At a cost of nearly $30 million, a new statue in Dakar has ignited an uproar that an African leader is once again putting vanity ahead of practical outcomes.
Senegal’s president Wade, now 83, was already old when I met him a decade ago at the outset of his presidencyin 2000. He came to power as a reformer, promising to awaken one of Africa’s most enigmatic under-achievers. Senegal is blessed with relative peace, a well-educated people and rich traditions. Wade has done little or nothing to accelerate the country’s desultory economy and seems bent on becoming president for life. He says he intends to seek re-election in two years time.
That Wade says he was personally involved in designing the statue suggests the dimensions of his public delusions. Critics have found the statue, which depicts an outsize manholding a baby in his outstretched arms, with a woman seated behind him. The statue, more than 300 feet tall and reportedly built by imported North Korean workers (yes, that’s not a typo), reflects some fractured understanding of Soviet-era realism and carries no hints of any the traditional African art forms that the world so admires.
Wade has called the statue, unveiled to coincide with Senegal’s 50th anniversary of independence, “African Renaissance.” Wade is fond of presenting himself as in the vanguard of a new Africa. But he is merely an Orwellian orator, his best days were in the past. Part of a post-colonial Africa that cannot be forgotten but is nevertheless forgettable, Wade mocks himself — and squanders his people’s great potential — not only with this statue but with his entire political project.
Go, Wade, and let a dynamic generation of Senegalese, born about a half-century ago and now at the peak of their careers, take over the running of your country. Step aside, and the sooner, the better. Tommorrow even.
Wade’s dignified retreat into retirement is the only monument to African revival that the proud Senegalese deserve.