I’m not sure how I’ve managed to get to August 2010 without writing about the African Renaissance. This is the name given by the President, Abdoulaye Wade, to the giant statue (apparently higher than the Eiffel Tower) that now looms over the northern suburbs of Dakar. The official opening awaits the completion of the interior (museum in the base and restaurant in the summit) but in the meantime no-one can ignore its presence, not least because of the controversy surrounding it.
The £18m cost has of course been criticised by many living in a country where basic needs like electricity, clean water, health and education have not yet been met. However there are rumours that it was financed by a donation from a businessman grateful that the government had sold him some land at an enormous undervalue.
It was constructed by North Koreans, which might explain the kind of Stalinist feel to it. It seems rather odd that the woman is showing so much leg and breast, in a traditional Muslim society where such displays of flesh, particularly the leg, are totally unacceptable. Local imams have voiced their disapproval.
Local artists have questioned why there was no Senegalese (or at least African) artist involved. The design came from a Hungarian student, the story being that the President ran a competition a few years back, on the internet, for a design for an African statue, with a prize of a few thousand dollars on offer. Neither the competition itself, nor the winning entry, were well publicised. However the winner was never paid his prize money, as a result of which he has never signed the document waiving his rights from any use of his design nor the requirement to maintain confidentiality. All rather unfortunate for M. Wade who has claimed the right to 35% of all takings from entry to the statue on the basis that “I am the designer, the one who conceived it”.
Of course the Senegalese are unhappy about this, but as with other unfairnesses in their lives, they seem to have accepted it. Perhaps this attitude explains why Senegal, alone in the region, has never experienced a coup.
So what is the point of the statue and why ‘African Renaissance’? Apparently M. Wade sees it as a money-making tourist attraction (for Senegal as well as for his retirement fund…), and as representing the hopes and aspirations of the younger generation. In that case I think it is rather unfortunate that it is pointing, not inland towards the great continent of Africa, but across the Atlantic Ocean towards the USA.