In early 2008, the company for which I was working won a small contract to manage the airport in Monrovia, Liberia. Before the Liberian civil war, Roberts Field had a storied history. Along with being Pan American Airlines’ main African station for many decades, aircraft from the U.S. Army Air Corps harassed and attacked the southern flank of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps. The PanAm station chief ran the remote 5,000-acre airport and a Motel 6-like facility on the Farmington River, adjacent to the Firestone Plantation. For their transient aircrew, Pan Am had a two-story hotel on the beach with a bar and grille where fresh lobster, fish, and shrimp were caught daily. PanAm’s Boeing 707s and 747s stopped for fuel, food prepared by French chefs, or engine changes before traveling to South Africa or the Middle East. Roberts Field had the longest runway in Africa and served as a Space Shuttle emergency landing strip.
Fifteen years of civil war destroyed Monrovia’s infrastructure and Roberts Field. In 2008 Monrovia was the only capital city in the world without electricity. Roberts Field received some electricity from the small hydroelectric plant on the Firestone Plantation. All the former government buildings in and around Monrovia were shells, as destitute Liberians had stripped bombed buildings for whatever they could use or sell to scrapyards. The two-story airport terminal structure had been bombed and gutted down to the concrete floors and columns during the war. The Liberian Customs office at the airport was a two-car garage-sized structure with a single 25-watt lightbulb barely illuminating the area. There were three desks, two with signs that read: No bribes taken at this desk. There was a single customs official present but she wasn’t sitting at a desk with a sign. READ MORE