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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 16:28 GMT
Mali's monumental folly?
Bamako street scene
Bamako is short of sanitation, power and drinking water
By Joan Baxter in Bamako

The Malian capital, Bamako, may be a little short on many basic amenities but the government of President Alpha Oumar Konare has spared no efforts to ensure that the city is not lacking in one thing - monuments.

Some less discerning members of the public have suggested that it more closely resembles a part of the male anatomy best not displayed in public

Almost every roundabout in Bamako is endowed with some kind of statue, and in the past few years, one new monument after another has been unveiled, to celebrate everything from a peace accord with Tuareg rebels, to Ghana's first president, the pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah.

But with teachers and students in Mali on strike because the government says it cannot afford their demands, it may not have been the best time to unveil $20m worth of new monuments.

Towering sight

The Ministry of Culture claims the two newest additions to Bamako's startling array of monuments are "impressive" and "useful".

Impressive, certainly.

One, the Tower of Africa, stands 46m high, rising above the smog over the OAU boulevard that leads south out of the city.

This tower of African Unity - constructed by a Chinese firm - houses an elevator and cost the Malian state just over $10m.

But according to Yacouba Berthe, the newly appointed director of the tower, it is worth it.

Malian girl
Malians cannot eat monuments
He believes the Tower of Africa will "reactivate African unity" and "serve as an observatory on pan-Africanism".

He says it is meant to be a giant baobab, with its tall, cylindrical shape and bulbous swelling at the top, although some less discerning members of the public have suggested that it more closely resembles a part of the male anatomy best not displayed in public.

But the government of President Konare does not seem the least bothered by such petty critics, or those who fail to see the symbolic importance of these concrete masterpieces.

The other new monument is called the Pyramid of Martyrs. It overlooks the River Niger at the spot where several hundred Malian students were shot down in 1991, sparking the coup that ushered in democracy.

Like the tower, the pyramid also has a full-time director, who maintains that this structure will "enhance the development of a democratic culture" in Mali.

"That may be," quipped one elderly villager, "But what are we supposed to eat? We can't eat monuments."

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See also:

18 Feb 00 | Africa
Mali's National Complaints Day
02 Mar 00 | Crossing Continents
Cutting out a tradition in Mali
10 Mar 00 | Africa
Mali pioneers river co-operation
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