African business, politics and lifestyle
Statue casts shadow over Senegal Renaissance
Far from being a shining beacon of hope for the world’s poorest continent, Dakar’s monument to the African Renaissance has sparked a storm of criticism over Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and his handling of the project.
Declaring himself to be the “intellectual owner” of the bronze family of man, woman and infant – at 50 metres tall just higher than New York’s Statue of Liberty – Wade has decided that he should take a 35 percent cut in the revenues of a site which is expected to be one of Dakar’s top tourist draws when it is completed in December.
Wade supporters disagree, arguing that he had already drawn sketches for the monument in a book, “A Destiny For Africa”, which he wrote in his early political career.
But others complain it is the latest in a line of glamour projects – including plans for West Africa’s biggest theatre or a four-lane corniche serving Dakar’s wealthy suburbs – that Wade has favoured over urgently needed basic infrastructure.
The complaint strikes a chord with many right now as the stiflingly hot rainy season prompts thousands of Dakar’s residents to turn on their air-conditioning full pelt - causing the city’s over-stretched electricity grid to crash for hours at a time.
But love it or hate it - and everybody seems to have a strong view on the statue - few would argue that the project is wrong in principle. New York has the Statue of Liberty, Paris its Eiffel Tower – why shouldn’t Africa have an equally impressive monument, perched on its western-most tip overlooking the Atlantic?
In some ways, the timing is not great. When it was originally conceived, Africa had been enjoying a years-long growth spurt and the renaissance that Wade, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki seemed just round the corner.
With a global economic slow down that prompted many investors to halt projects on the continent, and which has cut the flow of remittances back home from the diaspora working in the rich world, the re-birth will be more difficult than many had imagined.