Wednesday, 25 August 2010
Flag Day in Monrovia
So yesterday was Flag Day here in Liberia, a public holiday to honour the national pennant. The flag itself (The Lone Star) is from the family of flags based on the Stars and Stripes and Liberians are very proud of it. It was an excellent holiday. Lots of children parading in their uniforms, speeches and prizes. Moreover, it meant that I had a day to explore Monrovia, a vibrant, busy city. On the face of it, strangers could be forgiven for not immediately spotting that the country had been ravaged by a civil war that only really came to an end about six years ago. Shops and businesses are open, markets are bustling and ships are being unloaded at the port. But take a closer look and you will see burnt out buildings all around town. One of the most incredible is the old Hotel Africa, a vanity project of President Tolbert,built to host the 1979 Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Summit. The hotel complex had swimming pool in the shape of Africa and 51 beach villas, one for each African head of state. It cost US$ 36 million, a staggering amount especially then, especially given the economic plight of the country. Today it is a ruined shell, gutted by months of bombardment during the last years of the civil war and subsequently stripped of everything from the tiles on the walls to the copper pipes of the plumbing system. As for the beach villas, well most of them have fallen into the sea.