Sunday, 11 September 2011

Remembering 9/11 from Harare, Zimbabwe

Remembering 9/11 from Harare, Zimbabwe.
By Takura Zhangazha.

When September 11 occurred ten years ago I was in Harare, Zimbabwe. Satellite television had just become fashionable amongst young urban professionals and by coincidence that Zimbabwean late afternoon, I was passing through the residency of a friend who had a passion for such media. Instead of however demonstrating the usual enthusiasm for his newly acquired satellite dish, my friend was in a state of shock at what was appearing on Cable News Network (CNN).

The tragic images of the Twin Towers burning, people screaming as well as running away was shocking and confusing at once. Even though I had never been to the United States of America except through television, and in all the movies, television series’ that we had watched since we were children courtesy of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, nothing like this had ever happened in any American city on this scale. In short, it was completely unimaginable for us that this was happening in the United States of America.
In the days that followed, where we could, we tried to watch satellite television images of what had happened, and the American government’s response wherever we could. The internet was not as prevalent as it is now and so the information got to us slowly and mainly by way of the newspapers, radio and television. We did however think (and possibly feel) that America was going to find out whoever did this, partly because we were in awe of that country and its military might. In pub conversations, in meetings and even in the commuter omnibuses, we discussed openly that whoever was responsible for this was surely in big trouble.  We were just not sure if it was a country or a not state actor.

Ten years later, indeed Osama bin Laden the person who was 
responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent Americans ten years ago, has been assassinated by the same government. There is also a continual war in Afghanistan even though the Taliban are no longer in power. There is another war on terror in Iraq, and a ‘war on terror’ in Somalia with the permission of the African Union. Whether another war will emerge ten years after 9/11 is probably up to the United Nations Security Council. What is however in vogue is whether ten years after the terror attacks on American soil, they should have resonance with the Zimbabwean public beyond watching events unfold on television.
A straightforward answer to that is that indeed ten years after, Zimbabweans must continue, as they did in 2001, to express their disdain and condemnation of terrorism as a means of resolving political differences. They must continue to demonstrate solidarity with the innocent citizens that lost their lives in America ten years ago as they must also continue to show the same solidarity with all innocent civilians who are caught up in wars or military attacks across the world. These wars would include those of the occupied Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sudan and others. Indeed, the solidarity that was demonstrated by Zimbabweans to fellow world citizens, the Americans, is testimony to our collective civilian commitment to peace and not war.
9/11 is also of importance to Zimbabweans with respect to understanding global world politics and events. It is an understanding that must be imbued with the knowledge that it is not our assumed military might that makes our countries invincible, but it is our foreign policies that determine how we are viewed in the world and eventually how we remain safe from attack. So it is therefore necessary to regularly bring our governments to account on their foreign policy decisions. This would, in the case of Zimbabwe, include asking what exactly is informing our foreign policy with for example the European Union or the Chinese. And of late, with Libya, SADC and the AU.
A final area of importance of 9/11 to Zimbabweans is that whereas we are in awe of one country or the other’s power, whether militarily or economically, we must also be cautious about taking as truth everything that they indicate in their foreign policies. The ‘shock and awe’ of Iraq together with the attendant ‘collateral damage’ of innocent civilians is nothing to admire at all. Indeed when these wars appear on our television screens they seem like they are the stuff made for ‘Rambo’ movies, but the reality is that they affect people’s lives and must be avoided at all costs. And the true causes of why a country has been attacked or is to be attacked must be assessed pragmatically and with democratic premise.
In remembering the tragic and horrific events of 9/11, Zimbabweans are and were correct to demonstrate solidarity with their American fellow world citizens. They would also be correct if they also began to query foreign policy decisions of their own government and their full potential domestic ramifications. Be it from the whole matter of sanctions on Zimbabwe, the war that occurred in the DRC and any differences with the South African government.