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Senegal's Islamic Summit Draws Both Praise and Skepticism


In the impoverished west African nation of Senegal, delegates from oil-rich Gulf nations and other Islamic countries have wrapped up a week-long conference. But for many Senegalese, questions remain over whether they will benefit from summit decisions. Uma Ramiah reports from VOA's bureau in the capital, Dakar.

Senegal's president, Abdoulaye Wade, was jubilant about the success of the Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting, noting the ratification of a new charter and, on the sidelines, a peace agreement signed between the leaders of Sudan and Chad.

Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Iftekhar Chowdhruy, addressing journalists, highlighted major areas of change to the OIC Charter, which was revised and ratified for the first time since its creation nearly 40 years ago.

"Our major contributions in the document have been in the areas of poverty alleviation, climate change and social change," said Chowdhruy.

The new charter also calls for member countries to fight extremism and foster dialogue with non-Muslims to fight 'Islamophobia.'

Chowdhruy told reporters he thought it was time for the OIC to take on a more active role in helping the Islamic community and improving relations with the West.

President Wade has said he hopes to encourage development partnerships between African members of the OIC and oil-rich Muslim countries. The president hopes that, in solidarity, wealthy members will turn development dollars, typically headed for Western countries, to Africa.

Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio called for support for the newly created Islamic Solidarity Fund, not as a charity initiative, but as a mechanism to equalize the wealth of member states through development.

Shahid Malik, a lawmaker and minister for international development and the first Muslim to hold a ministerial role in Britain, came to Dakar to encourage action against poverty.

"In many ways, the main focus of the OIC at the moment is around poverty alleviation," said Malik. "A wonderful phrase from today, a 'Fatwa' against poverty. And, of course my department, the department for international development, its raison d'etre is to eradicate poverty and disease right across the world."

"So, I am very much at home here. I think there are some real common objectives, and, by pooling resources and energies, we can be really impactful on the ground, and make a bigger difference than we individually are at the moment," he added.

The Islamic Development Bank has been asked to organize and raise funds for the Islamic Solidarity Fund, and has said it will collect $10 billion.

The OIC conference last week called on member countries to donate generously. As of Friday, $2.6 billion had been confirmed as having been donated. But this was the amount that was reported as being in the fund even before the summit started.

Mamadou Barry, a high ranking official in the Senegalese socialist opposition party in Senegal, says he thinks the conference was a positive step forward for Muslims. Though he supports the creation of the Islamic Solidarity Fund, he says he will wait for results to celebrate.

"The raising up of $10 billion to help African countries, especially the Sub-Saharan countries, I think this is a very good thing," said Barry. "That is something that we welcome, and we are looking forward to seeing it being applied. But let us see what will really happen. It is going to take a little time before they get that money probably. But it will be overall a good thing for African countries to have access to those funds, to sustain development."

Many Senegalese citizens say they think they will not benefit directly.

Money donated for the conference by rich Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt was used for construction all over Dakar, and many people here say they doubt the summit will improve their lives in any way. They say the new roads are just for the wealthy few who own cars.

In Dakar, enormous posters celebrating the OIC and welcoming heads of state were defaced during the past few days. One billboard on a main Dakar road is scrawled with graffiti. Over President Wade's face one sees the words, "We are hungry."

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