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In the period that it would have boycotted North Korea, Botswana better not be thinking of building spectacularly large and cheap monuments the size of Morupule B Power boilers.
The Three Dikgosi Monument, the grandest of them all in Botswana, was built by Mansudae Overseas Projects, a company owned by the North Korean government and inaugurated in September 2005 by then president, Festus Mogae. The project cost P10.5 million: P7.5 million for the design, moulding and casting of the bronze statues and P3 million for the civil works.
Around this time the “northness” of the Korea that built the imposing bronze statues of the three Batswana dikgosi was not emphasised. As a matter of fact, some media reports say that Mansudae was from South Korea. Late last month, Botswana cut diplomatic and consular relations with North Korea in light of “human rights violations” by the latter. Botswana has also stated that the Asian country is a threat to international peace and security.
Although some local artists were unhappy about the Three Dikgosi Monument job going to a foreign country, there was clearly no local capacity to handle a project of this magnitude. The largest art production factory in the world, Mansudae employs roughly 4000 North Koreans, including some 1 000 artists, handpicked from the country’s best academies. Monuments being a big thing in Africa, Mansudae has done work for countries like Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Senegal.
In the latter, it built the African Renaissance Monument, which at 50 metres, stands taller than the Statue of Liberty and Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. Next door in Namibia, it has built a military museum, an independence museum, the Heroes Acre Monument, and the presidential palace. The company is currently working on a 30-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe worth about US$3.5 million and a smaller one worth $1.5 million.
Although some clients have reportedly complained about Mansudae turning out artwork that resembles North Korean leaders like Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the workmanship of its workers (as evidenced by the Three Dikgosi Monument) is beyond reproach.
In the case of this project, Mansudae sent its workers to Gaborone to do construction on-site. When they were done with the monument, some of those workers imparted their skills to local sculptors in a workshop that was facilitated and sponsored by the Botswana National Museum.
What is interesting is that around this time, the North Korean leader was Kim Jong Il whose rule was characterised by gross human rights violations - at least by accounts that western powers fed the international community. Judging the recruitment of scarce-skill employees to be too expensive and protracted, Kim Jong Il would allegedly kidnap such personnel from neighbouring countries, namely Japan and South Korea.