Terror in Uganda: The World Must Do More in Somalia

Ezra Suruma and
Ezra Suruma Former Brookings Expert
John Mutenyo
John Mutenyo Africa Research Fellow

July 23, 2010

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Uganda on July 11, Ugandans are inevitably asking why their national troops are in Somalia. After three years of sacrifice made by the peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi, peace in Somalia still doesn’t seem to be in reach. Further, the African Union Summit Resolution of 2007—to send peacekeepers to Somalia under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)—has been effectively ignored by all other African nations except Uganda and Burundi. The Ugandan Parliament agreed to send troops to Somalia in 2008 in fulfillment of the commitment made by the African Union Summit.

It has been argued that terrorism involves religious, political and ideological motivations. President Bush recognized this when he stated hopelessness causes terrorism. Similarly, in an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation on July 13, President Obama acknowledged two major causes of terrorism: poverty and an ideological component.

Terrorists thrive by raising money through criminal activities—a case in point is heroin production in Afghanistan, and the piracy off the Somalia coast–with which they form an amorphous and stateless band of killers. They tend to flourish in poor, Muslim-dominated economies where they use material support to impose fundamentalist principles upon their societies. The money is used to recruit potential terrorists from a poor, desperate and angry youth with little to lose. This process has worked in many countries such as Albania, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistani, Afghanistan and several break-away Soviet states such as Uzbekistan.

The terrorist bombings in Uganda are probably more political and ideological than religious. Al Shabbab and Al Qaeda see Uganda as a close ally of the West, whose presence in Somalia would curtail their free movement and expansion in the region. This has nothing to do with religion, although the killers use religious sentiments as a scapegoat. Their ideological stance is intricate and requires not only Uganda, Burundi and the African Union but also the entire global community to curb Al shabaab and Al Qaeda from further proliferation.  

The intervention in Somalia must be viewed along with the history of a very long and intractable conflict among the Somali people since their independence from colonial rule in 1960. When the intensity and duration of Somalia’s conflicts are viewed in their historical perspective, there is cause for concern over how peace and security can be sustained in Somalia. However, it does seem unlikely that Uganda and Burundi alone can enforce peace in Somalia in the face of a determined onslaught by the various Somali factions.

A recent Brookings article warned of the imminent danger that the instability in Somalia might spill over to other countries in the region.. What is now imperative is broad-based multilateral action by the African Union and the United Nations to prevent a humiliating defeat by the Al Shabaab. This is only possible if the other members of the African Union fulfill the promises they made and are supported by assistance from the rest of the world.