Principal Government Officials
Chief of State: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Head of Government: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Liberia has a bicameral legislature consisting of an upper and lower chamber. Party structures remain weak, and politics continue to be personality-driven. Historically, the executive branch heavily influenced the legislature and judicial system.
International efforts are aimed at shoring up the capacity of the judiciary. Liberia's court system is divided into four levels, including justices of the peace, courts of record (magistrate courts), courts of first instance (circuit and specialty courts), and the Supreme Court. Traditional courts and lay courts exist in rural areas of the country. Trial by ordeal, though officially outlawed, is practiced in various parts of Liberia. The formal judicial system remains hampered by severe shortages of qualified judges and other judicial officials.
Locally, political power emanates from traditional chiefs (town, clan, or paramount chiefs), mayors, and district commissioners. There are 15 counties in Liberia. The Supreme Court confirmed the president's power to appoint city mayors and county superintendents in a February 2009 ruling.
Liberia has maintained traditionally cordial relations with the West. China and Libya have been prominent international partners in Liberia's reconstruction. Liberia also maintains diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Liberia is a founding member of the United Nations and its specialized agencies and is a member of the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Development Bank (ADB), the Mano River Union (MRU), and the Non-Aligned Movement.
During the administration of Charles Taylor, relations between Liberia and its West African neighbors became seriously strained. West African countries backed by the African Union and the United Nations negotiated a peace agreement in Accra, Ghana that subsequently led to the exile of Charles Taylor to Nigeria in August 2003. With the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia has seen significant improvements in relations with its West African neighbors and the wider world. Relations between Liberia and its immediate neighbors in the Mano River region are back on track, and efforts are underway to strengthen relations with other countries. Liberia signed a non-aggression pact with Sierra Leone when newly elected President Ernest Bai Koroma visited in September 2007. Liberia is a major proponent of regional integration.
Liberia has taken steps to forge closer ties with Western countries, especially the United States. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has visited several Western countries, including the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Spain, France, and Germany. President Johnson Sirleaf has also visited China and Libya.
The political impasse in Cote d’Ivoire over the November 28, 2010 presidential elections prompted more than 140,000 people to cross into Liberia as refugees. They inhabit the border region and belong to rival ethnic groups generally perceived as having supported either the legitimately elected president, Alassane Ouattara, or former president Laurent Gbagbo. Although the Ivoirian political stalemate has since been resolved, the humanitarian crisis affecting both the refugees and the receiving communities has lingered. Liberia’s coordination of, and support for, international relief efforts has been welcome.
Sources:CIA World Factbook (February 2012)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( February 2012)