In my last column, I talked of the emotional high from the dedication of the Monument to African Renaissance.
U.S. news reports criticized North Korea’s building of the statue, and the spending of money on a monument in a poor country. There were demonstrations in Dakar against the monument. I was disappointed in the U.S. journalists for not also giving the other side. For me, the take-home message of these controversies is that democracy in Senegal is stronger than ever.
Some background is useful.
Senegal became independent from France in 1960. The Party Socialist (PS) governed for 40 years. Senegal has never had a coup, and has regularly held elections. But for a portion of its early years, it was a one-party state.
The current President, Abdoulaye Wade, founded the Party Democratic Senegal (PDS) in 1974, and ran several times before winning in 2000. He was jailed twice for politically related reasons, and also served twice as a minister.
Obviously the PS does not like being out of power, and often is a party of “no,” much as we see in the U.S. It was very successful in recent local elections in demonstrating that the state of democracy in Senegal today is not that of the early years.
Neo-colonialism is another factor. In 2000, France was the source of 90 percent of outside investment. Now, that number is 50 percent, as other countries have increased their investment in Senegal.
The container port management was not given to a French company, but put out to bid and won by Dubai World, the group that initially won Miami’s contract. The French military base is being closed. Journalism is definitely advocacy, and there are numerous newspapers with limited revenue.
The person in the street often points to France as a backer of criticism. Furthermore, Senegal’s democracy is French-styled. In France, there is far more power in the presidency, and much less transparency than in the U.S.
Now for responses: North Korea is the only current maker of large bronze statues. A French company that no longer does the work recommended North Korea (even though many people in the world view North Korea as a dictatorship.) The statue was paid for with a land swap, and apartments are being built on that land – a win-win situation.
While the skilled tasks required for installation were done by Koreans, I saw numerous Senegalese workers on the job, doing general and skilled tasks. The monument is expected to be an economic generator like the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Christ in Rio.
President Wade has been criticized for taking 35 percent of the profits, based on intellectual property rights, but not for a villa! It is for a foundation supporting pre-school education with both modern child development and traditional African components, in an era where economic demands are reducing the latter.
This is the same cause to which Wade donated the money from his UNESCO Peace Prize, and it enhances the likelihood of long-term positive impact.
The cacophony of newspapers, Internet discussions and demonstrations is a positive sign of a healthy democracy.
Brad Brown is the first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects.