Posts Tagged ‘Monument for the African Renaissance’

The Monument – a short sequel

April 4, 2013

Three years ago this very day, God received many earthly guests for the official dedication of the Monument erected to the eternal Glory of Himself and his Family. I wrote a piece about it, which a lot of you rather liked.

Today, as Senegal celebrates its 53rd birthday, it’s a good occasion to revisit the story of the Monument for the African Renaissance, designed to portray, according to God’s own words, an Africa “that emerges from obscurantism, prejudice and other ills.” It always takes religion, no matter which one, to create a gap as wide as the Pacific between words and actions.

Senegal is trying to recover from God’s reign and the Monument remains a powerful symbol of everything that was wrong with it. There is, for instance, the matter of who paid for this? And how much? The financial construction was rather…obscure and involved the sale of prime Dakar real estate to the North Korean company Mansudae Overseas that built the monstrosity. We don’t talk any longer about the blight on the horizon of this great city but a poll would in all likelihood reveal a majority in favour of blowing the damn thing up. Allegedly, current president Macky Sall pledged such during his winning campaign. But that might be rumour.


So yes, you got that right: in order to build His Monument, God, otherwise known as the former president of Senegal Abdoulaye Wade, an avowed free market politician and a conservative liberal sold a piece of his country to a hereditary kingdom, nominally communist. The details of this deal are currently under investigation by officials of an agency called the General State Inspection.

But there is more news. And as always, anything to do with the Wade era revolves around the only thing that really matters to him, money.

You may remember that Wade had declared himself the intellectual owner of the Monument. Of course. This is, after all, the same man who during his last campaign declared that those who failed to acknowledge His achievements ought to be…struck with blindness. Very merciful, very compassionate.

Now, as the Designer-In-Chief, Wade had declared that 35% of the proceeds would flow into his extraordinarily wide and deep pockets. Except that he was not the D-I-C. And now, current minister for Culture Abdoul Aziz Mbaye has declared that as far as he is concerned, the ex-president will not get a penny. ‘Let him first tell us how he is, by rights, the author,’ the minister declared.


How times have changed. Incredibly, God lost an election last year and has, appropriately, retired to Versailles. L’État, c’est Moi, n’est-ce pas? According to newspaper reports he is bored out of his skull. Meanwhile, the communist Kingdom of North Korea is going through an unusually tempestuous phase of its ritual sabre-rattling. Obscurantism had to be forcefully removed from neighbouring Mali and remains defiantly undefeated. And the minister for Tourism, a certain Youssou Ndour, has his work cut out for him because Senegal has fallen off the holiday map.

All of which means: no income from the Monument for Mister Wade. And here’s a pretty merciless cartoonist, who thinks that the man who disfigured Dakar’s horizon forever may well be falling on very hard times indeed…

The minister: 'Giving you money for a work that belongs to me - no way.' Street vendor, uncannily looking like a former president: 'But it's me the artist! Give me my money!!'

The minister: ‘Giving you money for a work that belongs to me – no way.’ Street vendor, uncannily looking like a former president: ‘But it’s me the artist! Give me my money!!’


January 20, 2011

They are finally here!

There's two of them on the ground here since Jan 19. Photo: Senegal Airlines through Aviation Branding Weblog

They’re called Gandiol and Kayemor and reflect the genuine connection felt by the Head of the Royal Family to African realities. The two names refer to towns that have been, in their own way, symbols of the the anti-colonial struggle.

The arrival of the two Airbus aircraft (made in France) also made Him think of His Monument for the African Renaissance, which points to the skies. And to the Canary Islands. But I may have bored you to death with that by now.

It also made Him think of producing small aircraft – made in Senegal. Interesting idea, coming from someone who heads a government that is quite happy to lay waste to local entrepreneurs. See here for the latest example.

But most of all: it made Him think of the youth. Yes. The  youth will show the way forward. Indeed. That is why, a few hours after this umpteenth display of presidential hubris, the youth were extremely busy in at least six Dakar suburbs blocking thoroughfares, setting fire to car tires and playing cat-and-mouse with the police.


Well, for once, they will never have the privilege of boarding either Gandiol or Kayemor. But in fact it’s way more practical than that. Absolutely everyone is sick and tired of paying for electricity that never arrives. Having to throw away food because the fridge is off. Again. The electricity cuts are coordinated from the ministry that is in charge of these things and a lot more, including airplanes. The head of that ministry is His Majesty’s son, nicknamed The Prince.

Events in Tunisia are keenly followed here and there’s even speculation whether this place would be next. Not so sure. It takes real talent to annoy the Senegalese to such an extent. But fair’s fair: His Majesty has that talent in spades.


December 17, 2010

Well, it takes all kinds at this Third Global Festival of the Black Arts. Although the more apt name would be the Umpteenth Festival to increase the Profile and Glory of the President of this nominal Republic and his Family. Price tag apparently some €50m.

So here I was, gazing up at this:

Playing under the giant. Pic taken of Etran Finatawa, Tuesday December 14

(remember this)

and…waiting for the Kora Jazz Trio, whose glorious output will certainly outlast anything Senegal’s current crop of megalomaniac leaders throw at the good folks of this country. And mind you, now that the North Korean pomposity known as the Monument for the African Renaissance is there, you might as well enjoy it. It is festively lighted up in the evening, you can walk up its stairs and enjoy and absolutely stunning view of the Great Fantastic City of Dakar.

I can (almost) see my house from here. Lights in the middle: the airport

When I walked down the stairs, I heard the gravel voice and rough-around-the edges saxophone of Archie Shepp. One of the greats from the 20th Century’s most important contribution to music: jazz.

He was, in spite of his advanced age, in good form on that chilly, unprotected windy Monumental hillside. But many visitors were neither aware nor cared much about the man, his music. Case in point: the brief but charming development of a Chinese-Senegalese friendship, built around what appears to be a Monumental obsession of people all around the world: taking pictures of themselves and each other. Maybe God knows why. Or president Wade. He knows everything.

Mr Shepp is playing. A standard, a city blues or a nice bit of the real classic stuff: melody – sax – piano – bass – drums. All are excellent. Oblivious about all this, a few Chinese workers, probably plucked straight from China’s vast rural labour reserves, traipse around the premises, shooting films and taking pictures. Two rather large and very well constructed Senegalese ladies enter the scene, dressed, as always, to the nines. They start taking pictures of themselves and each other as well and very soon there is a whole series of musical chairs going on right in front of me: Chinese and Senegalese pose in all possible combinations and take pictures of each other. Then the China guys are getting a little too friendly and the two dames depart with their dignity fully intact. Meanwhile, Mr Shepp plays.

And it is somewhat disorienting to hear him rail against injustices of the past, when most of the United States was an apartheid state, and then cry “Revolution” – under a Monument whose only raison d’être, as every Senegalese will tell you, is the glorification of the ruling family. This is how one commenter put it the next day: whenever there is a problem in this country, no money, no food, no transport, all that Wade does is tell the Senegalese to go and dance!

Down the stairs and dance!

Well put. But dance we did, in the end, under the Monument. Thanks to another giant with a career spanning more than half a century. Manu Dibango guided his 13 piece band through the motions, greatly helped along by a characteristically boisterous Cameroonian delegation, how did they find out that Manu would show up here? He was nowhere on the programme…

‘Ah you’re all working tomorrow, right? OK, we’ll keep it brief…’ He did, sort of. As I left well after midnight, he had just announced the last piece, having taken us on a ride through jazz, makossa, latin, salsa, afrobeat, funk and whatever else in a great Pan-Africa, Pan-World, Pan-Whatever, planetary fashion. Maybe, if he manages to get some Chinese sounds woven into the mix, these guys will for a minute stop taking pictures…

PS: the Kora Jazz Trio did not play that night. Maybe another time…

meanwhile, away from the pomp and the parades…

April 4, 2010

No newspapers today. It’s a holiday, of course. No work for the newspaper vendors. They’re off for the day. So while they enjoy the Independence holiday,  let me tell you how you get your shot of news in Dakar.

Independence special from Walfadjri ("Dawn"), arguably the best paper in town

Method number 1. Walk down any main street and signal to a newspaper vendor who is doing his usual rounds that you want “les journeaux”. Oddly enough, even 50 years into Independence, all newspapers are in French. But they are lively, critical, well-written and not shy – even though they will pussyfoot around issues to do with Islam and upper echelon corruption.

Method number 2. Order “les journeaux” from a taxi or indeed from behind the wheel of your own vehicle, as many Dakarois are wont to do.

Method number 3. Go to a vendor who is always in the same place. On the main corner of L’Autoroute (yes, the one that leads to the airport), there’s one who holds an impossibly large pile under his arm, day in day out. He’s diminutive, wears a cap and a smile and knows exactly what every one of his many clients wants to read. (In my case, that’s everything.)

Incidentally, just try it: take a pile of up to 100 – I’ll make it easy for you: 50 – tabloids and hold them under your arm for one hour. He does this from 8am every morning. Luckily, a lot of people buy their papers with him so by noon the bulk of papers under his arm is noticeably smaller.

Method number 4: that wonderful old (admittedly French) addition to street life and still very much in evidence in Dakar: the kiosk. There is one next to my flat. Ousmane runs it. He’s a young lad, in his twenties. Every morning, he takes his papers in, opens up the wooden shutters revealing a counter. That’s where he puts today’s output, carefully. And then he takes a bunch of pegs and suspends newspapers, magazines and one-off publications off a small iron railing, that has been mounted on the inside of the shutters he’s just opened. If the newspaper you want is finished on the counter, you take the last copy (it’s basically the one for public reading) off the railing. Leave the pegs, please.

morning scene at home

Ousmane is inseparable from one of those small headphone pieces you plug your ear with but I suspect there is very little music coming out of the mobile phone it is connected to. He also has a permanently worried look on his face, which unfailingly lights up when a client passes. Yesterday, he explained his problem.

It is as simple as it is devastatingly unsolvable.

He has been the eldest in the family, ever since his father died. He works here because the family needs the money to feed, clothe and educate itself. His brother is going to school, he is not. ‘Because I must work. But this job only pays me 35,000 CFA Francs (that is 53 euros).’ Per month? Yes, per month.

So Ousmane wants a better job. How does he get one? With better education. But he left school because he had to work and he hasn’t got the money – or indeed time – to finish his school because he must work and the salary is terribly low. Conversation over, he summarizes this catch 22: ‘It will take long…’

Yes it will take long. And a bit of luck. A rich visitor. A benevolent uncle, friend, someone, anyone.

So who does exist for Ousmane and everyone like him, trapped in the Catch 22 the life has cruelly dished out?

I’ll give you a clue. Every Friday, at 2pm, he closes his kiosk for half an hour. , He calls on the powers of someone bigger than himself. It’s not the government he turns to. The government does not exist for people like Ousmane. The government is for big people, the ones that today show up on the VIP tribune today when the parade goes by. The same people who were whisked, sirens wailing, through the traffic yesterday on their way to the inauguration of the Monument for the African Renaissance.

So who does he turn to? What is the last word in almost every conversation you have here? There’s a reason this is perhaps the most deeply religious continent on the face of the earth. Talk to Ousmane.


January 17, 2010

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


– Something we were thinking already –

To dinner?

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


Something we were thinking already

To nowhere?’