Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bullshit Building 5: Yamoussoukro Basilica

After reviewing bullshit buildings in Europe and Asia, times to move to another continent: Africa! Not to be outdone by the Europeans & Asians, some dictator from this continent also decided to construct their own vanity project. One example is Félix Houphouet Boigny from Cote D'Ivoire/ Ivory Coast.

One other thing: unlike those godless communist buildings like the "Palace of the Soviets" or the "New South China Mall," this one is one serious holy shit!

The Beginning 
Houphouet Boigny
Unlike many other African countries who decided to join the "Socialist Poor countries club," Ivory Coast chose another method. From its independence (1960) until the 1980, Boigny used the French model: instead of nationalizing everything, the state supported local business.

Kwame Nkrumah from Ghana disagree with this method and challenge Boigny to a bet: whose country would be richer in the 1970s, 10 years after the independence. Nkrumah lost. Badly. Like all socialist countries, Ghana experienced total economic collapse, and Nkrumah was kicked out of power. On the other hand, Cote D'Ivore prospered under Boigny. This is unusual for an African country, what was Boigny's recipe?

Unfortunately, his recipe was not "sustainable." Boigny invited immigrants from other country, e.g.: Burkina Faso, to cultivate cocoa and coffee. They were heavily taxed to finance the extravagant salary and facility of the locals who worked as civil servants. This taxation was masked as a price guarantee scheme. This worked great until the 1980s, when the world price of cocoa and coffee fell, while the price of Cote D'Ivore chief import (oil) soared. Suddenly, the immigrants were subsidized! Oops , Boigny forgot to anticipate this when he designed his empire  ...

The deficit devastated Cote D'Ivore economy. Many locals lost their government job, they have to live from the land, but remember, all fertile land were already used by the immigrants! The locals were pissed by Boigny and the immigrants. The resentment was exacerbated by religious difference. Most of the immigrants, and the Northern part of the country are mostly Muslims, while the Southern Part are mostly Christians. This is a typical recipe for a large scale religious conflict. Boigny knew this, in order to unite the country, he need a symbol. A big symbol. A very biiiigg symbol. Somehow Boigny thought that a colossal Catholic basilica could unite the country. Seriously? Yup, I am serious, he built the largest church in the world to unify his religiously divided country. What a genius!

The Design
First he had to choose the location of the church. He chose the village where he was born as its location, Yamoussoukro. Never mind the fact that Yamoussokro only a small agricultural village, Boigny was determined to make it the symbol of unification! Just check the picture on the right to see the contrast between the finished Basilica and its surrounding.

He even build a new airport nearby. This airport is very special, because it is one of two airports in Africa that is long enough to have a Concorde super sonic airplane.

Not only a new airport, Boigny also dug an artificial lake to enhance the charisma of this basilica, complete with crocodiles. Yup, you read it correctly: crocodiles, the amphibian fierce reptile with sharp teeth and appetite for carrion!  Boigny thought that the crocodiles would show everyone that he had some kind of mystical power over his country. Rumors about how he fed albino people to the crocodiles were common among the locals.

Like I already said before: LOCATION is the most important thing in real estate business. Boigny definitely thought that the location of unification symbol has to be in his own village, symbolizing his absolute power over the whole country. This will bite the country back so hard. I'll talk more about it later, for now let's see the basilica itself.

Source: University of Dayton
On the left is the comparison of the Basilica with the St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Yup, it's that big. Told ya that this is the largest church in da world. And this is just the size. The interior is also majestic. Luxurious Italian marbles and glass-works were used as the floors and windows. Oh yeah, even the courtyard floor is made from marble. And Boigny even had the nerve to portrait himself with Jesus in one of the stained-glass window. I heard this is common among Cathedral builders. Despite of that, in my opinion, trying to elevate your position into a physical closeness with Christ who lived several millenniums before you is still bullshit. 

Of course the hot air of Yamoussoukro could become problem. That's why Boigny equipped the basilica with air conditioner! We have to make sure that we don't sweat in front of God, right?

In the end, it cost 300 million Dollars to build this Basilica, not counting the airport and the artificial lake.

One last fact: although it was larger than the Vatican, it could contain less people. Only 18.000 worshipers could worship at the same time here, 7000 inside, 11.000 on the field. St. Peter's Basilica could contain 60.000 worshipers at the same time.

 The Construction
 Maybe you recall "You said in the beginning that Cote D'Ivore experienced economic problems, so  how the holy hell Boigny financed this bullshit building?" the answer is: with western money!! The financial aid from the western donors was used to build this, instead of to finance the diversification of the economy, or to build useful infrastructures, or anything else! No, no, no, the unity of the nation is supreme! That's why this church has the highest priority!

The western donors were naturally pissed. Boigny didn't care. He even shamelessly invited the Pope to consecrate the basilica! I am sure the Pope was appalled too, but he was a pragmatic person. He said he would come and consecrate the building IF and ONLY IF Boigny build a hospital nearby. Boigny gave his words. The Pope came, consecrate the largest church, and the foundation of the new hospital, and until today no hospital was ever build. Only God's know what happen to the money that was already earmarked for that hospital.

Most important lesson for the Pope and other big shots, lesson that were repeatedly forgotten: When you deal with a despot, NEVER EVER take his/her words at face value. 

The End
Predictably, the largest church fails to unite the country. In 1993, 3 years after the completion of the church, Boigny drop dead. Remember when I said previously that Boigny's absolute power will bite the country back? Since Boigny put himself on the center of every power structure in the country, his death brought chaos, coups, religious civil wars, and even French military intervention. After several years, several thousand deaths, lots of airstrikes from the French airforce, the country only managed to be "united" by 2011.

Previous Bullshit Buildings: Welthauptstadt Germania
Next Bullshit Building: Ryugyong Hotel

Paul Collier's Book "Wars, Guns, And Votes"
Adam Furman's Article "Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussokro"
New Statesman Article "The President, His Church And the Crocodiles"

No comments:

Post a Comment