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Terror in Kasese – a rude awakening for Uganda’s security

By Simon Mwebaze

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

For many years, Uganda was known to be a peaceful country. The last time there was any international news about terrorism was when Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, was still terrorizing the northern part of the country. Besides that, the country has had occasional shootings, irregular small-scale bombings, and one major bomb at Kyadondo Rugby Club that took 80 lives back in 2010. 

But two weeks ago, the country faced a new serious attack in Kasese that has upended the safety and security of the Ugandan state. The village of Kasese, near the DRC border, experienced a horrific attack by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group. That attack killed 42 students and abducted others at Lhubiriha Secondary School. This was not the first ADF encounter in Uganda since the group started operating in the 1990s.

Who are the ADF? The terrorist group is a merger of Islamic rebel groups including the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), the Allied Democratic Movement, and militant members of the Tablighi Jamaat movement. The group is based along the Rwenzori mountains of eastern DRC and is affiliated with the Islamic State. Over the years, the group has claimed responsibility for various terrorist attacks in Uganda. Jamil Mukulu, the group’s founder, has an interesting history considering he was a Catholic who converted to Islam. 

The group has conducted a few attacks in Uganda but none at this scale before. This begs the question as to what an attack of this scale means for the country and the fight against terrorism in the region. 

Firstly, this attack implies that terrorism is alive and well in the country. It is not so far back that the capital city experienced three suicide bombings in the city. Additionally, the number of assassinations in the city by different terror groups and hired gunmen has increased. The last terror attack of this scale was in 2010 at Kyadondo Rugby Club where 80 people were killed from a bombing. The perpetrators were from the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabaab.

Despite the last attack of this scale being over a decade ago, it shows that the threat of terrorism has not been adequately dealt with. While there haven’t been casualties of that magnitude in the capital city since 2010, 41 dead outside the capital city still proves that terrorism is alive and kicking.

Another challenge that comes to mind is the state of Uganda’s security and intelligent forces. Over the last few years, the government has been prudent in notifying citizens of any suspected terror attacks that may occur. Most warnings turned out to be of no problem. 

In the case of the Kasese attack, the army was only able to respond after the attack had happened. This puts the capability of the country’s security forces in question regarding their capacity to manage terror attacks. 

While the national army, the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF), is in pursuit of the rebels currently to recover the abducted students, it may be too late. This is because the rebels’ hideouts are within mountain ranges packed with dense forests, making pursuit extremely difficult. Additionally, the army may not be sufficiently equipped to assist in the chase, especially in such harsh environments like mountains and forests. 

To make matters worse, attacks like this embolden other terrorist groups. Situations like this, where terrorists are able to murder and abduct yet successfully escape, makes others more confident to continue. The attacks across the country signify that terrorists can conduct attacks in rural and urban towns. Nobody is necessarily safe whether in the city or villages. This is proven by the recent attack, the three bombings, and the shootings in the city. 

Finally, the attacks put a question around the current government’s strongest selling point during elections: security. The biggest reason Ugandans have kept the current government in power is the security which brings stability to other economic activities in the country. 

Before 1986, when the NRM came into power, the country was characterized by coups and insecurity where governments could change suddenly. Since the NRM came into power, the country has seen peace for over 30 years and significant economic development. 

While terrorism is still irregular in the country, citizens are starting to wonder about the state of security. If the terrorists have been able to access the city and villages, who is to say that they may not be able to get near citizens and children? It definitely creates an air of concern around the country’s security. 

As much as the government has taken some steps, it needs to step up its game. An increase in the number of terrorist attacks of a large and small scale create a growing rise in fear due to the lack of security in many public spaces that are potential targets for attacks. 

Terrorism compromises the main reason citizens appreciate the current government. Therefore, eradicating it should be of the highest priority.

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Simon Mwebaze

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