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Liberia 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Liberia. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Liberia country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Liberia at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Exercise increased caution in urban areas and public beaches due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

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. Crime remained at a critical level throughout the country in 2019, owing to growing public discontent with Liberia’s faltering economy. Reports of home and residential compound invasions increased, as did violent robberies in populated areas.

In 2019, there was 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. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

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, and assaults. 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.

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 2019 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. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Carjackings and organized kidnappings are rare.

Sexual assault and rape are the most commonly 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. 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.

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) or between counties after dark. Although the Regional Security Office (RSO) 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.

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.

Cybersecurity Issues

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. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

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 here due to the lack of electricity and computer ownership throughout the country. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

In general, the main roads in and around Monrovia are in acceptably passable condition. In rural areas, approximately 7% of roads are paved (this area is commonly referred to as Upcountry). 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 4x4 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.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

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. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

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 and visitors should 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.

Terrorism Threat

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.

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), and the Macina Liberation Front (MLF). 

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.  

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

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. Poor economic conditions have prompted public demonstrations, which at times resulted in violence.

Civil Unrest 

Liberia’s weakening economy, high unemployment, systemic corruption, limited health-care options, and political tensions create conditions for increased civil unrest. In addition to the U.S. Embassy recording a 112% increase in protests in Liberia over the previous year, many protests in Monrovia resulted in some violence and civil disorder. Some protests in 2019 were in response to dissatisfaction with low wages and/or lack of salary payment, the need for economic reforms, educational fees, fuel and transportation costs, access to healthcare, poor living and working conditions, and lack of adequate electricity.  Liberia security services generally demonstrated their capability to control and resolve instances of civil disorder.

Various social factors exist that tend to increase public expression of discontent and unrest include politically motivated student organizations, organized unions of commercial drivers and currency exchangers, lack of vital resources (e.g. electricity, water, fuel, and food) in impacted areas, and groups organizing to protest corruption, as well as atrocities committed by former warlords. While most protests in the past were episodic and mainly peaceful, the size of protests, the introduction of hostile acts by protestors, and unprofessional conduct by some law enforcement and security services have increased. Protests ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand participants in 2019. Protests and demonstrations are likely to continue to increase in frequency and intensity with greater focus on prevailing freedoms to assemble, social issues, and the faltering economy. High unemployment and underemployment, systemic corruption, limited healthcare and educational options, and political tension are constant sources of dissatisfaction that could rapidly trigger public protests and demonstrations. Liberian security services generally demonstrated their capability to control and resolve instances of civil disorder. However, lacking sufficient anti-riot equipment and less than lethal means tools, Liberian security forces have used tear gas and water cannons against even peaceful demonstrators; this can exacerbate security challenges and is inconsistent with internationally recognized best practices. Avoid large gatherings, as even peaceful demonstrations can become confrontational and escalate into violence. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

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.

Post-specific Concerns

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 4x4 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.

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 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.

Economic Concerns/Intellectual Property Theft

One of the poorest countries in the world, Liberia began 2019 with multiple economic and security challenges that worsened throughout the year. Increased violent crime, worsening economic conditions, government payroll arrears, as well as corruption continue to plague the nation’s progress following 14 years of civil war (1989-2003) and the regional Ebola crisis (2014-15). President George Weah and his administration struggle to foster confidence across the economic sector, which has led to a reduction in foreign investment and greater political fragility.

The Liberian dollar is the official currency; however, the U.S. dollar is legal tender. Liberian dollars are preferable for smaller purchases, especially outside of Monrovia. Wire transfers may be limited and subject to fees if you do not have a Liberian bank account. ATMs are not widely available.

Those interested in business ventures should be aware that corruption is endemic throughout Liberia’s institutions. Counterfeit documents and fraudulent licenses are easy to obtain. Fully vet the business sector within which you desire to work, and any individuals with whom you seek a partnership, as well as reviewing the Commercial Climate Guide for Liberia.

Personal Identity Concerns

Homosexuality is illegal in Liberia. The Liberia senate voted unanimously to prohibit and criminalize same-sex marriages in 2012. Members of the LGBTI+ community face a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment or $1,000 Liberian dollars if caught engaging in same-sex sexual activity. LGBTI+ community members may be subject to discrimination and verbal/physical attacks. LGBTI+ persons have reported being victim to forced evictions when landlords discovered their sexual orientation. Reports of attacks on the LGBTQ community in Monrovia increased in 2019. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Rape is a crime in Liberia punishable by up to life in prison. However, the Liberian government does not effectively enforce the law, and rape remains a serious and pervasive problem. Domestic violence also remains a serious problem despite being punishable by up to six months in prison. Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is not specifically against the law in Liberia, and is often performed during initiation into the Sande secret societies. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

There are no accommodations for individuals with disabilities in Liberia. Those with disabilities that hinder mobility should take this into consideration before planning travel. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crime

Illegal drugs are present, trafficked into Liberia from neighboring West African countries. The Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency publicized several success stories in 2019 highlighting the agency’s drug interdiction achievements—to include the largest drug seizer in the organization’s history—at the international airport in Monrovia and throughout the country. 

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping is uncommon in Liberia. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Among other constraints, the lack of robust law enforcement capacity hampers Liberia’s ability to get off the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Tier 2 watch list.

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. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Liberia is also 911. However, emergency services are not reliable or consistent. A call to 911 in Liberia may go unanswered, and you may need to employ other resources to obtain emergency assistance. Contact the police via the LNP Chief of Patrol at +231 (0)880-800-117.

The primary law enforcement agency is the Liberia National Police (LNP). The LNP has continued to develop its law enforcement capabilities. Locals and visitors alike might experience inconsistency in the level of responsiveness and services provided by the LNP. 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.

Following the departure of UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) 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 LNP, the principle 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.

RSO advises that Embassy personnel and visitors treat police officers in the same manner they 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 your arrest.

Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

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. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

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 percent 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. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Liberia. Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

OSAC established a Liberia Country Council in 2017, and met frequently in 2019 to foster increased communication. For more information or to join, contact OSAC’s Africa team.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

502 Benson Street, Monrovia

Embassy Hours of Operation: Monday - Thursday 0800-1730, Friday 0800-1300.

Consular Section by appointment only Monday through Thursday. 

U.S. Embassy Switchboard: +231 77 677 7000 

MSG Post One: +231 77 677 7001

Regional Security Office: +231 77 677 7112

Consular Affairs / American Citizen Services: +231 77 677 7111   

Website: https://lr.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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