US attacks raise mixed feelings in Africa

The following article is from South African paper, Daily Mail & Guardian, September 19, 2001. It reports on some of the reactions around Africa. The original article can be found at http://www.mg.co.za/mg/za/archive/2001sep/features/19sep-africa.html.

US attacks raise mixed feelings in Africa
PETER CUNLIFFE-JONES
Lagos. September 19, 2001



LAST week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and reactions to them, have raised mixed feelings in Africa, home to more death and misery than any other continent.

'It is horror. It is unimaginable,' said Tayo Balogun, a civil servant in Lagos, black Africa's largest city, pouring over the photographs in the daily newspaper the day after three hijacked planes struck targets in two US cities.

Then came the twist. "It is not that horror is unimaginable. Just that it would happen there," he said.

Africa, for all that happens that is positive on the continent, is home uncontestably to more wars, more death, more horror and more human misery than anywhere else.

Yet, most still manage to feel sympathy for victims of violence elsewhere, though this is not always easy.

According to the International Rescue Committee, around 2,5-million people have died in little over three years, unmourned and largely even unnoticed by the world, as a result of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Wars or civil unrest are taking place in at least half of more than 50 countries that make up Africa. In Angola, Sudan, Sierra Leone and elsewhere wars have been taking place for years. Millions of people die of diseases for which drugs exist and can be afforded in the West, but which Africans cannot afford.

And most of the time, this death and suffering is ignored by the outside world.

In the face of this, the reactions of world leaders -- calling isolated horrors such as last weeks events 'the greatest evil of our time' -- have struck some hard.

On Monday, worried authorities in Liberia, a country that is yet to recover from seven years of brutal civil war, temporarily shut down a private radio station after it allowed on air what was perceived as an anti-American remark.

"What is so much about America? People are dying here and America has not cared to comment," the caller said, sparking the shut down of the station.

While African presidents all lined up to condemn last weeks' attacks, and while most ordinary Africans would share that sense, in some mainly Muslim parts of black Africa there were isolated scenes of jubilation.

In Kano, the largest city in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, 31-year-old Saminu Abdullahi said he had celebrated at the news of the attacks.

"America is the number one enemy of Islam. It is behind all the killings of Muslims in Bosnia, in Iraq and in Palestine. It supports the killing of Muslims all over the world," he said. But others were more cautious of appearing to antagonise.

The authorities in Sudan, who once sheltered the prime suspect Osama Bin Laden and were themselves bombed by Washington in 1998, have in the past week roundly condemned the events in the United States.

And many other, ordinary Africans have expressed sympathy.

In Kenya, the attacks in the United States raised painful memories of the bomb attacks outside US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in which a total of 212 Africans and 12 Americans died, and thousands more were injured.

A leading Christian cleric in Kenya, the Reverend Peter arap Bissem, said Kenyans feel "solidarity with our brothers and sisters in America, victims, like we were, of a terrorist programme."

But others were less sympathetic.

Scores of thousands of Algerians have died gruesome deaths over the past nine years in an Islamist insurgency which has drawn little reaction from the outside world.

"They have reaped what they sowed. Bin Laden is of the Americans' own making and now they're paying for creating him," said an Algiers lawyer who has himself suffered the wrath of the Islamists.

"When Algeria cried for help to fight terrorism, the silence from the US was deafening," said a pharmacist, noting that Anwar Haddam, a leader of the now disbanded Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), blamed for much of the violence in Algeria, now lives in conditional liberty in the United States.

Between 1996 and 2000, South Africa was hit by a spate of around 190 bomb blasts in and around Cape Town, killing three and injuring some 131, with most blamed on a radical Islamic organisation.

But a senior government official who deals with security said the fundamentalist threat in South Africa had been greatly contained and South Africa like other governments has been supportive of Washington.

Nevertheless, much of Africa is largely cut off from the world markets, with African accounting for only two per cent of world trade, and this was perhaps why only a handful of Africans were in the World Trade Center when it was attacked.

Rwanda's relationship with Washington has been strained by the US role in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 when, as shown only last month by the release of declassified documents, Washington intervened to ensure the withdrawal of UN forces there.

Experts believe that if it had been bolstered instead of withdrawn, the UN force could have halted the killings of 800 000 people. - AFP

-- The Mail&Guardian, September 19, 2001.

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