From Houston to Sydney 2013

West Africa



Today I achieved an ambition I have had since my university days – I came to Liberia.

During my undergraduate years, I developed a fascination with Liberia after I had undertaken some research into the impact of foreign investment in the country.  That research was undertaken almost forty years ago (horrifying thought!), and the subsequent tragedies of the Liberian revolution and civil war make the findings appear quite antiquated today (as, indeed, they are).

Yet, as I undertook the research, Liberia captured my imagination.  As slavery became outlawed in many parts of the United States, many people felt that there was no place for “freed slaves” in the US, and so many of them were transported back to Africa.  The usual destination was Liberia, an area of Africa with which they had no historical affinity.

Known as Americo-Liberians, the ex-slaves dressed like southern gentlemen in top hats and suits with tails, and then proceeded to subjugate the local tribal population.  In reality, they colonised Liberia, although it can still be said today that Liberia is the only part of Africa that was never colonised by Europeans (if we include the Italian invasion of Ethiopia during the 1930s and 1940s as colonisation).  Liberia achieved its independence in 1847, thus becoming the first independent country in Africa and, for many decades, the only Negroid self-governing country in the world.

My university research was later formalised into an article I wrote for an academic journal that was published in early 1982, and it provides much more detail of Liberia’s fascinating background.  If you are interested in this detail, or would like to see a now-obsolete analysis of the benefits and problems of foreign investment in Liberia as it used to be, click HERE to read or download a scan of the article (note the file size is 3.9 MB).  Today, Liberia is the third most impoverished country in the world with about 85% of its population living below the international poverty line.

The fact that it has taken me so long to set foot in Liberia, despite my extensive travels over the decades, is testimony to Liberia’s isolation and its political unrest.  The two Liberian civil wars that followed the overthrow of the Americo-Liberians (1989 to 1996 and then 1999 to 2003) resulted in the deaths of about 200,000 people each, and they became infamous for their savagery and use of child soldiers.

In that context, my travel today seemed relatively painless.  The flight from Accra to Monrovia’s Robertsfield Airport took just two hours, and was completed comfortably on a Kenya Airways Boeing 767 that took off and arrived 15 minutes early.  The only minor frustration was that the air over both Ghana and Liberia was very hazy, thus obscuring much of the spectacular view below.

I was met at the airport, as arranged, by a car from the Cape Hotel where I had reserved a room (there is no public transport from the airport into Monrovia despite the 60 kilometre distance).  The drive was smooth as the roads were surprisingly good, although we did get a puncture that meant a half hour delay to change a tyre.  By 5 pm I was relaxing in my room.

Well, relaxing is a somewhat over-optimistic claim.  The hotel is doing renovations, and the room that is currently on the renovation hit list seems to be the room next to mine.  The banging is loud and incessant, and Liberians seem to work quite long hours from what I can judge – they are working well after sunset as I type this diary.  The compensation is that I am in a room that has already been renovated.  The room is plain and basic, but clean and spacious.  It has no view whatsoever, but is just down the corridor from a balcony that overlooks the Atlantic coastline and Mamba Point Beach (see panoramic picture below).

The Cape Hotel claims to be Monrovia’s top hotel.  That claim is probably correct, given its great location, the fact that it has hot and cold running water and wi-fi that is about 15 times faster than my wi-fi at home.  Having said that, it would be a 3-star hotel anywhere else in the world.

To get a break from the banging of the construction noise, I took a short walk across the road to Mamba Point Beach.  It was a pretty sight in the late afternoon sunshine, with several games of soccer underway on the sand.  I doubt that the beach would make a great place for swimming, however, as the undertow looked truly treacherous.

All the advice I have received indicates that it is unwise to walk around Monrovia after dark.  This may be related to the threat of attack, but it may also be because of the risk of falling into an open drain on the badly lit and poorly maintained footpaths.  Either way, I finished the day happily with a dinner of fried rice in the hotel restaurant.

Tomorrow, I’ll start exploring the city.

Day 3 - Accra, Ghana to Monrovia, Liberia


30 December 2013