Monumental Fiasco

ar1Senegal 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.

ar2

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.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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11 Responses to Monumental Fiasco

  1. Chief Wiggum says:

    A few years back, one of you had a blog post about an African country that spent tens of millions of US dollars on an independence day celebration. The country was one of the poorest in Africa. Great picture, too. Visitors get a great view of the garbage dump from the observation room.

  2. I’d heard about this statue a few months ago. Godawful, isn’t it? It looks like the stereotypical “Forward, the socialist revolution!” garbage. Even ignoring the religious, ethical, financial and political angles here, I’d say this is just a total aesthetic fail.

  3. Guest469 says:

    “Africa emerging from the darkness, from five centuries of slavery and two centuries of colonialism.”
    The statue is an inspiration akin to the Statue of Liberty. Although people are poor and hungry, at least they are free. Perhaps overfed White people have a problem recognizing this.

  4. tdaxp says:

    The focus on an ornamented male, instead of an ornamented female, is typical of female farming societies. As such, its a remarkable accurate indictment of the civilization-scale collapse of sub-Saharan Africa.

  5. Alfred Russel Wallace says:

    As for poor Jesse – “Lo – how are the mighty fallen!!” He was a breath of fresh air when he ran for President in 1984, but now…?

  6. Balok says:

    “{The Senegalese President} claims intellectual property rights and is entitled to a large cut of the profits that are raised from visitors to the statue..”

    Oh well, can hardly expect an African President to go for a waiver of his moral rights on the IP front, despite his apparent willingness to waive morality through building this statue.

  7. Rommel says:

    Oh boy! A hideous, expensive Socialist Realist sculpture!
    And we can take a ride up to the top in a terribly uncomfortable, probably scorching hot claustraphobic elevator?!
    There’s more? You’re telling me at the top (if the Japanese tourists allow you a view) we can see the crushing despair of poverty of Third World slums as far as the eye can see??!
    And we can PAY for this!
    And I took my vacation in West Africa WHY??!
    The funny thing is that this will get tourists, the naive Americans and Asian tourists who saw it in their Frommers/Fodor’s guide and think it merits a visit solely b/c of its listing as a “site”

  8. Brent says:

    This is so messed up that it’s amusing.

    Not sure how much el presidente is going to get from visitor fees, since I doubt people will want to pay much for a fantastic vista of the slums.

  9. Walter says:

    This reminds me of when Idi Amin spent millions to build the hulking Ugandan consulate to the United Nations in New York when his people were starving. It’s humorous to know that their are people in power like Mr. Wade who can be so blindly hubristic to build (and profit off) something like this statue, but also very depressing that they do it while their country starves.

  10. Brendan says:

    Kind of reminds me of the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro in Cote d’Ivoire. Or Bokassa’s coronation to become emperor of the Central African Empire. Plain ridiculous.

  11. David Franklin says:

    Guest 469: Do you really think that the Senegalese are free? If they were free, they would be deciding what to do with their national revenue. And I’ll bet it wouldn’t be putting up a statue like that…