Uganda wakes to irrevocable loss

2010-07-24 12:22

The bomb explosions that ripped through two venues in Kampala as

fans and revellers watched the soccer World Cup final shattered an illusion and

triggered a deep wave of soul-searching in a country with a turbulent

past.

The official death toll of 74 with more than 100 injured and two

venues turned into rubble are the grim statistics that may well come to form

only part of the story.

As I walked around downtown Kampala days after the bombings, the

same questions kept cropping up.

“How could this happen in Kampala? What has

Somalia to do with us?”

The first spoke to the illusion, or should that be myth, that had

grown up around those living in Kampala that their city was an oasis that would

remain untouched by the horrors visited on the neighbouring capitals in the

region.

Throughout the 1970s and for part of the 1980s, the city and

country at large had been the scene of wanton violence and brutal killings, as

its citizens perished in what was often state-sponsored terror.

But over a

20-year period, while war had raged in parts of northern Uganda as government

forces tried to drive out the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels,

much of the rest of the country had enjoyed a period of relative peace.

While Nairobi and Dar es Salaam suffered what turned out to be the

first known al-Qaeda bombings in 1998 that left more than 200 dead, Kampala

remained relatively safe, relaxed and free – a place for good cuisine and a

burgeoning nightlife.

To anyone under 25, the majority of the country’s

population, the dark period was but a footnote in history books.

All that changed on the night of July 11.

I heard the thud in the

distance but I put it down to joyful celebration, this might have been Kampala

but in every corner of the city we were not only in Johannesburg but in Soccer

City Stadium.

This, after all, was the African World Cup, our World Cup and we as

Africans had staged it and we were to celebrate its end.

But we are also a people with a voice and the questions followed

swiftly – about Al-Shabaab, who they are and what this had to do with Uganda

were obvious and were to be expected.

The link between the atrocities and the

country’s supply of peacekeeping troops to Somalia over the last three years

will now come under greater scrutiny. Ugandan deaths in the horn of Africa had

already led to mutterings.

These can only grow after Al-Shabaab stated its

intention to keep attacking those countries with troops on its soil – Uganda and

Burundi.

Questions have also been raised as to why it is only Uganda and

Burundi that have supplied peacekeeping forces to war-ravaged Somalia.

The other

African states supposed to have contributed to the planned 8?000-strong force

have so far not honoured their commitment.

Then there is the whole issue of whose side we are on in the “war

against terror”. Does this make the country more vulnerable to attacks of the

kind that occurred on that Sunday evening?

Business has tailed off at the once

vibrant places of entertainment while people remain cautious about going out

late.

In a cruel twist of irony that usually coincides with such events,

Kampala, which is increasingly becoming a conference destination of some repute

following the 2007 staging of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, will

over the next few days be hosting the meeting of the leaders of the African

Union.

It will be a sombre city that greets the heads of governments and

delegates, far from our true nature but an inevitable consequence of our

shattered world.

» Kibazo is a Ugandan media trainer and consultant


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