Looking back at the July 11, 2010 Kampala twin bombings

Police officers examine the scene of terrorist bombing at the Ethiopian Restaurant in Kabalagala. File photo

Spain and Holland are two of the world’s football giants. Before 2010, none of them had ever won the World Cup. A final between the two countries that were hungry for the glory of lifting the cup was a must-watch. The opportunity presented itself on July 11, 2010. The venue was Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Many football fans believe that the bigger the company with which one is watching a game, the more enjoyable it is. So, on the fateful night, those who subscribe to this belief flocked different joints around the country to watch the match in company of others. In Kampala, Kyadondo Rugby Ground stood out. To attract more spectators, the night was spiced up with performances by artistes such as Bebe Cool, free beers were served and large screens were used to telecast the match.

Ten minutes after the match’s kick off, the much anticipated display of flair from Spain and Holland, was fast turning into a battle for foul bookings. Players from the two teams seemed nervous. Fifteen minutes later, the game started getting interesting. Spain was showcasing titbits of its prowess at possessing the ball. When the half-time whistle was blown, there was hope for a more entertaining second half.

In Kabalagala, at the Ethiopian Village, that was the last that was watched of the match. A bomb ripped through the restaurant leaving about 13 viewers dead and scores injured. This news may not have reached the spectators at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds. Relaying of the final continued. Towards the end of the match, another bomb exploded at Kyadondo, killing more people. This got the survivors running for safety. Hardly had a minute elapsed when a second one exploded. Chairs were overturned, others blown apart. Some of the dead slumped to the floor with half-empty beer bottles in their hands. The sight was a gruesome one.

86 people died
According to the list of names read out during the memorial service, 86 people lost their lives. These included foreign nationals from America, Ireland, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Congo, India and Sri Lanka. Sirens from ambulances and military vehicles filled the air through the rest of night and the better part of next day – Monday, as they transported the dead as well as some survivors to Mulago hospital. The hospital was working overtime as people paced up and down looking for both their dead and surviving relatives and friends. Zedekia Tumwegyereize, who was on duty at the Kampala City Council Mortuary after the bombs had gone off, told a reporter from this newspaper that: “There were so many bodies, the refrigerators were full, the tables were also full and we had to place bodies on the floor.”

The discovery of a severed head and leg got the investigating team to conclude that it was a suicide bomber’s job. Hours after the incident, the BBC reported a statement from Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, the spokesman for the group, in which he acknowledged that Al Shabaab, a militant Islamist group based in Somalia, was behind the two bomb blasts in the country. “We thank the mujahideen that carried out the attack. We are sending a message to Uganda and Burundi, if they do not take out their Amisom (African Union Mission in Somalia) troops from Somalia, blasts will continue and it will happen in Bujumbura [the Burundi capital] too,” he added. The bombings drew worldwide condemnation. South Africa, which hosted the World Cup, described it as a “barbaric act of terrorism”. Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, the US president Barack Obama, and the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said the attackers were cowardly.

“If you want to fight, why don’t you look for soldiers and fight them other than targeting people enjoying themselves?” Museveni said, while addressing a crowd at the rugby grounds, a day after the incident. He thereafter declared a week of mourning where flags flew at half mast.

Barely 24 hours after the twin bombings, an unexploded bomb was discovered and disabled at Makindye House, a popular hanging out in the Makindye suburb. The spot was said to have sat over 200 football fans for the World Cup final.

Security checks around the city were scaled up. One had to undergo checking before they could be let into the taxi parks, a number of shopping arcades, bars and discotheques.

The trial
On July 19, the police showed journalists photos of the suspected suicide bombers. One of the persons in the photo appeared to be of Somali descent and the other a Ugandan. A month after the tragedy, 38 suspects were arrested and arraigned before court. Some of the suspects were from Kenya and Tanzania. The charges preferred against them included: murder, attempted murder and terrorism. However, 18 suspects had charges against them withdrawn by the Director of Public prosecutions (DPP) and were released unconditionally. Four suspects; Hassan Haruna Luyima, a city businessman, Edris Nsubuga, a shop attendant, Ali Isa Luyima and Mahmoud Mugisha confessed to masterminding the bomb blasts. Two of these, Edis Nsubuga and Mahmoud Mugisha pleaded guilty to the charges and were sentenced to 25 and 15 years in jail, respectively.

The trial of 12 suspects was put to a halt to allow the Constitutional Court to address their grievances about the lawfulness of their prosecution. The government, through the Ministry of Internal affairs, compensated the families of the deceased for their burial expenses and, the injured were given money for their hospital bills. The former received Shs5m while the latter were given Shs3m. About 138 families were beneficiaries of this offer.

On July 11, 2011, a year after the calamity, memorial prayers were held at the rugby grounds, to mark the first anniversary since the bombings. Relatives and friends who were dressed in black could not hold back tears as the names of 86 victims were read out. Candles were lit and wreaths laid on a monument built for the victims at the grounds.

Today marks the third anniversary since the catastrophe. May the souls of the deceased rest in eternal peace and, May God guide the survivors (some of whom are living with shrapnel in their bodies, others have been confined to wheel chairs) through the challenges of getting their lives together.