43. Memorandum From Gerald Funk of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Liberian Problems (U)

Over the Easter weekend what started out as a peaceful demonstration over the price of rice turned into a civil disturbance when ill-disciplined police fired into the crowds. Ultimately, about 40 people were killed and 400 were injured. (C)

This type of thing is simply not in the Liberian tradition, and President Tolbert and his government were, and are, badly rattled by the experience. Tolbert was genuinely shocked by the killings. (C)

At the urging of Houphouet-Boigny, Tolbert called upon Sekou Toure for help, and approximately 300 Guinean troops were quickly airlifted to Monrovia.2 And although this force was never really deployed, the maneuver is of some significance in terms of Guinea’s new alignment in West Africa. Liberia is now a bit nervous about the Guinean presence, and indications are that there will be an early withdrawal,—if for no other reason than the fact that Toure can reasonably expect some rice riots of his own at home. (S)

At any rate, Tolbert is busy looking for CP-backed outside agitators, but will find the pickings pretty slim. The problem really results from the Tolbert government’s neglect of the growing urban workers’ dilemma of a slow-growth economy and wildly inflationary food prices,—and a very badly trained police and military. Tolbert has left labor problems to the devices of his son, who in addition to being a labor leader, is a minister of the gospel, an author, a rock singer, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a man about town. He has not been noticeably successful in any of these pursuits. (S)

Although there are some formally registered opposition parties in Liberia, and there is a high degree of political freedom, the African tradition of rule by consensus of an elite has been in effect for many decades, and all members of the legislative body are members of the [Page 132] True Whig Party. Aside from the growing problems of an urbanizing population and slow growth, the major stress in that society is that the ruling elite has traditionally been an Americo-Liberian society (returned former slaves) which has systematically dominated the indigenous population. Tolbert has been addressing this problem by opening up the “elite” ranks in many ways, thus preventing the formation of any really cohesive opposition. (S)

In view of Liberia’s traditionally close relationship to the U.S., and given his reasonably good record on human rights, we have been responsive to Tolbert’s need for reassurance. We have flown in medical supplies on humanitarian grounds, and the President has sent a message of condolence for the loss of life.3 And we have agreed to speed up some regular FMS sales, just to reassure. (S)

Finally, Foreign Minister Dennis is coming this weekend, as a special emissary of Tolbert, with a message for the President. Apparently Secretary Vance will handle the formalities,4 but he will see others in State, and wend his way around the Hill. I will try to meet him on as informal a basis as possible, since I used to discuss the urban problem with him when he was Minister of Labor. I will restrain myself from saying, “I told you so.” (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 48, Liberia 1/77–11/78. Secret. Sent for information. “ZB has seen” is stamped in the upper right corner.
  2. In telegram 2936 from Monrovia, April 16, the Embassy reported on the Liberian request for Guinean troops. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790179–0033)
  3. Telegram 105157 to Monrovia, April 26, transmitted the message for Tolbert, in which Carter expressed that he was “troubled and saddened by the tragic loss of life, personal injuries and destruction in Monrovia earlier this month.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790191–0711)
  4. See Document 44.