Between 2008 and 2010, hundreds of former fighters with the Government
of Liberia Armed Forces and their families were evicted from the Ministry of
Defense building in Monrovia. Some had lived in the building for more than
a decade. Others arrived in 2005 when they were forced out of the ruins of the
Barclay Training Center barracks at the behest of U.S. security contractors.
Liberians from all corners of the country were among the building’s residents,
making for an unusually cosmopolitan and vibrant community.
The hulking ministry was originally one element in a building campaign
launched by Samuel Doe, the junior military officer who took over the Libe-
rian presidency following a 1980 coup d’état. Monumental architecture, for
Doe as for so many other political leaders, was a project of state making and
personal aggrandizement. The ministry building was to be one of the largest
structures in West Africa, and one of several government projects that en-
shrined Doe and his cohort on the Monrovia landscape.
The Ministry of Defense was never finished. War broke out in Liberia at
the end of 1989. The Israeli firm contracted to design and construct the build-
ing completed its concrete supports but little more. Even before the fighting
reached Monrovia, the ministry building was a skeleton, though a structur-
ally sound one. Through successive waves of urban warfare the building be-
came a squatter settlement, a vertical neighborhood of fighting men and their
families living rough within the building’s raw form. Government soldiers
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