For Autocrats In Need Of Statues, North Korea Is No Longer An Option

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Women walk past the African Renaissance Monument near Dakar, Senegal, in 2009, shortly before it was finished by North Korean workers. Critics complained about the $27 million cost.

As expected, the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday imposed additional sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program. But the fine print included one punitive measure that caused some head-scratching: a ban on the export of monuments.

Is there really an international market for monuments made in North Korea?

And who's buying them?

Well, yes, there is a market. And some of the most avid customers are African nations and rulers.

Security Council Resolution 2321 was in response to North Korea's nuclear test on Sept. 9 and is aimed mostly at blocking the country's leading export, coal, which goes mostly to neighboring China. The new sanctions are expected to reduce North Korea's coal exports by some $700 million a year, according to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. That hard currency is used to develop its nuclear program, she said.

Aside from mining, North Korea doesn't have much to sell abroad. But it has carved out a niche as a world leader in larger-than-life, bronzed propaganda.

"We have banned the export of monuments," Power said in a statement. She went on:

"Now, you might ask why on earth would we ban the export of monuments. Well it turns out that such exports – like a statue of [former Democratic Republic of Congo leader] Laurent Kabila standing in Kinshasa today, two statues that [Zimbabwe's President] Robert Mugabe paid $5 million to be stood up in Zimbabwe upon his passing, or countless others found around the world – generate tens of millions of dollars for the regime."

North Korea has an entire factory, known as the Mansudae Art Studio, in the capital, Pyongyang, dedicated to making monuments, murals and tapestries. The 4,000 workers keep busy by generating works for domestic consumption, as seen on the streets of Pyongyang. But there's also a lucrative export business.

"The export of this bold, direct, firmly authoritarian style began in the early 1980s as a diplomatic gift to socialist or non-aligned countries from their North Korean brothers," the BBC reported in February. "More recently it's become a valuable source of hard currency, with artists and craftsmen ... working in Angola, Benin, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Togo."

The monuments have received mixed reviews.

At the 2010 unveiling of the African Renaissance Monument, outside Dakar, Senegal, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest against then-president Abdoulaye Wade and "all the failures of Wade's regime, the least of which is this horrible statue."

Government opponents complained about the $27 million cost of the 160-foot-tall monument and said the man, woman and child featured did not look African. Many Senegalese told NPR at the time that the partially unclothed adult figures contravened Islamic custom.

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