July 11 bomb attacks ; a new era of terror in Uganda

It was supposed to be a perfect night, at least that’s what I called it for that moment. Spain winning in the extra time with enough Spanish people to bring down the place in celebration. The venue was Soweto, South Africa where I was watching the World Cup final with friends from the Man Up campaign.

It was a cold but exciting night in Soweto but back home people were being blown to pieces by terror bombs. I learnt of the news yesterday morning shortly before I headed off to the airport.

A friend was first to alert me and I thought it must be some bad joke and how I wish it was. I went beyond the headline to sort of confirm the news by searching for names of people and familiar places that the bombs ripped apart that Sunday night.

There I saw Kyadondo Rugby club. It began sinking in that this was reality. Before I headed off to South Africa, I had spent several hours with friends at that bar and a good friend worked there. It’s a place that I have been visiting since 2002. My eyes moved up and the down the computer wondering whether my friends had survived and if they did what about my friends’ friends and families that I usually find there. I couldn’t do much for my phone had long died out so I prayed and hoped.

I imagined the horrifying scene during the attacks and shortly after at Uganda’s national referral hospital Mulago. I had been talking about Mulago with a friend from Spain who had visited Uganda in May. I had told him about one of the days that I went up to the labour ward, about the women that i saw on the floor unattended to, their screams that makes a young woman want to think twice about this journey, the shortage of doctors and medicines a story way too familiar. When I read the news of the blasts, I wondered what was going on in the emergency room at Mulago which itself is in dire need emergency care.

I arrived in Kampala 20 hours after the horrific attacks, I drove past the place, there were guards and nothing seemed to say much. Switching on my phone I was anxious and the first message was from a close friend telling me of a family member who perished at Kyadondo. I got messages about friends of friends that passed away that night and about a journalist who died yesterday and I am still getting them messages.

Today I woke up thinking of the newspapers headlines, the ones I didn’t want to see but wouldn’t avoid for their pictures portray the dead unsparingly. The first newspaper stand I see a lists of the dead and I could only go half way.

I strolled down by one of the sites of the attacks and it was quiet with cars of victims still parked. The sight of Kampala’s famous Marabou storks in large numbers pecking human flesh on the ground was heart wrenching.

Al Shabaab has already claimed responsibility to their first attack outside Somalia and they issued more threats to Bujumbura where the rest of the Africa Union Peacekeeping force is from.

Kampala, once of the safest cities on the continent in just one night was turned into a Bagdad of sorts where now people talk of avoiding any public places sticking to a schedule of home- work-home. Many are talking of avoiding churches.

Many innocent Ugandans have lost their lives, families and dreams and we won’t feel safe for a long long time. The bomb death toll is now about 74. Many Ugandans continue to be in fear with small things that we once overlooked being magnified in the terror lense. A misplaced flask calls for a terror squad, a bullet mistakenly burnt in garbage and the explosion in Kisenyi sends people ducking and a man today had thrown a phone in a trash can and he was arrested. A phone having been found in one of the bags which had a bomb that failed to detonate. I do hope through all this Ugandans do not turn to mistreatment of the Somali community in Uganda for they were the first victims of such murderous groups that forced them out of their country. We don’t want to see the Islamaphobia kind of wave that engulfed USA after 911.

Ugandans are generally welcoming of foreigners and I hope this wont rob us of that gift.

But do Ugandans even understand why we were targeted?

Uganda has been on high terror alert since we took the troops to Somalia under AMISOM in 2007. It’s only Uganda and Burundi in Mogadishu guarding a few places under the control of the Transitional Federal Government that is neither transiting nor federal. The Somali Islamist groups have gained force since last year’s withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and the AU forces have increasingly found themselves under attack with one blast last September right in the AU compound in Mogadishu that killed many including a deputy force Commander for Burundi.

Uganda has so far lost over 25 soldiers. For most of the last three years, these deaths have always seemed far away and reflected upon in Ugandan. After all it was a war situation and such stuff happens. We as the media have covered send offs of several contingents into Somalia but we never seen stories from families of those soldiers who died and few questions have remained unasked. But this terror right in our backyard brings us to question what on earth are we doing in Somalia and when will it be the right time for Uganda to pull out of Somalia?

President Museveni who visited the bombed sites said

“we will not run away.” That innocent people watching the World Cup should not be targeted. If they want to fight they should go find soldiers.”

Of course everybody knows that, what Ugandans want is certainly not justice for such mass killings by a suicide bomber make that almost out of reach. What Ugandans want is to be safe and stop our country from being a terrorist playground? And can we stay in Somalia at the same time keep us safe?

I agree with the President that Uganda will not run away. When you have a country that has limited safety systems and porous borders you cannot run away from a group which not only acts in clandestine ways but also has little to lose and everything to destroy. Terror has swept through some of the world’s most sophisticated safety systems. In a country where there’s not even national IDs and a passport is a luxury, in Uganda, even if we all got recruited into our infamous anti-terror squad it would take us loads of time and money to substantially reduce chances of another July 11 occurrence.

Few Ugandans know about Al Shabaab and many heard of it for the first time yesterday. To many in the military, withdrawing troops after such attacks may look defeatist but what if it is the way to save us from more bombs? Uganda had little if anything to do with the chaos that Somalia has been plunged into for the last two decades why should we pay for failed UN and American interventions?

At first we were the peacekeepers but what do we call ourselves today when we protect a government that is governing not even a district in a whole country?

I asked Captain Chris Magezi, the Ugandan contingent spokesperson based in Mogadishu and he said:

The blasts in kampala targeting innocent revellers were very unfortunate, acts of cowardly and barbaric extremist forces. But bad as the situation is, we must face this monster head on: we cannot afford to turn our backs in flight because this would mean victory for these evil. Their latest heinous act in kampala justifies why the mission in Somalia (AMISOM) should be strengthened further, perhaps even with greater agency. Otherwise there is no guarantee that those who do not contribute troops for Somalia will be immune to future terrorist attacks.”

But for now Kampala is taking the heat and those whos stayed away from Somalia aren’t and I couldn’t ask any further for this was an email exchange.

In the past the president has said we are in Somalia to fight for the freedom of our African brothers and also in a way for our own but we have not quite thought about one question what if that brother doesn’t want you fighting for him? Do you lose everything you’ve got or even yourself to bring him back to order? For now we are mourning for those youthful lives shattered, brought to a stop in the nastiest way possible and for those with injured relatives we worry about recovery but what we ultimately know is that Uganda has been made far less safe.

This government is credited for stopping the 70s and 80s kind of terrorism that Ugandans experienced. My father lived through the years of Idi Amin in the city. For many in the south, the last 20 years have been peaceful but is this government capable of saving us from 21st century terror that doesn’t need to find you in your home? The terrorism that doesn’t choose who’s for the government and who’s against it. The terrorism that is more complex than Idi Amin.

The president must now begin to weigh in the option of our troop exit and the sooner it happens the safer we shall all feel. For God and my country.

8 thoughts on “July 11 bomb attacks ; a new era of terror in Uganda

  1. This is very sad and i am having a hard time believing it. It seems so surreal. It’s just a mess. Hopefully one day there will be peace in Somalia. THis reminded of the times of the times around the Kenyan embassy attack.

    May the souls of all those who died rest in peace. It is very sad.

  2. Imagine what life is like for people in Somalia, getting killed like this every day. I am only glad there are some people, like the Ugandan soldiers, who selflessly want to help them, to make their life better.

    As the Americans always say; “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.” Unfortunately, pulling the troops out will only show the terrorists that placing bombs and killing innocent people is a good and efficient way to get their will. I don’t think that will help make the world a safer place.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I can only imagine how it is like to be in Somalia but you cant compare the war on terror in the US with Uganda. Uganda is a poor country we simply are too helpless to be earning ourselves enemies. The country’s children have no money to acquire an education, the youth are unemployed and there’s no healthcare in this country. And Uganda is caught up in the American war on terror but they have no clue how to defend us. Am sorry i will not pretend that i will put my citizens’ life at stake in order to look like i am helping Somalia. If the mission was really working I would say may be we have made a big difference. Everyday militants win territory and don’t forget Americans can’t dare enter somalia for they messed it up long time ago, went there and their soldiers were humiliated. So the Ugandans have to be sacrificed.

      I don’t want my country to pay the price of decades of failed American policies. No one wants terror but you have to be able to combat terror within your place in order to fight it. America’s wars are overseas by the time a terrorist comes to their soil it takes a lot, in my country any terrorist can come and finish us and who cares the world will go on business as usual. so i wont be good for now my life matters. In journalism we say you can’t tell a story when you’re dead. My country is no USA it can easily be brought to its knees. The sooner these African countries seat and figure out a solution for Somalia with an all inclusive plan free of interests the better for us. I will not seat back and wait for our soldiers’ bodies to be dragged in the streets of Mogadishu and have my friends or me blown up to pieces. That’s how nationalistic I am. Uganda now cannot defend me so I don’t think it can defend Somalia. In the end it will be Somalis that will make a big difference in their country. A government was toppled in that country for us to come as peacekeepers. we had nothing to do with it, Ugandan blood should not be shed for it.

  3. Helo Rossie and Pals,
    This is indeed very saddening. Too hard to stomach. Rossie said it all. I have been communicating with several comrades across the globe and the only issue Uganda gets to be known about is in the negatives; last King of Scotland, LRA, ADF inusrgencies etc, now add on bomb blasts. This is not what we really wish. I am is Austria for a Peace Studies Program. While my fellow peers are enjoying it, my heart is ever in darkness about what is home, friends, relatives… etc… so what is Peace to others, is not Peace to me here. Indeed Uganda, “Pearl of Africa” as Churchill commented, seems to be the bomb of Africa now. Being a student of Peace Studies and conflict transformation, I am abit challenged how, what, when, where, for whom..etc will Peace be realised?. The Somalia issue seems not to benefit us indeed. The key AU countries i.e. Nigeria, S.Africa, Libya etc that even have stronger forces can not dare sacrifice their sons in Somalia, why Small/poor Uganda and Burundi can’t see this?

    Let us keep hoping for the better though those who lost dear ones shall never get healed indeed.
    God bless you; For God and my Country.
    Moses T
    MA. Peace, Development, Security and International Conflict Transformation
    University of Innsbruck

  4. Rosebell, Nice read that one despite only that I will be deferring on this one. We have lost lives, yes. But I don’t think withdrawing will be a lasting solution. I know our services our not doing well especially on health and infrastructure but then the AMISON mission is not the problem for me. There is corruption in our country and even if we left this “expensive” mission I still think the services will remain the same.
    Staying in Somalia after these attacks on our city can work in our favor. We leave Somalia and then the Alshabab comes into power and takes control of that country. We have Islamists ruling a country and controlling it which would open up the chance for Al-quaeda to be closer to us and they will attack at their own will.
    I also think that if we are to stay our mandate should change from peacekeeping and we go to war (this may be subject to debate) although I think its a Just war. Uganda and Burundi are the only countries in Somalia but I also think we can have other countries now taking this serious and sending troops to Somalia.
    I know you may say we are serving America’s interests but how about securing our region. What would be our foreign policy be? What would we have achieved? If it was a mistake going their and provided some hope to the people of Somalia than Withdrawing will be a greater mistake.
    If its the monetary cost of the war, then I do not that will be a problem. From what I can see America is ready to fund the force but only that their involvement will make us look like we are pushing the American agenda.
    For me leaving will look defeatist and look like we have failed yet we haven’t even tried. If we can have troops from other African Countries then this would help.

  5. Rosebell,

    “The American War on Terror”… I’m not sure what you really mean by this… I did not realize the Americans had troops in Somalia, you seem to know more about this.. do you know how many there are? Or, as you say, maybe they’re not there? If so… how can Somalia and the AU being there have anything to do with the US?

    You write; “i will not pretend that i will put my citizens’ life at stake in order to look like i am helping Somalia”. I guess that’s what it’s all about – we all want to fix things, make the world a safer place. But we never want to sacrifice anyone or anything.

    A lot of things can be said about the US, many of them bad. They tend to attack countries for no good reason, then make up excuses after. But there is something good to be said for the US too… they get involved. They take responsibility. No other country does so much for so many outside their own borders. Unfortunately.. we only hear about the bad. I’m not much a fan of the US, but we can’t blame them for everything.

    I thank the Ugandan soldiers for their endurance, their courage, their solidarity and their sacrifice. I am surprised you do not do the same…

  6. @ McKeith,

    I Understand where you’re coming from but the war in Somalia and the use of terror is not anything we have experience in and if you want to fight a full fledged war that would mean a loss. Somalia is fragmented and it makes it easy for Al-Shabaab to take over. when you say if we leave the militants rule I got news for you that the so called troops are only guarding a port and a presidential palace the rest of Somalia is wild so I want us to question our role and ask your selves why other countries have stayed back. The Somalia question will not just be solved by war alone. There have been too many interventions failing from the time USA intervenedthen the UN, people have not really got a holistic approach to the problem. In a country we are claiming to secure everyday that passes the militants win. Somalia has been a play ground for everybody and people there don’t know who is even for them and whom to trust. They had suggested that countries that are mostly Muslim would may be not give an impression that now Uganda and Ethiopia are giving in terms of solving Somalia problems. Nigeria has for the last four years shunned the mission Libya has not done anything either. My argument is If the whole of Africa can’t come up with an intervention these two poor countries of Uganda and Burundi run a risk of being destabilized without Somalia will continue to being.

    All the little gains we have achieved over the last 20 years are going to be gone. We will now live in fear of terror and find our troops stuck in Somalia for decades just like US in Iraq. Why haven’t you seen a lot of Arab league intervention? Many Somalis have closer identity to the Arab league. I am simply saying Uganda and Burundi will not secure Somalia and if they wont, why make Uganda unsafe? It doesn’t make sense.
    I saw the president vowing to defeat Al- shabaab , I think I need to put up something on 21st century insurgence and how little Ugandan government knows of it. The use of suicide as a way of fighting makes it very difficult to win wars and Uganda will not be spared.

    Home we have corruption reigning which is part of the reason that our safety can’t be guaranteed because our security operatives are out looking for what to eat. To put Uganda on a collision course with militants who are willing to die in order to kill masses and instill fear cannot be the right decision. When you go a lone you make yourself an easy target. If the AU has failed to come up with a force Uganda and Burundi will be left to suffer the consequences.

  7. ‘A lot of things can be said about the US, many of them bad. They tend to attack countries for no good reason, then make up excuses after. But there is something good to be said for the US too… they get involved. They take responsibility. No other country does so much for so many outside their own borders. Unfortunately.. we only hear about the bad. I’m not much a fan of the US, but we can’t blame them for everything.’

    Yes, they give with one hand and take with the other hand as the saying goes. So they say.

    We can’t blame for everything and i doubt anyone is blaming for them for everything, but to an extent folks are aware of the influence and strings that play part, since the world is intertwined.

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