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Surprising Liberia

Many people probably don’t know where this country lies on the map, let alone why one might wish to visit a place so heavily impacted by civil war and Ebola. Yet earlier this year, following the election of George Weah as president, Mark Stratton sensed that change was nigh and went to discover its unexpected appeal. Photographs by the writer

Within a glass cabinet of wartime paraphernalia inside Monrovia’s national museum is a jarring photograph from Liberia’s civil war. A tall, elegant young woman wearing a red croptop is firing an AK-47 into the open door of a vehicle. Fear is etched upon the faces of horrified bystanders. If successive bloody civil wars (1989-2003) lefime reluctant to visit Liberia, then the subsequent Ebola outbreak (2014- 16) that cost 4810 lives extinguished any desire. I imagined Liberia’s grim recent history appealing only to connoisseurs of dark tourism. Yet I was sensing a difierent vibe by January 2018 when I was invited for a four-day recce. Africa’s only female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was being succeeded afier freeand- fair elections by Africa’s greatest ever footballer, George

Weah. Euphoria surrounded his victory, yet still I travelled expecting to find a completely failed state. Arriving by KLM’s new fiight to Monrovia I transferred in darkness to RLJ Kendeja Resort, glimpsing on the way campaign posters of defeated presidential candidates and illuminated crucifixes atop Christian ministries. I was ofiered peppery bissap (hibiscus) juice at check-in where a portrait of ex-President Sirleaf waited to be taken down. By morning,

I was pleasantly surprised at the hotel’s modern Westernstandard design with exterior decking linking 78 executive rooms in chalet blocks to a pristine golden sand beach, empty except for fishing canoes moored above the boisterous Atlantic surf. “Tony Blair stayed here three times,” hotel employee Robertson Kollie told me, although he was more starstruck by Weah. “He’s just a normal guy. You still see him playing football with his friends.”

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About Travel Africa

A wildlife lover's guide to Kenya • How to plan the ideal holiday to Zimbabwe • 10 Reasons to take your kids on safari • In Mandela's footsteps • Great bush dining: how they do it • Uganda, for the love of birds • Surprising Liberia • Southern Namibia • Lake Malawi • Awesome Okavango portfolio • Ethiopia's highlights... and much more!