What you need to know:
Of what use is a virgin, let alone 40, if you enter the next world as minced meat?
I still vividly remember the July 2010 terror attack on Kyadondo Rugby Club in Kampala. I wasn’t there when the bombs went off, but such is the madness of journalism that when others are fleeing away from danger, we tend to dash towards it and often jump, fully clothed -- but not always -- right into the pool of trouble.
It was a few minutes after the blast and first-responders were still arriving at the scene. I walked silently through the carnage, stunned by the severity and banality of evil. Many of the dead sat back on white plastic chairs, heads tilted backwards as if they were napping, but this time from eternal sleep. A football fiesta had turned into a mass execution.
I was jolted back to reality by a hand on my shoulder. It was a journalist. He’d survived the blast and was now helping to ferry the injured into the ambulances that wailed like angry banshees in the warm July night. He had made the back-and-forth trip, between rummaging through the pained cries of survivors lying in the grass to the waiting ambulances, so many times, he had lost track of time.
“Daniel, who won?” He asked.
“Who won?” he repeated.
‘Who won what,” I asked, for a moment unsure whether I had heard right.
“Who won the final?” he repeated, his eyes still glazed over with shock.
Before I could recover my thoughts and respond, he spotted something in the distance and wandered off, zombie-like in search of survivors, answers, meaning.
Your columnist has since seen terrorism in other theatres. At Westgate in Nairobi we watched – from a safe distance – as a real-life horror movie played out then followed my colleague Njeri Rugene to track down and interview one of the vigilantes who had hunted down the shooters in the mall and, in the process, saved some lives.
In Majengo slum in Nairobi’s dark underworld I spoke to young men who fate had prised, just in time, from the hands of even darker men who had tried to recruit them into becoming suicide bombers. For some reason the recruiters tended to preserve the promise of 40 virgins in heaven for martyrs for the children of others ahead of their own. How kind and thoughtful of them!
Terrorism is political. It can also be controversial in drawing the line between those who are oppressed and fighting for what they consider to be their freedoms, and those who merely seek to set off panic and sow the seeds of terror.
But terrorism is also weak, ineffective and rarely attains its goals. A suicide bomber can wreak a lot of havoc but they can only do it once – and quite frankly, there is very little in it for them. Of what use is a virgin, let alone 40, if you enter the next world as minced meat?
The same is true of state-sponsored or orchestrated terrorism. No amount or method of terror can forever stymie the human instinct and desire for freedom. Fear visits, but freedom reigns.
What also isn’t clear are the motives of the group behind the latest wave of terror attacks in Uganda. If they want to cause regime change, they will have to do a lot more than blow things up in the city; even the Black Bombers in Kampala those many years ago had to then build political alliances and an army.
If their problem is Uganda’s involvement in foreign adventures, they should make a distinction between the country, the decision-makers, and the people. If Ugandan soldiers kill innocent civilians in Mogadishu there are many ways of holding the culprits accountable and ensuring that justice is done. Blowing up a waitress in a bar in Kampala is not one of them.
What is clear is that while terrorism comes with a bang, it almost always fizzles out in defeat. The Twin Towers came down but New York remains a bustling concrete jungle. Kyadondo bounced back. Westgate Mall is up and running. Many of the people who fled the city on Tuesday morning were back at work yesterday morning. Fear, like terror, wears off.
Incidentally, I hardly remember any details from the World Cup Final match in 2010. I had abandoned the television before the end of the game when reports of the first explosions trickled through. But I know who lost; terrorism.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and poor man’s freedom fighter.
[email protected]; @Kalinaki