Tuesday, July 13, 2010
During the summer, and especially when I'm travelling, I sometimes tune out of the news entirely. I assume that others might as well, so it's not surprising that some of my friends and family weren't sure what I was referring to when I mentioned the Kampala bombings.
The workshop I wrote about in my last post finished on Friday. Several of the participants live in Kampala, and many of the out-of-towners stayed in Uganda through the weekend, and so I was very concerned when I got a note from my friend Asia, who has been there working with Health GAP -- an AIDS treatment activism group with which I volunteer-- about the bombings. On Sunday night around 10:30 (Sunday afternoon here in the eastern US), during the World Cup final game, three bombs were set off in two different locations where both Ugandans and expats had gathered. One was a popular outdoor Ethiopian restaurant (similar in style to the one we ate at in the picture here) called the Ethiopian Village, and the other was the Kyadondo Rugby Club. The death toll now stands at 74 (Ugandans and expats, including one American), with many more people injured.
Although all of the people pictured in the group shot of my last post are okay, and accounted for, they report that Kampala is in a state of shock. African geography tends not to be a strong point for us Americans, and we sometimes conflate conflicts there. Thus, I think it is important to point out that Kampala is normally a safe city, and has not been subject to terrorist attack before. (Although it is a bit dark, I wanted to include the shot of the beautiful mosque on a hill I took while eating dinner during my last night in Kampala. The large majority of the population is Christian, but there is a significant Muslim minority that peacefully coexists in the city.) But those who follow African politics know that the nearby country of Somalia is what social scientists refer to as a "failed state", and the militant Islamic group Al-Shabaab that operates there has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and say they are a response to Uganda's provision of troops for peacekeeping missions run by the African Union in Somalia.
I'm thankful that I happened to leave Uganda ahead of the bombing, and my thoughts are with the many Ugandans and others who lost beloved friends and family members on a night that should have been marked by celebration and fun. Just as happened after 9/11, there has been a rush of fear and targeting of whole ethnic groups for the actions of a few terrorists, and there is now a freeze on Somali refugees being let into the country. I hope that Americans will take the time to learn a bit more about what happened in Uganda, and that Ugandans will not blame Somalis living in the country,or fleeing to it, for the actions of others.