A MONUMENT…AND A POEM

Yes, I know, it’s been a while. But here’s a finger-licking good tale – enjoy!

Monument for the African Renaissance, Ouakam, Dakar

Yes folks, this is real. If I go to my rooftop terrace I can see it: the Monument for the African Renaissance. And it is the first thing YOU will see when you land at Dakar Airport. It sits atop a hill and is ‘larger than the Statue of Liberty,’ as president Abdoualye Wade loves to crow. And in his ongoing bid to turn this republic into a monarchy he has put his daughter in charge of the foundation that will manage the millions of euros, dollars, pounds, yens, renminbis and CFA Francs that will pour into this country once the Monument is officially open to the public.

Not that his royal ambitions always come to fruition. He failed to drop his son Karim on the hapless people of Dakar – who turned out not to be so hapless after all because they thumbed their nose at Wade Junior and voted for the opposition. Now, Karim is heading a ministry that merits an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records – for the longest name. He is in charge of infrastructures, air transport, transport in general, international cooperation and a few other things besides.

Basically, he is in charge of the same things he made a bit of a hash of when he ran ANOCI, the group that prepared the meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, three years ago. Journalist Abdou Latif Coulibaly has released a new book, in which he says that based on ANOCI’s own figures the whole shebang did not cost €109 million, as Karim claims – but almost three times as much. A staggering amount of money in a country that cannot feed, clothe, educate and heal its own people. Which is why they leave in droves.

And incidentally, the Monument points towards the Canary Islands, one of the main destinations of those who seek to exile themselves from Senegal in those small dangerous “pirogues” (small wooden boats). Irony of ironies: the name of the country is derived from “sunugaal”, which means: our little boat in Wolof, the main language here.

Alright. Back to the Thing on the Hill. It has cost upwards of €20 million to build. The president, as its intellectual proprietor (that is, he nicked the idea from renowned Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow), will take 35% of the projected revenues from monumental tourism. Provided, of course, that said tourists make it past the unspeakably chaotic airport exit and then recover from one of Africa’s most effective taxi mafias, which will majestically rip them off for even the smallest drive into town.

The money, incidentally, will go to support one of Wade’s pet projects that actually works rather well: les cases des tout-petits, a countrywide network of pre-primary school centres. Yep – it’s not all bad.

But most is. Reputations have been torn to shreds, lifelong friendships have turned into bitter feuds – take for instance old pals like the president and his (and the Monument’s) architect. They are having an almighty row, most probably about money. The First Lady, Viviane Wade, went to the Monumental construction site in person to provide the architect’s assistant with a royal kick in the backside. Off you go, then.

Alright – what else? Oh yes, the controversies surrounding the Monument include the issue of female nudity (she should cover up properly say the critics; the reply is: have you seen how our women under-dress when going out? and indeed: some do, others don’t according to mood, fashion, religious demands – or all three in the case of my girlfriend), the issue of religion (human representations are banned under Islam, I wrote this piece about the presidential reply, dreadfully cack-handed even for his standards), the issue of tradition (the woman is behind and below the man, what’s African about that…? All our great ancestors are female) and, indeed, the aesthetic side of things. Most people, when asked, think it’s eye-burningly ugly.

Old East German State Art: Fritz Cremer, Bronze, "Der Aufsteigende" (1967)

Which should come as no surprise. The Monument has been constructed by workers from one of the last countries on earth that is still capable of this sort of monumental megalomania: North Korea. (The others would be China and the USA.) More irony: a regime that calls itself “liberal” and replaced 40 years of post-independence rule by the Socialist Party uses one of the last self-defined “socialist” states, one that specialises in cigarette smuggling, arms exportation and bombastic architecture, to build a Monument celebrating Africa’s hopes, dreams and ambitions – or more precisely: stroking the collective ego of one mega-rich family and its sycophantic entourage.

Most of the other “socialist” states became extinct 21 years ago when the Berlin Wall came down. So I will take you to the former East German capital because that is where you find the most devastatingly apt comment on this sort of folly.

It’s a poem, by the celebrated singer/songwriter Wolf Biermann. Who voluntarily went from West to East Germany and then got himself kicked back to the West for writing critically about the ruling Socialist Unity Party.

They did not like this poem very much either. It’s  about a colossal statue that rises from the ground in an attempt to take off. Biermann describes the thing in great detail – you should hear him recite it! – and jubilantly concludes that YES! this colossus WILL of course take off!! Just like the broad sweep of the Monument for the African Renaissance ends with the index finger of the child pointing skywards.

But then the poet has another thought (the English words are mine, not his)

‘Now…just tell me:

That one over there,

Where’s he going?

Is he leading us?

Or is he fleeing us?

Or would he

– Something we were thinking already –

Be a symbol of the human species?

Is he on his way to Freedom up there

Or

– Something we were thinking already –

To dinner?

Or goes there Humankind on a nuclear cloud en route to God

And,

Something we were thinking already

To nowhere?’

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One Response to “A MONUMENT…AND A POEM”

  1. Habibullah Afridi Says:

    great!!!!

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