Liberia & Libya, war, peace and hospitality

War tore apart Liberia’s luxury Ducor Hotel – then the Libyan government got ready to revamp it. But war has put an end to that project too.

It was once ‘Africa’s finest hotel’, says the security guard as we wander around the concrete carcass. The Ducor at the end of Broad Street in Monrovia played host to many of the great and the good in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and also the bad. The story goes that Idi Amin swam in the Ducor’s swimming pool, his pistol still by his side.

The views enjoyed by the guests at this 300-room hotel, built in 1959 by the Intercontinental Group, were spectacular. They still are, giving you an all-round view of Monrovia’s peninsulas and port.

This old brochure shows the sleek hotel as it once was.

A gem in an African crown of hospitality – it was one of West Africa’s thriving hotels, but by 1990 the last guest had checked out.

Liberia had sunk into civil war and fighters and looters were moving in. The stories were now of a haunted, derelict hotel. It stood over Monrovia as a symbol of the sad side-effects of civil war. 

By 2003, Liberia had signed up for peace and by 2005 it had elected a new leader, Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. War had left Liberia behind, and all the talk was of reconciliation and reconstruction.

Eventually, the conversation turned to the Ducor’s redevelopment. In January 2011, the vice president handed over the site to the investment arm of the Libyan government, ready for a multimillion dollar refit. The Ducor was to be restored to its former glory. 

Perhaps military strongmen may once again swim in the pool, pistols by their sides.

The squatters were moved on. Today, only Frank, the caretaker, and a handful of security guards remain to roam the hulk of the hotel. Workers ringed the site with a shiny new corrugated-iron wall.

But in February in Libya, the people began their revolt. Libya’s $60 million investment in Liberia was at risk. By June, President Sirleaf had decided to cut ties with Gaddafi’s Libya and work stopped at the Ducor.

It was a hotel destroyed by war at home. Now, another war more than 6,000 kilometres away has dented the dream of its redevelopment.

And so the building stands… waiting for someone else to come up the millions needed to bring a grand old dame a much needed and deserved makeover to face an uncertain future.