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Senegal Marks 50 Years Of Independence With Calls For African Unity

  • Anne Look

President Wade's pan-African dream symbolized by enormous bronze statue inaugurated Saturday

Senegal, which is celebrating 50 years of independence, has unveiled a monument to the African Renaissance amid calls for African unity. The statue is proving controversial with its multi-million-dollar price tag in a country plagued by poverty.

"In my Dream" is the first single from an album called "Presidents of Africa" by Senegalese hip-hop artist Didier Awadi. The singer traveled to 40 African countries over the past five years collaborating with local artists on the album, which incorporate speeches of great African leaders.

Awadi says the album is meant to be a wake-up call for African youth and a reminder of the pan-African dreams of those great leaders at the time of independence.

What is left of those dreams? Awadi says that is the question posed in this album. Is that dream still tolerated, he asks, and have its objectives been attained?

Ask Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade, and he will tell you the pan-African dream is alive and well and symbolized in the form of an enormous bronze statue inaugurated Saturday.

Hundreds of supporters cheered, and drums pounded at the foot of the Monument to the African Renaissance, located on a hill in Dakar overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

The statue, which is nearly 50 meters tall, depicts a muscled man emerging from a volcano, pulling a woman behind him and holding a baby aloft toward the West.

President Wade says the statue symbolizes Africa, reborn and reinvigorated, after five centuries of slavery and colonialism. Africa, he says, is upright and resolved to take its future in hand.

At the inauguration, standing before 22 African heads of state and numerous international guests, President Wade said the time for African unity is now.

Mr. Wade says only political unity will allow the African continent, rich in territory, manpower and natural resources, to take its true place in the world order.

Though many at the event praised President Wade as a visionary, the monument has sparked considerable controversy in Senegal.

Muslims have protested its depiction of the human form, particularly that of the scantily-clad female figure. Politicians and civic leaders have deplored the statue's $27 million price tag in a country plagued by poverty, constant power cuts and flooding.

Senegal's main opposition coalition, Bennoo Siggil Senegaal, demonstrated Saturday morning in Dakar to protest what it called the "monument to the president's megalomania."

Opposition leader Talla Sylla says the statue is not a priority in Senegal. He says "we need to get the population out of flooded areas in Dakar, to help Senegalese have a better life, to get housing, food, clothing, to help the numerous children of this country get education." The priorities of the country, he says, are health and security, not a statue.

President Wade also announced that Senegal will take back three French military bases that house some 1,200 troops, in what he called a final break with Senegal's former colonial ruler.

Mr. Wade said the anniversary not only marks 50 years of independence for Senegal, but also a chance to usher in a new era for the country and for a unified African continent.