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Uganda Bombings Plus Two Weeks

July 25, 2010

So, I have a better sense now of the repercussions of the multiple bombings on July 11, which have now been coined the “7/11 attacks.”  The first is just conversational: everyone keeps talking about the bombings, al Shabab, Somalia, and so on.  Locals naturally think I’m a tourist, so they often ask me questions along the lines of, “Uganda is nice, except for the bombings (or al Shabab), no?”  When they find out I am American, they express a shared plight.

The social scene here is empty.  The muzungus (‘white man’ in Luganda) are staying away from the bars and clubs, and many locals are as well.

Security is tight at locations frequented by ex-patriots– usually a metal detector, bag search, and a quick frisk.  Oh, and a bomb sniffing dog came into the bar the other day.  The shopping centers that have car parking have long lines to drive in, as guards are searching cars for bombs.  And using those mirror things to look underneath them.  There is a much bigger official security presence as well.  Military, military police, and multiple varieties of regular police abound.

The African Union starts its summit in Kampala today, July 25.  Major African leaders– like Ghaddafi and Zuma– arrived over last week. Gordon Brown is apparently here as an official observer.  So last week when I rode to and from Entebbe (which is the location of the airport) the security presence was amazing.  Every 50 meters or so was a clutch of official security personnel.  Some with machine guns, some without; but every one watching the traffic on the road.  Entebbe town itself had a smaller obvious presence, but still a noticeable one.  Contrast that to my first 10 days here, before the bombings, when I saw perhaps two traffic police officers the entire time I trekked around Kampala.  Remarkable.

We will see how the African Union summit goes.  The summit’s original theme was “women’s and children’s health,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if the men running the show switch to counter-terrorism and peace enforcement– topics they are likely more interested in.  Uganda seems to be pressing hard to increase the number of AU troops in Somalia, both its own and other states’, and to reorient the mandate to ‘enforcement’ (which means essentially that offensive military actions can be taken by the peacekeepers).  The government has also taken a couple of opportunistic steps in the aftermath of the bombings: first, a wiretapping law was rushed through parliament, and second, 5,000 additional police were hired.  The police hiring was previously held up for ‘budgetary reasons.’

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