Wade’s demand for pay in state project raises questions

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade

DAKAR, Sunday

One of President Abdoulaye Wade’s several great pan-African projects which the ageing Senegalese leader had wanted to meet the December 2009 deadline has turned out a fiasco, chiefly due to inadequate and timely funding.

This is compounded by an undying verbal gymnastics over intellectual or ownership rights between President Wade and his numerous detractors mainly a number of the country’s civil society organisations and opposition politicians.

“This monument does not cost money to the state, but land…all we need is to exchange land for the monument,” President Wade told reporters on the project site overlooking the Sedar Senghor International airport in Dakar at the beginning of the construction of the monument in 2007.

But Mr Wade neither clearly stated the financial cost of the construction nor the exact land space or number of acres that was needed for the monument.

That was the genesis of the confusion which still remains a mystery or a difficult logic to decipher, owing to the fact that a contractual fee of 12 billion CFA francs ($152 million) is to be paid to the North Korean engineers that are constructing the monument.

When completed, President Wade claims that 35 per cent of the proceeds from the project would be paid to him while the remainder — 65 per cent would be state-owned. The erudite leader was basing his claims on the fact that he was the sole proprietor of the intellectual rights of the project.

He said he would dedicate his ownership fee to the construction of kindergartens throughout Africa in a bid to promote his unwavering efforts to increase literacy rate and step up development on the continent. Presently, about 40 per cent of Senegal’s national budget is dedicated to education – a rarity in Africa.

President Wade pegs his intellectual rights to a passage in one of his books he published almost 20 years ago and in which he hypothesised: “If I were a sculptor, I would erect three personalities with their arms stretching out to embrace. Two of them, Europe and the United States, would be on an upper level and closer to each other.”

“The third, Africa, would be slightly a distance from the two and more striking with purity and strength, and would also be extending his arms to embrace,” he wrote.

This was interpreted by the Korean sculptors to look like a couple with their child in their hand. Elements of the virulent home front civil society groups and masquerading opposition politicians accused Wade of plagiarism but proffered no tangible proof. President Wade said after winning the presidency of Senegal in 2000, he had checked the world of artists for an excellent sculptor to translate his imagination into a concrete image in the form of a monument that would portray Africa getting rid of all negative forces as it emerges into a new and free world.

He explained that he started off by assessing the dummy of a celebrated Senegalese sculptor, Osman Sow who has won international acclaim but found no satisfaction and then quizzed the great Polish sculptor, Virgil Magherusan but also in vain.

He finally cued in on a North Korean company, simply known as MOP and a French outfit as supervisor and awarded the contract to them.
But even Wade’s mode of choice of contractors had come under biting criticism by civil society organisations and opposition politicians in Senegal who have branded him as undemocratic and opaque for his contractual bids.

According to the head Korean contractor, So Yong, the monument when complete, would stand the test of time by braving both storm and weather for 1,200 years.

But unfortunately, the monument, the world’s highest at 150 metres – taller than the US’s Statue of Liberty- will not be dedicated by the Brazilian President Lula Da Silva as planned on December 11.

The date had also been billed to coincide with the opening day of Mr Wade’s other pan-African project — the third World Negro Arts Festival - that was to rope in thousands of the world’s renowned artists and cultural professionals. Lamentably, even that festival has also been postponed due to unfinished business ahead of deadline.

Besides the monument, the precinct will house a museum, restaurants, audiovisual rooms and a string of facilities that would attract tourists and thereby making the outfit a major income earner for the country.

Besides the two, Wade still is pursuing his dream of the ‘Green Wall’ – an environmental agenda that consists of planting trees about half a kilometre in width that will stretch from Senegal to Somalia in a bid to forestall the rapid encroachment of the Sahara desert southwards.

And yet another of his ambitious projects is one that would make him a ‘‘Governor of Senegal in the United States of Africa.’’