Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
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 - who has long stalked the world stage reminding the rich to make good on pledges of aid to the poor -insists his share would go to a variety of good causes he sponsors rather his own pocket. But for many Senegalese, the affair has left a bad taste. “I have never seen a president being in a business deal with the same state of which he is the highest representative,” said Ousmane Sow, a high school teacher in the capital.
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.
Nowhere was Michael Jackson mourned more than in Africa. Young and old, people wept openly when news broke of his death, struck by disbelief and sadness. His funeral was followed across the continent anywhere that a television set could be found.
Jackson’s link with Africa strengthened when he visited the continent at the age of 14 as lead singer of the Jackson Five. Emerging from the plane in Senegal, he responded to a welcome of drummers and dancers by screaming: ”This is where I come from.”
But by the time of his death, it was unclear whether Jackson was so proud of his origins. Surgery had altered his appearance to such an extent that many felt he looked as white as he did African-American.
His comment that he was “neither Black nor White” drew controversy during a visit to Africa in the 90s. Although he was happy to be crowned chief of several African villages and to shake hands with hundreds of people, the trip was a public relations nightmare – with allegations that police had beaten the crowds who went to see him and complaints in the local media that the pop star had been seen holding his nose, as if to keep out a bad smell.
African countries often complain about getting a bad press. They say there’s much more to the continent than war and poverty and starvation. Then there’s the huge coverage given to the International Criminal Court and the fact that all four cases the body is now considering come from Africa.
But what’s strange about the complaints is that the world’s poorest continent is the most heavily represented in the ICC, with 30 member countries. In the March 2009 elections for ICC judges, 12 out of the 19 candidates were Africans nominated by African governments. And Fatou Bensouda, the court’s Deputy Prosecutor, is from Gambia.
If anyone in Africa was worried that the global financial crisis might dim China’s interest in the continent, President Hu Jintao will be visiting this week to give some reassurances – as well as possibly to temper any unrealistic hopes for the amount of assistance to be expected.
As Chris Buckley reported from Beijing, this visit is also about China showing the wider world that it is a responsible power.
“Sub-Saharan Africa: Year of Regression”. That was the heading used by U.S.-based rights group Freedom House in its survey of political freedom in the world published this week.
Of course the Freedom House survey pointed to the coups in Guinea and Mauritania as well as the situation in Zimbabwe, whose elections were condemned by many countries and where the crisis shows no sign of lessening, but there were plenty of other names on the list too:
Somalia is at 180 out of 180. Six of the 10 worst offenders are African states. The best placed African country, Botswana, is at 36 (up from 38 last year).