Doe’s ghost haunts looted mansion



 

 

 

Mark Huband visits the remains of the president’s seat of power 

The Guardian, 5 November 1991

It was always the threat the soldiers used: “I’m gonna take you to the mansion. I’m gonna take you to see the chief.”

So they would take people away and they would never be seen again. But they were mostly taken to the beach, and not to the executive mansion which now sits deserted in a haze blown up from the sea at the end of the grounds.

Old men in their oversized New York police department cast-off uniforms saunter through the grounds of the mansion. They won’t say whether; they are thinking about the chief who has gone.

A corridor lined with life-size portraits of Doe leads to his office. The portraits lean against the wall. Six months ago they were leaning in the same way. Nobody ever thought of hanging them up.

They picture the dead president with his hand resting on a large globe. The globe now sits in the corner of his office, which is dark. In another corner is a six-foot safe with its shelves empty. In the spring and summer, when Doe’s generals came back from the field to tell of the fictitious victories they had won against the rebels, he would take thousands of dollars out of the safe and hand it to them saying they should pass it on to their soldiers.

They never did, of course. So the army went looting to find money, while their commanders slowly disappeared from the country.

Doe’s desk is in front of a window; so all the guests he had would be half-blinded by the bright light coming from behind the president’s back, preventing them from being able to see him clearly, It was all deliberate psychological warfare, some of his ministers now say.

On his desk is the pen he wrote with. Beside his desk is a paper shredder. There are paper shredders in most rooms. Some rooms have documents on the shelves, but many of the rooms have been wrecked by looters.

In one room there is a memo to the president dated May 5 from the Liberian embassy in Abidjan which says that the rebel leader, Charles Taylor, had been injured in battle and flown out of the country. It was not true. A few months later Taylor’s fighters were at the gates of the building, but they never got in.

Higher into the building there are banqueting halls, reception rooms, and guest lounges. Dust covers the leather chairs in the panelled state dining room. The kitchen is rusting, unused for months. Nobody came to the mansion to be entertained.

It is like the home of a recently divorced couple who have just had to divide their possessions. Ministers took            everything personal from their offices when they deserted Doe and left legislation in the hands of the death squads.

Looters broke in to the mansion just after Christmas and began to take away the carpet. The city is now partitioned just like the country and the only people with access to the executive mansion are Doe’s own people – the Krahn tribe who stayed. Now they are stealing what is left of their chief’s years in power.

“You just see what these tribes do. They just steal,” said our guide, an Americo-Liberian – a descendant of the freed American slaves whose tenure of office ended in 1980 when Doe overthrew President William Tolbert. In a long gallery, gilded Italian mock-baroque armchairs, settees, and tables are stored. Pink and gold and lots of flowery craftsmanship – all waiting to spread around the mansion for the comfort of the guests who never arrived.

Cartoon wallpaper decorates the children’s bedrooms. One of the beds is designed like a racing car, with seats at the headboard covered in furry blue velvet.

Bulbous pink chairs, still wrapped in their plastic wrappers, lie upturned in the First Lady’s quarters. An enormous bed, all pink and silky with a headboard of small mirrored tiles, dominates the room. The First Lady, Nancy B. Doe, fled to London months ago and is still there, as are her children.

At the end of the corridor, behind the bullet-proof glass which surrounds’ the living quarters, is the library where Doe enlisted professors to teach him to read and write.

The bullet-proof glass has been shattered but not pierced by a rebel rocket.

Our guide said: “This entire floor is impregnable if you lock the doors from the lower floor. If only Tolbert had locked himself in in 1980, he would have had at least three hours to get out. Doe would not have reached him, killed him and disembowelled him. Then everything would have been different.”

 

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