Kampala — THE Gadaffi National Mosque was opened yesterday amid chaotic supremacy battles between Libyan and Ugandan security officials.
The last of those battles played out at an entrance to the mosque, where President Yoweri Museveni watched in bewilderment as his guards battled the Libyans.
Yet it was only seconds after Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi had, to sounds of Allah Akbar, lifted a curtain from a memorial monument to officially open the mosque, his gift to Ugandan Muslims.
With his back to the wall, minutes after Col. Gadaffi had entered the mosque, Mr Museveni and Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi watched as reporters, diplomats and security officials created a melee that would have shocked the Muslims who had already entered the mosque in anticipation of the arrival of at least seven heads of state. By 4pm, thousands had already entered the mosque, and hundreds more watched from the mosque's fringes as Col. Gadaffi and Mr Museveni made their way inside.
In his speech, Mr Museveni praised Col. Gadaffi for building the mosque "in a record time of three years", while Col. Gadaffi spoke of the supremacy of Islam, his favourite subject.
The mosque, atop Old Kampala hill, was a meeting place for all sorts of people, including a salesman who distributed flyers saying "the United States has reached where it reached today based on deceit".
Old women were seen carrying photos of "Brother Leader Gadaffi", drawn from their purses, and they cried out in excitement whenever his name was called out on the microphone.
It was also a day for some Muslims to praise Idi Amin; one Muslim leader, for example, claimed the opening of the mosque was a realisation of Amin's dream.
In 1972, shortly after coming to power, President Idi Amin donated 12 acres of land at Old Kampala hill to the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, but efforts to build a mosque there stalled until 2001 when a delegation of Ugandan Muslims travelled to Libya to ask for Col. Gadaffi's help.
The Libyan leader, through the World Islamic Call Society, financed the construction, although the actual cost remains a mystery.
"It is the biggest mosque south of Morocco," said Electoral Commission chief Badru Kiggundu, who chaired the construction committee.
"It is the biggest mosque in black Africa." With its unique architectural style, the mosque will be an object of attraction for many years to come. It can accommodate over 15,000 worshipers in both its open and enclosed space, Prof. Kiggundu said, adding that it is the second largest in Africa after the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca, Morocco.