Senegal has unveiled the African Renaissance Monument, built near Dakar International Airport. The ceremony marking completion was held last week on the 50th anniversary of Senegal’s independence from France. At 50 meters in height, it is taller than the Statue of Liberty (49 meters) and represents an African couple and child. Senegalese President Wade has said that the message of the statue is about “Africa emerging from the darkness, from five centuries of slavery and two centuries of colonialism.”
The statue is, however, very controversial — no matter what angle you look at it.
First there is The Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies, a North Korean construction firm that built the statue, and which actually does quite a lot of work in Africa and which is popular for its competitive edge in pricing. The statue is more than double the size of the 20 meter statue of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung that the company built in Pyongyang in 1972. The choice of a North Korean firm was unpopular with nationalists, democratic activists, and local artists and construction firms.
Perhaps the most ironic, or galling, issues is that the “African Renaisance” statue is surrounded by slums. The locals are suffering from frequent power cuts and unstable food prices, added with floods that occasionally make large numbers of people homeless. That such resources were spent on such a monument in the middle of this makes many Senegalese consider the statue not a celebration of their freedom but a cruel joke that mocks them on a daily basis.
Payment for construction was made with a US$25 million land grant, which has been rumored to have since been resold for US$70 million. The Senegalese president told the international press that he had he no budget for the statute, so he instead offered the construction firm state-owned land. Other reports, however, say that the land was privately held and was given by a businessman with close ties to the president.
Then there are the religious leaders on both sides of the domestic community who are appalled by the statue. Senegal is 94% Muslim and the local imams are furious with the statue that they say is idolatrous and utterly immodest, with the woman baring her breasts. The president also had to apologize to the Christian minority when he compared the statue to Jesus Christ.
The project has also attracted controversy due to his claim that, as the president was the originator of the idea for the statue, he claims intellectual property rights and is entitled to a large cut of the profits that are raised from visitors to the statue.
And finally there’s the logistical, tourist factor. It turns out that the observation room, located at the top of the man’s head, can accommodate only 15 people, and the elevator carrying them to the top can hold only 5 persons. The monument is also sweltering on the inside and must be air conditioned at considerable expense, in a country where many residents face regular powercuts.
ENDNOTE: The statue does have one fan, however — Rev. Jesse Jackson.