DAKAR, Senegal, Aug 27 – On a hill overlooking the Senegalese capital, a North Korean company is close to completing a giant statue that is as controversial as it is high.
The bronze work – which at 50 metres stands four metres taller than the Statue of Liberty – depicts a couple rising from the mouth of a volcano.
From his naked torso, the right arm of the man reaches out around the woman, whose body is only lightly covered. With his left arm, he holds their child to the sky. The child is pointing to the west.
"They are leaving the pain of slavery and the abyss of ignorance to go and conquer the world," the director of Senegal’s cultural heritage Hamady Bocoum told AFP.
The "African Renaissance Monument" – built on the westernmost tip of the African continent – is the pet project of President Abdoulaye Wade, who has himself waxed lyrical about the work.
"This African who emerges from the volcano, facing the West … symbolises that Africa which freed itself from several centuries of imprisonment in the abyssal depths of ignorance, intolerance and racism, to retrieve its place on this land, which belongs to all races, in light, air and freedom," Wade has written.
"It will be the biggest bronze monument in the world. A bit bigger than the Statue of Liberty in New York, we insisted on that," said Pierre Goudiaby Atepa, a presidential adviser and architect who designed the statue.
But the huge cost of the project – as well as the president’s plans to hang on to 35 percent of any profits it generates – have provoked outrage in the poor west African nation.
The building work is being carried out by North Korea’s Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies, while a Paris-based company, Gemo, is overseeing the work as project manager.
The result is certainly not to the taste of all Dakar residents, some of whom criticise its vaguely Soviet style. But it is the cost that has caused the biggest uproar among opposition politicians and citizens.
The construction budget is estimated at more than 15 million euros (21.5 million dollars) — and may yet have to be revised upwards, said Atepa.
To finance the project, the state has been selling off government land to the private sector, a policy that has itself been criticised.
That method of financing the project "does not appear to us to be compatible with the rules of good governance," said Mamadou Jean-Charles Tall, of the anti-corruption, good governance campaign group Civil Forum.
But what opposition politicians object to above all is the idea that just over a third of any revenue the monument generates should go to the president.
Wade has said the site would generate "lots of money" because "hundreds of thousands of tourists would come to visit it."
"I am the creator of the monument. Thirty-five percent of financial gains will belong to me and 65 percent to the state," Wade said.
It is also expected that the president’s son Karim will be in charge of the foundation set up to manage revenue from the site, which will come from a restaurant as well as various function rooms and conference halls.
For Le Quotidien, a private daily newspaper, the deal was a "hold-up".
"The president has unashamedly assumed the role of shareholder of a work created through the looting of the nation’s property assets," it said.
The opposition Socialist Party denounced the lack of a competitive process for the sale of the land, the lack of a competition for the design of the project, and the absence of an open tender process for the contractors.
And as opposition deputy Ndeye Fatou Toure put it, such a project is just "not a priority in a time of crisis."