Friends, Senegalese, countrymen! Lend us your luxury homes
Saturday 23 February 2008
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade has asked citizens with luxury homes to make them available to the state as it scrambles to accommodate thousands of delegates expected for an Islamic summit next month.
The former French colony on Africa's westernmost tip is hosting an Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) summit. More than 5,000 delegates, including heads of state and ministers, are expected from 57 nations.
The oceanside capital Dakar has been turned into a building site as the city struggles to prepare new highways, conference centres and more than half a dozen luxury hotels, some of which still appear to be bare concrete shells.
"I'd like to ask all those who have nice villas to lend them to us for three to five days," Mr Wade said on state television. "When a head of state says I'm coming with 200 people you can't tell him to come with just 50."
Senegal is hoping the conference will boost its profile in the Islamic world, not least among Gulf Arab nations which have stepped up their investment in west Africa in recent years.
The 13-14 March summit will be OIC's 11th. The group was created in Morocco in 1969. Its theme this time will be the role of Islam in the 21st century, and delegates are expected to discuss issues ranging from relations with other religions to terrorism.
Senegal has been gearing up for the OIC summit for years. Dakar's residents have grown accustomed to daily gridlock as traffic is forced through crowded back streets while flyovers are constructed.
Palm trees are being planted as a finishing touch along some parts of the new oceanside corniche, a four-lane highway meant to allow visiting dignitaries to sweep straight from the renovated airport towards Mr Wade's presidential palace.
But in many areas the works, overseen by Karim Wade, the President's influential son and adviser, appear to have fallen woefully behind schedule. And behind the luxury hotels and oceanside boulevards gradually being erected, many residents in the city's overcrowded neighbourhoods complain their daily lot of power cuts and dirty streets will remain unchanged.
And the President has criticised some Senegalese trying to charge up to £140,000 for the use of their homes."There are harebrained individuals who thought this would be an occasion to make money," he said. "This is unacceptable blackmail."
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