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Happy days are back in Monrovia

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Shamlal Puri | April 17th 2016
Locals relaxing at the CeCe beach on a Sunday

Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, which suffered the brunt of civil war in the 90s and at the turn of the century, is slowly coming back to life.

The country is slowly rising from the ravages of a horrific war and a near-dead economy. As reconstruction work gets underway, Liberian society can breathe a sigh of relief as life begins to return to normal.

Monrovians say the devastating and ruinous civil war left heavy trail of damage that pushed the country back at least half a century.

Liberia was founded by United States which controlled it and used Monrovia as a resettlement area for freed slaves in the 1800s.

American culture still prevails heavily in the country and Monrovia is named after a US President James Monroe.

Many black Americans visited Liberia out of curiosity just to see the land of their forefathers.

This added to tourist figures and helped to create a tourist industry in the 20th Century. Apart from that, businessmen from the Middle East, India and China arrived to set up set shop.

Some others exploited the country’s gold and diamond wealth. The bloody war frightened all foreigners. Many Liberians also fled the country and sought assylum in neighbouring countries and the United States.

With a decade of peace behind it, the country is working hard to attract investments. People rarely equated Liberia with holidays but now serious efforts are underway to build a tourism and hospitality industry.

Once a semblance of peace returned to Liberia, foreigners started pouring into the country. Today, Indians and Lebanese control the business sector and there is substantial community of foreign aid workers and several thousand defence personnel.

TRULY MODERN CITY

Monrovia is a beautiful city which lies in a dramatic setting of a natural rocky peninsula and the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a mangrove marsh on the other.

Apart from a few new buildings coming up, most of the city has a poor infrastructure and some places which still bear the scars of the war.

The city is not a fully-fledged tourist destination glaring out of glossy global holiday brochures but you can certainly enjoy a slice of social interaction, restaurants, cocktail bars, a vibrant night life and newly opened shops.

The crowded streets and pavement stalls add colour to the city’s life.

Monrovia is always a hive of activity

Trader Joe Jnr says: “If it had not been for the prolonged war and Ebola, our great country would have been years ahead in development with Monrovia being a truly modern city.”

Those making a stopover in Monrovia can see a few interesting attractions including the Liberian National Museum, Providence Island, Centennial Pavilion, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Matadi Central Mosque and the various nightclubs.

There are some amazing sights in this city which is among the most populated in West Africa with over one million people.

Monrovia has some really good restaurants offering delicious culinary thrills varying from authentic local cuisine to various international cuisines including Lebanese, Indian, French and of course, American.

The Liberian National Museum — the only one in the country — offers a lot of interesting albeit, basic exhibits depicting culture, photographic history of the country, masks and drums.

It is based in a rundown building which I am told is the three-storey restored old Parliament Building of the 1900s. The structure clearly needs repairs but then there are many buildings that need renovation.

The Social Impact Tour is an interesting innovation as in some countries attempts are made to keep tourists away from the poorer parts showing them plush parts only — not so in Monrovia.

This tour is conducted to raise awareness among the tourists and the locals about the social and economic problems facing Monrovia.

The tour is an eye-opener on how local organisations are trying to bring about change in the society and help boost the lives of poor people through self-help projects.

ELITE WEDDINGS

Monrovia’s natural beaches are inviting and many investors feel that the potential of developing a vibrant tourism industry exists. The deserted beaches attract hordes of foreign holiday makers once the tourist industry blossoms.

The Silver Beach and the Ce Ce Beach are among the best-known local attractions with a collection of good restaurants and bars. Here, you can enjoy a cocktail at the beach bar or sink your feet in the sand and enjoy the tranquillity at some uncrowded parts of the long stretches.

The newly renovated Centennial Pavilion is the centre-piece for modern Liberian history. National events, from state funerals to elite weddings, are held here. The monument was damaged and ignored during the war years but now attracts many visitors.

Liberia’s history will remain incomplete without mentioning the Providence Island.

American abolitionists saw this palm-fringed island as a perfect place to resettle African-American and Caribbean slaves in 1822.

Most visitors who go there encounter problems such as layabouts demanding money from foreigners or restricted entry.

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