Cover image for Liberia : portrait of a failed state
Liberia : portrait of a failed state
Pham, John-Peter.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Reed Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xx, 252 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DT636.5 .P47 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Voted as the 'worst place to live' by The Economist in 2003, Liberia is again descending into a recurring civil conflict. When one mentions the term "failed state," Liberia almost immediately comes to mind.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Liberia has long been one of Africa's-and the world's-most troubling spots: the Economist magazine voted it the "worst place to live" in 2003. In this utterly depressing account of the west African nation's history and politics, scholar and diplomat Pham offers a cautionary tale regarding Western intervention in Africa. Colonized by free American blacks in the early 19th century, Liberia has long been beset by tensions, not only among its native populations but between natives and the descendants of its Western colonizers. But Pham is no knee-jerk blame-the-West critic-far from it. As he points out, Western investment, by Firestone and other rubber companies, "served as the principal catalyst for Liberia's infrastructure." The author does, however, acknowledge that the workers were paid little for the labor that enriched the rubber companies, and that tribal chiefs were given a cut for the toil of their villagers. Liberia's worst times have come in the past two decades, with rampant corruption and civil war. In Pham's eyes, nation-states have failed, in Liberia and elsewhere in Africa, for a variety of reasons: tribal and ethnic tensions and the end of the Cold War, which allowed weak states propped up by the superpowers to tumble. Pham argues that these states must take responsibility for their own reconstruction and reconstitution as democratic nations, without Western intervention, if they are ever to emerge from their current struggle. A provocative thesis, for sure, one with which many will argue. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Pham served as an international diplomat in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea in 2001-02. In this important title, he presents a solid analysis of the latest unraveling of Liberia, voted the worst place to live by the Economist in its 2003 Annual Survey of the World. Liberia's civil war has (as of this writing) entered a brief respite, providing time to reflect on how the country sank to such a level of despair. Drawing on firsthand experience, Pham clarifies misperceptions about Liberia that are repeated in the popular media and enhances readers' understanding of the more complex reasons for the country's latest spiral into near chaos. With a focus on the general reader, Pham begins with a concise chapter on the historical beginnings of Liberia in 1820 as the site for the resettlement of freed U.S. slaves by the American Colonization Society (ACS) and follows with capsule histories of Liberia's various presidents. He continues with an analysis of the surrounding cultural and political clashes that engulfed the country and provides a sagacious perspective on events that led to the current political and social unrest. With Liberia now a front-burner topic, Pham's superb, timely title provides a critical look into the country's larger implications for the world, particularly the United States. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Dale Farris, Groves, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Pham has written an excellent historical analysis of this "failed state." The roots of collapse, he argues, long antedated the civil war of the 1990s, which resulted in various international interventions, more than 12 peace agreements, and 20 unsuccessful ceasefires. These roots "lay in the ideological origins of the West African state as well as the exclusionary national vision and divisive strategies that the America-Liberian oligarchy employed in order to perpetuate its control for most of the country's history." Freed slaves from the US established their own form of colonialism over the Liberian hinterland; change came either under external pressure (the country's expansion to its present frontiers; reduction of forced labor) or internal impetus (1979 riots and use of foreign troops to restore order). During the "dark years," Liberia descended into economic, ethnic, and personal chaos. Its instability--unwittingly enhanced by external intervention--affected neighboring states. Intervention, he notes, "is not ipso facto a neutral act ... [it] can just as easily worsen or even create a conflict as it can prevent one." Failed states require reconstruction from within, with leading powers helping to formulate and support an appropriate response. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. C. E. Welch University at Buffalo, SUNY