THERE have been warnings for the last two years, and they have been specific: unless Uganda withdraws its 3000-strong detachment of African Union troops from Somalia, suicide bombers of the al-Qaeda-linked Shabab militia, which controls much of south and central Somalia, will detonate themselves in Uganda. A series of bomb blasts in Kampala last night may be the first realisation of that threat.
Ugandan police say 74 people have died so far. A similar number are seriously injured. Whoever planted the bombs had no consideration about ripping apart people watching the World Cup Final on large screen televisions. A closer look reinforces the suspicion that the Shabab were behind the attack. Shabab clerics and commanders in Somalia have been cheerful in their response, apparently welcoming the carnage. "Uganda is one of our enemies," said Yusuf Issa, a Shabab commander in Mogadishu. "Whatever makes them cry, makes us happy." Then there was the choice of targets. One was an Ethiopian restaurant; Ethiopia is the archenemy of Somali Islamists. The other was the Kyadondo Rugby Club used by the national rugby team for international matches. It attracts middle-class Ugandans and expatriates. Kyadondo is also popular with Ugandan army officers.
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.