- Total external debt: $2.7 billion, of which the majority is accrued interest
- Total external debt payments: Liberia has payed $1.2 million to rich countries since 2006.
- UK debt: Liberia owes approximately $18 million to the UK.
- Population: 3.6 million
- Average income: $0.33 a day, per person
- Percentage of adults who can read and write: 51.9%
- Average life expectancy: 44
- HIV infection rate: at least 5% of the population is HIV positive
- Annual government budget: $120 million
- Annual spending on health: $7 million
Where did Liberia's debt come from?
Much of Liberia's debt was built up by oppressive former rulers: Samuel Doe in the 1980s and Charles Taylor from 1989 to 2003. Charles Taylor failed to pay interest due on existing debts, meaning that the debt overall ballooned. Taylor's rule was a period of brutal civil war, with his army forcibly recruiting child soldiers who carried out massacres. Today, Liberia has a democratic government, led by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Africa's first woman president). It is struggling to rebuild after the ravages of war, and should not have to pay off the illegitimate debts of oppressive former regimes that were recklessly funded by rich countries.
Debt cancellation status
Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is eligible for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, and once finishing HIPC, it will also benefit from the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. However, it has only just started the HIPC process, after two years of waiting. First it had to pay off all the arrears of debt that built up when it was not servicing debts during the civil war: this was around $1.5 billion. Rich countries spent two years arguing about who should pay for this arrears clearance, while Liberia struggled to rebuild after civil war. Liberia finally entered HIPC in March 2008. But it will now have to spend further years meeting conditions set undemocratically by creditors, which frequently require HIPC countries to put in place controversial and often damaging economic policies in return for debt relief.
What does the government say?
"With more than half of our children out of school and a shortage of trained teachers, we intend to spent our time and resources in educational development. We also have a situation of 95 percent of our 325 health centres totally or partially damaged by war and there are presently 34 doctors in the country out of 400 trained in the 1980s before the war." - Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia
"Liberia, as it stands, simply cannot pay this debt. We just have to look it right in the eye and say so. This is the reality. We urge the international community to take the right steps and to cancel this debt."
- George W. Wallace, Liberia's Minister for International Cooperation and Foreign Affairs
News on Liberia:
Vultures Swoop on Liberia in London court (November 2009)
Liberia secures vultures victory (April 2009)
Liberia to enter debt cancellation process (November 2007)
Liberia slowly edging towards debt cancellation (January 2007)
Last updated: April 2008