Senegal's first tourism conference draws support from local and foreign officials.

Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade, hasn’t let his ire against the United States get in the way of his promoting trade here.

Mr. Wade severely criticized the U.S. ambassador to Senegal, Marcia Bernicat, for editorials that she submitted to local media in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, at the end of May. The editorials warned that to maintain a recent aid grant, Senegal had to show success in fighting corruption.

Mr. Wade dressed down Ms. Bernicat during a face-to-face meeting that has been posted on the Internet, saying that he didn’t like his country’s image being tarnished.

“Just let me know if you know of corruption,” he said. “I have to defend the image of Senegal, which is an honorable country. We are a small country but we have our pride and dignity.”

He added that while the U.S. grant amounted to half a billion dollars, Senegal receives grants from the European Union, China and Saudi Arabia of billions of dollars without their accusing the country of being corrupt.

Mr. Wade apparently has put aside his pique and is to arrive in Chicago on July 19 as head of a high-level trade mission of Senegalese ministers and business leaders. Members of his delegation, including the minister of tourism and handicrafts, will then come to Atlanta beginning July 22.

They are to participate in meetings focused on opportunities in Senegal in agro-business, infrastructure development, energy, healthcare, financial services, housing, mining, education and tourism, a new area of interest for Mr. Wade.

Following the official opening of Senegal’s tourism office in Atlanta, GlobalAtlanta attended on May 28 the opening of the country’s first tourism exhibition held at the International Business and Trade Center in Dakar.

Traditional dancing was fueled by the music from balophones, relatives of the Western xylophone, and from sabar drums.

The Senegalese women justified their reputation for the finery of their robes and headdresses. The men also dressed for the occasion, wearing traditional kaftans, dashiki-type shirts or dark suits.

Inside the center’s hall, a line of television and video cameras separated the dais from the rows of seats for the hundreds of visitors, an array of local and foreign officials, and fervent supporters of the octogenarian president.

Before entering the hall, the president and members of his cabinet met in the nearby exhibition areas with representatives of the tourism offices, travel agencies, hotels and craftsmen from 22 countries.

As the attendees waited, musicians including the master of the kora, an ancestor of the banjo, a drummer and a vocalist serenaded them.

Spontaneous applause and whistling filled the hall when a relaxed Mr. Wade entered accompanied by members of his cabinet including Prime Minister Souleymane Ndene Ndiaye and Thierno Lo, the tourism minister.

Once seated, Mr. Wade said he preferred to speak informally and launched into a lecture addressed both to the attendees and members of his cabinet. A former law professor in France and Senegal, he holds doctorates in law and economics.

Quite off-handedly, he said that he had had little regard for tourism in the past, but that he had changed his mind.

“The conditions are now in place for me to support tourism,” he said in French, adding that he was ready to invest in the necessary infrastructure and that he hoped his attendees would see the fruits of his involvement in the future.

He said his government would reach out to surrounding countries in West Africa so that they could work together to attract tourists to the region and to encourage them to visit Senegal’s interior.

He acknowledged that political and social instability in the region had interfered in the development of tourism along with a lack of investment in appropriate infrastructures such as roads to the interior, but that these problems would be overcome.

He also said that he thought that Africans who were now settled in the Caribbean and the Americas would be attracted to visit because of the new initiative.

Instead of providing any specifics about how he expected the new policy to be implemented, he focused on his ministers.

He praised Mr. Ndiaye, his prime minister, for accomplishing what he had been told to do, unlike some of his predecessors who, he said, would agree to his objectives and then disregard them.

Then he turned his full attention onto Mr. Lo, saying that he had confidence in him and that he would provide the necessary resources to accomplish the country’s goals.

He compared himself to the head of a small- to medium-sized firm that had to be able to provide the means for accomplishing his directives. Then he referred to himself as a soccer coach managing a team of players.

“I’m like a soccer coach who always has the right to change the players,” he added. “But unlike the coach I don’t have just 11 players, I have 12 million people (or Senegal’s entire population) from which to choose my ministers.”

Soon afterwards, the meeting was closed with the attendees rising to their feet with a chorus of cheering as the president departed and the ministers filed out behind him.

Mr. Wade has a personal stake in tourism related to the “African Renaissance Monument” he had built depicting a man, woman and an infant heralding a brighter future for the continent. Because the idea for the statue was his, he has said that 35 percent of the proceeds from visiting tourists should go to him personally.

On April 30, the multi-million dollar statue was unveiled at a site overlooking Dakar with 19 African heads of state attending the ceremony.

A delegation of 100 African-Americans, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, also attended the ceremony.