Liberia has a history very different from the other 52 nations that together make up modern-day Africa. The West African nation was colonized by freed American slaves, a group of which declared the country's independence on July 26, 1847. Named in honor of the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, the capital city of Monrovia is the only city outside of the U.S. to be named after an American president.
And among the continent's leaders, Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf certainly stands out. When she became president of Liberia in 2006, she also became the first democratically-elected female president of an African nation -- and the world's first black female head of state.
But her glow has been tarnished by her recent admittance of -- and apology for -- her past support of the Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, who is currently facing war crimes charges in the Hague. Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called for the Ms. Sirleaf's resignation.
But she must not forget that a large part of her popularity within Liberia is that her countrymen are still hopeful that she can increase their standard of living. That standard may go down if overfishing and illegal fishing result in the collapse of fisheries within the 200 nautical miles of Liberia's waters, including a coastline that stretches 360 miles (579 km) along the Atlantic Ocean. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, fish supplies the Liberian population with 65 percent of its animal protein.
"The overfishing of West African coastal waters, often by large European trawlers and sometimes by 'fishing pirates' who trawl without any authorization, has largely depleted local fish stocks," writes Hilaire Avril in an August 11 AllAfrica.com article. "This has a direct impact on the rising rate of unemployment and on the ever-increasing flow of West Africans who embark on perilous journeys to Europe in search of a better life."
As President Sirleaf leads her nation in the celebration of independence, she would do well to remember the ship that graces Liberia's coat of arms. Symbolizing the ships that brought the first freed slaves to Liberia, it is also an apt reminder of the trawlers in the nation's waters that are rapidly removing all the fish.