Towering in the middle of a traffic circle in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a roughly 25-foot tall statue of a bald headed, dour looking, Laurent Kabila, the former despotic leader of the DRCongo. With his finger raised to the sky, a small a book grasped in his left hand, and dressed in pleated military slacks and button up, the statue has a familiar air to it.
The statue was built by a group of North Koreans artisans who work abroad as the Mansudae Overseas Project, and is among dozens of monuments the North Koreans have built throughout Africa. Ironically while North Korea’s economy and people suffer, masked by a massive government propaganda campaign, government propaganda itself has become one of North Koreas most successful exports. This is in part because the Mansudae Overseas Project provide monuments and museums for dictators and despots at bargain basement prices. But the cheap prices also come with cut corners.
In this case of the Laurent Kabila statue, built by his son and current ruler of the DRC, the familiarity of Kabila to North Korean monuments may be further than stylistic. According to locals, the body on the Kabila statue belongs not to Kabila himself but to Kim Jong Il. The only modification was welding a bald and grumpy Kabila head on top. While there is no definitive proof of this - in part because there are currently only a few public statues of Kim Jong Il - it wouldn’t be the first time the Mansudae Overseas Project had been called out by one of their despotic clients for taking the easy route.
The group, having been trained to specifically to produce state approved images of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong Il has had trouble creating realistic looking African faces, a problem that arose in both Mali and Senegal. The first version of Senegal’s massive African Renaissance Monument had to have their heads redesigned. “It had to have African heads, not Asian!”said Mr. Wade the 83 year old former Senegalese president who commissioned the massive statue.
Despite the difficulties, the North Korean Mansudae Overseas Project is still the go to source for giant monuments of African dictators, and despite the Asiatic faces and suspiciously Kim Jong Il shaped bodies, they will likely continue to produce massive statues of corrupt leaders across the continent.