African Renaissance statue in Dakar angers locals

Apparently, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has commissioned a 160-ft high bronze statue commemorating the “African Renaissance.”

The statue, “shows a muscular man in a heroic posture, outstretched arms wrapped around his wife and child, who is balanced on one of his biceps,” reports the Associated Press. Plus, the entire group is coming out of a volcano. (Last I checked there weren’t any volcanos anywhere close to Senegal.)

Senegalese media reports that the statue will be dedicated in a grandiose ceremony on December 12, 2009, with various African leaders and Brazilian President Lula Ignacio da Silva in attendance.

There’s also apparently a poetry contest, too, on the theme of “African Renaissance,” open to “all of Africa and its diaspora”.

Poems can be written in any of the continents three major languages: French, English or Arabic. The first three winners in each language will receive a prize of one, two and three million CFA, respectively. That’s about $2,200, $4,400 and $6,600.

You can compete by sending your entry to:

Ministère de la Culture et de la Francophonie
Building administratif, 3ème étage
BP : 4001 Dakar

Or email:

Deadline: Friday, October 23, 2009, 16h00 GMT

The AP adds that the statue costs $27 million to build (the President insists entirely through private donations).

If all of that wasn’t weird enough, here’s where it gets really weird:

– President Wade, according to the AP: “[maintains] he is entitled to 35 percent of any tourist revenues it generates because he owns “intellectual rights” for conceiving the idea, with the rest to go to the government.”

– AP adds: “Nearly 50 North Korean workers from the state-run Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang were brought in to build the statue because of their expertise with bronze art, and some Senegalese have complained of its communist-era design.”

Huh? WTF?

In other North Korea news, the DPRK soccer team, which qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1966, will be training and playing exhibition games in Nantes, France from Oct. 5-15.

AFP reports: “[North Korea] will take on second division side Nantes at La Roche-sur-Yon on October 9 and the Congo national team on October 13 at Le Mans.

The date for a third game, probably against a French footballer’s union side, is being arranged.”

And finally, China is getting deeper in Senegalese affairs: “We can say that China has done more for Senegal in four years than what the Western countries have for her in 10 or 20 years,” the Chinese ambassador to Senegal, Lu Shaye, said on Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

I’m speaking at the Engineers Without Borders Conference in Milwaukee (March 27-28, 2009)

A few weeks ago I was contacted out of the blue by an old UW-Madison professor, James Delahanty. As the academic advisor to my group (and current groups) of Madison students studying in Senegal, he was our stateside pointman for those of us trying to navigate our experience abroad. (I also slept on the floor of his Dakar hotel room in January 2007.)

Jim recommended me to the UW-Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders, who was looking for someone to come to the upcoming EWB International Conference in Milwaukee to speak about issues relating to technology transfer in Africa.

A few emails later, I’m proud to announce that I will be speaking Friday and Saturday, March 27-28 2009.

A continent, not a crisis” : How to leverage information technology in Africa effectively.
Cyrus Farivar, Technology Journalist

For decades, and arguably centuries, there has been a concerted effort by countries in the global North to assist countries in the global South, especially sub-Saharan Africa. In recent decades, this has meant computers, and more recently, the Internet. After all, if only more Africans had access to the Internet, then they could cheaply and easily gain the information that they require to better themselves and improve their own situations. But if the Web was invented two decades ago, why is only a tiny percentage of Africa online? What attempts have been engineered to fix this problem? Which have been most successful? To answer these questions, Cyrus Farivar will draw upon his years of experience as a technology reporter and time spent living in Senegal on a UW-Madison study abroad program (2002-2003) to discuss his theories.

I’ll be touching on many projects that I’ve been reporting on for the last few years, including the Digital Solidarity Fund, OLPC, Inveneo, Manobi, M-Pesa, and the upcoming Txteagle.

The title of my talk comes from a blog post by one of my favorite thinkers on all things African and technological, Ethan Zuckerman.

I will also be speaking on the UW-Madison campus on Thursday, March 26. Details TBA.

If any readers are going to be in attendance at the Madison talk or the Milwaukee conference, please let me know!

ITU’s new data: “Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2008”

I’ve just flipped through the International Telecommunications Union recently released executive summary of their Telecom Reform 2008 report. The ITU says that there are now 1.5 billion Internet users worldwide, and 4 billion mobile phone users.

Oh, and then there’s also this:

ITU’s Internet and broadband data suggest that more and more countries are going high-speed. By the end of 2007, more than 50 per cent of all Internet subscribers had a high-speed connection. Dial-up is being replaced by broadband across developed and developing countries alike. In developing countries such as Chile, Senegal, and Turkey, broadband subscribers represent over 90 per cent of all Internet subscribers.

NYT: Shadows Grow Across One of Africa’s Bright Lights


DAKAR, Senegal — From the air, this sprawling city looks like a metropolis on the move, a buzzing quadrilateral jutting into the Atlantic. Cars speed along a supple, newly reconstructed four-lane highway that hugs the rugged coastline. Cranes dot the seaside, building luxury hotels and conference centers, as investors from Dubai revamp the city’s port, hoping to transform it into a high-tech regional hub.

But on the ground the picture shifts. Jobless young men line the new highways, trying to scratch out a living by selling phone cards, cashews and Chinese-made calculators to passers-by. The port is full of imported food that is increasingly out of reach for most Senegalese.

Dakar will soon have a glut of five-star hotel rooms, but rising rents have pushed the city’s poor and even middle-class residents into filthy, flood-prone slums. Shortages of fuel mean daily blackouts.

It is hard to escape a sense of malaise that has settled over Senegal, one of Africa’s most stable and admired countries, a miasma of political, economic and social problems as unmistakable as the fine dust that blows in from the Sahara every winter, blotting out the sun with an ashy haze.

This month the sense of crisis reached a head, when a coalition of political and civic groups began a national conference to reassess the country’s direction. The government, seeing it as a provocation, refused to participate.

All of which raises the question: If hardship and tension are vexing Senegal — a former French colony that has never known a coup d’état or military rule, and for 48 years has been one of the most stable, peaceful and enduring democracies in a region so long beset by tyranny and strife — what could that mean for its more troubled neighbors?

This question has become all the more pressing with the implosion of Kenya, once East Africa’s oasis, into ethnically driven electoral violence earlier this year, and South Africa’s recent descent into anti-immigrant rage.

Senegal’s chattering class is increasingly worried that the country’s long run of relatively good luck could also run out.

“After years of sunshine, we have so many clouds gathering over us in Senegal,” said Abdoulaye Bathily, secretary general of Senegal’s Movement for the Labor Party, one of the parties that joined with President Abdoulaye Wade’s coalition in 2000 but have since broken with him. “We are lost, adrift. And if we can’t make it, what country can?”

A Senegalese in Estonia

Folks who know me will undoubtedly know that Senegal and Estonia are two of my favorite countries. (Heck, they comprise two of the four countries in my book.)

So, you bet my interest was piqued when I read that Doudou Diène, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, just authored a study on racism in Estonia. I’m guessing that he just might be the only Senegalese person in recent memory to set foot on Estonian soil.

I’m not sure that I understand all the issues here, but Justin, over at Itching for Eestimaa, my source for all things Estonian, has a post about it.

In addition, apparently Diène has just arrived Stateside to do a similar study about us.

Cyrus on Global Voices

Hamid Tehrani of Global Voices conducted an email interview with me about my forthcoming book, tentatively titled The Internet of Elsewhere.

Cyrus Farivar is a USA-based blogger, journalist and writer. He is currently working on a book about the impact of the internet on society. Cyrus writes about internet impact on Iran, Senegal, South Korea and Senegal. He was recently in Iran and has taken several photos of Iranian carpets, food, buildings and nature too.

Q: You visited Iran recently after many years. Was it a cultural shock? Was there any difference between what you imagined, and what you came to know about Iran in reality?

A: Iran wasn’t a culture shock at all. It was pretty much what I expected, culturally. I did grow up in a half-Iranian family in California, after all. Iranians are terribly hospitable people and always want to be helpful and welcoming to family members like me who have never been to Iran.

Q: You are writing a book on the Internet and its impact on society. One fourth of your book is about Iran. Can you explain this project?

A: I am writing a book about the history and effects of the Internet in four countries around the world, including Estonia, Iran, Senegal and South Korea. It explores how the political and economic histories of these countries intersect with the arrival of the Internet in their countries. It will be published by Rutgers University Press (USA) in Fall/Winter 2009.

You can read the rest here.

NYT: Europe Takes Africa’s Fish, and Boatloads of Migrants Follow


In Mauritania, lobsters vanished years ago. The catch of octopus — now the most valuable species — is four-fifths of what it should be if it were not overexploited. A 2002 report by the European Commission found that the most marketable fish species off the coast of Senegal were close to collapse — essentially sliding toward extinction.

“The sea is being emptied,” said Moctar Ba, a consultant who once led scientific research programs for Mauritania and West Africa.

In a region where at least 200,000 people depend on the sea for their livelihoods, local investments in fishing industries are drying up with the fish stocks. In Guinea-Bissau, fishermen who were buying more boats less than a decade ago now complain they are in debt and looking to get out of the business.

“Before, my whole family could live on what we caught in one pirogue,” said Niadye Diouf, 28, whose Senegalese family sold their pirogue for $500 to pay for an illegal — and ultimately unsuccessful — voyage to Spain. “Now even five pirogues would not be enough.”

Fishermen like Mr. Diouf argue that Africans should have first priority in their own waters — an idea enshrined in a 1994 United Nations treaty on the seas that acknowledges the right of local governments to sell foreigners fishing rights only to their surplus stocks.

But that rule has been repeatedly violated along northwest Africa’s nearly 2,000-mile coast.

Studies dating to 1991 indicated that Senegal’s fishery was in trouble. In 2002, a scientific report commissioned by the European Union stated that the biomass of important species had declined by three-fourths in 15 years — a finding the authors said should “cause significant alarm.”

But the week the report was issued, European Union officials signed a new four-year fishing deal with Senegal, agreeing to pay $16 million a year to fish for bottom-dwelling species and tuna.

U.S. To Woo Africans With Naval Diplomacy


DAKAR (Reuters) – As it steams down the West African coast, the USS Fort McHenry faces one of its toughest battles: to convince skeptical Africans their continent can benefit from more U.S. military involvement.

The 600-foot (185-metre) ship, which saw combat in the first Gulf War, is embarking on a six-month mission to train West African navies to fight drug smuggling and maritime security threats in a region which supplies nearly a fifth of U.S. oil imports, rivaling the Middle East.

Once a rarity, U.S. warships will become a familiar sight in the Gulf of Guinea under the new African Partnership Station (APS) scheme launched last week. Washington will maintain a constant naval presence in the strategically important region, providing training and humanitarian aid.

“In the past, we have been guilty of what some would call episodic engagement,” said Captain John Nowell, head of U.S. navy operations in Africa, on the Fort McHenry’s towering bridge. “Now, the idea behind the Africa Partnership Station is that it is a persistent presence.”

“It’s not only about maritime security and safety but also building relationships and partnerships,” he said.

Foreign Policy agrees, Dakar airport is worst worldwide

Ask a Pilot said it first, and FP confirms:

Why it’s so bad: Because it’s standing room only. As a regional hub, an ordeal at Senghor is often unavoidable for travelers to West Africa. Once you’re in the terminal, don’t plan on relaxing: There are no seats, and guards will advise you to stop loitering if you hang around in one spot too long. Immigration lines can take up to three hours. And in any event, it’s best to keep moving since you can expect to be surrounded by vendors selling counterfeit goods and unofficial “porters” who will pressure you into hiring their services if you happen to come to a standstill. But the good news is that help may be on the way. The Senegalese government has begun construction on a new airport set to open in 2010, which will double the country’s air passenger capacity. No word yet on whether the new terminal will actually have chairs.

Salon’s “Ask A Pilot” proclaims Dakar airport to be the worst in the world!

This is all too true:

There are people all around, but few of them are passengers. They are touts, hawkers, vagrants, drifters, thieves — a melee of dubiously intended hangers-around, each of them eyeing you with the stubborn, languid glare of a vulture. Set against a back wall, the sole ATM is flanked by armed guards, whose duties are particularly effortless, since the machine doesn’t work.

There is nowhere to sit, no seats. Which really is all right because the worst thing you can do is cease moving. The approximately 5-to-1 scoundrel-to-passenger ratio ensures you’ll never remain unmolested for more than a few seconds. The moment you stop, somebody is hovering over your shoulder, mumbling incoherently. Brush him away, and he is instantly replaced by a man asking if you’d like to buy a plastic watch or a counterfeit phone card. Well, “asking” isn’t quite the right word. His demeanor suggests you are required to buy a watch or a phone card. Resistance is futile, and in the honored tradition of third-world hustlers, he is a man of many trades. Do you need any souvenir trinkets? Do you need to exchange currency? Do you need a hotel room; it’s just up the road and his “cousin” is the “owner”? No? OK, then maybe you’re the giving sort and would be generous enough to simply hand over some money, along with a few of your clothes? You know, a gift, a small cadeau — to invoke that ubiquitous, reckless plea that floats about French-speaking Africa like a desperate wail. Your sneakers … what are those, New Balance? “Yes, you can give me those please, thank you. I can have your sneakers now. Cadeau? Cadeau?”

Avoid eye contact. Keep walking.

[Hat tip: Giselle]

In other Africa-related news, I had a German beer at this new African restaurant in Tallinn, “African Kitchen“. And no, I didn’t spot a single African in the place, Estonian-African or otherwise.

I’m willing to bet that this is the only African restaurant in the entire world that:

– has cocktails named after African countries, including poor and Muslim (ie, non-imbibing) ones like, say, Somalia.

– doesn’t sell a single African beer. Oh wait, there’s that “exotic” Mongozo Banana beer — turns out it’s from Belgium.

– advertises the services of its on-site sauna on the menu!