We were hoping to see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Raul Castro, and Robert Mugabe frolicking together in the pool of the Meridien hotel.
But it was nearly sundown, too cool for a dip, by the time we got there and saddled up to the tiki bar.
“We have thirty presidents in the hotel tonight,” our waitress said as she handed us our drinks. “That is why security is tight,” she added, pointing out the soldiers sprinkled around the hotel grounds and strolling the beach out front.
It was big weekend in Senegal, one in which roads were blocked off by men with machine guns, military ships cruised the normally quiet coast, helicopters buzzed overhead, and Dakar’s premier hotel was booked solid by some world class pariahs and their delegations.
The occasion: Senegal’s 50th anniversary since independence from French rule…and more importantly perhaps, the official inauguration of the African Renaissance monument, a bronze statue of a family unit looming taller than the statue of Liberty over Dakar.
Senegal’s 83-year-old president, Abdoulaye Wade, hired North Korean labourers to build the monument as an ode to Africa’s progress since the colonial era, brushing aside criticism that the project was a huge waste of money in an impoverished country suffering from crumbling infrastructure.
A local imam put the final touch on public outrage on the eve of the inauguration by declaring a fatwa on the statue. He declared it idolatrous, but he may also have found the woman’s super-mini loin cloth and skimpy blouse an odd portrayal of progress in a predominantly Muslim country.
“It brings to life our common destiny,” Wade said of the monument during the inauguration the next day. “Africa has arrived in the 21st century standing tall and more ready than ever to take its destiny into its hands.”
As it turned out, there was no Ahmadinejad or Castro in the crowd during the inauguration ceremony. But Mugabe – a man many blame for rapidly destroying Zimbabwe’s ability to feed itself -- was there listening intently.
So was Gambia’s firebrand leader Yahya Jammeh, who for a while said he had an herbal cure for AIDS, has repeatedly jailed high level members of his defense forces, and who has threatened to kill local human rights activists.
Laurent Gbagbo, the ever-enduring president of Ivory Coast was also there, taking a break from arduously prepping for elections in his civil war-scarred country that are now about five years delayed, much to the consternation of voters and the international community.
“I don’t worry about these things. I just want to work and be happy,” said Monique, our nanny. “For me, the real problem will be if they block the road when I try to get home.”
Another problem could be when they check out of the Meridien. No one expects them to pay a cent.