Thursday, August 4, 2011

Les Mamelles

On 6/16th, the orientation day, we had a Dakar city tour. One of the visits was “les Mamelles” also called the African Renaissance monument. When tourists come to NYC, they go and see the statue of Liberty, when they go to Paris, they go to see the Eiffel tower. so It felt only natural and expected to go and see some kind of grand, famous, tourist-y thing. so I didn’t think much about it when our tour guide, Aduleye, told us about the controversies surrounding the monument. I thought ‘there is always controversy.’

Yes, it didn’t make much sense that North Koreans were hired to build the monument when a lot of Senegalese people needed jobs. (Unemployment rate: 48% (2007 est.) 

Yes, it sounded like a lot of money (US $27 million)- which could have been used more practically- was spent on this project.
But it all sounded as if I was listening to encyclopedia; factual, unappealing and impersonal.

However, after spending 3 weeks in Senegal, I see now why this monument was criticized so much. Almost every night, we had power blackouts. The power-cut is so frequent that all the cell phones have flashlight features in them. While Senegalese citizens have to put up with the hot summer nights without any light or a fan, the monument on top of the hill is lit brightly and has AC inside. 
during the powercut
another typical night without lights
Women walk past rubbish heaps at the base of the Monument of the African Renaissance in Senegal.
by Rebecca Blackwell
It wasn’t just from the economical point of view that the monument was somewhat absurd. Senegal is predominantly Islamic (94% of the population); first of all, Muslims are against idol worshipping. Idolatry in Islamic culture can be extended to the use of images in a way that represents anything other than singular God. So the monument can be seen as “idolatrous.” Moreover, Muslims should dress “modestly.” Even though what “modesty” is can differ depending on the interpretations, semi-nude man and woman showing a breast definitely isn’t “modest.”

The African Renaissance monument is supposed to represent “the triumph of African liberation from centuries of ignorance, intolerance and racism” Malawi president Bingu said "This monument does not belong to Senegal. It belongs to the African people wherever we are” but I don’t see how it could symbolize such a powerful idea when all it denies the reality and the belief of Senegal, let alone Africa.

Then again, the statue of liberty was criticized at first too. And in a country where tourism plays such a vital role in economy, maybe and hopefully promoting and investing in tourist attraction would benefit the nation in the long run.

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