What you need to know:
- It was palpable. The horror from the shock and pain of loss; the astonishment at the audacity of the attack; the heightened mystery of the shadowy terror group; Al-Qaeda and its sphinxlike leader, Osama Bin Laden; and the knowledge that there would be shock and awe when the United States got up to exact its revenge.
Everybody remembers where they were when they heard the news of the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. I was just a little boy in Senior One, returning home from the farm after taking the cows out to graze.
It was palpable. The horror from the shock and pain of loss; the astonishment at the audacity of the attack; the heightened mystery of the shadowy terror group; Al-Qaeda and its sphinxlike leader, Osama Bin Laden; and the knowledge that there would be shock and awe when the United States got up to exact its revenge.
Few – if any – could have predicted that 20 years after the war to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan had been launched, we would be seeing images of the United States scrambling to exit Kabul. The world – both real and fictional – has never been the same after that attack and the subsequent global war on terror.
I was at the Moi International Airport in Mombasa, as it became apparent that it was game over and that the Taliban were back in town.
A friend mentioned that there was a time when people smartened up for flights. That evening, nearly everyone in the lounge was wearing ‘crocs’ or sandals of some kind, and most of the men were in sweatpants. The war on terror has since forced a wardrobe shift and dress down for travelers anxious to beat the rigors of airport and flight safety checks.
Movie buffs also notice a shift in the Hollywood productions over this period; new work opportunities have opened up for young people in places where the United States needs to rent some muscle for its fights; visa restrictions to the west have become tougher for those seeking greener pastures elsewhere; while acquiescing dictators in the global South have tightened the noose around their citizens’ necks courtesy of a blind eye from the global policeman.
It is that last development that needs attention, because whereas the war on terror was predicated on exporting democracy, it can also be argued that in the same period, we have witnessed a near-erosion of individual rights and freedoms for citizens everywhere around the world.
There is no space or time to delve into specifics but anyone with a working brain can point out a government here and there that is wantonly squeezing the juices out of its citizens.
However, what we know today is that the post-Cold war optimism about democracy and human rights is on the wane and that instead, radicalization is on the rise.
Whatever gains that are visible are in spite of and probably only thanks to the inevitability of time. Outside of the 1st world, opportunities have drastically shrunk even as the emergence of technology and global interconnectivity means that young people pretty much share the same common dreams and aspirations regardless of their location.
So, it can be argued that the war on terror has somewhat achieved the exact opposite of what it was intended to accomplish. All this would make for great abstract 11:00pm banter over glasses of whiskey; or maybe find audience with academic panels debating globalization – if there were no apparent dangers for all of us.
Just this week, Uganda received Afghan refugees – evacuees really – because stuff has hit the fan over there. It is said that more will be arriving, and the hope for everyone who saw those sad images of hundreds who converged at the airport looking for a way out should be hoping that they find safe refuge.
It is probably out of callous idiocy or our way of deflecting from whatever troubles we are enduring, but it seemed quite odd that a lot of the public discourse around the issue was jocular. You don’t need a Mama Fina to tell you how easy it is for us to suddenly end up being the ones that need refugee.
Which, if for nothing else, is exactly why we must be a lot more empathetic and understanding of those who run to us for help. We can and should question and criticize the motives of our government, because many have often sinned and often fallen short of expectation and genuineness.
Even on this, you can expect that that money has exchanged hands because that’s just the way it is. But that’s our fight to have and needn’t involve those who are running to us in their hour of need.
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye