Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

'I am Liberian, I'm always confident about future': From surf spots to boardrooms, Liberia's ill economy fights back

By Alex Court, for CNN
updated 10:03 AM EST, Fri November 28, 2014
A street vendor sells Liberian flags near an Ebola isolation ward on August 15, 2014 in the country's capital of Monrovia.
A street vendor sells Liberian flags near an Ebola isolation ward on August 15, 2014 in the country's capital of Monrovia.
  • 46% of Liberians working at the start of the Ebola crisis are now unemployed
  • Liberia has had over 7,000 cases of Ebola and nearly 3,000 deaths
  • Businesses have been forced to close because of the outbreak
  • Hotel occupancy rates are down 85% as airlines avoid the region

(CNN) -- The deadly Ebola virus which has ripped through three West African countries has had the biggest impact in Liberia. As of last week, the country has had over 7,000 cases of the disease and nearly 3,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Earlier this month, a World Bank report said that "nearly half of the working population of Liberia is no longer working since the crisis began." The World Bank, which conducted two rounds of mobile-phone surveys, also said that over 30% of working households were self-employed before the crisis -- but this is now down to just above 10%.

World Bank research shows that nearly half of Liberia's workforce is no longer working since the start of the Ebola crisis.
World Bank

Such a reduction in employment is being coupled with what the World Food Programme calls "abnormally high" rice prices in certain places due to quarantine measures.

As the economic impact of the virus deepens, CNN's African Start-Up reached out to workers, entrepreneurs and business people in Liberia to find out how they're dealing with the crisis. Here's what they had to say.

Harris Kollie - "Pen-pen" motobike-taxi driver

Harris Kollie (pictured on his motorbike) has been driving customers around Monrovia since 2005.
Grace Yeanay Mayson/WOMSUD

"People don't want to ride with us ... because they are afraid of the transmission of the disease. Many customers are students, but now the schools are closed already. There's no jobs, so as a result there is a reduction in customers.

A tour on Liberia motorcycle taxis

"Before the outbreak we used to transport 30-40 people a day. Now, because of the closure of schools and businesses, we might transport 20 people in a day.

"Feeding the family now is quite challenging of course. The price of rice goes up, it's not easy to find it -- 25kg of rice is $20 now, but before rice was $14."

Peter Swen Jr - Surfing teacher

Peter Swen Jr (pictured) was one of the local surfers to take part in the 2013 Liberian National Surfing Championships.
Sean Brody/Kwepunha Retreat

"People used to come hang out on the beach and rent surf boards from me and have surf lesson[s], but not any more.

"On the weekend [it] used to be about 15 to 20 people. I pray Ebola be eradicate[d] soon."

Fomba Trawally - owner of National Toiletries Incorporated

Fomba Trawally, one of Liberia's most prominent businessmen, is the founder of the country's first paper and toiletry product manufacturing company.
Ex refugee builds toilet paper empire

"[The Ebola outbreak] forced us to reduce our workforce and subsequently our production. Our local sales dropped considerably because movement was restricted as a measure to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus ... Border closure with neighboring countries also affected our business as some of our raw materials and finished products were imported from these neighboring countries like Cote D'Ivoire and Guinea.

"As an individual, it placed me in a state of confusion. I did not know how and who to downsize among my small staff. It made me reduce the time I spent with my family and spent more time thinking about how to keep my business running and operational ... It will go a long way to restore normality for me and my family."

George Watkins - Taxi driver

George Watkins drives a taxi in Monrovia.
Glenna Gordon/AFP/Getty Images/File

"Now there is no business at all. Before the crisis I used to do four trips from the airport to Monrovia town each day. Now it's one or two flights per day, sometimes nothing. People don't want to be in the same space as other people. Everybody is staying at home. It's very difficult these days."

Amin Modad - CEO of Bella Casa Hotel

Liberian entrepreneur Amin Modad returned to Monrovia in 2005 and converted his family's six-room house into a boutique hotel with 35 rooms.

"When the Ebola epidemic hit, all hotels experienced an unprecedented sharp decline of occupancy from an average of 50% to about 5%. In fact, as early as May, we began experiencing cancellations as far out as December. For a Liberian entrepreneur paying about $22K monthly towards bank loans, this meant getting into immediate defaults with the banks for non-performance.

Can Liberia's tourism industry recover?

"I had to take a couple of actions for both health safety and the financial situation: Temporarily put down about 40% of my staff (especially those who lived furthest from the hotel in communities that were more susceptible to the virus)... We had to downgrade to much much smaller generators as the larger ones were consuming incomparably to our occupancy hence the revenue we were generating... We also had to slash prices."

Chid Liberty - CEO of clothes manufacturing company Liberty & Justice

This fairtrade clothes manufacturing company has a 90% female workforce.
Glenna Gordon/Liberty and Justice

"Going into July we had almost half a million dollars in open postal orders (PO) from a client who worked with us for three years to launch our factory. Unfortunately in August, we had to stop production and keep our workers safe by keeping them home. Since that time our POs have expired.

Survivor: Ebola not a death sentence

"I am absolutely optimistic about the future. Liberia had some issues in the beginning and the global response left a lot to be desired. But things are moving in the right direction... We have a multi-million dollar asset in the epicenter of the outbreak, so we want to use it for good. We've started a campaign to assemble and distribute medical supplies from our factory. We want to be among the first major employers to get going after the outbreak and hope our success can draw others in."

Taa Wongbe - Managing partner of The Khana Group

The Khana Group, which conducts market research for global firms, has 6 full time staff in Liberia. All their operations in the country have shut down during the Ebola outbreak.
Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images/File
In the midst of the war, with dead bodies around me, I was confident about the future.
Taa Wongbe, The Khana Group

"Hotel occupancy rates are down 85%...Everyone selling to hotels (the entire value/supply chain) has been impacted. Vehicle rentals are down, projects that should have started have shut down or stopped. While this is a tough time for us, we have maintained 100% of our staff and their salaries because we know it's even tougher times for them. I am Liberian... I am always confident about the future. In the midst of the war, with dead bodies around me, I was confident about the future."

Bedell W. Sandi - CEO/President of Efficient Logistic Services

WFP cargo begins a two-day journey from Monrovia to northern Voinjama, near the border of Guinea and Sierra Leone.
WFP/Victoria Cavanagh

"There has been an unprecedented increase in demand in the areas of transportation, warehousing, and clearing and forwarding due to the Ebola outbreak and the international response to it.

Exclusive: Liberian President Video diary

"We are working with WFP, WHO, UNICEF and other international groups to move medical supplies, construction material and food items around Liberia.

"This will help the bottom line of businesses in these sectors including ours. We hope to leverage this opportunity to grow our business as we can already see that the increased response is definitely going to result in the eradication of Ebola from Liberia in the short run. We think the prospect for our business is good."

Daniel Hopkins - Co-founder of Kwepunha Retreat

The Kwepunha Surf Retreat employs 17 people, 15 of which are Liberian. American co-founder Daniel Hopkins (pictured far right), who's lived in Liberia for several years, has left the country followingthe outbreak.
Daniel Hopkins/Kwepunha Surf Retreat/File

"The outbreak has affected me by causing me to leave Liberia and return to San Diego to look for work and find a means to stay afloat while our business is closed. The surf retreat has been forced to close its doors due to a complete stop in tourism and the evacuation of many long term expats that provided us with regular business."

Manfred Zbrzezny - Manager of Fyrkuna Metalworks

Manfred Zbrzezny is a German/Italiann artist and blacksmith who's been calling Liberia home since the mid-2000s.
Cameron Zohoori,

"I had just built a new workshop when Ebola started...I was working on a major sculpture which is suspended for time being until Ebola is over. To make it over the last months friends and family have helped financially, so the three workers and my family could manage. The great international help that comes now is too much and too late. Besides there is a lot of money wasted. Still I do not know when and how the activity will go back to normal."

Teemu Ropponen - Country director of tech hub iLab Liberia

This tech hub aims to teach groups of young people how to create websites and access information online.
iLab Liberia

"We've had to cancel many of our ICT-related trainings and events. We organize public gatherings most days in a week, so the crisis has pretty much put a halt on this! Many of our existing and new projects have been put on hold or postponed. Luckily, all our staff and families have remained directly unaffected, though the crisis affects all of us in many ways... It will take a long long time before all becomes normal...The first things that need to happen is that the epidemic gets into such control that it is safe to organize public gatherings and trainings again."

Are you in Liberia? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Read this: The African weapons beating Ebola

More from African Start-Up

Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:49 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
In north-west Cameroon, a cooperative of women beekeepers gently nurture hives in the rural outskirts of the town of Bamenda.
updated 7:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
East Africa's vibrant music scene has been steadily gaining exposure, and now entrepreneurs and investors are catching on.
updated 10:03 AM EST, Fri November 28, 2014
 A woman sells Liberian flags on the street near an Ebola isolation ward on August 15, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. People suspected of contracting the Ebola virus are being brought by health workers to the center, a closed primary school originally built by USAID, while larger facililities are being constructed to house the surging number of patients. The Ebola epidemic has killed more than 1,000 people in four West African countries. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Workers and entrepreneurs in Liberia are struggling to deal with the economic impact of the Ebola crisis.
updated 8:47 AM EST, Fri November 28, 2014
Taxis remain a common mode of getting around in many African cities. Is this three-wheeler about to change that?
updated 9:09 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Christine Mbabazi started designing clothes in her bedroom, now a store owner, she has bigger plans; to become household name.
updated 5:46 AM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Dakar is the vibrant home of a growing community of surfers taking advantage of the warm weather, year-round waves and cheap flights.
updated 7:01 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Jeffrey Mulaudzi's tourism business is a learning experience on two wheels, giving visitors an opportunity to see the local lifestyle up close.
updated 9:48 AM EST, Mon November 3, 2014
War long made Goma a difficult place to live in, but one woman has set out to change that -- and she's using soft croissants and fresh coffee.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
When you think chocolate, you probably don't think Uganda. But if two local entrepreneurs have their way, you will soon...
updated 5:34 AM EST, Tue December 30, 2014
If someone has shined your shoes in a South African airport, it's probably thanks to Lere Mgayiya.
updated 5:24 AM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
Meet Kemi Kalikawe, the owner of Naledi Lifestyle Store which specializes in fashion and household items in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
updated 6:44 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
On the streets of the Ugandan capital of Kampala, scores of vulnerable children face uncertain futures.
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Wed September 3, 2014
Translating local charm into eye-catching designs, Definition Africa is a booming t-shirt retailer staying true to its Ugandan roots.
updated 6:46 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Janet Fredman Designs transforms modest materials such as seeds, wood and leather into high-end jewelry.
See the full coverage of CNN's African Start-Up -- the show that follows entrepreneurs across the continent making their dreams become reality.