On Point: Terror Bombings in Uganda: A Prelude to Regional War?


by Austin Bay
July 13, 2010

Sunday's terror bombings, which murdered 76 people inUganda's capital, Kampala, are another signal that East Africa could face adevastating regional war.

The attack demonstrates that Islamist terrorists willing tocommit mass murder to advance their criminal theology remain active in easternAfrica. Americans first became aware of al-Qaida following the August 1998terror bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Somalia's al-Qaida-affiliated Al Shabab Islamist terrorgroup has claimed credit for the Kampala massacre. One bomb exploded in anEthiopian cafe filled with World Cup soccer fans. Al Shabab's murderers pickedthat target carefully. Ethiopia supports Al Shabab's nationalist opponents inSomalia.

Ugandan troops serve with the African Union peacekeepingforce in Somalia, which makes Uganda a special target for Al Shabab. AlShabab's attacks in Kampala may be an attempt to repeat al-Qaida's "MadridPrecedent." Recall al-Qaida launched attacks in Madrid in March 2004, justbefore Spain's national elections. A "pro-peace" government waselected, and it withdrew Spanish forces serving in Iraq. Uganda has nationalelections scheduled for early next year.

A more dangerous regional war, however, lurks in EastAfrica. Uganda borders on south Sudan. Every day relations between thesemi-autonomous Government of South Sudan (GOSS) and Sudan's national(northern) government in Khartoum deteriorate. The 2005 Comprehensive PeaceAgreement (CPA), which ended the last north-south war, the Second Sudan CivilWar, stipulated that a plebiscite on southern independence be held in 2011.Many southerners believe South Sudan is already a separate country. They supportindependence -- except the national government calls it "secession."

Conditions exist for renewed civil war, and a nudge or two,a bomb here and assassination there, might ensure it. Al Shabab has studied themap. Should the Third Sudan Civil War erupt, Ethiopia would face war on a thirdfront. Ethiopia already confronts Eritrea and Somalia. Radical Islamists wouldexploit the religious facets of renewed civil war: South Sudan is predominantlyChristian and animist, and the north is predominantly Muslim.

The Second Sudan Civil War lasted two decades, left 2million dead, created millions of refugees and -- despite ritual denials byKhartoum's Islamists -- involved slaving by northern-backed "Arab"militias. Southern Christian and animist black tribespeople were kidnapped thensold. Uganda was a covert ally of the southerners, for many reasons, includingclose links with the Dinka tribe, which provided the leaders in the south'sSudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA). Arab slaving, however, played a role.

Tribal violence already afflicts southern Sudan. Estimatesvary (the areas involved are isolated), but a thousand people died in 2009 intribal violence in South Sudan. The GOSS claims the north incites violence byproviding arms to troublemakers. Sudan's national president, Omar al-Bashir, isunder indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur.Providing arms to willing killers is a proven Bashir policy.

Oil fuels North-South disputes, and in a new civil war oilfields will be battlefields. Roughly 75 percent of Sudan's oil reserves are interritory that GOSS claims. "Claims" is appropriate because the exactnorth-south border has not been finalized. The two governments argue over oilincome. South Sudan relies on oil royalties for 95 percent of its budget. Thenorth dispenses the revenues. The GOSS contends the north cheated it of $300million it was due in 2009.

Uganda insists Khartoum still supports Uganda's Lord'sResistance Army rebel group, so a new war could bring in Uganda as a militaryally of the south. Kenya, and conceivably Ethiopia, might also be openlyinvolved. Kenya has been a conduit for arms to the SPLA. In 2008, Somalipirates hijacked a ship transporting Ukrainian tanks to Kenya. The tanks'destination was South Sudan.

 A vital environmentaland economic conflict further exacerbates tensions. Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda,Tanzania and Ethiopia have announced they will no longer abide by a 1929colonial treaty that gives the downriver nations what they regard as an unjustshare of Nile water. The Khartoum government and Egypt reject the uprivernations' contentions.

Oil revenue and water rights disputes, religiousdifferences, ethnic struggles and terrorists exploiting every division -- EastAfrica's fragile states edge toward a war of the poor that will create greaterpoverty. 

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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