Uganda safe despite UK terror alert - govt

People extinguish fire after a bomb explosion near Parliament building on November 16, 2021. Two explosions hit Kampala City on the same day injuring a number of people. Police termed  it terror attack on the city. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • The army says terrorists are constantly trying to attack, but the security and intelligence systems of Uganda have neutered many  of their plans.

Security agencies have said that Uganda is safe despite a new alert issued by the United Kingdom (UK) that a terror attack in the country is likely. 
In a travel advisory on posted on its website, the UK government noted “terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Uganda”.  

“Attacks could be indiscriminate or against foreign nationals or places frequented by foreign nationals,” the advisory issued in London reads in part. 
In Kampala, Brig Felix Kulayigye, the UPDF and Defence ministry spokesman, yesterday said terror threats to Uganda are like to other countries, including the UK, and they have ably defended the country. 

“I assure Ugandans that the country is secure and safe. The factor that we haven’t had a major terror attack isn’t [because] the terrorists are so merciful to us, but that they have severally tried and failed because we haven’t allowed them to do so,” he said. 
In an interview yesterday, Police Spokesman Fred Enanga said terror threats are continuous and that the British government has not shared any specifics on the masterminds and potential attack sites relating to the latest notice. 

“My last statement on an existing threat environment still stands. [The] Inspector General of Police urged the public to stay vigilant and alert,” Senior Commissioner of Police Enanga said yesterday, referring to his briefing on Monday. 

The issuance of alerts by foreign governments, particularly the United States (US) and the UK, on potential terrorist attacks around the world is not uncommon in part because many of their citizens anywhere could end up a victim. 
In addition, the trans-border networks of terrorist groups and their crimes have meant states share more intelligence among themselvesthat is necessary to degrade, disrupt and defeat the outlaws and their plots. 

The British High Commission in Kampala, which represents the UK government’s interests in the country, did not answer our question yesterday on why they had not shared the intelligence qualifying the new terror attack alert with Ugandan officials. 
Instead, the High Commission in an email response noted that “we will offer information and advice about the likelihood of an attack taking place, terrorists trying to carry out attacks”. 

“This includes potential targets, details of groups or individuals that are posing the threat and steps being taken to counter the threat. We may also provide details of previous terrorist activity. We do not advise against travel to every country where there is a risk of terrorists operating,” the statement read in part.

The issuance of the latest terror alert in Uganda, the British High Commission noted, is based on its local knowledge, the information provided by local authorities and that gathered by intelligence services where the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) does not have the expertise to advise on a particular issue.

Ugandan security and spy agencies have not issued specific threat on likely terrorist strike, and did not following the UK notice confirm or dispute any imminent breach. 
In a rejoinder yesterday, Brig Kulayigye said terrorists are constantly trying to attack, but the security and intelligence systems of Uganda have neutered the plans, citing pre-emptive raids on “terror cells” in Nabweru, outside Kampala, and Kiboga District. 
“We put out of action one terrorist and arrested two others. The two are now in our custody. We also recovered a gun,” the Military and Defence spokesman said in reference to an operation in Kiboga. 

He said the terror cell in Nabweru, a Kampala suburb, was busted because security measures are in place to guarantee the safety and security of the country and its citizens. 
The UK warning comes weeks after Uganda suffered back-to-back terrorist attacks. The al-Shabaab militant group on May 26 raided a UPDF base in Somalia in which, according to President Museveni, at least 54 soldiers were shot dead. 

Three weeks later, on June 16, suspected Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) fighters targeted Mpondwe-Lhubiriha Secondary School in the western Kasese District and 44, most of them students.
The latter attack occurred four days after the United States on June 12 upgraded the terrorism level for Uganda in a travel advisory that also cited rising crime and the anti-gay law. 
“Some areas have increased risk,” a statement posted on the website of the US embassy in Kampala read in part, adding, “There remains a threat of terrorist attacks in Uganda and throughout the region.” 
Uganda government did not call for increased vigilance among citizens, and the country on June 17 woke up to the horrendous news of an attack the previous night on a school in Kasese, which replicated a portrait of the 1998 deadly ADF raid on Kichwamba Technical Institute in the neighbouring Bundibugyo District.  
The weekend terror alert by the UK is the second since November 2021 which, again, Ugandan officials neither validated nor respond to – at least publicly.   
A week later after that alert, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded at a pork eatery in Kampala’s northern Komamboga outskirt, killing one person and injuring several.  
A string of other bombings followed, with more deadly back-to-back explosions on the same day targeting law enforcement at the Central Police Station (CPS) and another on Parliamentary Avenue. 
More than half-a-dozen people were killed in the blasts that the government blamed on the ADF, resulting in the Democratic Republic of Congo leadership accepting Uganda’s request for joint deployment of troops for a counter-offensive against ADF. 
The mission code-named Operation Shujaa began on November 30, 2021 and, until the May 26 and June 16 incidences, Uganda had neither issued a terror alert or suffered one. 
In his State-of-the-Nation Address last month, President Museveni, who is the commander-in-chief of the UPDF, gave a flowery report card of the operation which he said had decimated the command of ADF and eliminated its notables and fighters, prompting them to scatter into smaller groups. 

It is one of such groups, according Operation Shujaa Commander, Maj Gen Dick Olum, which raided Mpondwe-Lubiriha SS undetected and unanswered, announcing days later that some of the militants had been killed by UPDF soldiers inside DRC in a hot pursuit. 
In its latest travel advisory, the British government asked its citizens in Uganda to “be vigilant at all times, especially in crowded areas and public places like hotels, transport hubs, restaurants and bars …” 
It also listed crowd-pulling events such as sport or religious congregations and high-value state assets such as government buildings and security installations, among them police stations, as high risk. 

Twin bombings at Lugoogo and Ethiopian Village Restaurant, both in Kampala, killed at least 76 soccer fans watching a World Cup Final game, with dozens taking life-long or severe injuries. 

“Previous terrorist attacks and disrupted attacks in Uganda have targeted the security forces, places where football matches were being viewed, restaurants, buses and government buildings,” the UK statement issued on the weekend reads in part. 

In February, this year, Washington in a report on terrorism warned that Uganda remained vulnerable to terror attacks due to corruption, porous borders and lack of trust among security and intelligence agencies. 

“The vulnerability is at least in part due to porous borders, corruption, a lack of trust and information sharing among disparate security services, diversion of security force capabilities to focus on opposition politicians, an overly militarised approach to combating violent extremism within Uganda, and the security forces’ poor relations with local communities and civil society,” the US Department of State noted.