Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Qaddafi Connection

Many journalists (such as Al Jazeera correspondent's blog) and bloggers (such as Fred van der Kraaij's Liberia Past & Present) have recently reviewed the decades-long patronage of successive Liberian leaders by the recently-deceased Qaddafi, so it seems redundant to repeat that history here, except to reiterate that several of Monrovia's most prominent landmarks have at various times been the property or pet project of the Libyan dictator and his government.

This portfolio specifically includes the Pan-African Plaza, a name it can be imagined that Qaddafi chose himself. As an office tower, it manages to be both squat and soaring, and commands a prominent sightline at the terminus of Tubman Boulevard, opposite Monrovia City Hall. PAP, as its frequently called, was apparently constructed for a Libyan Corporation in 1982-83 as an office complex.

The tower currently houses UNMIL's headquarters, a situation which I can't decide whether  it is ironic, or not, but it is both heavily fortified and somewhat nicely appointed inside, including one of Liberia's few elevator banks and some nice material details in the circulation corridors.

The other grand dame of Libya's investment activity is the involvement in the refurbishment of the Ducor Hotel. I've discussed this before, but at this point it is presumed that the 2008 plan to have a Libyan Investment corporation take over the property for reopening is at best stalled and likely dead. As one of the monumental ruins of the Liberian Civil War, prominently perched at the highest point in the city and perhaps the ultimate symbol of Monrovia's lost grandeur and international importance, the Ducor's return continues to be highly anticipated.

Qaddafi's relationships with various Presidents and their administrations, from Doe to Taylor to Sirleaf, switch on and off so frequently that it is difficult to confirm exact details and Libyan involvement with these landmarks. Its not clear whether Libya retained ownership of Pan African Plaza from its inception, or whether it was seized when relations were cut-off, only to become involved again in better times, and whether the United Nations had to negotiate with Libya for its lease. Since only Liberians can own land, there is also the question of who owns title to the ground beneath both Pan-African Plaza and the Ducor Hotel, whether a private individual, the Liberian government, or perhaps a church.

Its also not clear what support Qaddafi might have given to realize the once-luxurious Hotel Africa and Unity Conference Center complex, which both stand today unimproved from the day that the conference ended.

Lastly, there is one more piece of Libyan property in the city that remains vacant: the Embassy. Although one of the earliest and most eye-wateringly moving moments of the recent revolution was the brave defecting of Libya's UN Ambassador, who replaced Qaddafi's green flag with the tricolor of the NTC on Libya's midtown NYC mission, the People's Bureau of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (how redundant is that!) remains both Green Book-and-gold trimmed and seemingly vacant.

Presumably the new Libyan government will both abandon the ridiculous and redundant nomenclature of their foreign legations, and reopen these stations, but since the Sirleaf administration cut official ties with Qaddafi earlier this year, this block of 14th Street in Sinkor has been especially quiet.

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