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Africans Remain Divided About Sept. 11 Attacks - 2002-09-11


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 also a time to examine the motives behind the attacks.

The latest figures indicate that more than 100 Africans were among the victims of the September 11 attacks. CNN reports that they included 94 Nigerians, six South Africans, and at least one each from Ghana and Kenya. The New York Times lists one man from Ivory Coast.

The killers from the al-Qaida 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.

For Chido Nwangwu, the founder and publisher of U.S.-Africa Online, an Internet newspaper based in Texas, the killings one year ago come as no surprise to Africans.

"The armies of bigotry, and murderous hatefulness have left a very severe and deadly impact on Africa," he said. "In excess of 300 people have died from the activities of al-Qaida and their affiliated fraternity of zealotry in different parts of Africa a few months before September 11. 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."

Four years ago, terrorists linked to al-Qaida blew up the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The attacks killed 207 Kenyans and 12 Americans, and left 4,000 injured.

Mr. Nwangwu said in his homeland, Nigeria, outsiders are financing pro-bin Laden militants in the predominantly Muslim north.

He said several thousand Christians and Muslims have died in religious violence there during the past three years. He accuses religious militants of being behind the widespread killing of ethnic Igbo during Nigeria's civil war in the late 1960s when the eastern part of the country tried to secede to form the Republic of Biafra.

"Clearly, there were Muslim soldiers, and political activists in collaboration with others who related and acted out a mechanized genocidal slaughter of Igbos who suffered the combustion of the hatred of the war - especially for their faith and their ethnicity," said Mr. Nwangwu. "The former president of the United States at the time recognized the fact. Canadian Jews who worked to save a number of Ibo 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-Qaida attacks. They note that the United States provided support to Islamic militants in the fight against communism in the 1970s.

Brian Kagoro, the coordinator of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a civic group fighting for democracy and human rights, said the United States is associated with the bitter enemy of the Arab world, Israel, and many Africans believe Western foreign policy, as well as what he calls "African misrule," has led to the suffering of many people.

"First, there are questions regarding the accountability of African regimes, the abuse of power and resources," he said. "But also there is 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 U.S. 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 said the United States is perceived in Africa as acting unilaterally, without having the continent's best interests at heart.

Nigerian Kayode Fayemi, the director of the London-based Center for Democracy and Development, agrees that the events of September 11 resonate among Africa's elites and the popular media. He says the press often attributes terrorism, such as the attacks of September 11, to U.S. positions that are unpopular with Africans.

He said in this environment, there are those who wish to believe the hijackers represent the downtrodden against the powerful, despite the fact many of them came from wealthy homes and support authoritarian political views.

"September 11 is a tragedy and every country lost a person or another," Mr. Fayemi went on to say. "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-Qaida and other organizations."

Nigerian publisher and entrepreneur Chido Nwangwu strikes out at those who blame the attacks on U.S. foreign policy.

"It is a load of rubbish," he said. "It is a severe condensation of ignorance and misanalysis of the actual data on the ground. When the murderous events occurred in New York, U.S.-Africa and our web page carried reports of demonstrations in the Christian eastern city of Enugu (Nigeria) of persons condemning in the strongest way the violence visited on America."

"It is 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," added Mr. Nwangwu. "That is not the work of someone hungry or stricken by poverty,"

Mr. Nwangwu said all countries, including the United States, act in their own economic and political self-interests. But he said U.S. foreign policy often extends development and other benefits to its trading partners.

"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?" asked Mr. Nwangwu. "It is important to puncture these balloons of ignorance, which float in the air just to justify these acts of [violence]," he went on to say. "An act of wickedness, an act of mechanized Satanism. They are talking nonsense to say the least."

Mr. Nwangwu sees September 11 as an important sign for 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 is a better model for Islam on the continent: Senegal - a 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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