The Hotel Africa, built in a beach resort area north of Monrovia, was once a 5-star grand hotel. It was built to impress as the location of the 1979 Organisation of African Unity summit. (The pool was made in the shape of the African continent.) Just a few months after the Hotel Africa hosted the OAU, however, Liberia’s President William R. Tolbert, Jr. was overthrown by Samuel Doe. From 1979 to 2003, Liberia was engulfed in violent conflict too complicated to detail here.
Stories about the historic Hotel Africa abound; many of them parallel the violence that was happening in the country at large. For example, the hotel’s owner was kidnapped in 1990 by the rebel Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia. They allegedly murdered him by throwing him off the fourth floor balcony.
By the time I visited the Hotel Africa in 2008, it had been bombed, burned, and stripped bare of everything that could possibly have a value.
This is a photo of the remains of a building in the Kono district that was burned by the rebel Revolutionary United Front during the conflict in Sierra Leone. I’ve heard so many personal stories of escape and of loss that I assume this was once the private home of a family with means. But it could just as easily have been a government building.
The conflict in Sierra Leone left so many destroyed buildings. Not to mention lives.
In Monrovia, buildings destroyed in the conflict loom gloomily as people go about the process of rebuilding their lives in the midst of the rubble. This photo was taken at a gas station. Like many resourceful Liberians, they were also selling “pure and safe drinking water”. But the thing I like about this photo is this – if you look closely at the larger building above, you can see laundry hanging out to dry. Life springs up inexorably, like blades of grass in the spring.
In post-conflict West Africa, the abandoned buildings hold more than just memories.