Liberia

Way back in 2004 when I started my career in International Sales, Liberia was among the few countries that I visited in the same year itself.  Liberia was then just emerging from a civil war under the guidance of an interim government, with the United Nation’s Peace Keeping Force being actively on the ground to hold the fragile peace. Two successive civil wars flattened Liberia, which was the first ever republic in Africa, all but completely. The wars destroyed almost all the infrastructure of the country. I saw the capital city of Monrovia running on generators as there was no regular electricity production in the country, thanks to the destruction of the entire power generation and distribution infrastructure during the civil wars. I could also see many charred and bullet-pockmarked buildings,  including a 5-star hotel, in the city, each telling untold stories of human sufferings. It is estimated that around 250,000 people — 8% of the then population — perished in the civil wars. There was no smartphone then, so I had no pictures from my first visit.

I visited the country again in 2010. Six years of democracy brought some semblance of normalcy! In 2010, electricity was available in many areas of the city and water scarcity was almost tackled. More signs of rebirth of the nation were visible: paved roads, construction activities were picking up and so on. Since then, I visited Liberia many a time, with the last being in 2019. Once I undertook a 30-hour journey by road from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to Monrovia, with an overnight stay at the frontier town, and saw well-paved tarred roads from the very moment I entered the Liberian side, a much better state than what I had seen on the Sierra Leone side. Through these years, Liberia had seen Madam Ellen Johnson as the President for two consecutive terms, more hotels and other tourism infrastructures, electricity reaching most part of the country, the U.N. winding up its peace keeping mission and the incumbent President George Weah, an ex-footballer who amassed a fortune from the playgrounds, assuming the office. The most noteworthy point over these transformative years is that there was no violence in Liberia once the peace took its roots after the civil wars.

Monrovia:

Liberia has all-round greenery. Nature has showered it with pristine beauty, and the landscape looks like that of Kerala. I was fortunate to experience this beauty during my travel to Monrovia while undertaking that trip from Freetown. Furthermore, it takes around 1:30 hours to travel by taxi from the airport to Monrovia city, giving inescapable opportunity to enjoy the sparsely populated panoramic hinterlands. The land is so fertile that grass and trees are everywhere. Nonetheless, barring rubber plantations by Firestone Company, the nature’s bounty is not utilized through scientific farming. There is no agricultural university in Liberia, and the farming is still on brick and mortar mode.

I travelled by auto rickshaw — you might ask: so what? I made this travel not in India or in any Asian country but in Liberia. I was pleasantly surprised to see plenty of these three-wheelers plying in Monrovia, supplied by TVS, an Indian company. One thing I noticed was that here, too, auto rickshaw drivers followed the same pattern of their Indian counterparts: taking sudden turns without putting indicators; maneuvering their vehicles through the just-road available; and abruptly stopping to take a quick-in-passenger. I felt happy to see that Indian vehicles offering an affordable public transport option in Liberia. Apart from Liberia, I saw Indian auto rickshaws plying on the roads of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Peru, Ghana and a few other countries.

Getting a homely atmosphere when you are away from home is a boon. This is what I used to have in Liberia during most of the times of my visit, thanks to my “Mallu friends.’ In Africa, Liberia is the country where I saw the maximum number of the Keralites working. I have many Mallu friends here: Binu, Kannan, Anoop, Aneesh, Rejith, Rineesh, etc. During the last trip, culinary expertise of Anoop’s wife was a real treat, besides, Biriyani by Aneesh and Rejith Babu was mouth-watering. These guys made my days in Liberia memorable and fun-fulling!

Views of the Broad Street, a thoroughfare in the city.

As my trips were for business, visiting the wholesale markets was an inevitable. There are two wholesale markets in Monrovia: Waterside Market and Redlight market. The following pictures were captured from Waterside market during a rainy time:

The Liberians are a warm and friendly people, and I never experienced any dificulty in the country though there are safety issues, the remnants of the civil wars. Liberia, a country of 5 million people, has immense natural resources like iron ore, timber, diamonds, crude oil and many minerals and metals. But the country had not made progress as it should have been if we considered the abundance of natural resources and a smaller population. Hope that Liberia would develop further and take its due place in the comity of nations.

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