African Renaissance Monument
A North Korean company has emerged as the chief provider of cheap statues across Africa and Asia.
Across 21st-century Africa, nations celebrate their milestone independence anniversaries and attendant pride the way nations always have: with monuments. In 2002, Namibia opened Heroes’ Acre, with a statue resembling activist president Sam Nujoma; Benin unveiled a statue of King Béhanzin, who defied the French in the 1890s; in Botswana the Three Dikgosi Monument (2005) casts tribal leaders important in the country’s independence movement in bronze.
At 49 metres high, on top of a 100 metre hill, the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar is the tallest statue in Africa. It was completed in 2010 to mark 50 years of independence. It depicts an idealised African family, commissioned by the country’s then-president, Abdoulaye Wade. Unfortunately, Senegal could not afford the $27m price tag and found itself in the ironic position of paying for its independence statue by ceding land to the state-owned North Korean firm that built it. As well as ostentatious pride, all the monuments listed share a construction firm: Mansudae Overseas Projects, based in Pyongyang, which has emerged as the chief provider of cheap statues across Africa and Asia.
The existence of North Korean-made African statues is curious. The South Korean artist Onejoon Che, who examined them in a 2015 documentary Mansudae Master Class, explains it as a legacy of the 1960s. As independent African nations gained seats at the UN, where North and South Korea were competing for influence, Kim Il-sung noted that canvassing support from Africa could see North Korea recognised as the official Korean nation. ‘These monuments’, says Che, ‘present the hidden history of this diplomatic war.’