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Uganda bombings highlight need for new US policy on Somalia

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Marc Hofer/AP

(Read caption) Damaged chairs and tables amongst the debris strewn outside the restaurant "Ethiopian village" in Kampala, Uganda, Monday, July 12, 2010 after an explosion at the restaurant late Sunday. Simultaneous explosions tore through crowds watching the World Cup final at a rugby club and an Ethiopian restaurant, killing at least 64 people including one American, officials said. Police feared an al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group was behind the attacks.

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Sunday’s sickening bombings in Kampala may be the actions of Somalia’s Al Shabab group, which claimed responsibility on Monday. The claim is more than plausible. Uganda has been a strong supporter of the American military role in Somalia and has even provided a contingent of troops to the American-led effort – and training of pro-US Somali forces on Ugandan soil.

Al Shabab considers the Ugandan government an enemy. The logic for the terror group’s role in the sad events of yesterday seems clear: revenge.

And there’s the real potential for a widening crisis. The Bush-era US policy toward Somalia has not yet been revised under the Obama administration; that the policy urgently needs revision – perhaps radical revision – is a “no brainer.” James Traub, in the current issue of Foreign Policy, makes the case compellingly for a new tack on Somalia; is anyone in the Obama administration listening?

That Shabab-directed violence may now be spilling into Uganda adds urgency to the importance of crafting a US policy toward Somalia that reflects the realities on the ground, which include the de facto partition of this geographically well-endowed region into three autonomous “provinces.” For Uganda, the time may also have come to review its explicit support for US military actions in Somalia; such a review need not occur because of the menace of Shabab and the threat of continued terrorist attacks against innocent Ugandans as well as foreign guests, but stands on its own merits.

Having spent many pleasant and productive days in Kampala, I hope the city soon returns to “normal.” Kampala is perhaps the most peaceful, crime-free large cities in the entire African continent. Whatever shortcomings shown by Uganda’s often-criticized and autocratic president, Yoweri Museveni, he deserves great credit and respect for Kampala’s tranquility. The city is safe than any of similar size that I know in the US, for instance. And because of Kampala’s charms, which include its position on a tropical plateu, the city is a magnet for talented people throughout East Africa.

In the days ahead, look for understanding to the writings of the city’s great newspaper, The Monitor, and its fine political commentator, Andrew Mwenda.

--- G. Pascal Zachary blogs at Africa Works.

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