- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 15, 2010

In April, the president of the poverty-stricken nation of Senegal unveiled what he boasts is the world’s “highest statue” — a $24 million bronze artwork called “African Renaissance” that measures slightly taller than the Statue of Liberty.

Next month, a U.S. government aid agency is scheduled to begin delivery of $540 million in taxpayer money under a program that rewards developing countries with emerging democracies and a track record of good governance.

Critics, including some members of Congress, say the aid should be reconsidered.

Senegal’s ‘good governance’ cash was a mistake,” said Rep. Ed Royce, a California Republican who for eight years served as chairman of the Africa and global health subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The aid, meant to help reduce global poverty by stimulating economic growth, is being delivered through the Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC), a Bush administration initiative set up in 2004 after receiving bipartisan support in Congress. The Obama administration has sought increased funding for the MCC.

The MCC is scheduled to formally put its compact with Senegal into effect next month, committing the $540 million over five years to help farmers increase their productivity by improving the irrigation system and rehabilitating roads to help get products to market.

The agency has signed multiyear “compacts,” or agreements, with 20 countries to provide $7.2 billion in U.S. aid to reduce poverty through similar projects. The countries are selected based on 17 outside performance indicators. The most important is control of corruption.

Like several other countries, Senegal passed the initial corruption indicators only to have reports of corruption continue to surface.

Many critics have singled out the statue, a depiction of three figures: a man holding a child aloft and a woman behind them. The statue is located on a hill in the capital, Dakar — on the westernmost tip of the African continent — and is meant to mark Senegal’s 50 years of independence from France.

Containing conference rooms and a terrace, the monument also has an elevator that takes visitors to an observation deck atop the man’s head.

Despite President Abdoulaye Wade’s claims, the statue is not the tallest in the world. China’s Spring Temple Buddha, which stands almost 420 feet, is generally agreed to be the tallest statue in the world. The height of African Renaissance is said to be 164 feet. The Statue of Liberty stands at 151 feet.

African Renaissance was built by a North Korean firm, which received its payment from Mr. Wade in the form of a prime piece of state-owned land, which it reportedly resold for a profit.

A third of admission and concession fees from the attraction are to be diverted to a charitable foundation devoted to early childhood education created and controlled by Mr. Wade, who has said his personal foundation is entitled to the fees generated by the state-financed monument because he was the one who conceived it.

Price estimates for the monument vary from the $24 million Mr. Wade said to as high as $70 million.

Mr. Royce called the expenditure “infuriating.”

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