You probably heard the numbers 9 and 11 circulate the media more than a few times this past week. US political rivals John McCain and Barack Obama agreed to put politics aside for a day to appear together where the Twin Towers had once stood, in honour of those who died in the 2001 Al-Qaeda attack on America.
I was not in New York in 2001. Neither am I American. I am a Ghanaian Afropolitan who had just finished my first degree in London and had invited a few friends over to celebrate the fact over jollof, plantain, chicken and juice. It took my friends and I a few minutes to realize that the smoking towers on my TV screen were not part of a paused movie trailer, but were rather images being transmitted live from New York City.
I heard the numbers 9 and 11 bandied across the news networks quite a few times that day too. The numbers stuck in my mind because Americans describe their dates differently, putting their months before their days. In the midst of the carnage, death and tragedy though, I remember thinking with considerable sadness that ‘9/11’ was probably going to become a brand; as recognizable and all-American as Coca Cola and McDonalds; Microsoft and Nike.
What of the numbers 7 and 8 though?
We share a continent with Kenyans and Tanzanians, yet we are more likely to remember intimate details of what transpired on 9/11 than we are even aware of 8/07: the date of the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
I have met many an African who imagines Osama Bin Laden some kind of folk hero, standing Mugabe-like in the face of Western hegemony. I would ask them to remember Osama’s part in the deaths of over 200 people – mostly African – and the injury of 5000 more on the 7th of August, 1998. Those who died that day were mostly Embassy staff trying to earn a living. They died over a war that had little to do with them. Lawrence Wright – the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist - wrote that Bin Laden “initially said that the sites had been targeted because of the `invasion` of Somalia; then he described an American plan to partition Sudan, which he said was hatched in the embassy in Nairobi. He also told his followers that the genocide in Rwanda had been planned inside the two American embassies." These motivations carry all the factual weight of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.
Perhaps the numbers 7 and 8 are simply not sexy enough for us – as Africans - to remember. Hollywood has not made glossy films about that day. Directors in Nollywood – the world’s third biggest self-contained movie industry (and Africa’s first) - are too busy selling soap operas and using outdated special effects to depict witches falling out of the sky to even consider telling a story of such importance as the East African bombings.
The Kenyans and Tanzanians who died that day were collateral damage as far as Bin Laden was concerned: he placed little to no value on African life. In remembering 9/11 but forgetting the 7th of August, 2001, we - as Africans – do exactly the same thing.
PS: if Obama and McCain can put aside their very genuine and pronounced differences to join forces in commemorating 9/11, then why can’t the flag bearers of Ghana’s major parties (whose only major difference seems to be their choice of animal-like dance moves) release a simple joint statement or host a joint rally denouncing political violence (and the childishness of their bodyguards, while their at it)?