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September 30, 2009

Gadhaffi leaves his mark


There were a lot of chuckles and eye-rolls at Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhaffi's rambling speech last week at the United Nations, in which he tossed aside a copy of the UN charter, discussed Vietnam and the U.S. invasion of Grenada and suggested that the United States take a page from his own book (the Green Book, perhaps) and make President Obama ruler-for-life.

It certainly wasn't the first time Gadhaffi has appeared erratic on the world stage, and it won't be the last.

Yet as I was driving through the Ugandan capital Kampala last week, I came across a different kind of Gadhaffi trademark. Perched on a hill and dominating the skyline of a neighborhood called "Old Kampala" stands a magnificent new mosque, billed as the largest in sub-Saharan Africa. It's the Gadhaffi Mosque -- named for the man who bankrolled its construction when money ran out.

Yes, that Gadhaffi. (The street alongside the mosque was also renamed for Col. Muammar Gadhaffi, in case there was any doubt.)

There are a lot of snickers in Uganda -- where Muslims account for about a quarter of the population -- about the size of the mosque, which can hold about 15,000 worshipers. There's also been some backlash against its connection to the reviled dictator Idi Amin, who began work on the mosque 30 years ago.

But in the capital of one of the most stable countries in East Africa, you won't see a more eye-catching piece of architecture. Americans may give Uganda food aid and HIV drugs while the Chinese build roads and sell cheap electronics. No one is doing what Gadhaffi did here or in his Libyan hometown of Sirte: build a massive monument that everyone has to look at, and be reminded of the man who likes to call himself Africa's "King of Kings."

It's not subtle, but that's not Gadhaffi's style.


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howell clark

guess they would have trouble appreciating the architecture if they weren't still walking around. sounds like we need to send even more food and aids meds so that more of them can appreciate the libyan donation.

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None is of freedom or of life deserving unless he daily conquers it anew.

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Somewhere in Africa was written by McClatchy correspondent Shashank Bengali, who covered sub-Saharan Africa from 2005 to 2009. He's now based in Washington, D.C., as a national correspondent.

Read Shashank's stories at news.mcclatchy.com or send him a story idea.


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