Mr President, we could do with more information on Somalia
Posted Sunday, September 29 2013 at 01:00
Nairobi exploded with deadly gunfire last weekend leaving, as at last count, 67 dead. Al-Shabaab crowed. It had scored something of a perfect hit. It had attacked in the heart of Nairobi, attacked a symbol of rising wealth (however unequal), a site favoured by the middle class and the expatriate set. Moreover, the assault was carried out in the middle of day.
Someone must have taken clear lessons from watching those planes slam into New York’s Twin Towers 12 years ago. The choice of the month of September was deliberate: To make a connection to 9/11.
Apart from announcing the continuing alliance between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda, the assailants may have also been sending a message to the Kenyans and the Americans regarding Somalia. Some eyewitnesses in the mall have reported that the killers expressly said they were targeting Kenyans and Americans for slaughter. Maybe the Kenyan security should have worried more about September and beefed up security.
For one, Kenya shares a rather porous border with Somalia (something that easily facilitated two further attacks midweek in Mandera and Wajir), just like it does with the other neighbouring countries. Sneaking across and finding accomplices inside Kenya could not have been difficult. It is even suggested, from the guns the attackers had, that rogue Kenyan security personnel may have done in their country.
“Intelligence analysts say … the militants [may have] acquired their weapons from corrupt Kenyan officers, who are known to sell or rent out their guns, charging as little as a few dollars an hour,” The New York Times reported.
Kenya, Uganda and other African countries caught up in what they call the war against terrorism may want to do more training, equipping and remunerating of their security personnel. One of these countries’ intelligence agencies is said to leak critical intelligence information so bad that it is undermining the struggle against al-Shabaab.
That is what happens when survival is dicey. You deal in whatever you have – guns, information – to keep sukuma wiki and ugali on the family table.
Kampala was hit on 7/11 as scores watched on TV the World Cup final game in 2010. The bomb attacks on Kyadondo rugby grounds and the Ethiopian restaurant/bar left more than 70 dead.
Since then, the number of guns in the hands of the police and private guards appears to have gone up. Of course, the criminals also get the guns. But that in a way balances out things. The 7/11 deaths were the result of the bad guys tossing bombs into the midst of gathered crowds.
The Nairobi killings had the gun-totting bad guys storming a shopping complex with people up and about doing different things. If ordinary Kenyan guards also carried guns, visibly so, like it is in Kampala, maybe they would have immediately engaged the assailants with equal firepower and prevented those many deaths.
Our gun culture is borne out of our violent political past. It may now prove to have some benefit.
So what next? Al-Shabaab will still want to bloody the noses of Ugandans and Kenyans for as long as our armies are in Somalia. The political elite in Kampala seems to agree that it is okay to keep on in Somalia. But why did we go in there in the first place other than that President Museveni wanted it? Parliament and the people of Uganda were not consulted.
We may have gone to save Somalia from itself in the name of pan-Africanism as President Museveni has claimed. He may have led our troops there to help “my friend Zenawi”. Or to make good on the failure of the OAU to stop the Somali implosion in 1991. Mr Museveni was chairman of that precursor body of the AU. Or maybe we went to stop jihadists. Only Mr President knows.
Whatever the reason, we need to know what the strategy is. When shall we (read President Museveni) say the UPDF has achieved its goal and it is time to head home? What is the exit plan? It can’t be couched in tantrums. When some group of international “experts” accused Uganda of supporting M23 rebels in DR Congo, we threatened to leave Somalia. When there was disagreement over the extension Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s Transitional Federal Government, we threatened to pull out. Ugandans deserve to hear a reasoned strategy. It is our brothers and sisters dying and getting injured out there.
We also want to see the multiple-helicopter crash report. And the food theft report too. Whispers of gun-running have been heard although tersely denied by the military leadership. So much is going on in and a round that Somali theatre.
Meanwhile, we live in fear of being killed here at home. We demand to know more. We demand to know what the government is doing to keep us safe. We can no longer be taken for granted.
Mr Tabaire is a media consultant with the African Centre for Media Excellence.