Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A New Building for an Old Purpose

One detail of the election coverage which I didn't remember to write about last fall was from a BBC article from October 10, by Jonathan Paye-Layleh: Can Liberia's leading lady fight off election challenge? The article included this poorly-cropped picture of a building under construction at the time, near 5th Street and Tubman Boulevard in Sinkor:

Caption: "Central Monrovia has been transformed since the end of the war"

I thought the text and photo a bit curious, especially as they didn't do much better at accurately reporting on the nuance and detail of Monrovia's cosmetic and atmospheric changes during the recent boom, despite Mr. Paye-Layleh being a Liberian based in Monrovia:

Mrs Sirleaf's campaign team cites Monrovia's development as a symbol of her achievements.

'More than 75% successful'Most of Tubman Boulevard, the city's main road, once bore the scars of conflict, with buildings dilapidated and riddled with bullets.

But today Tubman Boulevard - named after Liberia's longest-serving President William Tubman, an uncle of Winston Tubman - is tarred and shiny new buildings are springing up - including residential flats, banks, the offices of airline companies and six of Monrovia's leading supermarkets - four of which are newly established.

Most of Tubman Boulevard, the city's main road, once bore the scars of conflict, with buildings dilapidated and riddled with bullets.

I forgot about the article, but remained curious about the building, as it is one of the larger non-residential multistory buildings going up in the city. Presumably another air-conditioned office building, like so many that are transforming the cityscape. Perhaps one of the new foreign concessionaires, or even a domestic conglomerate, was constructing new office space?

After the all-too-familiar aluminum-paneling-and-tinted-glass finish, which seems to be the final skin of nearly every new building in Monrovia, the block was crowned off with a diagonal corner cap. Its brow sports a neon title of the major tenant, common enough around the world, but it reveals the building as the new office tower for LISCR, the Liberia International Ship and Corporate Registry-- the unusual, U.S.-owned and operated company which administers the registration of ocean-going vessels on behalf of the Liberian Government. Liberia's "flag of convenience" has the second largest fleet of vessels in the world-- 11% of the craft plying the planet's oceans. This has been for decades one of the government's primary sources of revenue, although too often shrouded in secrecy and lacking proper transparency.

So rather than a symbol of foreign investment, the block is another swanky office block for government business, and therefore, not a good example of any sort of "transformation" of the city, other than the slick cosmetic makeover, which is often only skin-deep.

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