Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Richest Man In Africa: Inside His Mansion

Portrait of William Tubman
Portrait of President William Tubman displayed in his mansion near Totota, Liberia

Liberian President William V.S. Tubman was once considered by some to be the richest man in all of Africa. Who knows how much money he actually had, but when he died in 1971 his known assets were equivalent to $1.3 billion in today's dollars.  In a nation that today averages app. $1000 in annual income he was by all comparisons one of the super rich in his neck of the woods.  However, it is this comparison that leaves many wondering, "what is his true legacy?" and even "what could have been in Liberia?"  There is a lesson in President Tubman's life for all of us and I believe it asks us, "Will we leave behind a better place or try to take it all now for ourselves no matter the consequences to others?"

Plaque welcoming visitors to William Tubman Museum
Plaque outside the old Tubman residence stating 'W.V.S. Tubman Museum
Tubman's birth and death dates are given as well.

Today I want to show you some of what President Tubman left behind. His now abandoned mansion near Totota was a place I remember visiting as a small child in 1976 or 77. There was a zoo there that was managed by the Tubman family. However, sometime in the late 70's the animals were shipped out to Ivory Coast before Tubman's successor, William Tolbert, was assassinated by Samuel Doe and his cronies. This is contrary to the popular belief that rebels ate all the animals in the zoo during the Civil Wars.

The now empty bird cage that once housed birds during zoo days.

What is left of a stuffed lion
guards an entrance to the
Tubman mansion
During the Civil Wars, rebels loyal to Charles Taylor made headquarters here at the Tubman mansion and Taylor even kept a pair of lions gifted him by the president of Niger on these premises. One interesting story about this is that during one long stint of fighting the rebels were not able to feed the lions for 25 days and the male lion died. The lioness was slowly nursed back to health and eventually UN workers came on site and tranquilized her and took her to South Africa. Today she supposedly is doing well and has even had a cub since moving.

Remains of a stuffed, headless lion guards the Tubman mansion

Today some of the Tubman family still come by and visits but no one lives there. There is even a Tubman cousin that remains  in the area 'managing' the property as best as can be without the needed funds to keep it properly maintained. He reports that today's President Ellen has even stopped by the Coo-Coo Nest, but she has not crossed the street to visit the old mansion. She did however ask about it's condition. 

Climbing the stairs to the side entrance of the Tubman mansion

The mansion's condition is that it simply sits on the edge of the jungle slowly decaying. The day I visited a 'rouge' had pried open one of the doors the night before and had entered in, probably to find shelter and/or look around for things to take. There is not much left to take after years of looting. I also recall having to duck several times as a bat swooped down close over head. It would seem that now these presidential premises are left to be inhabited by thieves, rats and bats. And so this is the legacy of a president bent on increasing his wealth at the expense of his nation.

These dusty display cases used to be filled with artifacts of Tubman's presidency that have long since been looted

Stairwell inside the Tubman mansion
Liberia by all accounts should be one of the richest nations in the world per capita. The natural resources are off the charts (gold, diamonds, iron ore, timber, rubber, palm oil, crude oil, etc.). The entire population of the Republic is only the size of mid-level US city. Had Tubman developed Liberian infrastructure and trained Liberians with skills, today Liberia would be flourishing and perhaps the now extinguished eternal flame on his grave site might still be burning. This mansion in the jungle would be maintained as a museum honoring a great giver who lifted up Liberia. Instead it beckons those who would seek power in Liberia to come and visit and see.  Look around at this transient 'glory' and hear the question, "Who wants to do this next? Who wants to leave a pile of neglected and decaying rubble in the jungle?" This is Tubman's legacy, but I hope there are better legacies yet to be left for the wonderful people of Liberia. 

The faux ivory tusks at the driveway entrance to the Tubman mansion is now used as a taxi stop

What is left of a beautiful piece of furniture sits exposed to the tropical humidity and rots

A hallway full of empty display cases

A beautiful table frame sans table top

One of the pieces of a cow horn furniture set given to President Tubman by the president of Kenya

Where Tubman slept

Where Tubman pooped

Beautiful desk near the bedroom at the end of the hall

The trophy room holds nothing

More empty trophy cases lining the halls

Not your typical Liberian light fixture.

What is left of Tubman's personal library located in the basement. Notes housed at Indiana University state that this library once contained 1202 books.  It doesn't look like the rebels stole too many -- perhaps they weren't given to much reading?

This stuffed flamingo looking creature was the library decoration

Close up of what Tubman liked to read

The trophy case hallway with lion at the end

Carving next to Kenyan cow horn furniture in Tubman's private meeting room

One of the few trophies remaining.
There was also a letter from Nixon's office on display but my flash washed out the image :-(

A beautifully carved desk with Africana and a family (?) portrait. Not sure if this is Tubman's mother or Harriet Tubman the famous freer of slaves in the US that president Tubman claimed relation to.

A couple of busts in Tubman's private meeting room.

Heading back downstairs from the meeting room

The trophy head guarding the stairway

The Tubman monogram logo that emblazoned the stairwell guardrail system

Appears that he had central air

The front door

The generator that powered the mansion. Rebels stole needed parts from it during the Civil War
Looking down to the elephant tusk gate from the driveway

Viewing the mansion from the driveway. Tennis courts are to the right just out of view

Walking up the drive

Another empty trophy case

Tubman with Liberian pastors praying -- nice PR

United Beh Mah Association One Cent Certificate

It appears Tubman was a 33 degree Mason.
This plaque was in his private meeting room.

A few carvings on the marble floor of Tubman's private meeting room
There was a kitchen with service window to the right

Author with our tour guide Alex Tubman (President Tubman's 2nd cousin and property manager)
Alex was great to talk with and a wonderful guide!


  1. Very interesting!! Thanks!

  2. I've been to West Africa many times and I love traveling there. Met several Liberians in Ghana at Buduburam refugee camp and made some good friends, I need to check out Liberia and see if I can find them...maybe later this year...

  3. Indeed, wow. I stumbled on your blog while searching on William Tubman. I was in Liberia in 1974 with the Peace Corps and met people who had worked for the Tubman family. It is sad, but totally understandable, that his legacy is crumbling. Part of another age now.