EDITORIAL: States must take terror alerts much more seriously

Saturday November 20 2021
Kampala security

Terror revisited East Africa, with twin bombings in Kampala that have so far claimed seven lives and left dozens of people nursing injuries. FILE PHOTO | COURTESY

By The EastAfrican

Terror revisited East Africa this week, with twin bombings in Kampala that have so far claimed seven lives and left dozens of people nursing injuries. Three suspected suicide bombers are among the dead.

The attacks, which came three minutes apart, were not completely unexpected. They came more than a month after British intelligence warned of an imminent terror threat. It is not known how specific that intelligence was.

Targeting government institutions, they were the most brazen yet, following smaller explosions in an entertainment spot and a long-distance bus weeks earlier. There had also been isolated incidents in the countryside of unexploded bombs found, including one where, oddly, a bomb was being used as a weighing stone in a village butchery, and another in which three children perished in an explosion.

For a region that has seen a lot of forced movement across national borders, the surge in insecurity should not have been unexpected. Mass movements of people are the perfect cover for infiltration into previously impenetrable target countries because, often, the people on the frontline of such emergencies are not trained in security surveillance.

A worrying development, too, is the emerging domestic terrorism, where local residents are increasingly becoming participants in terrorism. Addressing an international tourism conference in 2005, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni postured that Uganda was safe from terrorism, because black Africans were not inclined towards taking their own lives.

The bombers who perished in Tuesday’s attack were native Ugandans, just as all the suspects arrested since security agencies got wind of the terror plots. In Kenya, three terrorism convicts who broke out of the country’s most secure prison on Monday and were arrested on Thursday about 300km from Nairobi were locals.


Not long ago, in Dar es Salaam, a gunman went on a shooting spree in the city’s diplomatic district, killing and injuring several people. What has changed?

The answer to that question cannot be delinked from domestic politics, which has increasingly taken a totalitarian character. International terrorism is finding fertile ground in a politically and economically discontented population. Ruling parties, obsessed with retaining power, are splitting their countries down the middle, making it near impossible to achieve unity of purpose in the face of an existential threat which, to some people, is the promise of liberation.

Whether the bombers who perished in Kampala knew that they were going to die or not, they were probably motivated by the idea that they were getting back at a system that has alienated them. It would not bother them to establish that the people hiring them are pursuing an agenda that is a far removed and more complex than their personal grievances.

To mobilise the population against terrorism, governments must give their people values worth protecting and dying for. The average man will not appreciate the ideals of a democracy and freedoms he does not have.

Terrorism cannot be wished away, and neither will name-calling solve the problem. Citizens must buy into the idea that terrorism in any form is a threat to all, and governments must address the factors that feed discontent. That can for a start be achieved through reorienting, retraining and facilitating the security system to smell and detect material threats from a mile away. The adversary relationship between citizens and their keepers also needs to change towards more collaboration.