Senegal inaugurated its giant "African Renaissance" monument on Saturday, brushing aside complaints that the $28 million personal project of President Abdoulaye Wade was a waste of money and un-Islamic.
Wade arrived at the statue of a man, woman and child to the sounds of African drumming and dancers in traditional costume as hundreds of his supporters watched, some waving banners urging him to seek another term in 2012 elections.
He said the monument was for all of Africa. "It brings to life our common destiny," he said. "Africa has arrived in the 21st century standing tall and more ready than ever to take its destiny into its hands."
Slightly bigger than New York's Statue of Liberty, the monument perched on a hill overlooking the capital Dakar has been criticized as a waste of money in a country with crumbling infrastructure and welfare provision.
One imam in the mainly Muslim West African state issued a fatwa on Friday condemning the statue as idolatrous, a charge dismissed by Wade's allies.
Its supporters argue that Africa, many of whose states are still struggling to find their feet a half a century after independence, needs symbols of hope for the future.
"Every architectural work sparks controversies — look at the Eiffel Tower in Paris," pro-Wade senator Ahmed Bachir Kounta told Reuters of the 19th-century structure labeled by early critics as an expensive eyesore.
Wade, who at 83 has confirmed he will seek reelection in 2012, invited around 30 African and other heads of state to the ceremony, and several including Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe were in attendance.
At the foot of the statue sat dozens of facepainted children representing a charity for impoverished youth which is due to receive cash from the monument's tourist proceeds.
Wade wore a modern western-style suit to the inauguration while his wife wore a colorful boubou, a flowing full-length garment traditional in West Africa.
Rising cost of living
Many Dakar residents, struggling with increasingly frequent power cuts, disintegrating city roads and scarce formal employment, have mixed feelings about the monument.
"In 2010, Africa has to re-born," said 36-year-old Thierno Dienj, who was among the crowd at a small anti-government rally on Saturday.
"But this monument doesn't take into account the rising cost of living here," he said, repeating a common complaint about price increases in basic foodstuffs and public transport.
The notion of an "African Renaissance" came to the fore in the 1990s amid optimism that the continent was shaking off the effects of colonialism and Cold War-era meddling by superpowers.
Leaders such as Wade and former South African President Thabo Mbeki used the idea to drive projects such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), an economic development program which has achieved modest results so far.