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Perceptions From Africa - 2002-09-10


Among the dead in last year’s attacks on the World Trade Center were scores of Africans. Their families will join with those of thousands of Americans who were killed. But for some Africans, the anniversary is a time not just to express sympathy, but also to examine the motives behind the attacks.

The latest figures indicate that more than 100 Africans were among the victims of the September 11th attacks. CNN and other news sources report that they included 94 Nigerians, six South Africans, three Ethiopians and at least one each from Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Kenya.

The killers from the Al Qaeda terrorist group – who said they were acting in the name of Islam – did not distinguish between Christians, Muslims, or Jews. Hundreds of Muslims were among the dead – they came from Pakistan, Turkey, India, Bangladesh, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, and Egypt. One hundred thirty-three Israelis died – as did scores of American Jews – although the press in some countries continue to circulate a rumor that Israel was behind the attacks, and that no Jews went to work that day. Many of the American Jews killed worked for stock brokerage firms at the World Trade Center.

Chido Nwangwu is the founder and publisher of USAfricaOnline -- the first African-owned, U.S-based professional newspaper to be published on the Internet. He says the killings one year ago come as no surprise to Africans.

He says, "The armies of bigotry, and murderous hatefulness have left a very severe and deadly impact on Africa. In excess of 300 people have died from the activities of Al Qaeda and their affiliated fraternity of zealotry in different parts of Africa a few months before September 11th. Terrorism does not distinguish between a poor and lonely African in a world trade center or near a U-S embassy or any other opportunity or place a terrorist decides to choose."

One of the best known attacks in sub-Saharan Africa came four years ago, when terrorists linked to al Qaeda blew up the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. The attacks killed 207 Kenyans, 11 Tanzanians, 12 Americans, and left four thousand injured.

Mr. Nwangwu says religious-backed terrorists have killed at least five million Africans since the end of colonialism in the early 1960’s in attacks in Chad, Tanzania, North Africa and the Maghreb. He says the attacks were financed by Islamic agencies and what he called their “brother” Islamic countries - including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen and Pakistan.

He says in his own country, Nigeria, outsiders are financing pro-bin Laden militants in the predominantly Muslim north – where he says several thousand Christians and Muslims have died in religious violence over the past three years.

And he accuses religious militants of being behind the widespread killing of ethnic Igbo during Nigeria’s civil war in the late 1960’s – in which the eastern part of the country tried to secede to form the Republic of Biafra.

He says, "Clearly, there were Muslim soldiers, and political activists in collaboration with others who related and acted out a mechanized genocidal slaughter of Ibos who suffered the combustion of the hatred of the war - especially for their faith and their ethnicity. The former president of the United States at the time recognized the fact. Canadian Jews who worked to save a number of Igbo lives recognize the fact; the Red Cross and Roman Catholic Church did as well."

But other Africans say U-S foreign policy contributed to the al Qaeda attacks. They note that the United States provided support to Islamic militants in the fight against communism in the 1970’s.

Brian Kagoro is the coordinator of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition – a civic group fighting for democracy and human rights.

He says the United States is also associated with the bitter enemy of the Arab world, Israel – thus driving the terrorists to attack. And, he says many Africans believe Western foreign policy – as well as what he calls African misrule – has led to the suffering of many on the continent today:

He says, "First, there are questions regarding the accountability of African regimes, the abuse of power and resources. But also there’s complicity one can not ignore: you can not deny that Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo stayed in war because of Cold War politics to which the US was a player, or that there were promises made by the British that there would be money made for land reform in Zimbabwe."

Mr. Kagoro says the United States is perceived in southern Africa as acting unilaterally – without having the continent’s best interests at heart. He points to African criticism of some American positions – like the threat to topple the government of Iraq. He says because of such policies, some civic groups withhold their support from the pro-democracy movement in protest over its link to the United States and Great Britain.

Nigerian Kayode Fayemi is the director of the London-based Center for Democracy and Development. He agrees that the events of 9/11 resonate among Africa’s elites and the popular media. He says the press often attributes terrorism, such as the attacks of September 11th, to U-S positions that are often unpopular with Africans at such world meetings as the recent summit on sustainable development in South Africa.

He says sympathy for the United States over events like 9/11 is often overshadowed by negative portrayals in the media of American policies on poverty, conflict and development. In this environment, there are those who wish to believe the hijackers represent the downtrodden against the powerful – despite the fact many of the young men came from wealthy homes and support authoritarian political views.

Mr. Fayemi says, "September 11th is a tragedy and every country lost a person or another, but in the experience of people here, the number of people who die of HIV in Africa daily is more than 10 twin towers put together. They would rather confront that and the process of development to improve the quality of life so it would be unattractive to younger people … to join the extremists like al Qaeda and other organizations. And I think it would useful if America would pay attention to this kind of thinking."

But Nigerian publisher and entrepreneur Chido Nwangwu disagrees with the assessment of popular support for Osama bin Laden. He says his publication represents grassroots Africans – like taxi cab drivers and night guards. He said his Internet readers registered strong support for the United States after the attacks. And he strikes out at those who blame the attacks on US foreign policy.

"It is a load of rubbish," he says. "It is a severe condensation of ignorance and misanalysis of the actual data on the ground. When the murderous events occurred in New York, our newspaper USAfrica and our web page (USAfricaOnline.com) carried reports of demonstrations in the Christian eastern city of Enugu (Nigeria) or persons condemning in the strongest way the violence visited on America. It’s also important to underline the fact that a hungry man does not act out his anger by taking a commercial airline and ramming it like a missile into separate buildings. That is not the work of someone hungry or stricken by poverty."

Mr. Nwangwu say all countries, including the United States, act in their own economic and political self-interests. But he says U.S. foreign policy often extends development and other benefits to its trading partners, and he says that’s not true of all countries.

He says, "What has Saudi Arabia done for different countries in Africa other than fraternize with their fellow Islamic adherents? What has Libya done? What has Osama bin Laden done for any African country? It is important to puncture these balloons of ignorance, which float in the air just to justify these acts of [violence]. [The attacks on September 11th were] an act of wickedness, an act of mechanized Satanism. They are talking nonsense to say the least."

Mr. Nwangwu sees September 11th as an important wake-up call to Africa to get rid of what he calls Libya and Sudan’s “centers of Islamic learning” – along with their graduates, instructors and students. He says there’s a better model for Islam on the continent: Senegal. It’s 90 percent Muslim state where Islamic fundamentalism is not common. Senegal is led by a democratically elected Muslim president, Abdoulaye Wade, who has challenged the continent to take direct action in the global fight against terrorism.

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