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I deliberately raised this question as the caption of this commentary to underscore some points. To be sure, it is not a suggestion of culpability of Africans regarding the September 11 terror but more of a challenge to come to terms with the the interconnectedness of global safety. For example, in Nigeria, which is celebrating its 41st year of political “independence” from Britain today, October 1, Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi has been funding and financing “centers of Islamic learning” in such places as Zamfara State where the Islamic Sharia law was first formalized in Nigeria (applicable in 10 out of Nigeria’s 36 States), the “graduates”, leadership and “students” have, reportedly, been on the frontline of previous and recent emanations of zealotry and religious violence. Some of the most dreaded and violent groups in Nigeria, Chad, Tanzania-Zanzibar, parts of Northern Africa and the Maghreb region, are said to have been financed from Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, Zia ul-Haq’s Pakistan, and other “Brother Islamic countries and agencies.” Only a forthnight ago, Jos, one of the central cities in Nigeria with a mixed population of Christians and Muslims, and sizeable Euro-American population saw 700 persons killed, and thousands maimed and houses burnt.
Years-old request and arguments for the retired General Olusegun Obasanjo’s government to be decisive in dealing with the issues regarding terrorists who kill in Allah’s name or Christians who turn Biblical certitudes for ethnic vengeance, according to many Nigeria analysts including the respected Prof. Wole Soyinka have met with fatal reluctance.
First and most, Africans suffered deaths (and an estimated 53 persons missing) from the consequences of the events of the September 11 bombing. Most of those being breadwinners for their families. Those wanton terror and wholesale visitation of murder and mayhem did not only affect Americans but persons from almost 20 countries, including persons thus far known, from four African countries. For those who have forgotten, Osama Bin Laden, the prime suspect for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, was based in the largely Islamic African country of Sudan before leaving in 1996. Also, on August 7,1998, the U.S embassy in the east African country of Kenya was bombed which led to the death of 207 Kenyans, 12 US citizens and left more than 4,000 injured. Within a minute of that sad event, a smaller terrorism blast rocked Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, killing 11 Africans. Now, should Africans care more or morph September 11 into some nebulous, baseless “fraternity of the oppressed”? I don’t think so!
Second, in the light of September 11, and especially the murderous domestic excesses of these harbingers of death and purveyors of mayhem, it becomes, in my view, a matter of vital national duty that African governments take a more decisive and no-holds-barred approach to choke off the camps and networks of terrorism hiding under the veneer of religiousity and a concoction of bloody and assorted fanaticisms. These trouble makers and merchants of death have caused the deaths of at least 5 million Africans since the end of colonialism in the early 1960s, including one of my enduring personal experience as a survivor inside the zone of limited safety declared by Igbos and other minorities of south eastern Nigeria as defunct Republic of Biafra.
Third, African leaders and Africans abroad ought to unmask and halt those unperturbed villages of radical religio-political zealotry and hate academies for terror training and funding. In so doing, we are acting not only in America’s current best interest but in our continent’s strategic and developmental interests. Although, there are sophiticates among these “armies of god”, the failure of some of those countries’ leaders, Christian and Muslim alike, have made the very poor, uneducated and dispirited willing goons in religious conflicts and fodders for terror machines.
Fourth, Africa and its governments should position their actions and policies around the paradigm that terrorism in the 21st (and in fact during the 20th century) is an issue of domestic consequence. It affects the flow of economic investments, weighing in the measure for or against international capital, and even the value and safety of domestic/internal business. My point? Offering or dealing kid gloves or looking the other way believing the terror machines will relent is wishful thinking. The U.S. must also weigh its own policies and actions which do not excuse but can open a window for some nut to engage in their sick pursuits of lethal zealotry. Sixth, in this quest to make the world relatively safer, it is important to note the views of John L. Esposito, professor of Religion and International Affairs and Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. and the author of several books on Islam, including The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?, who has stated that: “While some governments and experts identify Islamic fundamentalism as a major threat to the stability of their societies and to global politics, others point out that it is important to distinguish between authentic populist movements that are willing to participate within the system and rejectionists who seek to topple governments through violent revolution.”
Accordingly, I mush commend Senegal’s democratically-elected Abdoulaye Wade, a member of the Mouride Islamic sect whose wife is a French Christian as an excellent reflection that the issue in Africa cannot be that all Muslims seek for conflicts or are terrorists. No. Such reductionism is not only foolish but untenable. I was in Senegal on assignment regarding former President Bill Clinton’s visit in April 1998 to parts of Africa, and I’m aware of the fact that, although, Senegal’s population is 90% Muslim, Islamic fundamentalism is not common. Wade challenged the continent a few days ago that “beyond verbal declarations, African countries should engage in direct actions in the global fight.” Note the key word is “direct actions”. Translation: rid your neighborhood and countries of any support or cover for terrorists. Any wonder, therefore, that when Nigeria’s Obasanjo told U.S. president George W. Bush that he’d join the battle against terrorism, many Nigerians wondered if their president should not start from his own backyard. That is, putting it politely.
Now, do you still wonder what has Africa to do with September 11 terror? CP
Chido Nwangwu, adviser to the Mayor of Houston on Africa business, serves as Founder & Publisher of the Houston-based USAfrica The Newspaper and the first U.S.-based, African-owned newspaper to be published on the internet; The Black Business Journal, and NigeriaCentral.com. He is the recipient of the HABJ Journalism Excellence Award, 1997, and has appeared as an analyst on CNN, VOA, local tv and radio stations in the U.S. and Africa.