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The “African Renaissance” statue during its construction in August 2009. (via Wikipedia)

On April 3, the West African nation of Senegal officially inaugurated one of the strangest statues in the history of Africa. Costing $28 million and built by North Korean labourers, the 160-foot “African Renaissance” statue is made of copper and has been embroiled in controversy since it was announced in 2006.

Designed by Senegalese architect Pierre Goudiaby and promoted as a money-generating tourist attraction, the monument continues to be a sore point in a country struggling with high unemployment and chronic economic problems.

New Tang Dynasty Television reported that the inauguration ceremony was attended by about 30 African and other heads of state, though The Scotsman reported only a dozen heads of state attended the event, including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo. According to NewsOne and allAfrica.com, the event was also going to be attended by Senegalese-American rapper Akon, US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, and Dr. Julius W. Garvey, son of African American nationalist leader Marcus Garvey.

During the ceremony, Senegalese President Aboulaye Wade said he hoped the statue would be a symbol of African unity and declared:

Five centuries of ordeals and human tragedy, and yet Africa has arrived in the 21st century standing tall and more ready than ever to take its destiny into its hands.

But the controversy continues … one imam in the mainly Muslim nation issued a fatwa on Friday condemning the statue as idolatrous for showing a woman’s bare leg and last year many in Senegal’s Christian community were offended when the president likening the statue to Christ. President Wade has since apologized to the country’s Christian minority for the comparison.

According to BBC, what has shocked most people in Senegal is President Wade’s plan to charge visitors to the monument and pocket 35% of the income for himself. “The president says he helped design the statue, so he should share some of the revenue,” explains BBC’s Caspar Leighton.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.