Less than a decade ago, Liberia was in the throes of a quarter century of societal collapse. It was seen as a hopeless failed state that presented policy challenges similar to those the US now faces in Somalia, Yemen, and parts of Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Former President Taylor, after training in Libya, fomented one of the most brutal civil wars in the modern era. It inflamed the entire region. Over 14 years, more than 250,000 Liberians were killed; 500,000 were displaced. The economy shrank by 90 percent.
The country was a poster child for all the evils of the world, synonymous with anarchy and rife with corruption and poverty. The US embassy in Liberia gained the dubious distinction of being the most-often evacuated American embassy in the world.
Turn the page to 2011 and this emerging West African democracy of 3.5 million people is nearly unrecognizable from its not-so-distant past.
Drug-addled child soldiers and combatants with names like General Butt Naked – known for charging into battle naked – no longer roam the streets. Instead, the US vetted and trained new Liberian soldiers, the start of the country’s first professional army.
Literacy rates that bottomed out at an abysmal 20 percent are on the rise with US support to train teachers and build teaching colleges; future child scholars, not child soldiers, are busy in classrooms.