I had a Dream
This story is inspired by established facts.
Any resemblance to real or fictional characters is not fortuitous.
Dakar, May 2008
He has succeeded at last in ridding himself of the plethora of sycophants and special advisors. Having attained power through transparent elections, he hoped that the advent of his regime would raise a surge of democracy in Africa. He wanted to create a symbol of this new era, a work that would epitomise the contribution made by Africa to the great adventure of humankind. Ensconced in his dark red velvet chair, he contemplates the model of a 50 metres high glass stele, on both sides of which the names of great men and women from Black communities around the world are engraved in bronze. Through its east-west orientation, it constitutes a link between Africa and its offspring in the diaspora. At daybreak the sun’s rays shining through the stele will blaze forth those illustrious names whose radiant memory will spread out to all four corners of the earth. And as day fades, the powerful light of the lighthouse on Les Mamelles will take over, in a tireless dance. This monument will propel his small country onto the stage of Great Nations, guardians of a universal heritage. He extinguishes the lamps and leaves his office. His decision to replace bronze with the purity of glass had been the right one. The work starts in a few hours’ time.
There is no moon that night. The air is saturated with sandy dust that veils the stars and infiltrates all the orifices of the body. The whole Cap-Vert peninsula is covered in a grey mantle. Near the Point of Almadies the old lighthouse built in 1864 is enveloped in a halo of fog. As for the two hills––Les Mamelles––they make one think of the buttocks of a gigantic Black warrior vanquished in an intergalactic battle. Suddenly, a droning sound, and powerful blue lights pierce the clouds. An ISD 1 (Imperial class star destroyer), 1.600 metres long, takes up a vertical position above one of the Mamelles. This vessel, with its 60 turbo lasers, its 60 ion cannons, its 10 tractor beams, its shield generated by two turrets above the command centre, is one of the jewels of the Galactic Empire fleet. Levitating above Dakar (called the Gateway of Africa in Senegalese tourist slogans) the Imperial Star Destroyer completes its task of diffusing the grey powder that neutralizes all free will. The target is anaesthetized.
From the control centre at the heart of the vessel, the toxic Dr Evil2 follows the progress of operations on giant screens arranged all around the room. With his eternal air of a constipated Madonna, he affectionately caresses the hairless back of his beloved Persian cat, the sly and imperturbable Mr Bigglesworth. With a swish, a triple airlock made of armoured glass opens, and a young man, looking relaxed, enters: the diabolical doctor’s formerly good son.
Scott Powers3: What are we doing here?
Dr Evil: I have decided to assert my absolute power to the world at large. There will be no war, no corpses, and no ravaged countries. Only a monument. A monument to my glory. Gigantic. I am realizing, at last, a long-held dream. If I were a sculptor, I would create three figures reaching out to each other with open arms in an impulsive embrace. On a raised step, two of them, Europe and the United States, are closer together. The third, a little further away, is Africa, a figure striking in its purity and strength, also holding out its hands4. They are all holding out their arms towards me, the Master of the World. I discussed it with Ousmane5, but his proposal lacks panache. He got angry when I changed it. They are so touchy, these Fulani people! So, I contacted Virgil6. The great advantage of citizens of the ex-bloc is their ability to carry out orders unquestioningly. And then, sheer size, the expression of power, is a language he is familiar with. His proposition wasn’t bad. He replaced the three continents with a family. “Family” is a value you can rely one, a symbol that even the most stupid can understand. I have altered his proposal somewhat. So this monument will not represent three continents. When one is Master of the World, one doesn’t give a damn about continents. But our family: me, my dear Frau Farbissina7, called “Kill-joy”, and you, Scotty, my son. This admirable trinity embodies our incontestable power!
Scott Powers: Do you really think you can control the world with a monument?
Dr Evil: I am indeed the Grand Master! This statue is literally going to paralyse the whole world. And then, and then …why not take advantage of it to neutralise a great dead weight? Establish my domination, in order to set an example? It will give a very strong message: dare to contradict Dr Evil and you will be ridiculed forever! The rancid smell of humiliation will seep into the entrails of your lands and stick to the skin of your peoples until the end of time.
Standing on a platform at one end of the command centre, a little man with a yellowish complexion barks out orders, eyes riveted on the countdown registered on a gigantic stopwatch. Down below, rows of little workers with the same sunflower complexions are descending a gigantic gangway in unison, while others are operating cranes supporting impressive pieces of bronze.
Scott Powers: Was it really worth bringing in North Koreans8?
Dr Evil: Obviously! They are incredibly well disciplined, quick and inexpensive. In fact, this operation is costing me nothing. I’ve offered them land in exchange for their services. One must cut costs. And in this age of globalisation, it’s very fashionable to out-source labour. It’s a win-win partnership.
Scott Powers: Do you need that much bronze?
Dr Evil: Only 55 metres. I wanted to make it bigger, but I couldn’t risk jeopardising the stability of the monument. The winds off the Atlantic are violent.
Scott Powers: So why erect it on this peninsula?
Dr Evil: Because a strong symbol needs a symbolic site! The centre of the world for the Master of the World! The Greenwich meridian is an obvious choice. I could have settled on the Equator, but this peninsula, this unique land situated at the western extremity of the African continent, faces both the New World and the Old World. In addition, everyone knows Dakar! Ancient capital of a colonial empire, re-provisioning station on the route to India around the Cape of Good Hope, a vital stopover in the mythical French airmail service Aéropostale for transatlantic flights, the car rally, the first Biennale of Contemporary Art south of the Sahara, the graceful swaying motion of its women… Dakar, place of dreams!
Scott Powers: Well, you don’t say! Do the Africans know about your project?
Dr Evil: Yes, yes, yes! I met one of their leaders during the last International Congress of Anonymous Bald-headed Ones. His eyes lit up when I mentioned “African Renaissance”. He convinced his colleagues in a flash.
Scott Powers: African Renaissance? But I thought that this monument, in addition to establishing your power, was meant to neutralise them?
Dr Evil: Ah Scotty, Scotty, when will your brain at last start working? It was much easier for me to pose as a powerful ally so that I could erect the monument in their country. In so doing I wouldn’t have to waste time by plunging into a devastating war and having to be subjected once again to cries like those of terrified virgins from that gang of charlatans in the so-called Council of Utopian Nations. Ah, ah, ah! How they believe in their damn stupid renaissance! They have been at the bottom of a well for centuries. And much more than slogans and monuments to the glory of their people are needed to get them going. I didn’t need a lengthy speech to convince them.
He hands him the brochure describing the project. Scott Powers’s eyes widen as he peruses further the document stating: This bronze monument, 50 metres tall, will stand on one of the hills of Les Mamelles. At its highest point it will reach 100 metres, dominating the peninsula of Dakar and looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. The monument announces Africa’s return to the great stage of avant-garde projects. The Dark Continent, nourished at the breast of history and its brilliant civilizations, brings to the banquet of history its precious offering of peace and its restored genius9.
Dr Evil: All these ideas moved them to tears. I am an ace at communication; I am absolutely brilliant!
Dr Evil’s face is covered with a film of sweat, a sign of extreme cerebral pleasure. Scott Powers rolls his eyes and gives a long sigh while Mini-Me10 gives him a dark look.
Scott Powers: And did their leader accept the idea of a family to symbolise the African Renaissance?
Dr Evil: I showed him the model of a bronze stele with the names of all their tribal chiefs engraved in copper. So it will be a surpriiiise!
Scott Powers: A pact with Dr Evil… to think that they trust you!
Dr Evil: But Scotty, they are still suffering from shock, because the Master of the World is rallying to their cause. Why do you think they would harbour doubts? They are just poor Africans! Their civilisations have been producing beings with primitive brains for centuries. Everybody knows that the Golden Age that Africa never stops longing for, will not come back for the simple reason that it has never existed11, as our pal Sarko says. To clinch the deal, it suffices to give them a good reason to wallow in self-satisfaction. You can’t trap flies with vinegar. Everything was amicably concluded. No war, no deaths, nor ravaged countries. You should be happy; I’ve spared lives.
Scott Powers: You really have an aversion to this continent.
Dr Evil: Not at all! I just don’t like the poor. And unfortunately there are only poor people here. A real ball and chain for the progress of the world.
Scott Powers: Is that why the family turns its back to the continent?
Dr Evil: That’s it! Flattering the ego of these social rejects while humiliating them at their expense. That is much more amusing! A monument to the African Renaissance that turns its back on its people––it has to be done. It’s a stroke of genius, I swear!
Scott Powers, under the haughty glance of Mr Bigglesworth, murmurs: They are going to be the laughing stock of the world.
Dr Evil: They already are, and have been for a very long time. This monument will restore them to their rightful place. The Dark Continent, stuck in obscurantism and darkness for ever. And to think that these blokes are convinced that this monument is going to inaugurate an era of prosperity for them! That admiring hordes are going to stream in from all four corners of the world to contemplate their assertion of glory, that they will build hotels to accommodate them, increase the production of trinkets to satisfy the tourists, create many jobs for the youth who will no longer have the time to set cars alight or to smoke joints. In that way, they will, as a side effect, rid themselves, at lesser expense, of social tensions. Everyone with a job. The people happy. The economy flourishing. They are convinced that money is going to flood in. That the whole world will admire and respect them.
Mini-Me, hand clenched around his pen, conscientiously draws a large exploded heart by way of conclusion to this beautiful fable.
Scott Powers: The youth …this little boy perched on his father’s arm seems to be held out as an offering to the West. This child, the future of Africa, is pointing towards the West!
Dr Evil: Yes, yes, yes. The child is saying hello to his brothers of the diaspora.
Scott Powers: It looks more like he is trying to flee to the West with his parents. Frankly, do you think this idea of El Dorado is still headline news?
Dr Evil: They will not be going anywhere. They are stuck fast in poverty, feet solidly set in blocks of lava for ever. As for hope, that is what keeps the poor going, as if on a drip. Hope, my dear Scotty, is the meagre fare of the poor and starving, who haven’t the energy to develop ideas and foment revolution. It’s what prevents the masses from involving themselves in real issues. I am Master of the World and this masterpiece is the incarnation of my power!
Scott Powers: Masterpiece!?! They will never be able to identify themselves with this thing.
De Denfer: They don’t have the choice. Their leader has been in ecstasy since he realised that this statue is the tallest in Africa. He nearly fainted when I told him that it was going to be in the Guinness Book of Records and that he, the guardian of the symbol of the African Renaissance, was going to become immortal. He wrote a magnificent ode to the African Renaissance12 that generations of black kids will recite in droning unison on every occasion. Plus a Foundation in his name to manage the monument, so that he will collect the royalties. You wouldn’t believe how single-mindedly he develops his ideas. He isn’t the leader for nothing! There will be a satellite broadcast of the inauguration of the monument with all the main Western nations in a video conference commenting on the symbolic significance and beauty of the monument. Free propaganda and international recognition!
Scott Powers: No-one will participate in the inauguration of that monstrosity!
Dr Evil: It’s not a monstrosity, it’s a diabolical project conceived by an exceptional being (me). Do you now take yourself for an art critic?
Scott Powers: Perhaps I belong to the “sub-culture” generation, as you put it, but this thing has nothing to do with popular culture. This is crude realism. You forget that they are masters of abstraction. They have transcended the figurative mode and inspired Western modern art.
Dr Evil: You don’t know what you’re talking about, Scotty! If they had invented a wire to cut butter, we would know all about it. You forget that the African hasn’t made his proper mark in history13. Didn’t you hear Sarkozy’s speech in Dakar? What have you been smoking, my boy? Your words are ridiculous. That makes me angry. And when Dr Evil gets angry, Mr Bigglesworth gets upset (meooow). And when Mr Bigglesworth gets upset, PEOPLE DIE!14
Outside, on La Mamelle, rows of little men with sunflower-yellow complexions are bustling around while cranes methodically stack up gigantic pieces of bronze. The monument is starting to take shape at last.
Scott Powers: What does the female figure have on her behind?
Dr Evil: That’s her little loincloth fluttering in the wind
Scott Powers: But that scrap of cloth bears no relation to their fashion industry, which is a very dynamic sector of the economy!
Dr Evil: Dynamic or not, they still live in the Stone Age on this continent. Through sheer compassion, the rest of the world allows them to believe the opposite.
Scott Powers: And her hair too, fluttering in the wind? Your “realism” bores me. Have you ever seen frizzy hair fluttering in the wind? For a more realistic coiffure, you could at least have taken inspiration from Angela Davis.
Dr Evil: But you are losing your head, Scotty! I wasn’t going to take a fanatical feminist as a model, after all!
Scott Powers: Well, the local feminists are going be thrilled. That female figure is walking two paces behind her husband.
Dr Evil: But that’s how it is in primitive societies! It’s always the man who is in charge and who takes decisions. Have you never seen a Tarzan film, or what?
Scott Powers: It’s more like being in a Soviet country. With the Iron Curtain as backdrop…
Dr Evil: Ah… At least things were clear in those days, with the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other, and so busy killing each other that I was able to take advantage of the situation by amassing a colossal fortune. The monuments of the Eastern bloc were able to impress the masses and keep them at bay. Formidable symbols!
Scott Powers: In fact, the aesthetics of Soviet socialist realism. A horror that echoes the concept of absolute centralised power, and freedom-destroying states. I thought that the third millennium had opened with a wave of democracy on this continent.
Dr Evil: But not at all! It’s just that the world is trying hard to convince itself of the contrary as an easy option. The Renaissance, “the return of Africa”, realised by a Romanian and fabricated by North Korea, you must admit that it’s comical! Oh, don’t pull such a face! You really have no sense of humour, none at all! Paris has its Eiffel Tower, so why shouldn’t these poor people be entitled to their African Renaissance?
Scott Powers: Well, honestly, you really are afraid of nothing. This monument is grotesque! This manifestation of the art of propaganda that is typical of the bloodiest of regimes?
Dr Evil: Oh, so you believe that these are little choir boys here? My brochure might have caused their leaders to shed a tear or two, but the lamentation of the peoples they tyrannize might well cause the oceans to overflow one day.
A muffled sound rings out over the Mamelles. The head of the colossus has just been attached to its body. On his platform the little yellowish man displays a little satisfied smile. The giant stopwatch shows 0:00:00. The operation was completed on time, as foreseen.
Scott Powers: They will still be able to ask some Christo to cover the monument while awaiting its demolition one day.
Dr Evil: They will do nothing with it. This monument can’t be budged and will last at least 1,200 years. So said the construction firm!
Suddenly a shrill whistle penetrates the command center. Mr Bigglesworth, arching his back, gives vent to blood-curdling meows. Petrified, Mini-Me, hand still clenched around his pen, falls face down on the metal floor of the room. Under the gaze of Dr Evil, Scott Powers and the little man with the sunflower complexion, Tata Justice Madiba15, indefatigable defender of the honour of Africa, has just burst through the clouds on a powerful MC-8016. His army, equipped with laser sabres and composed of the best specialists of symbolist art and the Good Taste Brigade, sends forth a flood of electric blue light that blinds the peninsula. The monument, created by the Machiavellian Dr Evil, implodes and dissolves in the atmosphere. The little yellow-faced workers run in all directions and then rush helter-skelter into the entrails of the ISD. The MC-80 hurls a last dazzling blue laser beam that propels the evil vessel to the far ends of the universe from where, on moonless nights, the enraged meowing of Mr Bigglesworth still reaches us. The sky clears. The lighthouse on the Mamelles once again caresses the shores of the Atlantic with its powerful white light, while the first chant of the muezzin rings out from the Mosque of the Divinity of Ouakam.
Thursday, 8 p.m. Since this morning I have been enveloped in a dark mood of gloom that even the bright spring sunshine can’t dissipate. Soviet socialist realism in the country of the School of Dakar! Soviet socialist realism in the country that is the praise singer of free market and trade17? I must be quite mad. I must be less heavy-handed with the chilli puree. It’s not only burning my insides. On the way to the airport, where I’m going to meet friends coming to visit the eighth edition of the Dakar Biennale of contemporary art, I cast an anxious glance at the Mamelles. The old lighthouse, symbol of hope, turned towards our trans-Atlantic cousins, its unchanging light directing the ships on moonless nights, is still on one of Les Mamelles. The other one is deserted, as always. It wasn’t a dream that I had. It was a nightmare. Nothing happened in Dakar, and nothing will happen. All is well. All is absolutely fine.
The monument to the African Renaissance was the brainchild of Abdoulaye Wade, the President of the Republic of Senegal. Situated in Dakar, the 53 m tall bronze monument was placed atop one of the 100-metre high Mamelles. Ousmane Sow, a Senegalese sculptor, made the first model, but President Wade finally selected the proposal of the Romanian sculptor Virgil Magherusan. The monument was built by the North Korean firm Mansudae Overseas Projects Group, which received by way of payment a 32-hectare plot of land on the coast near the Leopold Sedar Senghor airport. The company sold the land to a property developer and pocketed about 27 million dollars. The construction of the monument began in April 2008 and was inaugurated on 3 April 2010 in the presence of about 20 African heads of state, the African-American Reverend Jesse Jackson and a delegation of North Korean officials. The Senegalese Diplomatic Services contacted President Obama (USA) and President Sarkozy (France) but they declined the invitation to participate in the inauguration via satellite broadcast. Although the Senegalese State is responsible for all expenses related to the running costs, President Abdoulaye Wade, claiming to be the author of the African Renaissance monument, pockets 35% of the proceeds from the project via a foundation that carries his name.
2 Central character of Austin Powers, a series of three American action-comedy films.
3 The son of Dr Evil in the series Austin Powers.
4 Abdoulaye Wade: Un destin pour l'Afrique, Éditions Khartala, Paris, 1989. Cf also http://www.gouv.sn/spip.php?article872.
5 Ousmane Sow, Senegalese sculptor.
6 Virgil Magherusan, sculptor from Romania.
7 The wife of Dr Evil in the series Austin Powers.
8 The North Korean company Mansudae Overseas Projects Group was contracted by Abdoulaye Wade, President of the Republic of Senegal (2000–2012) to build the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar, Senegal.
9 Introduction of the official document issued by the Senegalese government, presenting the project.
10 The clone of Dr Evil in the series Austin Powers.
11 Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the Republic of France, in a speech at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, 26 July 2007.
12 Anthem of the African Renaissance, words and music: Abdoulaye Wade, ex-president of the Republic of Senegal (2000–2012). Musical arrangement: Commandant Fallou Wade.
Springing forth from our countryside
From our towns and suburbs
At the call of the homeland
Here comes Senegal!
Senegal! Senegal! (repeat)
Fighters for freedom
Senegal! Senegal! (repeat)
From the sea to the countryside
The savannah and the forest
At the call of Mother Africa
Here come the Africans!
Boys and girls
Workers and peasants
Let us rush to save Africa!
Here come the Africans!
Africans! Africans! (repeat)
Fighters for freedom
Africans! Africans! (repeat)
13 Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the Republic of France, in a speech at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, 26
14 Famous sentence by Dr Evil in the Austin Powers series (1997).
15 Tata (father) Madiba (Xhosa name). Familiar name of Nelson Mandela.
16 Mon-Calamari 80: War ship of the Jedis (the good guys in the Star Wars series).
17 Abdoulaye Wade, President of the Republic of Senegal from 2000 to 2012, is the founder and General Secretary of the Senegalese Democratic Party, a right wing party that promotes free market and trade.