Bob Johnson’s New Liberia Venture

As part of a $30 million investment initiative spearheaded by Robert L. Johnson, CEO of RLJ Development L.L.C. (No. 8 on the be industrial/service 100 list with $472.2 million in sales), and involving a delegation of African American businesspeople, the RLJ Liberia Initiative has announced an agreement with the government of Liberia to build a villa-style, four-star hotel in Monrovia. The RLJ Liberia Initiative is a development fund under RLJ Cos. Johnson’s project is an outgrowth of the Clinton Global Initiative, launched by President Bill Clinton in 2005 to bring together global leaders to invest in solutions to challenges faced by developing countries.

According to the Charlotte Bobcats owner and BET founder, the RLJ hotel is “preliminarily scheduled to break ground in March 2008 and scheduled to open early 2009.” The yet-to-be-named hotel will have a minimum of 60 rooms and will be located on an oceanfront property in the village of Kendeja. Projected costs for the hotel have not been determined.

For Johnson, the project furthers his “commitment of mobilizing resources to aid in [Liberia’s] rehabilitation and to signal to the international and local sectors that Liberia is open for business.” Currently Monrovia has a handful of hotels.

According to Andy Ingraham, president and CEO of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers, “You will see more African Americans not only doing increased business with the Caribbean and Africa, but also entering into philanthropic ventures.

“The timing is right for a new hotel, notes Ingraham. “As the economy of Liberia is stabilizing, there will be more growth in visitors, and it will become more attractive to outside investors,” he says. While there are African American-owned hotels in various countries in Africa, Johnson’s will be the largest to date. But, according to Ingraham, it will probably be the first of many to come. “African American investors have been in talks with developing countries in Africa, such as South Africa and Ghana, to build hotels.”

The RLJ Liberia Initiative is a multifaceted effort intended to mobilize American support, especially that of African Americans, for the government of Liberia’s national reconstruction program. The initiative consists of the RLJ Liberia Enterprise Development Fund, a $30 million fund designed to aid entrepreneurs, coordinating advocacy and outreach efforts with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Women’s Advisory Council on behalf of Liberia.