Fifteen days after twin suicide bombings killed 76 people in Kampala, Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni used an African Union summit in the capital city to declare war on the Somali group responsible for the July 11 bombing — as well as on foreign fighters aiding the group. “The terrorists should be wiped out of Africa,” Museveni said on Monday. “Let us act and sweep them out of Africa and to where they came from in Asia and the Middle East.”
But to secure its borders, cities and regional interests, Uganda must do more than target terrorists. Roving rebel groups, many of them homegrown, also threaten this rapidly developing country of 32 million people. Terrorists from the east and rebels from the west raise the prospect of a two-front war for Kampala. American assistance factors heavily on both fronts. And both also represent potential security quagmires.
Al-Shabab, the most dominant of Somalia’s many Islamic insurgent groups, claimed responsibility for the July bombings, which were timed to strike a rugby field and a restaurant, both packed with World Cup spectators. An Al-Shabab spokesman said the attacks were meant as retaliation for Uganda’s contributions to a 6,000-strong A.U. peacekeeping force in Mogadishu that Sheikh Muktar Abu Zubayr said has “massacred” Somali civilians. “We will keep revenging what your soldiers remorselessly did to our people,” Abu Zubayr said. “Your tanks destroyed the remains of our buildings in Mogadishu, and we will also revenge that.”
The heavily armed Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers fight alongside the U.S.-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government against Al-Shabab and other Islamic groups, who are aided by “freelance” foreign fighters that stream into Somalia from neighboring countries, Yemen, Central Asia and even the United States. Every year, hundreds of civilians die in the crossfire. In addition to deploying peacekeepers to Somalia, Uganda — which does not share a border with that chaotic country — hosts tens of thousands of Somali refugees who cross into Uganda by air or by land through Kenya.