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TerrorismNorth America

9/11 through African eyes

September 11, 2021

Across Africa, it was hard to miss the tragedy unfolding in the US as terrorists struck on September 11, 2001. DW journalists who were in Africa during the 9/11 attacks look back on that day.

Billowing smoke rises after the collapse of the first tower during the attack on the World Trade Center
Billowing smoke rises over New York during the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center Image: NIST/dpa/picture alliance


Zainab Aziz

Zainab Aziz DW Redaktuerin Kiswahili
Zainab Aziz is a moderator and editor at DW KiswahiliImage: DW/J. Charo

I knew about the attack immediately because I was a journalist, working for the national broadcaster in the capital, Nairobi. In my heart and mind, I was thinking of the people inside those buildings. I was shocked, even before I knew the details.

The attack gave me flashbacks to the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. I had been hurt by falling glass when I found myself, by coincidence, outside the US Embassy in Nairobi.

The 9/11 attacks were really confirmation that terrorist activity was happening around the world. That attack in the US left us wondering what can happen to our countries. Immediately after the bombings in the US, police in Kenya took steps such as checking on people in hotels and stopping to search people on the streets.

A US soldier guards the embassy amid debris in Dar es Salaam.
On August 7, 1998, more than 200 people were killed in bombings at the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Image: AMR NABIL/AFP


Abdoulaye Mamane

Abdoulaye Mamane
Abdoulaye Mamane is a moderator and editor at DW HausaImage: Privat

I was finished with school in Niamey on 9/11. I remember being with my father around a radio, and he explained the attack in which he said some people had died. We youth didn't pay much attention. But my father, who was a businessman, kept his ear on the radio.

At the time, the government of President Mamadou Tandja was still fresh. So there wasn't a big official reaction.

The public reaction came after people heard the name Osama bin Laden on the television and in the mosques. That's when people started giving the name to their new babies: "Osama."

Young people later started calling their radio listening clubs names such as "Pentagon" or "Tora Bora" [after the US battle of Tora Bora in December 2001 in Afghanistan]. These are names you still hear today.

Fire and smoke coming from two tall buildings
September 11, 2001: A day that changed the worldImage: Chao Soi Cheong/AP/picture alliance


Amos Zacarias

DW Mitarbeiter | Amos Zacarias
Amos Zacarias is a moderator and reporter at DW Portuguese for AfricaImage: DW

Despite being a kid at college in Sofala Province, I remember hearing that something happened, somewhere else. Nobody had clear information because we had no TV and no visuals [of the event]. We just imagined it was a game and people were just making it up.

My history teacher told us he had heard about something happening in the US. At that moment we thought it was someone far away playing a game. It was too far away.

The image that stays with me is of the adults and their concern for whether it would affect us. They knew how bad war could be, so they didn't want to scare us. Mozambique was just recovering from civil war

Is the war on terror a lost cause?

South Africa

Benita van Eyssen

I was packing for a flight back home to Johannesburg, and the TV screen started flashing jolting images from the US of buildings, smoke, planes and frazzled reporters. I had just wrapped up work at the first-ever UN conference against racism and discrimination in Durban.

Days before there had been much controversy at the conference when the US and Israeli governments withdrew from the event that otherwise saw the participation of many world leaders of the time, including Olusegun Obasanjo, Fidel Castro, Yoweri Museveni and Yasser Arafat.

At first, I thought the US bombings had something to do with the refusal of the US to talk on a global level about racism and discrimination, or maybe with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don't remember any immediate reaction from South Africa's leaders. At the time, President Thabo Mbeki was caught up in an awful AIDS denialist scandal and Nelson Mandela had been giving his attention to the UN meeting on racism.


Zainab Mohammed

Zainab Mohammed
Zainab Mohammed is a moderator and editor at DW Hausa

I shall remember 9/11 for the rest of my life. I came to learn of the attacks in the US 24 hours after they happened.

I had been married for only a few months and was traveling with my husband in Nigeria on September 11, 2001, when armed robbers attacked us along the Kaduna-Niger highway. I escaped through the hills and fell over before passing out, while my husband was seriously injured.

It was at the start of my journalism career, and so it was easy to hear about what was happening in the US — although I was trying to recover from the shock of being attacked.

To Nigerians, 9/11 brought a fear of the unknown. If the Pentagon and the World Trade Center could be attacked, then what more? The word "terrorism” became the talk of the day. The names al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, etc. became common among people. The media updated people almost every second on what was a big tragedy for the entire world.

A fireman points with his hands against a backdrop of smoke and debris
The scenes from the World Trade Center have been unforgettable for many who saw themImage: picture-alliance / DoD


Mantegaftot Silesh

Mantegaftot Sileshi | DW Amharic senior editor
Mantegaftot Sileshi is a moderator and editor at DW Amharic Image: Mantegaftot Sileshi/DW

I had just graduated from Addis Ababa University and heard of that great tragedy on the night of September 11, which is the Ethiopian New Year. It wasn't as easy to access international media in Addis then as it is now. So we first heard the terrible news on the radio, then we rushed to a nearby bar to watch the news on TV.

The images have stayed with me until now. I went home early that day and in our quarter, my friends and I were asking each other why and how could this happened. No one had the answer on that night. We had no idea about al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group at that time. We only heard the name Osama bin Laden again and again.


Michael Oti

DW Afrika 77% Gastgeber Michael Oti
Michael Oti is a moderator at DW Africa Image: Michael Oti

I was in high school at the time in the capital, Accra, and I had very little interest in international politics. There was a lot of shuffling in and out of the teaching staff's common room.

The teachers told us about the attack, but I recall just shrugging. Ghana is geographically so far from America — so I didn't feel any emotional connection.

I didn't really understand the magnitude of what had happened. All day that day, the scenes of the airplanes flying into the Twin Towers were shown over and over on TV. From that point on, I knew the Americans were going to retaliate.

Benita van Eyssen was a correspondent for dpa International at the time of the September 11 attacks.