Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Man Behind the Hotel Ivoire

From a September, 2010 article in Hareetz magazine on Moshe Mayer, the Israeli businessman who came to West Africa to develop the Hotel Ivoire, among other projects: 
In circa-1970 terms, Ivoire was a colossal tourism project; it included two towers with 520 air-conditioned rooms, a cinema, an ice-skating rink, restaurants, coffee shops, nightclubs, a private marina and also a luxury casino - a first in Africa. The hotel, designed by Heinz Fenchel, who at the time was also the designer of Israel's Dan hotel chain, reflected still-pervasive Western colonialist interests in wild Africa. For good reason, then, did The Economist hasten that same year to declare the Ivoire the most beautiful hotel in the world. Israelis looked with admiration at the activities of Mayer, the home-grown millionaire who had succeeded in "making it big." Mayer garnered praise, covered by a thin veneer of envy, of the sort now reserved for high-tech tycoons. 
 Ivoire was only the first step in the so-called African Riviera project developed by Mayer, which involved creation of a new city of 120,000 along the banks of a tropical laguna outside Abidjan. The project was planned by Israeli architects and funded by international financial bodies - and all was orchestrated by Mayer. The then-president of Ivory Coast, Dr. Felix Houphouet-Boigny, was instrumental in removing the bureaucratic logjams that might have hindered the man he called his "close friend."
 "Mayer used to sit with Houphouet-Boigny for nights on end. Together they would dream about the future of Ivory Coast," architect Thomas Leitersdorf, the man who headed the African Riviera planning team, recalled in an interview last month. "He went there with his own money at a time when foreign businessmen were still afraid to go."
 "When you are handed this sort of project as a kid," he explains, "it is just unbelievable, because in our profession you plan and you plan, and then you tread water until you actually see the bulldozers start to move earth. Yet here they were, pulling the plans out of our hands even before we'd finished sketching them. You have to bear in mind that African leaders like Houphouet-Boigny are practically omnipotent, with all the good and the bad that comes with that. You submit the plans to one person, who is both the planning committee and finance minister. You reach an agreement with him, and that's all there is to it. There's no bullshit. The work begins the very next day." 
 Notwithstanding its grand dimensions, the Riviera was only one among hundreds of projects planned (and often constructed, as well ) by Israelis in Africa. The "export" of architecture to Africa and Asia was, from the 1950s to the early 1970s, part of a declared diplomatic policy in Israel. The government was interested in breaking through the country's geographic and economic isolation, and finding new strategic partners in what was then called the "second circle" of states, which included Iran, Cyprus and the countries of Black Africa.

The article goes on to tell of other Israeli economic and diplomatic connections to Africa, from Sierra Leone to Ethiopia to Zambia, which peaked under Golda Meir and withered in the late 1970s. 

Massive and belated hat-tip to John James (Drogba's Country/@ourmaninafrica) for very thoughtfully sending me this article via email. 

No comments:

Tweets by @moved2monrovia