• Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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BAL and many charms of Dakar

BAL and many charms of Dakar

Since the National Basketball Association (NBA) Africa began Basketball Africa League (BAL), an initiative aimed at promoting basketball talent across the continent of Africa in 2021, it is unbelievable that in only three years, BAL has generated such excitement in club basketball games in Africa bringing together African talents fused with professional players, coaches, administrators and umpires in America and elsewhere.

The third season of the BAL tipped-off with the Sahara Conference in Dakar, Senegal from March 11-21, 2023, with five of the six teams contesting until the very last day of the games in order to clinch the four available slots for the BAL playoff finals scheduled for Kigali, Rwanda between May 21 and 27 this year.

On the last day of the Sahara Conference before the final round of games, BAL defending champions, US Monastir of Tunisia sat at the top of the table after winning three games from a possible four, but eventually fell off the playoff finals qualification radar after losing the last game to the home team, AS Douanes of Senegal in a thrilling, action-packed game at the 15,000 capacity Dakar Arena.

In the end, ABC Fighters of Cote D’Ivoire, Stade Malien of Mali, REG of Rwanda and AS Douanes clinched the four playoff finals tickets while US Monastir and Nigeria’s Kwara Falcons who lost all their five games as BAL debutants failed to progress.

Away from the courtside, Dakar is a charming city with varieties of enchanting experiences for the discerning traveller. Arriving Dakar’s Blaise Diagne International Airport for the first time via Asky Airlines connecting via Lome, the airport which was officially opened in December 2017 looks modern and welcoming, but with a free WIFI that is not working. I visited a few attractions in Dakar that reminds me of the resilience of Africa and Africans and of course, the need for unity of purpose to build a better continent for all.

Did you know there were then 20 sitting African Presidents at the commissioning of African Renaissance Monument in 2010 in Dakar? It is the tallest statue in Africa and the second tallest in the world weighing a total of 70 tons, 52 meters high excluding the concrete base atop a hill in Oukam area of Dakar.

The statue, a man holding his wife by the waist and carrying their child skywards on his biceps is a reminder of the trajectory of Africa, perhaps with a supposedly clear resolve to march into the 21st century determined to succeed.

Touring the African Renaissance Monument including the museum which houses important artefacts from across Africa, I quiet reflected on the speech of the then Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade who said during the commissioning, “this brings to life our common destiny. Africa has arrived in the 21st century standing tall and more ready than ever to take its destiny into its hands.”

If you visited Dakar without experiencing Goree Island, a small island off the coast of Dakar which played significant role in the 15th to 19th century Atlantic slave trade, you missed a great deal of history. From the Dakar harbour, tourists frequent Goree Island almost on an hourly basis via water transportation.

Goree Island, car and motorcycle-free island now inhabited by about 1,800 people houses the slave museum which tells the story of how African slaves were kept and eventually transported to many parts of Europe and America. The Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978 is now a sanctuary for African arts, history, food and tourists haven.

I stood there by the door-of-no-return, a final point before slaves were moved into the ship, gazing at the seemingly pristine waters while the imaginations of the slave trade runs through my mind, but most importantly, I asked myself a rhetorical question, Why is Africa still divisive despite this and many more painful histories?

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Still on the history of Africa, I visited the new Museum of Black Civilisations located in central Dakar. Opened in December 2018, the museum is not only a grand architectural masterpiece, it is listed by Time Magazine as one of the World’s Greatest Places. It is designed to hold about 18,000 artworks majority of which were looted to many parts of Europe during the colonial era.

While it is estimated that up to 95 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage is locked up in various museums outside Africa, particularly in Europe with France alone holding about 90,000 African artefacts in its museums, the Museum of Black Civilisations showcases African heritage including Benin bronze from Nigeria, Bamoun statue from Cameroun, Bambara masks from Mali and contemporary diaspora contributions ranging from paintings from Haitian-born artist, Philippe Dodard and a towering 22-ton, 18-meter metallic baobab tree welcoming guests into the museum created by another Haitian artist, Edouard Duval-Carrie.

I was particularly amused by the “skin-bleaching products” showcase of Cuban artist, Juan Benito inside the museum. It is a stark reminder of the unhealthy artificial whitening of the skin that I have seen prevalent among African women and men on the streets of Lagos, Abidjan and Dakar.