30 May 2013

Liberia: Dead With Kaddafi - Ducor Hotel's 'Misfortune' Resonates

Col. Mohammed Kaddafi of Libya fell to the bullets of guns turned on him by the people he led for close to 42 years as head of state. In some cases feared and loved, he was the most powerful man of the Islamic State, whose posture on Libya's political powerbase was felt far and near. His peers fervently endeared him, maybe, for who he was -one who stood to the whims and caprices of the "political superpowers;" maybe, for the wealth of his country, and, maybe, for his style of leadership.

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 Hotel

It 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 usefulness

Besides 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.

At the expiry of the tenure of IGNU brought to bear by the signing of an agreement then referred to as the "Kosomo Agreement," which brought succeeding care-taker administrations to power, the building was looted and then later occupied by officers of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). 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 background

Located on Ducor Hill, the Ducor Palace Hotel overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Saint Paul River and Monrovia's West Point district. It is located on Ducor Hill, at the end of Broad Street across from United Nations Boulevard in Monrovia's main business district.

Once a luxury hotel, it was operated by the Intercontinental Hotels chain, also the first hotel constructed in Liberia, and one of the few five-star hotels in all of Africa.

Construction of the hotel began in the early 1960s during the administration of former President William V.S. Tubman.

Research 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 conditions

Earlier 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 history

Operated 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.

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