The Kampala Bombings And Remembering Nate Henn

Haggae Matsiko at The Independent:

The death toll of the two Kampala bomb blasts has risen to 74. Previous reports had put the figure of the dead at 64 and causalities at 67.

The Somali Islamist militants al Shabaab have claimed they were behind the two bomb attacks .

The explosions went off at two bars packed with soccer fans watching the final moments of the World Cup final on television in an Ethiopian restaurant in Kabalagala and at Kampala rugby club on Sunday.

The inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura earlier this morning said that the police suspected the al shabaab, although the Mogadishu based militant’s commanders denied the accusations. However a head of a suspected Somali suicide bomber was found at one of the blast sites.

Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, a spokesman for the Somali militant group al Shabaab has now come out boldly to claim responsibility for what left many grieving in Kampala. Reports indicate that the attacks are the first time that the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab has attacked sites outside Somalia.

The first blast hit the Ethiopian Village restaurant around 10:55 p.m. local time, Uganda media centre executive director, Fred Opolot said. Two more blasts tore through a crowded rugby club as the match was going on, Juma Seiko, one of the witnesses said Identification and trauma centres have been set up at Mulago Hospital and International Hospital Kampala.

The Economist:

The bombings bring into focus concerns in the United States, Britain, and France, and particularly in Kenya and Ethiopia, that the Shabab may launch terrorist attacks on their soil. Barack Obama has already spoken out against the bombings. At least one American and scores of other expatriates were killed. America will now be mobilising intelligence and forensic teams to assist Uganda in tracking down the bombers. Many questions remain unanswered. It is not clear, for instance, whether or not this was a suicide attack. Uganda’s police chief says the bombs were well coordinated and designed to cause maximum damage. The response will have to be as well, if east Africa is not become a bloody new front in the global jihad. However, the ineffective and half-hearted approach towards Somalia by Washington and others may already have made the spread of jihad inevitable.

Another angle to watch for is how Christians in Uganda respond to the bombings. President Yoweri Museveni will have to act decisively to prevent lynching of members of the Somali community in Uganda. The Pentecostals, in particular, have been fierce in their criticism of Islam. They have claimed a lot of success in converting Ugandan Muslims to Christianity. That is something which some Muslims may use in their propaganda to justify the killings. In any case, Uganda’s brassy televangelists will likely see this as an opportunity to speak out even more aggressively against Muslims. That, in turn, could have a destabilising effect on Uganda.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

The decision to bomb civilian gatherings in Kampala was almost certainly tactical. Al-Shabaab is not like the Taliban of 2000, which had secure control of Afghanistan and thus felt comfortable spreading violence and ideology outside the country’s borders. But al-Shabaab is still struggling in Somalia’s ongoing civil war. There are two likely tactical explanations for the attack. The first is that al-Shabaab is feeling increasingly threatened by the African Union force and is desperate to forestall or prevent the planned addition of 2,000 peacekeepers. In that case, this attack was a defensive act. Insurgents typically turn to terrorism when they are no longer able to challenge their opponents on the battlefield. While this may appear to be good news because it would mean that the group is weaker, a threatened al-Shabaab would become a threat to not just southern Somalia but all of East Africa. As Graeme Wood explained in his chronicling of the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in the Central African Republic, “the smaller and more resoundingly defeated the rebels are, the more brutally they fight.” This is how insurgencies, which can be negotiated or even reconciled with, become terrorist groups, which do not accept political compromises and can persist for many years. This attack on civilians outside Somalia would not be the last.

The other possibility is that al-Shabaab is stronger than we think and that this attack is the beginning of a push to expand its reach. Al-Shabaab only operates in Somalia’s south. If it feels confident in its control there, it may be planning to assault north into the contested horn of the country or even into the relatively calm Somaliland region in the north, which has been called an “oasis of stability.” This act of terrorism would be al-Shabaab way of opening a new front in a campaign to expel the peacekeepers from the regions al-Shabaab does not yet control. If the insurgency is indeed growing stronger, this would help explain why the African Union felt the need to increase its force strength by one third. It’s difficult to know how long the peacekeepers could hold back al-Shabaab from taking more of the country.

Dan Morrison at Slate:

President Yoweri Museveni has long sought to project Uganda’s influence beyond the borders of his Minnesota-sized country. I’ve dined in mess tents with Ugandan troops and police officers serving as peacekeepers in Darfur, and I’ve crossed Ugandan checkpoints in the hinterlands of southern Sudan, where the Ugandan People’s Defense Force is pursuing the last murderous elements of the Lord’s Resistance Army into the remote Central African Republic.

In 1997, rebels and irregulars backed by Uganda and Rwanda, including numerous children, walked more than 1,200 miles across the continent to depose aging dictator Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. Just a year later, Ugandan and Rwandan forces again stormed the country, now renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in a failed bid to remove Mobutu’s successor (and Museveni’s erstwhile ally), Laurent Kabila. Over the next several years, Ugandan and Rwandan forces looted billions of dollars’ worth of the Congo’s diamonds and timber.

None of these interventions had much to do with the majority of Ugandans.

Even the two-decade reign of terror by the predatory shaman Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army was something of an abstraction to all but the few northern tribes who bore the brunt of the LRA’s mad violence. After 20-plus years of fighting and more than 20,000 children kidnapped by the LRA, most Ugandan legislators still have never visited the affected northern region, even though it’s just a 20-minute flight from Kampala.

It was only in Somalia that Museveni found opponents with the means, motivation, and opportunity to strike back at Uganda’s relatively prosperous capital—and they did so with a keen sense of the symbolic.

The first explosion Sunday night was at the Ethiopian Village, a restaurant popular with Ugandans and expatriates (the food is great) who’d been flocking to its big-screen World Cup telecasts. It was Ethiopia that, in 2007, invaded Somalia to remove from power the Union of Islamic Courts, of which al-Shabaab was a part.

The second attack took place at a World Cup party co-sponsored by Vision Voice FM, the radio station of the New Vision newspaper, a parastatal entity controlled by the government and Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement. It was there, as hundreds of people watched the match from lawn chairs on the crowded pitch of the Kyadondo Rugby Club, that most of the casualties took place.

“We will carry out attacks against our enemy wherever they are,” Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, an al-Shabaab spokesman, told the Associated Press.

Museveni has for years supported U.S., European, and African efforts to prevent Somalia from falling completely to radical Islamist forces. After a U.S.-backed coalition of warlords was pushed out of Mogadishu by the Union of Islamic Courts in 2005, he took part in an aborted plan to use American mercenaries to retake the capital for Somalia’s internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government.

Today it’s Ugandan lives on the line in Somalia. Twenty-two Ugandan soldiers have been killed there since 2007, and more than 50 have been wounded or brought down by disease. By taking part in the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, the Ugandans are helping to prevent Somalia’s takeover by al-Shabaab and its friends in al-Qaida. But AMISOM forces have also engaged in heavy shelling of the capital that has killed many of the civilians the peacekeepers are sworn to protect.

By sunset on Monday, shells were again falling on Mogadishu, collective punishment for a population that has endured nearly 20 years of pillage and chaos. (More than 3.2 million Somalis rely on emergency humanitarian aid to survive.)

Back in Uganda, Museveni swore revenge. “We shall look for them and get them, wherever they are,” he told reporters.

Ray Walser at Heritage:

The Kampala atrocity comes at a time when the Obama Administration hopes to to play down the religious and cultural dimensions of the clash between Islamist extremists and the West. Events such as yesterday’s Kampala bombings are a stark reminder that religious intolerance and fanatical hatred remain powerful motivators that drive international terrorism either in Afghanistan or eastern Africa.

The Kampala bombings also highlight complex and worrisome developments directed at U.S. friends in East Africa, from Kampala to Nairobi and Addis Ababa, where radical de-stabilizers like al-Shabab and the Lord’s Resistance Army aim, through acts of terror, to carve out greater geographical space for their brands of extremism to flourish.

Sadly, the U.S. adds another American citizen to its growing roll of victims of international terrorism. Nate Henn, a recent graduate of the University of Delaware and a sports enthusiast, was in Uganda to build—rather than destroy—by helping children scarred by conflict and genocide.

The Kampala bombings reflects the brutal realities of the global war against terror and the unchanging responsibilities of the White House to protect American lives, advance U.S. interests, and assist allies in a violent, polarized world.

David Weigel, blogging at Andrew Sullivan’s place:

[…] I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I talked to Nate. How long had he been in Uganda? Quite a while, because his Facebook feed was basically all Africa all the time. That wasn’t surprising. Growing up in Delaware, Nate was part of a circle of friends who gathered at Bethel Baptist Church more than once a week. (I went to another church but liked to get together with my friends at Bethel.) He was younger than me, three years behind me at a rival high school, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s he was the overeager, energy-to-burn kid who was first to jump in the pool, first to put up his hand in a discussion, first to screw around. The image locked in my mind is him smiling victoriously after making someone exasperated.

But it didn’t surprise me that he devoted his life to charity work. This was an extraordinary circle of friends, fun as hell, obsessed with pop culture, but absolutely devoted to living for Jesus Christ. Religious work, charity, mission work — this was simply what people did. The walls of the church were decorated with photographs and letters from families doing mission work in Africa or Asia.Many of us went to Bible college, and some of us became pastors.

Obviously I wasn’t one of them. I left Delaware for England in 1998, left England for Chicago in 2000, and left Chicago for Washington in 2004. I spent four summers back in the state. During three of those summers one of my other friends directed three full-length action movies, casting Nate as a henchman in one of them. One of them was “premiered” at Bethel; all of them managed to pack in fight scenes, surrealism and pop culture references while driving home clear moral lessons. (I stand by the pop culture references in these films; one of the people Nate’s character was henching for was a DVD bootlegger who can’t unload his trunk of “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.) This was the most time I spent with Nate since high school, and I was struck by how much more serious he was, how excited he was about sports and school — before, he hadn’t really seemed interested in either of those things.

It wasn’t a surprise that Nate continued doing this, growing more and more serious about what he wanted to spend his life doing. I’m devastated by what happened. A lot of people loved Nate and depended on him, and it hurts to watch them post on his Facebook wall promises to “see you soon.” It shouldn’t hurt. They’ll donate to the charity he worked for. They know he spent his last years on earth liberating children from war and terror, and that he is at peace and at rest with his Lord.


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