Washington DC – The U.S. State Department’s Overseas Security and Advisory Council (OSAC) which assesses potential threats to personnel, facilities, and intellectual property of U.S. private-sector organizations operating abroad using classified and unclassified information from U.S. government and open sources has issued the latest security report on Liberia.
The OSAC creates analytical reports, benchmarking, and briefings, and provides one-on-one consultations and tailored analysis to OSAC members.
Travel Advisory – The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses that travelers should reconsider travel to Liberia due to COVID-19.
Exercise increased caution due to crime.
The Institute for Economics & Peace Global Peace Index 2021 ranks Liberia 76 out of 163 worldwide, rating the country as being at a medium state of peace.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Monrovia as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The U.S. Department of State has included a Crime “C” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Liberia, indicating that there may be widespread violent crime and/or organized crime present in the country, and/or that local law enforcement may have limited ability to respond to serious crimes. The crime emergency line in Liberia is 911.
Crime: General Threat – Crime remains at a critical level throughout the country, owing to growing public discontent with Liberia’s faltering economy. Reports of home and residential compound invasions have increased, as have violent robberies in populated areas. There has been an increase in reporting of non-violent crimes.
Many of these crimes are “snatch-and-grabs” of electronics, purses, bags, and backpacks; vehicular vandalism; and vehicle break-ins categorized as theft. These crimes of opportunity usually occur in densely populated areas throughout the country. Most snatch-and-grabs involve young male assailants between the ages of 13 and 25.
Criminals often carry knives or homemade handguns, and occasionally work in small groups to target unsuspecting victims. Most of these cases end without violence if the victim is compliant. Crimes resulting in the use of lethal force have also increased.
Crimes of this nature tend to target local nationals, not foreigners. Violent crimes consist of robberies, burglaries, muggings, assaults, mysterious deaths, mob justice, and ritualistic killings. The perpetrators, usually carrying a knife or firearm, often use force even when the victim complies with the assailant’s demands, a practice that was uncommon during previous years. These crimes generally do not target foreign nationals, but may impact their routine and normal activities.
Vehicle thefts are not commonly reported; when reported, vehicles are rarely recovered. There are cases of international car thefts where authorities traced stolen vehicles discovered in Liberia to source countries through international law enforcement partnerships. Crimes of this nature are subject to investigation, but go unprosecuted due to a corrupt and ineffective judicial process.
Reports of home invasions in 2020 plagued local nationals at higher levels; particularly in outlying areas of Monrovia lacking community security organizations. Most home invasions occur overnight, between 0100-0400, and usually involve multiple armed assailants using a combination of homemade guns or semi-automatic weapons.
Vigilante justice is common in greater Monrovia, and in most cases, directed at miscreants engaged in property theft or domestic abuse. Members of a community often identify these criminals are as “rogues.”
Residential burglaries occur throughout the year, but are more common during the rainy season, when there are fewer people moving about to notice outdoor criminal activity, which is largely obscured by rainy conditions. Lack of effective security measures make home invasions more inviting.
Sexual assault and rape are the most reported violent crimes. The overwhelming majority of sexual assault victims are Liberian nationals, and many are minors. Sexual violence against expatriates in Liberia is uncommon, but has been reported at public beaches.
Crime: Areas of Concern There are no administratively imposed curfews or off-limit areas in Liberia for U.S. Embassy personnel. U.S. Chief of Mission personnel may not drive outside the greater Monrovia area (which includes Roberts International Airport (ROB)) or between counties after dark.
Although the Regional Security Office has not designated any areas off-limits, public beaches and the area in Monrovia known as “Red Light” are less safe due to sparse law enforcement and security presence. Use caution when visiting any public beach, the areas of greater Monrovia known as Red Light, Waterside, Congo Town, ELWA Junction, and all market areas. Petty crimes and armed robberies are common in those areas, especially after dark.
Border areas with neighboring states are more susceptible to a variety of criminal activities due to the lack of security presence and effective security enforcement at most border crossing areas.
Kidnapping Threat The U.S. Department of State has not included a Kidnapping “K” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Liberia. The Basics and Active Shooter and Kidnapping Response Tips.
Kidnapping is uncommon in Liberia. Drug Crime – Illegal drugs are present, trafficked into Liberia from neighboring West African countries. The Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency publicized several success stories in 2020 highlighting the agency’s drug interdiction achievements at ROB airport and throughout the country.
Terrorism Environment: The U.S. Department of State has assessed Monrovia as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
The U.S. Department of State has not included a Terrorism “T” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Liberia.
The Institute for Economics & Peace Global Terrorism Index 2020 ranks Liberia 118 out of 163 worldwide, rating the country as having a very low impact from terrorism.
Terrorism: General Threat -There exists a real and growing threat of regional terrorism due to the operational presence of known terrorist entities in West Africa’s Sahel region. Liberia has not experienced terrorist attacks, but vulnerabilities exist given the country’s porous borders, and the increase in terror activities by transnational and international terrorist organizations such as al-Qai’da in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), Hizb’allah, and the Macina Liberation Front (MLF).
Political Violence and Civil Unrest Environment – The U.S. Department of State has assessed Monrovia as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Elections/Political Stability – In December 2020, Liberia held midterm senatorial elections that resulted in several small-scale protests that got out of control, with protesters burning vehicles and several buildings. The two dominant political parties are continuously at odds, and the current ruling party has alienated specific groups of people, including certain government employees.
Protest & Demonstration Activity – Monrovia experiences frequent protests throughout the year, unrelated to elections or partisan politics but more related to a lack of water, electricity, or money in specific parts of the city. There is currently no outspoken, violent political opposition leader in Liberia, so the will and ability to engage in large scale protests is very low.
Law Enforcement Concerns: Security Agencies – Following the departure of the UM Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in 2018, Liberian security forces took over the responsibility of maintaining nationwide security for the first time since 2003.
Some security institutions such as the Liberia National Police (LNP), the principal law enforcement body in the country, have struggled to maintain the effective nationwide law enforcement and security functions that UNMIL once provided. However, other law enforcement and security agencies such as the Liberian Immigration Service, the Liberian Revenue Authority, the Department of Customs, and the Liberian Drug Enforcement Agency have improved their capabilities and effectiveness.
Safeguarding the nation’s porous borders and providing effective security outside of Monrovia continues to be problematic. These challenges are compounded by the establishment of illegal checkpoints and solicitation of unauthorized “fines” from vehicle operators, actions which erode public confidence in security officers. Be sure to treat police officers in the same manner you would when interacting with a U.S. law enforcement official. Ignoring reasonable lawful orders, becoming belligerent, or showing lack of respect will only exacerbate the situation and could result in arrest.
Police Response – The primary law enforcement agency is the LNP. LNP has continued to develop its law enforcement capabilities. Locals and visitors alike might experience inconsistency in the level of responsiveness and services provided. Due to a lack of resources, the LNP is limited in its ability to respond to criminal acts or provide full services to crime victims. Travelers should anticipate that stolen property will not likely be recovered, nor are perpetrators likely to be brought to justice. It is common for LNP officers to request bribes from travelers at major intersections or police checkpoints during hours of darkness, or request funding for fuel in order to respond to a report of a crime.
Liberian security services, in particular the LNP, are not always able to cope successfully with myriad security challenges, which has resulted in increased public criticism of LNP response. The LNP sometimes employs unorthodox practices, such as throwing rocks at protestors or dispensing tear gas at underage protestors to quell demonstration violence.
Transportation Security Road Safety – In general, the main roads in and around Monrovia are in acceptably passable condition. In rural areas (the area commonly referred to as Upcountry), approximately 7% of roads are paved. A six-month rainy season, which begins in May or June, contributes to rapid deterioration of unpaved roads. Many regions are inaccessible, even with well-equipped 4×4 vehicles.
In addition to the road conditions, drivers must pay particular attention to pedestrians, vendors, motorcyclists, and taxi operators, who often demonstrate blatant disregard for rules of the road and the safety of other motorists. Transportation accidents do occur frequently for reasons including poor maintenance of vehicles, hazardous road conditions, aggressive drivers, and widespread disregard for traffic laws.
The most prevalent danger posed is vehicular accidents, especially at night. The RSO encourages organizations to develop and implement travel plans in Liberia that incorporate personnel tracking technology and accountability. Drivers in Liberia are expected to hold either a Liberian or an international driver’s license; a driver’s license from your home country will not be sufficient.
At the same time, traffic laws are either nonexistent or not enforced. You must pull off the road to make way for high-speed car convoys carrying government officials. There have been repeated occurrences of mob violence taking place following traffic accidents with motorcycle (Pehn-Pehn or KeKe) operators.
Regardless of fault, exercise extreme caution in the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident. Unless it is physically unsafe to remain in your vehicle, it is often safest to stay in your locked car and call the police immediately if the situation will not defuse. When driving through populated areas like markets, keep windows rolled up and car doors locked. Carjacking is not prevalent, but snatch-and-grab robberies do occur.
Public Transportation Safety – Public buses are crowded and may make you vulnerable to pickpockets or robbers. Avoid three-wheeled kekes (motorized rickshaws), which are extremely dangerous. The U.S. Embassy prohibits its personnel from using commercial taxis, buses, and motorbike taxis due to potential crimes associated with public transportation, poor maintenance and reliability, and other security concerns.
Embassy personnel use commercial transportation services from a list of reputable companies maintained by the Embassy’s Community Liaison Office.
Aviation Concerns – Liberia’s primary international airport is Roberts International Airport (ROB), which opened a new terminal in 2019. The airport is located approximately 35 miles east of Monrovia on a paved road. Travel time varies based on traffic, but is often 1 ½ to 2 hours. Like other roads in Liberia, the road to the airport is not lighted at night, resulting in an increased risk of traffic accidents. Drive with care after dark.
Taxi service from the airport is unreliable; pre-arrange transportation to Monrovia. Spriggs Payne Airport (MLW) is located approximately 3 miles east of downtown Monrovia, in the Sinkor neighborhood, on a paved road. The airport accommodates regional international flights, and can be much more convenient for regional travelers than ROB. As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Liberia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Liberia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
Maritime Security – Decline water transportation in vessels without personal flotation devices or life jackets. Consult with the Stable Seas Maritime Security Index for detailed information and ratings regarding rule of law, law enforcement, piracy, and other maritime security indicators.
Personal Identity & Human Rights Concerns – There are significant safety and human rights concerns in Liberia, but the vast majority of these issues are directed at Liberian citizens rather than expatriates. Though most reported crime and discrimination was directed at Liberians in 2020, the mentality that is at the foundation of these issues can impact life for expatriates in Liberia as well.
Safety Concerns for Women Travelers – Rape of a female or male is illegal, but the government does not enforce the law effectively, and rape remains a serious and pervasive problem, especially under COVID-19 enforced lockdowns. The law’s definition of rape does not specifically criminalize spousal rape.
Conviction of first-degree rape – defined as rape involving a minor, rape that results in serious injury or disability, or rape committed with the use of a deadly weapon – is punishable by up to life imprisonment. Conviction of second-degree rape – defined as rape committed without the aggravating circumstances enumerated above — is punishable by up to ten years in prison. Consider composite scores given to Liberia by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in its Gender Development Index, measuring the difference between average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development, and Gender Inequality Index, measuring inequality in achievement in reproductive health, empowerment, and the labor market.
Safety Concerns for LGBTI+ Travelers – The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity. “Voluntary sodomy” is a misdemeanor with a penalty for conviction of up to one year’s imprisonment.
LGBTI+ activists report LGBTI+ persons face difficulty obtaining redress for crimes committed against them, including at police stations, because those accused of criminal acts use the victim’s LGBTI+ status in defense of their crime. Authorities of the national police’s Community Services Section have noted improvements in obtaining redress for crimes committed against LGBTI+ persons thanks to several training sessions on sexual and reproductive rights.
Police sometimes ignore complaints by LGBTI+ persons, but activists have noted improvements in treatment and protection from police after officers underwent human rights training.
Safety Concerns for Travelers with Disabilities – The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but these prohibitions are not always enforced. Most government buildings are not easily accessible to persons with mobility impairment. Sign language interpretation is often not provided for deaf persons in criminal proceedings or in the provision of state services.
The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection and the National Commission on Disabilities are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and implementing measures designed to improve respect for their rights. Persons with disabilities face discrimination in employment, housing, access to all levels of education, and health care.
Activists for persons with disabilities report property owners often refuse housing to persons with disabilities. According to NUOD, persons with disabilities are more likely to become victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.
Safety Concerns for Travelers Based on Race, Religion, & Ethnicity – Although the law prohibits ethnic and religious discrimination, racial discrimination is enshrined in the constitution, which restricts citizenship and land ownership to those of “Negro descent.”
While persons of Lebanese and Asian descent who were born or who had lived most of their lives in the country may not by law attain citizenship or own land, there are some exceptions. Approximately 85% of Liberia’s population is Christian. There is a moderate Muslim minority (approximately 12%), with the remaining 3% practicing other religions. Instances of religious/ethnic violence in Liberia are rare.
The law recognizes 16 indigenous ethnic groups; each speaks a distinct primary language and is concentrated regionally. Long-standing disputes regarding land and other resources among ethnic groups continued to contribute to social and political tensions.
Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment – U.S. citizens are generally accepted and well-liked in Liberia, and are not specific targets for criminal activity due to their nationality. However, foreigners have been targets in Liberia due to their race/ethnicity.
Concerns involving the Rule of Law, Arbitrary Detention, Official Harassment, Corruption &/or Transparency – The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court.
The government does not always observe these prohibitions and rights. Police officers and magistrates frequently detain citizens for owing money to a complainant. The Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) reports magistrate court judges continue to issue writs of arrest unilaterally, without approval or submission by the city solicitors. In general, police must have warrants issued by a magistrate to make arrests.
The law allows for arrests without a warrant if the necessary paperwork is filed immediately afterwards for review by the appropriate authority. Nonetheless, arrests are often made without judicial authorization, and warrants sometimes issued without sufficient evidence. Police sometimes request money to effect arrests for prosecuting authorities.
The law provides criminal penalties for bribery, abuse of office, economic sabotage, and other corruption-related offenses committed by officials, but the government does not implement the law effectively. There have been numerous reports of government corruption.
Officials frequently engage in corrupt practices with impunity. The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Liberia 137 out of 180 worldwide, where 1 means most transparent. Communication IssuesIndependent media are active and express a wide variety of views.
According to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), civil suits relating to libel, slander, and defamation are sometimes used to curtail freedom of expression and intimidate the press. The PUL has also expressed concern that media outlets owned directly by politicians and government officials are crowding out privately owned media, and have advocated for legislation to prohibit ownership of media by public officials.The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet in 2020 or 2021.
In July 2019, in the lead-up to and during a planned protest, the government blocked usage of both Orange and Lonestar Cell MTN, the two mobile networks in the country. When protesters dispersed, access was restored. There were no additional reports the government censored online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
There have been reports of government officials threatening legal action and filing civil lawsuits in attempts to censor protected internet-based speech and intimidate content creators.Individuals can generally criticize the government publicly or privately, but government officials have used civil libel and slander laws to place limits on freedom of speech, and self-censorship is widespread.
Some media outlets avoid criticizing government officials due to fears of legal sanction and potential loss of government advertising, which, according to the PUL, is the largest source of media revenue. Other outlets avoid addressing sensitive human rights issues such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
Court decisions against journalists sometimes involve exorbitant fines. The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index ranks Liberia 98 out of 180 worldwide, where 1 means most freedom. The Freedom House Freedom in the World report rates Liberia’s freedom of speech as partly free.
Health Concerns Emergency Health Services- Medical facilities are poorly equipped and staffed, and generally struggle to provide basic services. Emergency services comparable to those in the United States or Europe are non-existent, and the blood supply is unreliable and unsafe for transfusion. For serious medical problems, consider traveling to the United States, Europe, or South Africa for treatment.
The Ebola outbreak in 2014-15 highlighted the low level of medical services. Even today, medicines are scarce, and some are counterfeit and distributed beyond their expiration date. Doctors, clinics, and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services and, in many cases, before rendering service. Local healthcare facilities typically employ healthcare professionals who have not received Western or Western-equivalent medical training. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.
The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally.
The U.S. Department of State has included a Health “H” Indicator on the Travel Advisory for Liberia, indicating that Health risks, including current disease outbreaks or a crisis that temporarily disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure, are present. Review the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) country-specific Travel Health Notices for current health issues that impact traveler health, like disease outbreaks, special events or gatherings, and natural disasters.
Vaccinations – Strongly consider COVID-19 vaccination prior to all travel. Malaria and yellow fever are prevalent throughout the country. Chemoprophylaxis (anti-malarial medication) is recommended for all travelers, even for short stays. All travelers must have up-to-date immunizations and a yellow fever vaccination in their shot record.
Carry and use insect repellents containing either 20% DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535. Treat clothing and tents with permethrin, and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms under insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets. The following diseases are also prevalent: Typhoid; Hepatitis A; Rabies; Diarrheal Illnesses; Tuberculosis; Schistosomiasis; Onchocerciasis; and Lassa Fever.
Issues Traveling with Medications – There are not significant issues traveling with medications in Liberia. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.
Water Quality – Most homes and institutions rely on truck delivery for their water. Water is unfit for drinking everywhere in Liberia, and should be filtered or purified. Bottled water is available for purchase in markets and restaurants and is assumed to be potable. Vendors sell bags of water on the street.
The Embassy does not have statistics or studies to show the quality of this water, but the external part of the bag is exposed to the environment and handled by many people, likely with dirty hands. Also, the plastic bag material is likely unhealthy and likely degrades in the sun, adulterating the water inside with harmful chemicals.
Environmental Hazards – The six-month rainy season (May – November) makes Monrovia the wettest capital in the world. The heavy rains can cause severe flooding and wash out most roads outside the capital.
Deep mud and puddles require 4×4 vehicles to travel outside Monrovia. Do not swim in the Atlantic if you are unfamiliar with swimming in water where very strong rip currents occur. Riptides can occur anywhere on the coast.
The Liberia Weather Service does not provide information on where and when these tides form, and there are no lifeguards posted on beaches. Wear appropriate footwear when walking, wading, or swimming to avoid injury and exposure to parasites and poisonous plants and animals. Risk from jellyfish exists, including highly venomous Portuguese man-of-war. Travelers wading, launching boats, or fishing are especially at risk.
Risk from coral, stonefish, and sea urchins exists. Sit on a towel, blanket, or piece of clothing on any beach if a chair or hammock is not available, because sand may be contaminated in areas frequented by animals. Thoroughly shake out all fabrics after use. Avoid eating amberjack, bonito, mackerel, mahi-mahi, or tuna due to risk of scombroid poisoning. Low risk of ciguatera poisoning exists in coastal areas and is presumed to have widespread distribution.
Avoid consumption of reef fish such as amberjack, barracuda, grouper, and snapper; the toxin remains even when these fish are well cooked.
Cybersecurity Concerns – Being primarily a cash economy, the occurrence of credit card theft and fraud in Liberia is low compared to other parts of Africa and the United States. Credit card terminals do exist in major hotels and some supermarkets.
Inform your credit card providers of any intended use in Liberia, check credit card statements shortly after transactions occur, and monitor credit card statements closely following use in Liberia. Most of the wire fraud that is connected to Liberia happens to unsuspecting foreigners who fall victim to monetary schemes.
Advance-fee fraud schemes are prevalent throughout Africa and pose a danger of serious financial loss to victims. These scams, otherwise known as 419 scams—so-named after the section of Nigeria’s criminal code addressing financial crimes—typically begin when the victim receives an unsolicited communication (usually e-mail, text message, dating site correspondence, or social media message) from an unknown entity who promises quick financial gain.
The fraudster promises a monetary payment for such services as hospital stays, inheritances, mineral exploration rights, land or property development, but then requires a series of “advance fees” to be paid, such as fees for legal documents or taxes. The final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees as frequently and as long as possible.
Carefully check any unsolicited business proposal originating in Liberia before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel, particularly if the proposal involves mining or the sale of gold and diamonds. There has also been an increase in romance fraud as Liberians initiate internet relationships with a U.S. citizen for the purpose of eventually requesting money.
Liberia was rocked by an enormous, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that crippled the Liberian internet infrastructure in 2016. The DDoS attack was reported to have infected computers and many internet-connected devices such as DVR players and digital cameras. No major cybersecurity incidents have been reported in Liberia since 2016.
Cybercrime remains a low/moderate threat due to the lack of electricity and computer ownership throughout the country.
There are no significant counterintelligence issues.
Other Security Concerns Landmines – This country has no known issues with landmines.
Import/Export Restrictions – A country-specific listing of items goods prohibited from being exported to the country or that are otherwise restricted is available from the U.S. International Trade Agency website.
Photography – Photographing military installations, airports and seaports, and important government buildings is illegal. Do not take photographs of sites or activities that authorities may consider to be sensitive; police may confiscate the camera.
In addition to these official laws, Liberia’s history tends to create a photography-averse environment. Many private citizens are strongly opposed to having their pictures taken, even when participating in a public outdoor even or selling in the markets. Many Liberians are suspicious of anyone taking a picture of anything without asking. On the other hand, many also like having their picture taken and will happily pose. Simply asking permission and explaining your purpose for taking pictures goes a long way to avoid trouble.
ID Requirements – There is no significant ID requirement in Liberia.
Critical Infrastructure Concerns – Lodging, fuel, transportation, utilities, and telephone services are not consistently available, especially outside of Monrovia. Hotel rooms can be difficult to find without an advance reservation. Liberia has a limited utility infrastructure. Liberia depends on cellular phone networks for voice and internet communications.
There is no working landline telephone system in Liberia; rent or purchase a local cellular phone. Most homes and businesses have no electricity, and those that do largely depend on home generators. In addition, most institutions depend on truck delivery for water.
In 2016, the Liberia Electricity Corporation with the assistance of the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) re-opened the Mt. Coffee hydropower plant that is beginning to generate electricity for the city of Monrovia, though transmission and distribution challenges have stalled progress.
The U.S. Embassy had to consider contingencies to provide reliable deliveries of potable water due to a November 2019 employee strike at the Liberian Water and Sewer Corporation.
Source: OSAC – U.S. State Department
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