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Senegal's colossal statue stirs big controversy

A towering statue is lambasted for being sexist, sexy and wasteful.

DAKAR, Senegal — A muscled man emerges from a volcano. His left arm holds a baby aloft toward the West, his right arm pulls a scantily clad woman behind him.

This is the Monument to the African Renaissance, currently being erected here. It is supposed to symbolize Africa emerging from centuries of oppression, but the statue has left women in Dakar asking: Whose renaissance exactly?

“This woman [in the statue], she is completely subjugated to man. It’s the man making the decisions. It’s the man as protector, and that doesn’t fit with the African reality,” said historian Penda Mbow.

While the half-naked man represents physical strength and control, the woman is a “sex object,” Mbow said. She sees the female figure as an afterthought, an appendage, an accessory.

A Senegalese columnist called the statue an example of “revolting sexism” and wondered whether any women was consulted in the design of the monument.

It’s but one of many criticisms to the bronze behemoth going up on one of Dakar’s hills overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Others say the statue, which dominates Dakar's horizon, is wasteful and disrespectful of Muslim culture.

At 164 feet tall — just higher than the Statue of Liberty — the monument is the pet project of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. He claims it will become a tourist attraction as popular as the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty.

Rumblings of discontent erupted this fall when Wade announced that he, as "intellectual creator," would be taking 35 percent of all tourist revenue the state monument earns.

Supporters say the giant statue will draw tourists but critics charge the colossus — estimated to cost $27 million and built by North Koreans — highlights how disconnected Wade, 83, has become from the daily struggles of Senegalese citizens.

Politicians charge that Senegal's economy is declining and health and education are in crisis, yet massive public funds are being squandered on the statue.

About 95 percent of Senegal's 12 million people are Muslim and some of the country’s imams spoke out against the statue in December, citing wastefulness and Muslim restrictions against representing the human form. Wade shot back that, at church, Christians pray to a man named Jesus and was later forced to apologize to the country’s offended Christians, who protested in Dakar.