,” Rennie told the AP while monitoring preparations in the national stadium for the independence celebrations.
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The United States has had a lasting influence in the West African country. Liberia’s flag, constitution, form of government, and many laws are modeled on those of the US The capital is named in honor of the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, who was in power when the freed slaves were repatriated.
The former slaves established an oppressive regime that ruled the indigenous population with an iron fist from the moment of their arrival until 1980, when indigenous soldiers staged a military coup against President William Tolbert. Tolbert, whose family emigrated from South Carolina in the 1870s, was horribly murdered by rebel soldiers.
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The prolonged trauma of civil wars and then the rule of Nobel Prize-winning president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf followed.
A persistent problem has been corruption, which may be largely responsible for underdevelopment and poor economic growth in an otherwise resourceful country of fewer than 6 million people.
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US Ambassador Michael A. McCarthy was direct in a speech earlier this year.
“We would not be good stewards of US taxpayer money, nor would we be good partners with Liberia, if we sat quietly and said nothing while misrule and corruption continued with impunity,” he said.
The World Food Program, a branch of the United Nations, estimated in 2018 that 64% of Liberians live below the poverty line and 1.3 million people in that segment live in extreme poverty.
Associated Press contributed to this report.