Certain decrepit palaces bear the traces of their abolished splendor. Not the Ducor, a concrete parallelepiped stripped of its luxury and its windows by a troubled Liberian history of which it materializes the sufferings, overlooking Monrovia.
When it opened in 1960, the Ducor was one of the first five-star hotels in Africa. For years, its staff have satisfied the demands of the haves and rulers of this world, like the former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.
In 1989, it was closed at the start of the first of two civil wars that were to bloody Liberia and kill 250,000 from 1989 to 1997, then from 1999 to 2003.
Physical marks testifying to these ordeals are rare in Monrovia. The Ducor, among the trees on a hilltop in the capital, retains a breathtaking view of the Atlantic. Below is the West Point slum.
On 10 levels, there are corridors and ghostly rooms with paint blackened by infiltration, flights of steps without guardrails, terraces reclaimed by vegetation and crossed by empty elevator shafts.
The intense natural light passes right through the structure, which could evoke an abandoned factory without the faded turquoise ceramic swimming pool where, according to an anecdote not corroborated by AFP, the former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin bathed without swimming. to give up his weapon.
In the basin stagnates a greenish water. The surrounding land has become a den of drug addicts.
“It saddens everyone,” breathes Ambrose Yebea, a retired official of the Ministry of Tourism, who once offered tours of the abandoned hotel.
– Military cantonment –
There were few hotels in Monrovia in the 1950s, hence the construction of the Ducor in 1960 to accommodate businessmen and government officials, he said.
The plans were entrusted to Israeli architect Moshe Mayer. Golda Meir, then Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the independence leader of neighboring Guinea, Ahmed Sékou Touré, attended the opening ceremony.
Period photos show a glitzy building, with patrons sipping cocktails by the pool.
Hosted at the Ducor, the first president of Côte d’Ivoire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, had been won over, to the point of appointing Moshe Mayer to do even better in Abidjan. The Ivoire hotel is still in operation there.
Many African leaders stayed at the Ducor in the 1960s and 1970s, including during the Organization of African Unity conference in Monrovia in 1979. A World Bank report from 1975 suggests that the decline had already started .
After the closure in 1989, the Duke served as a cantonment for the men of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor during the siege of Monrovia in 2003.
The hotel then housed squatters, dislodged by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected president after the war.
She launched renovation plans. In 2011, the government handed the Ducor over to the Libyan African Investment Company (Laico), a subsidiary of the Libyan sovereign wealth fund.
– War as inevitability –
The new Ducor was to have 150 rooms, restaurants, a shopping center, a tennis court and a casino, and create jobs, an official statement from the time said.
But another war was fatal to the project, the one in which Libya sank. Liberia then severed ties with Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, and work ceased.
“It shocked us a lot,” recalls Frank Williams, who says he was one of the 150 employees of Laico. “Today we don’t have a job.”
The fate of the Duke is undetermined. Neither the Liberian presidency, nor the Ministry of Tourism, nor Laico responded to AFP’s requests.
Laico is under sanctions from the European Union because of its alleged close links with the former Gaddafi regime.
Some still hope to see the Duke reborn. It could attract tourists and generate jobs, hopes Ambrose Yebea, the retired civil servant. “All Liberians agree on this: they want the hotel to be refurbished,” he said.