Monumental Fiasco

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Curzon calls Senegal’s recently unveiled African Renaissance Monument, built near Dakar International Airport, a monumental fiasco:

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.”

So, what’s the problem? Well, first, it was built by the Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies — the North Koreans.

And, second, it’s 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.

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