Progressive Alliance of Liberia
The Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) was formed in 1975 as the first legally recognized opposition party in Liberia in more than 100 years, a period otherwise dominated by the True Whig Party. The party was initially formed among the Liberian diaspora in the United States; it was led in Liberia by Gabriel Baccus Matthews, an activist who espoused a quasi-Marxist ideology of militant African nationalism.
In early April 1979, the minister of agriculture, Florence Chenoweth, proposed an increase in the subsidized price of rice from $22 per 100-pound bag to $26. Chenoweth asserted that the increase would serve as an added inducement for rice farmers to stay on the land and produce rice as both a subsistence crop and a cash crop, instead of abandoning their farms for jobs in the cities or on the rubber plantations. However, political opponents criticized the proposal as self-aggrandizement, pointing out that Chenoweth and the Tolbert family of the president operated large rice farms and would therefore realize a tidy profit from the proposed price increase.
The Progressive Alliance of Liberia called for a peaceful demonstration in Monrovia to protest the proposed price increase. On April 14 about 2,000 activists began what was planned as a peaceful march on the Executive Mansion. The protest march swelled dramatically when the protesters were joined en route by more than 10,000 "back street boys," causing the march to quickly degenerate into a disorderly mob of riot and destruction.
Widespread looting of retail stores and rice warehouses ensued with damage to private property estimated to have exceeded $40 million. The government called in troops to reinforce police units in the capital, who were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the rioters. In 12 hours of violence in the city's streets, at least 40 civilians were killed, and more than 500 were injured. Hundreds more were arrested.
Tolbert's credibility was severely damaged by the Rice Riots.
In January 1980 Tolbert permitted the Progressive Alliance of Liberia to become the officially registered Progressive People's Party (PPP). Following an April 1980 military coup, Master Sergeant Samuel Doe ordered the release of about 50 leaders of the PPP who had been jailed. He appointed Gabriel Baccus Matthews as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chea Cheapoo as Attorney General. But 1981 the PPP had fallen out of favour with Doe, who became increasingly dictatorial.
The banned PPP was reorganised as the United People's Party (UPP). During the 1980s, Baccus Matthews had the role as the main opposition politician in Liberia. In 1990 under Amos Sawyer as Interim President after Doe's death, he was again appointed as Foreign Minister.
Both Matthews (for the United People's Party) and Cheapoo (for a reconstituted Progressive People's Party) contested the 1997 presidential election. Former PAL/PPP and UPP member Sekou Conneh became leader of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group in 1999, which also included some former Doe supporters, and fought a civil war against Taylor until 2003. Conneh ran as the candidate of the Progressive Democratic Party (PRODEM) in the 2005 presidential election.