Modern Liberia came into existence as a result of negotiations conducted between local rulers and the representatives of settlers from the USA, mostly freed black slaves, who were encouraged to resettle in the lands of their forebears; hence the name Liberia, which means “land of the free”). They controlled Liberia almost exclusively for more than 100 years from the early 19th century.
For many years, the colonial powers refused to recognise the new state, and it was not until 1847 that the country was formally able to proclaim itself an independent republic; the first in Africa. From 1847 until 1980 Liberia was governed by various African-American colonists. Since then, Liberia has undergone a series of coups and civil wars, creating an unstable government.
In recent political history, the first round presidential elections in October 2005 resulted in a run-off between ex-footballer George Weah and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former World Bank economist. While Weah proved hugely popular (particularly with the young) his opponents argued Johnson-Sirleaf was better qualified for the job. For many, however, Weah's attraction lay in the fact he represented success in a country ruined by decades of war, with his advantage being that he was not linked to the politics of the past.
The second round of elections took place on 8 November 2005. Johnson-Sirleaf claimed victory, winning 59 per cent of the vote, making her the first woman president of Liberia and indeed of any African country. However, Weah alleged electoral fraud, despite international observers declaring the election to be free and fair. With Weah still threatening to take his claims to the Supreme Court if no evidence of fraud was found, Johnson-Sirleaf was declared president on 23 November and inaugurated as head of state in January 2006.