Questions linger over Uganda’s show of might

Saturday July 05 2014

UPDF soldiers and police forces patrol streets in Kampala with a tactical operation vehicle on July 3, 2014 after the US embassy in Uganda issued a warning of an impending attack. AFP PHOTO

Questions are emerging over Uganda’s show of force last week in response to an alleged terrorist attack threat after the police denied they were the primary source of detailed information to the US embassy that included where and at what time the terrorists planned to attack.

Contacted for comment, Daniel Travis, the embassy’s public affairs officer, said they stood by the statement they sent out.

Fred Enanga, the police spokesperson, said while it is their practice to share information with the embassy, the information in their possession had not been thoroughly processed.

“It didn’t warrant an alert but they deemed it important enough to inform their citizens. Was the airport attacked at the time that was given? We insist the intelligence is still being processed and when we are confident that we need to alert the public to any risk we shall do so,” Mr Enanga told The EastAfrican.

“The police, together with other security agencies, continuously, and on a daily basis, focus on the threat of terrorism and evaluate information relating to any possible attacks in the country,” he added.

On Thursday, July 3, the embassy issued an emergency notice to Americans residing in Uganda saying it had “received information from the Uganda Police Force that according to intelligence sources there was a specific threat to attack Entebbe International Airport by an unknown terrorist group,” on that day between 9 and 11pm.


READ: United States warns of threat to Entebbe International Airport

There was no attack at the airport on Thursday. On Friday, the police arrested two people it suspected were terrorists at a shopping mall in Kampala but later released them without charges.

In earlier statements on the incident, the duo, one of whom the police claimed was a man dressed as a woman, had been trailed right from their arrival at Entebbe International to the shopping mall two kilometres east of downtown Kampala.

The embassy further advised anybody who planned to travel on that day to review their plans in light of this information; review their personal security plans; maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security.

In what appears to be a response to this notice, on the same day a combined force comprising the army, police and other un-uniformed security people poured onto the streets in Kampala dressed in camouflage, battle helmets and brandishing sophisticated weaponry, including sniper rifles.

The EastAfrican understands they were deployed two hours before the embassy sent out the emergency message.


The joint force instituted single file patrols, took over security screenings in the Central Business District and other business premises considered vulnerable to attack, cordoned off some areas, and conducted full body searches of everyone who was heading to and from the airport.

Curiously, however, the police, too, issued a statement on Thursday in which they said they did not give any specific information to the American embassy.

“As the public knows, whenever there is an imminent terror threat in the country, the police issues terror alerts. Had we found it that there was such information that warranted warning against travelling using Entebbe International Airport, we would have issued an alert,” the statement reads.

On Saturday, June 28, while passing out 49 Civil Aviation Authority officers at the Police Training School in Masindi District, Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura reportedly said security readiness at the airport was far below acceptable standards.

“We are sitting on a time bomb. At night, there are no security lights. Someone can shoot without our officers seeing him,” the Daily Monitor quoted him as saying.

General Kayihura is said to have added that the airport operates with outdated equipment. Again, the police public relations office quickly issued a statement to say while the airport had technical weaknesses it was “safe and secure due to very good human and technical capacities.”

READ: Uganda beefs up security at all borders

Next Friday, July 11, will mark four years since the day terrorists linked to Al Shabaab bombed Kampala’s Kyadondo Rugby Club and the Ethiopian Village Restaurant during the final game of the football World Cup. They killed 78 people and injured many others.

While police made arrests, nobody has been brought to book yet.