Overgrown by vegetation, former Liberian president Samuel Doe’s residence today lies in ruins, littered with refuse and riddled with bullet holes. Our Observer Saint Tra Bi paid it a visit. Through his pictures and videos, he hoped to document the lingering scars that war has left on Liberia.

In the late 1980s Liberian president Samuel Doe built a huge presidential palace in the southeastern city of Zwedru, where he had grown up. But four months before construction was due to end, the president, who had seized power in a coup d’état in 1980, was tortured and assassinated live on television by Prince Johnson, the rebel chief and key figure of the first Liberian Civil War. It took place during a conflict that claimed 250,000 lives between 1989 and 1997, pitting Samuel Doe’s government against insurgents led by his former adviser Charles Taylor.

A vestige of the war that plunged the entire region into a spiral of violence for almost 15 years, the unfinished palace of the dictator-president is today overgrown by weeds.

“Many drug addicts, thieves and criminals hide out there”

For our Observer, Saint Tra Bi, an Ivorian journalist, this palace is the symbol of the scars the war has left behind. He wants to see it restored as a museum or a public building to help Liberia definitively close the chapter of this bloodstained era.
 

"I first came to Liberia in 2003 and I saw this place from the street, because it is fairly imposing. Returning to the region in 2018, I decided to visit it. The problem though was the place is off-limits – the big gateway at the front is closed.

With the help of an improvised guide, we managed to get in and visit the property. I was struck by how dilapidated the building, its outhouses and swimming pool were. When I wanted to go inside the palace, the guide got frightened and ran off, leaving me there.

The building has all the trappings of a haunted house. At one point, I was scared when an owl came out of nowhere and swooped down on me. The place is also very dirty, covered in graffiti and littered with rubbish and human waste, and it is fairly notorious. The townspeople told me that many drug addicts, thieves and criminals hide out there.

I was very surprised to see a presidential palace in this state, particularly compared to others in the region. You can visit the palace of former Ivorian president Félix Houphouët-Boigny, which is kept in good condition, and see the family vault and his office.


For me, the Zwedru palace is a potent symbol of the vanity of our leaders, who often think themselves invincible and immortal. We can see in this case that their lives and their power can change drastically, leaving nothing but ruins behind.

It’s a real waste – this fine building could be renovated and turned into a museum, or a public building. Perhaps they could fill in the bullet holes visible on the façade, wipe away the skulls and bones graffiti scrawled on the walls, and a chapter would be definitively closed on the war that did such damage to this country.”