Senegal, Nov 1-8, 2009

I’ve never had a first impression of a country quite like when I arrived in Senegal. Towering over the capital city of Dakar is the African Renaissance Monument, a 160-foot statue depicting a man rising triumphantly from a volcano with his outstretched arms wrapped around his wife and child. The monument, designed by a Senegalese artist but constructed by North Korean workers, is a symbol of Africa’s rise from centuries of intolerance and racism. It is set to be officially dedicated on December 12. Apparently, I got to Senegal a month too soon.

Like the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument, this bronze statue is sure to serve as a regular background in photos of smiling tourists for decades to come. The site has exhibition, multimedia, and conference rooms, and a top-floor viewing platform. And since Dakar is the westernmost point of Africa, it’s only a 7.5-hour plane ride from Washington D.C. now that South African Airways flies directly there.

But there is criticism. Some Senegalese have complained of its communist-era design. Muslims, who make up the vast majority of Senegal’s population, take issue because of Islamic prohibitions on representations of the human form. Others say that the £17 million ($28 million) could have been used for more important things, like helping the poor. Worst of all, Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade, insists that he deserves 35 percent of tourist revenue it brings in due to “intellectual rights.” Oh, and Senegal doesn’t have a volcano.

The critics make good points, but what’s done is done and come December 12, tourists and residents alike will have the world’s latest and well-meaning statue to admire. And with a new airport on the way, along with the potential for South Africa-to-U.S. visitors dropping by, Senegal and its residents should benefit from this new addition to the Dakar cityscape for years to come.

Editor’s note: The statue was unveiled later than the date provided when this article was researched.

An interesting conversation about love and marriage.