Liberia’s Role on the African Continent: A Historical Perspective


At the African Union’s (AU) Summit that just ended in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a statue of Ethiopia’s late Emperor, Haile Selassie, was unveiled outside of the organization’s headquarters. The rationale for the statute is to honor Emperor Selassie and Ethiopia’s contributions to the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), and the broader project of regional integration on the African Continent. 

By Professor Augustine Konneh, PhD Dean of Graduate School, A.M.E. University

Prior to this, a statute of the late President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was also unveiled at the AU’s Headquarters. Like Emperor Selassie, the statute was intended to honor his and Ghana’s contribution to the establishment of the OAU, and the quest for regional integration in Africa. Undoubtedly, the two late African leaders and their respective countries are quite deserving of the honor bestowed on them by the erection of the statutes.  However, similar honor has not been bestowed on Liberia, given the many contributions that the country has made to the African Continent, including/especially the pivotal role it played in the creation of the OAU. Against this backdrop, the purpose of this article is to argue that the history of the AU will be incomplete, if it does not recognize the many invaluable contributions Liberia has made to African integration.

II. Liberia’s Role on the African Continent: Key Contributions

1. Liberia’s role in the struggle for African Independence was quite significant. For example, Liberia used its financial, diplomatic and human resources to contribute to the struggles for decolonization and Independence across the African Continent. In addition, several Africans from colonized areas, including Nigeria, lived in Liberia for various periods of time. The most famous case was Namdi Azikiwe, who later on became the first President of Nigeria, after the country gained its independence from the United Kingdom.

2. Liberia played a critical role in the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa, especially its insidious policy of racial discrimination against the Blacks, the majority. Again, Liberia marshaled its diplomatic, political and economic resources to  support the cause of freedom and true independence in South Africa. In addition, hundreds of young South Africans lived and studied at various institutions of learning in Liberia.  The efforts paid dividend in 1994, when apartheid ended in South Africa, and Black majority rule was established.

3. During the long Sudanese civil war that lasted from 1955-2005, Liberia played a key role in trying to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. In addition, several young Sudanese lived and studied in Liberia.

4. Liberia also played peacemaking roles in helping to resolve several of the African Continent’s inter-state and civil conflicts. For example, Liberia played a major role in helping to end the Nigeria civil war.

III. Liberia’s Role in the Founding of OAU/AU

Liberia played a significant role in helping to laying the ground work for the establishment of the organization of African Unity (OAU) that later became the African Union. Several major cases are instructive:

1. Liberia’s President Tubman hosted the Sanniquellie Conference from July 15-19, 1959, attended by him, President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and President Sekou Toure of Guinea. The central purpose of the meeting was to discuss the appropriate approach to continental integration in Africa.

2. Liberia’s role in helping to resolve the factional differences among the various power blocs—Casablanca Group (consisting of the radical African states), the Monrovia Group (comprising the conservative African states). And the Brazzerville Group, comprising former French colonies that were desirous of maintaining close relations with their former colonial power—regarding the best approach to African integration. Liberia’s diplomatic intervention helped to clear the way for the establishment of the OAU.

3. Liberia’s role in promoting economic integration in Africa through the OAU. For example the Monrovia Conference on African Economic Cooperation, which was held in 1978, help lay the foundation for the development of the modalities for the establishment of the African Economic Community.

4. Liberia’s role in providing leadership for the OAU, as evidenced by President Tolbert’s service as the Chair of the OAU in 1979.

Making a Case for a Complete History of the African Union

Despite the many contributions Liberia has made both to the African Continent in general, as well as to the OAU/AU, it has not been recognized. For example, as has been discussed, the African Union recently unveiled statutes for President Nkrumah and Emperor Selassie to honor their contributions to the OAU/AU. But, Liberia has not received similar or comparable recognition for all it contributions to the African Continent in general, and the OAU/AU.

Against this background, the AU needs to consider honoring Liberia in an appropriate way. For example, like President Nkrumah and Emperor Selassie, a statute could be built at the AU Headquarters to honor the contributions of President William V.S. Tubman, who played a critical leadership role during important periods in African history—the struggle for independence, and a new South Africa devoid of apartheid. Or Liberia could be honored as a whole by naming a project or building or an activity of the AU in honor of the country as a way of completing the organization’s history of invaluable contributions made to the African Continent and African regional integration.