African Renaissance Monument
The African Renaissance monument was built in 2010, opening on April 4th, and is a statue expressing a symbolized rebirth of Africa, and commemorating Senegalese independence. Constructed on the Mamelles hill, which adds a hundred meters to its already 49-meter height, it presents a commemoration of traditional African culture and heritage, both in Africa and abroad. Huge, colossal really at some 22,000 tons, and built of shining bronze, it is the largest statue of Africa and certainly a major sight for Dakar, quite often visited for its observation deck with views over Dakar. If you happen to be going to Dakar, it'll probably be one of the places for you to go.
A Trip to the African Renaissance Monument
The main entrance to the monument de la renaissance africaine is up a huge flight of stairs, after arriving at a parking lot. The bottom has some good and by-foreigner-standards-not-too-expensive restaurant and some Senegalese craft stores around, plus there is some neat graffiti of murals which are found on walls at the parking lot. Sometimes there are concerts held there in a concert space. There are some 204 steps here to reach the monument base, making it a terribly difficult climb, as one struggles up the steps huffing and puffing until arriving at the top... thankfully, even here, there is a superb view over Dakar. For most, interest will lead forwards, to the ticket booth, and into the monument itself. Prices (found online) are posted below.
Upon entering, in the current version (July, 2017), the "lobby" of the monument has two distinct presentations. The first deals with African, and African diaspora history, covering various leaders of renown (such as Léopold Senghor or Toussaint Louverture) and various historically important events such as the slave trade or colonialism. The second meanwhile is a presentation on Gandhi, his life, work, and message. It may seem strange to have Gandhi presented in a monument about Africa, but then the Monument of the African Renaissance is intended to be a universalist message, and hence Gandhi fits it well. Writing here is primarily in French, but the Gandhi exhibit also provides English duplicates. Tour guides fluent in English or French both exist.
The real draw of the trip is afterwards, as one crowds into the elevator to go up to the statue's viewing platform. This elevator is exceedingly small, smaller than a flea, just enough to fit 4 people. Crowded into it for space, the elevator rapidly ascends upwards, until it arrives at the top, and one is jettisoned forth into the crown of the statue. The crown is, despite also being of relatively small size, an impressive piece of work. A circle it has windows all around to gaze over Dakar and the sea, and some of these windows are opened, providing some need to make sure not to drop your phone when taking photos... an emergency exit exists which can open up onto stairs leading below, but most of your interest will be directed instead in looking over Dakar.
The view from the top is magnificent. There is the child and the woman which one can see directly from the crown, but more important is Dakar, which spreads out to the horizon. The airport is to the east, while Dakar itself stretches to the south, the furthest reaches lost in either clouds, or if one wants to be less charitable, smog. The ocean stretches out to the horizon, blue and crashing onto the rocks. Its a superb view from some 150 meters up, looking over this metropolis which finds itself perched on the furthest Western edge of Africa, the monument gesturing like some great god across the seas to the New World, a link among the continents of the world.
Following this is the museum, as one descends back into the monument. This has two distinct sections; the first is portraits, with Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, and the four presidents of Senegal, as well as a drawing of religious import, and the second part is a variety of statues of traditional African commoners or people of regular status at least. There is also a meeting room which had seen the meeting of various African presidents after the construction of the monument. After exiting this it is back to the lobby, and then out. Your trip to the tallest statue in Africa is over.
There is a selection of prices listed from Au Senegal, which are shown below. If I remember the non-resident adult tariff was actually 5,000 CFA, but regardless if I am correct or not, the price to enter, while mildly expensive, is not excessive.
Enfant /résident (Child resident) : 500F CFA
Adulte résident /visite simple (Adult resident, simple visit): 1000F CFA
Adulte résident /visite belvédère (Adult resident, scenic visit): 3000 F CFA
Non résident adulte (Non-resident adult): 10 Euros / 6500F CFA
Non résident enfant (Non-resident child): 5 Euros / 3250F CFA
It seems perhaps odd, after saying this and after displaying pictures of a statue that is empirically an impressive piece of work, that the African Renaissance Monument is one which is intensely plagued with controversies. Indeed, it might seem further bizarre given that it would seem that few people would object to the stated aims of the monument—celebrating Africa's rebirth and increasing stability and progress over the last decades, and providing Dakar with a world-record monument. However, a wide variety of reasons for opposition have been voiced.
Construction and Cost
One of biggest battles fought about the monument was its construction, or more precisely the way in which it was constructed and the monetary aspects therein involved. Monetarily, the statue did not come cheaply, and it took 27 million dollars to build. This doesn't sound too large, but for a country where the average GDP per capita is nominally 973 dollars, this is quite the sum. At the same time as the statue was being built, Senegal suffered from a host of social problems, most prominent of which was flooding in Dakar. Spending tens of millions of dollars on such a huge statue at the same time seemed like folly to many. That this was paid in kind, with the sale of land to businessmen, was little solace; the decision of president Abdoulaye Wade to claim 35% of the revenue from it as copy right for him having proposed the idea was simply the final straw. Indeed, Wade would try to get the statue approved as a UNESCO monument, a proposal which did not come to pass, and would place management of the monument under his daughter's Abdoulaye foundation.
Furthermore, the way in which the statue was constructed was also controversial. The statue was built by the North Korean firm Mansudae Overseas Projects, which builds monumental statue projects, often for dictatorial regimes, around the world. Using North Koreans to construct it, instead of Africans, placed something of a hollow message on the idea of an African renaissance, and generated unhappiness among the local artist community. It would also lead to aesthetic issues, another point of debate.
The statue originates from an idea put forth by the Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, and designed by Senegalese artist Pierre Goudiaby. Asides from this, little input came from Senegalese artists, which marked an unhappy break from the principle of Baobab leadership—discussion communally before communal action. While originating from Senegalese ideas, the statue's style is distinctly socialist realism. There have also been critiques directed towards the facial expressions, which have at times been called cartoonish, or un-African.
Furthermore, the statue's style—of a man dragging a woman up behind him and lifting the baby forward—attracted critique from feminist groups, the statue a expression of extreme machismo.
While not often used in opposition to the statue, its place of construction also had its irony; Dakar is an ancient, now (hopefully) dead volcano, and building a statue to the African Renaissance and to African unity over a buried volcano is an interesting choice of irony...
In addition, the choice of the father, wife, and son had controversies. Most African families are not like that, while there were rumors that it represented the president, his wife, and his son. With president Abdoulaye Wade grooming his son Karim Wade as a potential successor (this despite the democratic nature of Senegal), a degree of outrage over such a possibility surfaced.
In addition to aesthetic and construction problems, Islamic—and later on Catholic—opposition to the monument would become marked. Islamic opposition was driven by traditional Islamic teachings which forbid the construction of statues as idolatry. Attempts by the Senegalese president to defend it under the claim that they did not reject statues of Faidherbe or Van Vollenhoven (important figures in French West Africa) did little to defend his position. Other Islamic claims were that the statue was improperly modest, a claim which is easy to see given the very small amount of clothing on the woman, who has only a very short skirt and a bared dress. In a country which is mostly Islamic, although of a very liberal type (a great number of Senegalese women do not cover their hair), this was objectionable. Some 30 immans representing 18 associations would speak against it in 2009, but by then of course construction was very advanced.
The biggest blunder came when the Senegalese president, in defending the monument, said that it shouldn't be controversial as saying that religious statues can exist such as the Catholics worshipping Jesus statues despite Jesus being evidently not divine. Catholic responses were heated and outraged to this dual assault on them and their religion, and a community which had never protested before would wage a fierce protest in Dakar despite calls for calm.
A number of more ridiculous claims also got voiced by opposition, such as that the monument was replete with masonic symbols and that the president was making human sacrifices in the interior. These are, it must be presumed, not true, despite the president's membership in a Masonic temple fueling them...
Ultimately of course, these objections did not prevent the monument's construction, and it was in the end finished. After all of this controversy, how is the statue viewed today? The answer might be surprisingly well, given the complicated history concerning its creation. The statue is there now, and one might as well as make the best of what one has and like it. Furthermore, much of the opposition to the monument came from opposition to president Abdoulaye Wade; now that he is no longer president, some of the opposition to the statue has lost its steam. Perhaps it is too early to say that the statue is universally adored, but it has shaken some of the greatest stigma that was attached to it during construction.
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© 2017 Ryan Thomas