Page last updated at 22:40 GMT, Friday, 11 December 2009

Senegal imams use prayers to condemn giant statue

By Caspar Leighton
BBC News West Africa correspondent

African Renaissance statue
President Wade believes visitors should be charged to see the statue

Imams in Senegal have begun a concerted campaign against a giant statue being built in Dakar.

They are using Friday prayers to denounce it as idolatrous and a waste of money.

The Monument to the African Renaissance is a pet project of Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade and will be bigger than the Statue of Liberty when complete.

The main controversy has been the cost - at $27m (£16.6m) it is a big outlay for a poor country.

It is also on questionable aesthetic ground.

The imams are tapping into a strong vein of discontent with the giant statue.

'War of words'

Depicting a muscular man holding aloft a child and sweeping a woman along behind him, it is pure socialist realism - and not very African.

It is being built by North Korea.

Imams agreed a text for Friday sermons quoting the Koran and the Hadith (Islamic sayings), which forms a denunciation of the idolatrous nature of the giant structure.

The protests do come a bit late though, for the statue is almost finished.

The new campaign is an escalation in a long war of words between imams and President Wade.

One imam put it pithily, saying it was not on that the first thing air travellers see of Senegal when their plane descends is a near-naked man and woman.

What sticks in the throats of many Senegalese though is President Wade's plan to charge visitors and pocket a share of the takings himself.

The president says he helped design the statue, so he should share some of the revenue.

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