Monday, October 21, 2013

Excellent Podcast: Peter Day's World of Business in Zambia

One of the best podcasts that I've heard in a long time was broadcast in two parts last month. The slightly unlikely platform for this insight into African development was Peter Day's World of Business on the BBC.

It seems precisely because Peter Day, an intelligent, experienced broadcast journalist who appears to possess no particular Africa experience and no apparent "aid/development" mindset, comes with his questions and observations without any preconceptions, that he was able to conduct such straightforward, revealing interviews.

What follows over two 20+ minute reports about the inadequate supply of power, drinking water, and transport both within Zambia and crossing its borders, as well as quick, perceptive dives into the country's rocky but stabilizing economic, political, and infrastructural scenes, and how these all interact. The interviews include the US Ambassador and the Zambian Vice President Guy Scott but many are by and large discussions with regular Zambians, from a truck driver, who can drive from South Africa in two days but has to sometimes wait five days sitting around because of transport bottlenecks, to poor people in peri-urban communities of Lusaka searching for clean drinking water.

There is also an insightful analysis of Zambia's copper mining industry, illustrating the challenges of transfer pricing, tax evasion, over-reliance on a single extractive sector with a fluctuating commodity price.

Well-worth listening to both parts of this podcast, first broadcast on 31 August and then 7 September, and available for listening online or download.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

New German Ambassador presents Letters of Credence

In early September, the headline read, "President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has received the Letters of Credence of the new Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to Liberia, His Excellency Ralph Timmermann."

It is surprisingly common to read articles in the local press with this grandiose sentence as the title or lede, "President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has received the Letters of Credence of the new Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of..." As there are actually quite a number of countries which have formal diplomatic relations with Liberia. However, as mentioned in a previous post from earlier this week, the majority of these diplomats are stationed in Abidjan (for most Francophone countries) or Accra (for many Anglophone countries) or even as far away as Abuja (for many non-African countries). 

Not so for Germany, however. I am not sure if Germany ever officially or permanently closed their embassy at any point during the war, which would make it the only country besides the US, and the only European country, with such a dedicated diplomatic presence in Liberia. 

This is not a recent development, either. It is an astonishing fact to contemplate that Liberia technically is older than Germany as a modern country. There is no better illustration of this fascinating anachronism than to realize that the diplomatic ties between the Republic of Liberia and a German-speaking government was not arranged with Berlin or even Bonn, but the official recognition of Liberia's independence by the Free and Hanseatic Cities of Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck, which today are only constituent states of the Bundesrepublik, but in the mid-19th century more directly resembled the medieval  free states of the Hanseatic league. 

Amazingly, this official diplomatic recognition, dating to 1855, predates Liberia's formal recognition by the United States by seven years, when in President Lincoln's administration, the tiny republic was recognized by America. Apparently the thought of a black diplomat in Washington was one of the main sticking points, and the recognition of both Haiti and Liberia was formalized on the same day, in the absence of objecting southern politicians. 

The German ports' entreaty was not entirely one of enlightened liberialism, however. The trading states were jostling for control of the burgeoning sea trade along the West African coast against other European powers. Not too give too much history in a single post, but this commercial trade, especially from German and Dutch merchants, was vital to the early survival of the fledgling Liberian republic. 

In the early-to-mid 20th century, the largest non-African populations in Liberia were northern European merchants, and Monrovia was a regular stop on the Bremen-Afrika merchant line, which also extended as far south as the Belgian Congo. Germany's commercial might in Liberia would continue through the golden era of Liberia's Open Door boom, as the German-operated Bong Mines iron ore operation was a cornerstone of Liberia's export-driven economy from its first development in 1958. 

The importance of Liberia to Germany is perhaps best reflected in the Federal Republic's sprawling, gorgeous embassy campus in Congo Town, which includes a series of handsome modernist blocks and residential villas among landscaped grounds stretching down to the ocean. I've been a few times for parties and other occasions but never asked to take photographs inside to add to the architectural tour. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Photo: Cote D'Ivoire Embassy

The waiting room of the consular section of the Embassy of Cote D'Ivoire, Warner Avenue, Sinkor. April, 2013. Portraits showing President Sirleaf and President Ouattara of the Ivory Coast. (Same-day visa service is available).

Friday, October 18, 2013

Monrovia's Newest Embassy: Qatar

Continuing with the coverage of embassies this week, one of the first entirely new diplomatic missions to arrive in Monrovia during the last ten years has been the establishment of the Embassy of the State of Qatar in Monrovia. 

If the photograph below of the elongated Qatari flag flapping happily over a spacious, sleek house looks familiar, that's because the Emir's standard was raised over the roofline of the Mamba Point Hotel at some point last year.
Apparently, the Charge d'Affaires set up an office in one of the refurbished hotel's suites, as a temporary measure before leasing a more permanent and dedicated compound. 

For most of the year, a small, computer-printed sign, "Qatar Embassy," has been stationed at the landing at the top of the hotel's entry stairway, pointing towards the guest wing. Incidentally or purposefully, the background of this little wayfinder matches the aubergine-clay of the Qatari flag. 

Qatar, flush with petrol cash, has been extending its diplomatic reach throughout its home region and beyond, and seems to be expanding into Africa for soft-power and humanitarian aid, resulting in the world's wealthiest citizens, with a per capita income guessed to be as high as $400,000 per year, opening up offices in the world's poorest countries, with Liberia's per capita income estimated to remain as low as $400 per year. 

Likewise, it appears through minimal information that Liberia has opened an embassy in Doha, or at least has an Ambassador resident there, which may very well have been at least partially sponsored by the Qatari government. Much larger, wealthier states such as Lebanon now occupy brand-new premises provided by the Qatari government. 

If so, this would be the second of Liberia's post-war foreign missions opened in the Gulf, as it echoes the opening of the Liberian Embassy in Kuwait in 2010, which was made possible by a 5-year gratis lease on a spacious 2-story chancery in the Gulf's other tiny, petrol-rich emirate. Kuwait has not, apparently, reciprocated with a diplomatic mission in Monrovia. 

Kuwait was at the time one of only three Liberian embassies in Asia, the other two being in Tokyo and Beijing, and as recently as last year passports from as far away as Indonesia had to be shipped to Kuwait City for visa processing. If there now is indeed a second consular facility a few hundred miles away, it's not clear how the continent is carved up. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Building of the Month: Old Spanish Embassy, Monrovia

Keeping with the Embassy theme from yesterday's post, for the Building of the Month I thought I'd nominate an embassy that is one of many in the city that ceased to exist in during the war (really all except for the US Embassy closed), and one that sadly has not re-opened its diplomatic mission, even ten years after the end of the conflict. 

Spanish Embassy, without so much as a wooden fence. Flag flying at right. Date unknown.

The Kingdom of Spain, like all major European nations, had a consular legation in Monrovia. The Spanish Embassy was not part of the Embassy Row of Mamba Point, which had the American, British, Dutch, and French Embassies for decades. Yet the Spaniards had a seafront setting that was as equally dramatic as any clifftop compound in the city. 

The Spanish Embassy is at the center of the photograph, below and left of the Executive Mansion. c.1970

Tucked behind the Executive Mansion grounds, and possibly even predating its construction, the Spanish Embassy was at the end of a cul-de-sac off Redemption Road which to this day doesn't specifically have a name. A number of grand oceanfront residential mansions were built here from at least the 1950s onwards. 

Viewed from the beach in this washed-out photo, c.1965. 
The Executive Mansion, possibly under construction, is in the background.

As the last house on this lane, the house that acted as the Spanish mission is particularly recognizable for its curving, cantilevered gallery, almost looking like a turreted tower jutting out toward the sea. 

View of the Executive Mansion from Redemption Road, 2012, showing the vacant 
Spanish Embassy as the last building on the right. 

Even before the war, some of these private homes were given over to government agencies, and today this area houses the Liberia chapter of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI), and the Liberia copyright office, and at time some other governmental offices. 

Post-war map of Monrovia, c.1999, showing the old locations of the 
Kingdom of Spain Embassy, as well as the Swedish and PR China Embassies. 

More recently, this quiet corner of the central city has been buzzing with the recent opening of the grand Angler's Bar and Restaurant, which vies for the title of Monrovia's finest eating establishment. Sadly, the erstwhile Iberian embassy has yet to be refurbished, although it is still standing prominently above the beach. As mentioned a few years ago, Monrovia hosts an honorary Spanish consulate on Broad Street at the KLM/Air France/Kenya Airways ticket office.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

British Embassy Reopens

The United Kingdom has re-opened its Embassy in Monrovia this week, after it was evacuated and closed in 1990 at the early stages of the Liberian Civil War. From The New Dawn
"I also just want to reiterate the importance that the United Kingdom attaches to the relationship with Liberia", the British Minister stated during the ceremony held at the new British Embassy in Sinkor.A Foreign Ministry release says Mr. Simmonds disclosed that there are only a few numbers of embassies the UK Government is opening across the world, and that his Government wanted to make sure that Liberia was one of those:"So, this is a significant step for the United Kingdom. I'm delighted to be here, I'm delighted to dedicate this new British Embassy".He added that his government will be encouraging more UK businesses to invest in Liberia which would contribute to the economic development and growth that is taking place in Liberia.In response, Foreign Minister Ngafuan hailed Britain's contributions to the bilateral ties between Liberia and Great Britain as he recalled Britain's historic recognition of Liberia's independence as the first country to do so.The Liberian Foreign Minister remains certain that with the reopening of the British Embassy in Liberia the British government will now put on its front-burner the issuance of British visas here, something the British Minister himself acknowledged in his speech delivered Monday night at the Royal Grand Hotel in Sinkor.Counting other efforts by the British government that have helped to enhance Liberia-British relations, Minister Ngafuan continued: "This year, we have been honored by two significant visits: one, by your Prime Minister, the Honorable Dave Cameron who came in February as a Co-chair of the UN High Level Panel of Experts to craft the Post-2015 development agenda and today, another high level visit from you.""The fact that you didn't have an embassy here; we felt that we needed to bridge that gap. And now we are very happy that you've responded and we have a physical presence of Great Britain in Liberia", Minister Ngafuan stated.He named the resumption of flights by British Airways to Monrovia, the operations of British businesses in Liberia and last year's Liberia-UK Business Forum that was held in London, the UK as some of the testimonies of the cordial relationship between both countries."
The new Embassy is not in the same location as the old one: As the article notes, Her Majesty's government now operates a mission in Sinkor, specifically the LCL Compound, a sparkling complex of three high-rise apartment towers on the beach between 12th and 13th streets, which is also home to the new Swedish Embassy, which moved in from a Johannsen location when the LCL Compound opened in 2012. The Knight of the Order of Malta's legation moved from another compound in Sinkor, and the three golden blocks house some of the most expensive apartments for lease in the entire city. So the new British Embassy is hardly a dedicated, purpose-built mission. 
The Former British Embassy on Mamba Point, the white building at the center against the concrete wall and curve of UN Drive, was later made the Ambassador's residence of the US Embassy.
Previously, the British Embassy had been part of Mamba Point's classic Embassy Row, situated on a beautiful, dramatic clifftop house just below the US Embassy, facing the ocean. The Dutch embassy was just down the street and the French Embassy was further up the hill at Benson Street.

1990-2000 era maps showing old UK Embassy location.
At some point after it was vacated by the British, HM Embassy became the Ambassador's residence in an expanded US Embassy compound. Today, the French and British embassies are located in the oceanside avenues of Sinkor, the US have moved across the street to the old Greystone compound, and the Dutch have yet to return, although the area still is home to most UN Agencies, the European Union, and the Vatican Embassy. 
Monrovia now hosts more than twenty embassies, consulates, and honorary consuls, although many Ambassadors accredited to Monrovia are resident in Abidjan, Accra, or even Abuja. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

This is What Bureaucracy Looks Like

A traffic accident reconstructed on a chalkboard. A diagram of traditional dress pasted askew to the concrete wall. Broken furniture, still arranged to invite a visitor to sit. 

These memory-jarring details, somehow both banal and exotic, are immediately recognizable as quintessential to Liberian official offices. Sandwiched between shots of young French paper pushers and a Siberian secretary sporting a perm are ten alluring portraits from Liberia, part of an extraordinary series of photographs, titled simply Bureaucracy, by photographer Jan Banning. The other countries in the series are Bolivia, China, India, the United States, and Yemen. Banning spent years spanning to globe, photographing hundreds of government officials, and her work was organized into a traveling exhibition and was published as a book in 2008.
The visits were unannounced, [we] kept the employees from tidying up or clearing the office. That way, the photos show what a local citizen would be confronted with when entering.
These head-on shots of Liberian civil servants, from the center of Monrovia to remote districts in River Gee County are familiar in ways heartwarming and hilarious, or even headache-inducing, to outright horrifying. Anyone who has spent any time in Liberia has been in rooms like this, sat in small, hand-made wicker seats, under a roof of rusting zinc or woven mat, painted cement floors or worse, covered in rolls of plastic floor matting. Banning and her partner's interview also recorded the official salaries of each, perhaps the most jarring detail of all. 

Banning's descriptions and photos are reposted below. Everything ©Jan Banning.

 Warford Weadatu Sr. (b. 1963), a former farmer and mail carrier, now is county commissioner (administrator) for Nyenawliken district, River Gee County. He has no budget and is not expecting any money soon from the poverty-stricken authorities in Monrovia. Monthly salary: 1,110 Liberian dollars (US$ 20, euro 19), but he hadn't received any salary for the previous year.
Major Adolph Dalaney (b. 1940) works in the Reconstruction Room of the Traffic Police at the Liberia National Police Headquarters in the capital Monrovia. Monthly salary: barely 1,000 Liberian dollars (US$ 18, euro 17). Traffic accident victims at times are willing to pay a little extra if Dalaney"s department quickly draws up a favorable report to present to a judge.

Alfred D. Tartea (b. 1946) is administrative assistant and acting superintendent (highest civil servant) of Careysburg district, Montserrado County. Monthly salary: 750 Liberian dollars (US $ 13, euro 12.50).

Alfred C. Garley (b. 1950), stationed in Zwedru, is deputy revenue agent for Grand Gedeh County. During the Liberian civil war, the tax office was robbed and destroyed. Monthly salary: approximately 1,000 Liberian dollars (US$ 18, euro 17).

Henry D. Snorton (1957) is senior tax collector in Kakata district (22000 people), Margibi County. He is co-ordinator of the district"s 12 tax collectors. They take in real estate tax and tax on trade profits, mostly in cash. "We have absolutely nothing: no decent office furniture, no telephones, no typewriters, not even a motorbike to collect tax in remote areas. Our collectors sometimes walk for a whole day to visit one taxable." Monthly salary: 925 Liberian dollars (US$ 16, euro 15).

J. Modesco Siaker (1959), township commissioner in Crozierville, Careysburg district, Montserrado County. Crozierville had 10,000 people before the war; now 4,000. In 1990, Taylor's rebels entered the village: "I was a clerk then, and they threatened to execute me and some others. They let me go, but killed 2 others." They ransacked houses and public buildings. In 1991, INPLF rebels (Prince Johnson c.s.) and Ecomog peacekeepers stole what was left. Since 1997, Siaker is back in his village. His office and home are in a derilict villa: the town hall was raised to the ground.Siaker cannot do much for his people. He earns 750 Lib. dollar (US$ 13, euro 12.50) a month.

Henry Gray (1940), acting commissioner for Gbaepo district, Kanweaken, River Gee County. During the Civil War, the office was completely looted and destroyed: only one wall remained. Gray has 11 personnel, of whom only 4 are paid. The rest are volunteers. He has no budget and over two years salary owing. Yesterday, he went to the capital Fishtown to collect last two months salary, two times 975 Liberian dollars (2x US$ 17, 2x euro 16). All he got was 600 dollars (US$ 11, euro 10). Gray is father to 34 children (sic), 13 of them depending, and has 18 grandchildren.

Lieutenant Samuel P.S. Kollie (b. 1955) is chief of the Traffic Station of the Liberia National Police in Kakata, Margibi County. He has no police car and no means of communication. When an accident is reported, Kollie at times takes a cab at the expense of the person reporting the accident. Monthly salary: 900 Liberian dollars (US$ 16, euro 15).

Louise N. Smith (b. 1964) keeps files at the Department of Statistics of the Bureau for Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) in Monrovia. Monthly salary: 1,000 Liberian dollars (US$ 18, 17 euro), almost all of which is spent on transportation to and from work. Sometimes she receives nothing for three months, except for support from family in the United States.

Brama F. Nyé (b. 1962) is head of the Revenue Office in Smell-no-Taste, Margibi County. Once a month, he drives in a rented or borrowed car to Monrovia to deliver hundreds of thousands of Liberian and American dollars to the Central Bank of Liberia. Monthly salary: 1,080 Liberian dollars (US$ 19, euro 18).

Friday, October 11, 2013

"Ducor Hotel's Misfortune Resonates"

Going from the present state of the art of Liberia's hospitality scene to the glories of the past, is this fantastically written article published in the New Republic newspaper in May of this year. It's a tremendous town cry on the sad state of the Ducor Hotel, which is in an even more perilous position than it was previously, due to the demise of its recent benefactor, Muammar Qaddafi, whose government investment unit had taken up plans to redevelop the hotel (covered in earlier years on this blog here). 
This grandiose work of journalism is unmissable in full, for the reporter's singular reporting style alone, but also because the article references this very blog, albeit a bit confusingly (emphasis added below). Also, the lamentable language of the journalist suggests that the Ducor is in its present, ruinous condition as much because of Qaddafi's recent death, rather than all the other causes of the property's destruction and decay.
I've excerpted most of it below, but again, click the link and don't miss even one of the rambling, laconic sentences. Aside from this journalism, there is no update on commencing construction to refurbish what was once West Africa's finest accommodations. 
Lastly, oh the irony of the present that this web advertisement for present-day Intercontinental Hotels popped up at the bottom of the article: 
...From North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa and West Africa, the symbol of his might protruded, and he proportionately responded with frolicsome display of generosity, undertaking projects in dimensional quality. Liberia had its share in Kaddafi's cascading generosity. Since his demise in 2012, most of the projects including the rehabilitation of the Ducor Palace Hotel are a standstill, an indication that they have also demised with him.The New Republic was at the site of the once hilltop, five-star hotel to ascertain what is now considered its misfortunes. Ducor Palace Hotel should have been fully salvaged, well and kicking as it was in pre-war Liberia had Libya, whose former leader was instrumental in extending helping hands to needy African countries, not endured a costly political upheaval. He felt victim to the Arab political tsunami (Arab Spring as it is termed today) that began in Tunisia.From the look of things, it is guessable that the Hotel has died with the former Libyan strongman who did not survive a nationally-ignited but internationally-backed insurrection.The government of Muammar Kaddafi, then considered a friend to Liberia, had agreed to renovate the building after years of neglect, but that openhandedness was asphyxiated when his government was dethroned, thus turning the Hotel's fortunes into unbearable misfortunes. 
Present State of the HotelIt is now lying abandoned. Approaching the wide courtyard of the once blossoming and captivating hotel - an unassailable national shrine -and noticing the depth of damage evoked ominous feelings.Besides the general state of devastation in which it is, its once appealing surroundings, parking lots have become garages, playing fields for children, most of them students, while the two main streets leading to the main building have been turned into latrine sites. The amazing swimming pool which captivated tourists from far and near is a pond of tadpoles.During a visit there to ascertain its present state, our reporter said he noticed overgrowing trees overwhelming the entire scenery of the surroundings, making distance viewing completely tetchy.The more the devastation to the building is likely to become, the more the resources needed to revamp it surge if it is not attended to now, this paper was informed when it toured the facilities recently.During the tour, our reporter said he saw the street leading to the right wing of the building awash of human feces, while the main security check point is now being turned into business booth by residents of the Snapper Hill community.Residents there did not feel comfortable speaking to our reporter who endeavored to inquire from them why they were using the security check point for business purposes and who authorized them to do so.Our reporter said, however, he noticed few security officers - three gentlemen -from a private security officers sitting on the ground floor of the building, close to the main entrance."Hello, I am from The New Republic Newspaper. My mission is to capture the present landscape of the building, get some photos and talk to some people here," our reporter divulged his mission.Apparently overwhelmed by awe, one of the officers took in deep brief before responding. "You are welcome. We are here on behalf of a private company. The government turned over the building to a company," he said without calling his name."For me, I don't like to speak to press people; I am afraid of them because sometimes when you say something to them, they paraphrase it."After the fleeting interaction between the two, the officer granted our reporter permission to take some photos, but refused to grant him interview.Amidst the negative aspect of the dilapidation and the incorrect and unkempt use of the premises of the hotel by "elements of griminess", others are getting very good glances of some of the beautifully still-in-tight symbols such as the J.J Roberts monument.People from all walks of life, especially students, trooped there everyday for several reasons: for photographing, for relaxation, for recreation amongst others. These events point to the rather ever-living significance of the Hotel to the national emblem.A case in point is that several school-going children were seen playing soccer on the grou8nds of the hotel complex. 
War era usefulnessBesides its antebellum elegance that attracted thousands to it, Ducor Palace Hotel headquartered the Amos Sawyer-led Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) from 1990-94.Most of Sawyer's officials resided there and even ran the various offices from there because most government ministries were either looted not secure to be occupied...Dozens of Liberians occupied the building the demise of the interim government...It was during this period that it suffered the worst of devastation occasioned by another period of massive looting of its assets. 
Historical backgroundResearch records show that the design of the "to the Moved 2 Monrovia postcard collection sent in 1964. It depicted the hotel when it was nearly brand new, and shows how denuded the hill was when the hotel finished.Neil Prince is credited with designing the Ducor in 1962 as part of his worldwide portfolio of properties for Intercontinental Hotels, which was at the time the hospitality arm of Pan American Airways, which was obviously very focused on Monrovia.A Pan Am's 1963 World Guide, seemed to have recommended the "brand new Ducor Hotel" so it seems the property was originally called the Ducor Palace, then called the Intercontinental, then back to the Ducor Palace.In 2008, under this present administration, Ducor Hotel gutted fire, thus exacerbating its conditionsEarlier in 2007, the Liberian Ministry of Justice began to evict the Ducor Hotel's residents, and in 2008, the Government of Liberia signed a lease agreement with the Government of Libya, who began clearing the property of debris in 2010 in preparation for a bidding process to be completed by June 2010.However, the project was delayed several times before finally being abandoned upon Liberia's severing of diplomatic relations with the Gaddafi government following the outbreak of the 2011 Libyan civil war.Following the restoration of diplomatic relations with Mohammed Kaddafi's Libya, the Liberian Government sought its intervention to resuscitate the building to its pre-war status.After months of negotiations, a formal agreement was signed and the building was accordingly turned over to the Libyans to rehabilitate and run it for a period of time.Immediate work did not start on the building due to strong opposition from residents who lived in the proximity of the building who the government had earlier asked to vacate the premises to allow the reconstruction work on the building.'Again, after months of hauling and pulling, the government managed to calm the situation, paid some of the residents to relocate and even bulldozed buildings whose owners did not comply with the arrangement.Official reconstruction work began on the complex in 2010 but short-lived due to the uprising against the Kaddafi regime in 2011.The Liberian government, perhaps bowing to the whims and caprices of the US government and other western nations, severed diplomatic ties with Libya, thus bringing an end to efforts toward reconstructing the building.Now that the government last year restored ties with Libya in 2012, the state of the building remains the same.Ducor Palace Hotel, then Liberia's hilltop five-star hotel, would have been an oasis of comfort, realization and a hub of adventurism had it not been destroyed.It is gathered that its antebellum comfort, elegance, luxury, status and protruding first-class quality drew many to Liberia. The scenery was also added value. All of this is historyOperated by the Intercontinental Hotels chain, the Ducor Hotel was the first hotel constructed in Liberia, and one of the few five-star hotels in all of Africa.Its various amenities, including its three hundred rooms, pool, tennis courts, and a French restaurant, made it popular with tourists from the Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, as well as visiting professionals from the US, Europe, and Asia.This paper also gathered that the building was closed in 1989, just before the coup led by Charles Taylor which ousted President Samuel Doe and marked the beginning of the First Liberian Civil War.At present, according to information available to this paper, the building is being turned over to a private company, but could not establish which company is it and how the process was conducted.Most Liberians who are concerned about the state of the hotel are beginning to interject that it is another "white elephant' of Liberia.Several historic complexes remained unattended to, either due to the lack of interest on the part of the government or lack of resources.Hotel Africa, another five-star hotel built in 1979 during the administration of President William R. Tolbert is completely ruined and the government is yet to see reasons to rescue it despite several calls from Liberians.The Unity Conference Center, another landmark nation shrine, is gradually getting into a state of oblivion. The building is partially destroyed and there are that reports conditions could get worst if nothing is done about it.Of course, Ducor Palace Hotel is one of Liberia's proudest landmark complexes that represented its image across the globe. As it is, millions of dollars are needed to get the building back to its prewar status, and this is task so huge for the government to handle.Until then, Ducor is history and it could remain as such during the lifespan of this government which is already struggling with its own budget, analysts have hinted.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kendeja Hotel on CNN

Another segment from CNN's recent Inside Africa report from Liberia, interviewing the new-ish GM of the RLJ Kendeja Resort & Villas, located beachside in Paynesville on the RIA Highway. The property looked good despite the cloudy weather, with the interview taking place by the pool under one of the nice thatched huts which is one of the best places in the city to eat a burger on a weekend afternoon.

While having been on the job for, as he reports, only 9 months, the GM doesn't seem like the best to have a perspective on how Liberia is changing, as he reports a shift since being on the ground in the type of visitor, from NGOs and faith-based travelers to investors and miners, in truth both groups make up the vast majority of the Kendeja's non-local clientele and have been since the resort opened in 2009.

The part where they show the on-site electricity and water treatment is also interesting.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Although not aligning with the July and August events which marked the 10-year anniversary of the conclusion of Liberia's civil war, the Los Angeles Times remembered the events on its Framework photography blog featuring a series of 18 images from the 2003-2005 period, some taken by Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros. Several feature recognizable spots in Central Monrovia, notably the Masonic Temple and the National Housing Bank tower, as seen above. The posting does coincide with an exhibit, Remembering Liberia, put on by the Chris Hondros Fund at Photoville in New York for the past few weeks.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Future of the EJ Roye

©2012 Matthew M. Jones

Following on the mention of the EJ Roye Building in the previous post, as the old dame was featured on CNN, here's a 14-month-old mention in the local rag The New Dawn about what is one of the largest abandoned buildings remaining in central Monrovia:
"Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods says Government has earmarked US$400,000 to conduct a feasibility study on the E.J. Roye building which ownership is still left to legal interpretation."
As has been previously mentioned on CNN, as well as previously on this blog as well as on the Architectural Tour, the EJ Roye was built, probably with government funds, as a headquarters of the country's True Whig Party. The government has since demanded ownership of the building, since it was, it seems, taxpayers' funds which financed the tower's construction.

Meanwhile, the building was heavily damaged during the war, especially the final siege of Monrovia in 2003, when government snipers positioned at the skyscraper's top fought off rebels trying to cross the old bridge. The building suffered several rocket hits, and its not clear whether it is structurally sound enough for it to continue standing, or how much it will cost to refurbish it.

There's been no recent reports about the commencement of the study or its results.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Pehn-Pehn Ride Around Monrovia

Back in September, CNN's weekly Inside Africa program put together a show from Monrovia. While the journalism tends to be as unimpressive as the rest of CNN International's line-up, this segment where the show's host takes a ride around Monrovia on the back of a motorbike is nice, particularly because it shows some nice shots of the streets of Monrovia, and especially because the pehn-pehn driver, who is called "Harris Cully" by the CNN team but who I would assume has the last name "Kollie" is a typically polite and agreeable Liberian guy. 

Between Harris's delightful, animated narration and trying to figure out which streets the dynamic footage was shot on, it's enough to make a viewer homesick for Liberia, or at least proud to see the city looking so respectable. 

Emphasis on the downside is mixed with the positive, though. The EJ Roye Building makes a momentary cameo, in a mention that doesn't really go anywhere, and I wasn't sure what the host meant when he asserted that many businesses that had left Liberia during the war have yet to return, especially when there is unprecedented concession activity from one end of the country to the other in a bonanza of investment unlike Liberia has ever seen.

Vaguely, the segment tries to emphasize how many pehn-pehn drivers are ex-combatants and how Liberia is suffering from the lingering impacts of the civil conflict; the host begins the show by saying that, "to truly understand this country, you have to look at everything through the context of its brutal civil war," which is of course true, but also perennially unfortunate that everything is always cast in the shadows of the conflict, even when trying to be a bit positive, which on balance is this case with this segment. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

What does Liberia Export?

In 2010, the value of Liberia's rubber harvest was nearly equal to the value of its cruise ships.

That's one potential headline that could be derived from playing around with The Observatory of Economic Complexity, a web-based visualization app that is co-hosted and developed by Harvard and MIT, holding trade data for most countries. Liberia, along with most of the world's countries, has data on imports and exports available for years 1995-2010. It's fun to play around with and it's macro-economically enlightening.

Rubber should be unsurprising, and although Liberia has no shipbuilding industry above Fanti fishing boats, it does continue to offer one of the world's favored flags of convenience with the Liberia Ship Registry, which I've mentioned before.

Just based on legibility of text size as an indication of significant exports, its curious and fascinating that  Liberia's exports were by and large just three classifications: Cruise Ships (31%) Rubber 30%, Petroleum (26%). As Liberia is and has always been an importer of fuel, the third category is a bit strange.

Diamonds, Cocoa Beans and Scrap Iron are the only other categories that can even be seen without zooming in, the latter not exactly being a growth industry. Raw iron ore should have significantly displaced these other categories the next year with ArcelorMittal's resumption of ore exports.

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