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ICE Case Studies
Number 116, May, 2003

Kimberly Kiko Jackson

Liberia Repatriation



1. Abstract

As early as the 1700’s Africans brought to the Western Hemisphere as slaves have had the desire to repatriate, some of them acted on this desire and returned to African colonies set up by British and American governments and by American traders in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The recent wars and conflicts that occurred in these two countries, some say, are a direct result of colonization and evangelization attempts made by the Africans that returned to the continent of Africa and their subsequent clashes with local people. Rastafarians from the Western hemisphere began to repatriate to Africa around 1950, Ethiopia being the most common destination and Ghana the next most popular destination. The Rastafarians that repatriated to these countries, along with other repatriates of other faiths, have since built cities and are working to change the present social, political and economic traditions of the African continent.

2. Description

This paper will focus on several key issues related to Africans born in the Western hemisphere who later returned to Africa, also known as repatriates. The occurrences of violent conflict in recent years in Sierra Leone and Liberia due to clashes between the “haves” and the “have-nots” or the Creoles and the native African population, respectively have prompted the attention of the new repatriates, the Rastafarian community. The examples of Sierra Leone and Liberia are considered as unsuccessful repatriation projects because they were not facilitated by African people for African people and they did not work to serve the interests of the local, native communities. The examples of violent conflict in Sierra Leone and Liberia will be contrasted and compared to those of potential successes in Ethiopia and Ghana.

British Involvement in the Formation of Sierra Leone

The British involvement in the creation of Sierra Leone can be called a disaster, but it has been referred to as an experiment and “a school for the civilization of negroes", (Smeathman, 2002:97). The British, simply, wanted to find an alternative to the expensive practice of transporting African slaves to the West Indies in order for their slave labor to produce the tropical agricultural products that Europeans desired. The experiments would run concurrently, one in the West Indies and one in the African colony of Sierra Leone, with the use of imported slave labor in the West Indies and free African labor in Sierra Leone; basically two different forms of slavery in two separate geographical locations that required the use of human beings minds and bodies.

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone recently, in May 2002, ended the eleven year civil war that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans. In 1991 fighting broke out between the government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Some of the proposed causes of this fighting include, but are not limited to, control over the resource wealth (diamonds), vast inequalities in income between the Creoles (repatriates from Jamaica and the United States) and the native Sierra Leoneans  and other ethnic tensions that had been allowed to go unsettled over the years.

American Colonization Society

The American Colonization Society was started in 1816 by 50 white, mostly Southern, slaveholders and sympathizers. Prominent clergymen and politicians, such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Judge Bushrod Washington (nephew of George Washington), Francis Scott Key (author of the Star Spangled Banner), Henry Clay (Speaker of the House of Representatives), General Andrew Jackson (later became president of the United States), were included as members and sympathizers in the American Colonization Society(Forbes, 2001:210). According to John David Smith, many white racists favored some sort of migration, colonization, deportation or repatriation program as a long term solution to "The Negro Problem" (Smith, 1993:xxv)

The rhetoric of some of the society’s members sometimes spelled out the objectives of the society, Henry Clay made the statement:

Can there be a nobler cause than that which, whilst it proposed to rid our country of a useless and pernicious, if not dangerous portion of its population [freedmen], contemplates the spreading of the arts of civilized life, and the possible redemption from ignorance and barbarism of a benighted quarter of the globe, (Clay in Forbes, 1990:218).

By asserting that colonization was solely for freedmen, the society made their fear of freedmen known according to Ella Forbes of Lincoln University. Forbes states that because white supporters of colonization had a rabid fear of freedmen, they promoted the emigration of the troublesome free African American population to Africa, (Forbes, 1990:218).

In 1822 the ACS transported eighty-eight free African-Americans to Liberia, within a decade the ACS had sent 1,420 African-Americans including some African slaves manumitted expressly for colonization. The ACS transported approximately 20,000 settlers (half of which died) as it promoted colonization through the 1890s. The ACS was largely unsuccessful in convincing large numbers of African-Americans to leave America.


Fighting in Liberia began around 1989 and ended in 1996, when elections were held. In 2001, the UN imposed sanctions on Liberian diamonds along with a travel ban on government officials for Liberia's supposed support of the revolutionaries in Sierra Leone. The civil war in Liberia can be attributed to many of the same issues that existed in Sierra Leone, unequal representation of smaller, less powerful ethnic groups in political arena, inequalities in income amongst native Liberians and Creoles and control over natural resources.

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica in 1887; a descendant of the maroons, Jamaica's first Black freedom fighters, (Nicholas, 1996:12). In 1914 Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica, the objective of the UNIA was to establish educational and industrial colleges for Jamaicans of African descent, similar to the Tuskegee Institute founded by Booker T. Washington in Alabama.

Garvey is most famous within the Rastafarian community for his role in the prophecying of the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, in Ethiopia in 1930 and for founding the Black Star Line in 1919, a shipping company founded for Pan-African commerce and to transport Africans back to Africa, repatriation. For these reasons Garvey is regarded as the first prophet of Rastafari. Garvey wrote in a message to the UNIA in 1923 while in a n Atlanta prison waiting to be deported back to Jamaica:

We have gradually won our way back into the confidence of the God of Africa, and He shall speak with the voice of thunder, that shall shake the pillars of a corrupt and unjust world, and one more restore Ethiopia to her ancient glory, (Garvey in Nicholas, 1996:15).


Many Rastafarians, most being from Jamaica, started migrating to Ethiopia in 1955 when Haile Selassie  gave them 500 hectares of land on which to settle. In the beginning stages of this repatriation project around 2,500 Rastafarians settled in what is now Sheshamane Village, located about 170 miles south of the capital Addis Ababa. Many of the early Jamaican Rastafarians who settled in Sheshamane in the beginning stages were farmers. Today only around 1,000 of the original 2,500 remain in Ethiopia, many of those who left Ethiopia settled in West African nations such as Ghana, SeneGambia and Nigeria, with Ghana being the most popular destination.


Today Ghana has the largest and most integrated Rastafarian community, according to Empress Makeda, a Jamaican Rastafarian writer ( Many of the Rastas in Ghana today are repatriates from the west while others are native Ghanaians who have been influenced by Rastas from the west. Singer/actor Isaac Hayes lives in a village near Konkonuru where he has been working on the development of information technology within Ghana, (Henry, 2001).

Rita Marley, wife of reggae singer Robert (Bob) Nesta Marley, recently resettled in Ghana with her entire family, including children and grandchildren they number over forty persons. Since moving to Ghana Mrs. Marley has established a day care centre and school and she has adopted over thirty children, she is also running her Rita Marley foundation from there which works to alleviate poverty among the people of developing countries (Henry, 2001).

3. Duration

1700s - present

4. Location

Africa: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Ethiopia

5. Actors

American Colonization Society, American and British governments, Rastafarians, Marcus Garvey, governments of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana and Ethiopia



II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem

Table 1

Sierra Leone




rapid population growth

loss of biodiversity


recurrent drought in north

civil war depleting natural resources

pollution of coastal waters from oil residue and raw sewage

water shortages in some areas

water pollution, inadequate supplies of potable water

slash-and-burn agriculture resulted in deforestation and soil exhaustion

tropical rain forest deforestation and soil erosion

deforestation, soil erosion and overgrazing

deforestation and soil erosion

The extent of the environmental problems cited in Table 1 suggest that within Sierra Leone the civil war and diamond mining are the causes of their environmental issues. Liberia's environmental conflict can be attributed to similar instnaces of diamond mining and civil war.

7. Type of Habitat


8. Act and Harm Sites:

USA, Britain and Africa

Because of the American and British involvement in the formation of the colonies of Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Americans and the British are directly responsible for the conflicts that have occured over the years.


III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict


10. Level of Conflict


11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities)

 Liberia: est. 150,000

Sierra Leone: est. 20,000 to 75,000


IV. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

13. Level of Strategic Interest


14. Outcome of Dispute:

 stalemate: Sierra Leone

small sporadic conflicts: Liberia


V. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE and TED Cases

Ghana deforestation in Ghana

Eritrea and Ethiopia Ethiopia and Eritrea's civil war

Diamond-SL civil war and blood diamonds in Sierra Leone

Liberia Diamond civil war and blood diamonds in Liberia

16. Relevant Websites and Literature

Picture Source



Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 21, Issue 2, Afrocentricity, Dec., 1990, 210-223 African American Resistance to Colonization. Ella Forbes
The American Colonization and Emigration: Solutions to "The Negro Problem" Part 2, Vol. 10, 1993. ed John David Smith. P.xxv Africa and Repatriation. Interview with Empress Makeda, accessed 2/11/03.

Rastafari: A Way of Life 1996. Tracy Nicholas

The Jamaica Gleaner.Marleys migrate to West Africa. Balford Henry. September 23, 2001.