More than 60 people were killed yesterday in two separate bomb attacks in Kampala, a signature Al-Qaeda attack. Curiously, the terrorist organization has not claimed responsibility.
I’ve increasingly written about Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda in Somalia, and their increasing power and influence in East Africa. With last week’s peaceful elections in the southern third of Somali known as Somaliland, the Al-Shabaab is consolidating its control of the north-western third outside Mogadishu. Ironically, violence in Somalia is slightly down.
But if the fighting for turf is subsidizing, the fighting for hearts and minds is only growing. The blasts in Kampala, at an Ethiopian bar and the Rugby Sports Club (both packed with guests watching the World Cup), carry all the characteristics of a terrorist organization trying to make a point.
Their point: get out of Somalia.
Uganda and Burundi are the only East African countries that have military forces in Somalia fighting Al-Shabaab. They are a part of a joint UN/African Union force that is doing poorly and has suffered numerous casualties for peace-keepers. The Uganda media is becoming increasingly hostile with the government’s war effort, there.
So all the pointers suggest a premeditated, coordinated attack by Al-Shabaab to get East African forces out of Mogadishu.
Why, then, have they not taken full responsibility?
(1) The nature of terrorism is such that Al-Shabaab may have planted agents in Uganda but without fully knowing their plans. They may simply be waiting for their own confirmation.
(2) The President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, is standing for re-election later this year. He has become increasingly authoritarian and has been imprisoning a number of opponents. The biggest attack was at the Rugby Club, frequented almost exclusively by educated and many dissident Ugandans. Regardless of who actually did it, will most certainly quiet to some extent Museveni’s public critics.
(3) Shortly the southern Sudan will be voting for independence from the Republic of Sudan, and the situation just north of Uganda is growing tense. Uganda has been an advocate for southern Sudanese independence. (Uganda President) Museveni has told the Republic of Sudan that if its president comes to Kampala next month for the Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting, he’ll be arrested. (There is an international warrant on Omar al Bashir for war crimes in Darfur.) Sudan harbors Al-Shabaab.
The horror of what has happened suggests some absurdity in focusing on the perpetrators, but we have been fairly fortunate in the last several years in East Africa to not have suffered these incidents. With some clarity in the days ahead, we may have a clearer understanding if anything new is developing.
Right now, I don’t think so. The evidence is pointing to Al-Shabaab, specifically against Uganda for its soldiers in Somalia, a mission that because of its low international interest has attracted less international security. Thus, more easily accomplished.