MADELEINE BRAND, host:
In Senegal, that's a statue that's taller than the Statue of Liberty. President Abdoulaye Wade spent millions of dollars on it, angering some Senegalese. They accuse him not only of indulging himself with this statue but also of nepotism and mismanagement. He's been in office for a decade, and he's a close U.S. ally.
From Senegal's capital, Dakar, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton takes up the story.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: You can't miss Senegal's new 160-foot African renaissance monument. Perched high on a hill, the mighty Soviet-style bronze statue of a man, woman and child overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and dominates Dakar's horizon.
A year or so in the building, the $27 million project of President Abdoulaye Wade is very nearly complete. Wade says the statue symbolizes the triumph of African liberation from centuries of ignorance, intolerance and racism. But his opponents argue that the colossal creation � built by North Koreans and taller than the Statue of Liberty � says more about poor governance than African renaissance.
Mr. ABDOULAYE BATHILY (Opposition Leader): This is an example of a folly, and people are so frustrated by this.
QUIST-ARCTON: Opposition leader Abdoulaye Bathily says the statue is the product of a power-drunk president.
Mr. BATHILY: The economy has collapsed. The education system is in a crisis. The health system is in crisis. And yet Abdoulaye Wade is squandering public money. So, all these things, people are seeing it, and it is creating so much frustration in this country.
(Soundbite of protest)
QUIST-ARCTON: Bathily and other prominent opposition politicians and hundreds of supporters held an anti-Wade protest rally.
Hundreds, in fact thousands of Senegalese have gathered on the street. They say they're marching against corruption, marching against poor governance, marching also against the poor delivery of services. And it's not often that you see demonstrations in Senegal but many, many people have turned out now, after Friday prayers, to show their opposition to the government, to protect against President Abdoulaye Wade.
I have one of the demonstrators with me. Madame, your name please.
Ms. MARY PETER(ph): My name is Mary Peter. I am very tired, so tired, very, very tired. The Senegalese is tired. Woman is tired. Children is tired. Very tired for President Abdoulaye Wade. (Foreign language spoken)
QUIST-ARCTON: Switching to French, this woman, Mary Peter, said Senegalese were at their wits' end, because they were going hungry and didn't have jobs and houses. She said President Wade just doesn't get it � but were telling him to go.
In recent years, Senegal has gained a reputation for hemorrhaging thousands of migrants. Mainly young men risk their lives on the high seas, crossing in rickety boats, heading to Europe and beyond in search of a better life.
For decades, this poor, peanut- and fish-exporting former French colony was hailed as a bastion of democracy in West Africa, with close links to Washington. In September, Senegal was awarded a $540 million grant from the United States as a reward for � and to encourage � good governance.
Wade's supporters dismiss the president's critics. Local government minister Aliou Sow said Wade had done much for Senegal.
Mr. ALIOU SOW (Government Minister): President Wade is a democrat. Ten years in power � how many hundreds of kilometer roads are built? How many thousands, I say, of classrooms are built? How many high schools are built? How many new universities are built? Et cetera, et cetera. President Wade gave them. You see what I'm talking about? People must be fair.
(Soundbite of chanting)
QUIST-ARCTON: But it's the renaissance monument that has come to symbolize opposition to President Wade in this predominantly Muslim country. In Friday sermons, imams criticized it as idolatrous.
Some said the statue � featuring a muscular, bare-chested father figure sweeping a scantily clad woman behind him and holding aloft a nude child � contravened Islamic teachings.
16-year-old Aisha Ndow(ph) said she considers the statue un-Islamic, unbecoming, and aesthetically un-African. We met at the base of the colossus.
Ms. AISHA NDOW: (Through translator) Look at the woman � half her body is uncovered. You can see her breasts and her bare thighs. That's not good for a Muslim. Really, this is not a good example for Africa � especially the way they're dressed. The father, you can see his body. The child is completely naked. There's too much nudity. The woman should be wearing something more proper to show how Africans really dress.
QUIST-ARCTON: President Wade's claim that he's entitled to 35 percent of any revenues generated from tourism from the monument has sparked further outrage. Opposition Leader Abdoulaye Bathily.
Mr. BATHILY: He was the hope of Senegal, but he dashed all this hope what people placed on him. And over the last nine years, step by step, he has established a personal rule in Senegal today.
QUIST-ARCTON: The next presidential election in Senegal is still two years away, but Abdoulaye Wade, a veteran political survivor, has already announced his intention to run. Analysts predict that winning, as he first did in 2000, could be a monumental challenge.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.
BRAND: And we have this postscript to our story. The architect of the renaissance monument has now offered to cover the bare legs of the female in the statue. The designer says it's up to the Senegalese president to decide.
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