The spate of killings of prominent and ordinary Ugandans were treated as low level criminality by the public until Tuesday 16th November when two suicide bomb attacks in the Central Business District of Kampala pointed to their daring and the metamorphosis of the criminals into terrorists. The attacks brought home to Ugandans the trepidation and fear of suicide bombings.
Amidst the bone chilling chest thumping by the dreaded Islamic State for the attacks and the finger pointing among the security apparatus to ADF insurgents, it is becoming clearer to the populace that we are in earnest, into the War On Terror. This will be a protracted war which we must win as a society.
Ugandans are pinning their hope on the UPDF and law enforcement bodies to weed out these indoctrinated mass murderers. But we should not overemphasize the military dimension of defeating terrorism and understate the significance of our enemy’s beliefs, ambitions and ideological frame of mind. Ideas are critical to recruiting young people into terrorism.
It is ideas which will decisively contribute to the success more than military and intelligence actions. Words matter and if shrewdly put in the mouth of an accomplished orator, they draw throngs to them evoke action and words linger long after they have accomplished their goal to inspire others.
The war of words the Uganda government should start in tandem with the military aspect is not without precedent. During the cold war, the United States established RFE (radio free Europe) and Radio Liberty to counter Soviet propaganda. The messages aired in Russian and other slavic languages changed minds and put communism on the back foot. These messages inspired Lech Walesa’s Solidarity Movement in Poland to rise up. History is awash with successful ideological campaigns- from struggles against slave trade in the nineteenth century to fascism and communism of the twentieth century
The war of ideas is gaining more traction as political and religious figures like NUP’s Hon Kyagulanyi and Prince Nakibinge and other voices are branding state response to these attacks ‘a war on Islam’. If ADF and Islamic State were set up to further the establishment of the Caliphate then one would suppose that their rank and file have to be Muslims which explains the name of suspects arrested, captured or killed by security forces.
The war on terror in Uganda will be a war of ideas not between the Government of Uganda and Islam or the Muslim community rather the war of ideas in the Muslim community itself. The suicide bombings detonated and brought to the mainstream salient tensions that have been simmering underneath for years. The role of government in this war will be to encourage Muslims to speak openly against the extremists’ views and make extremist ideology less attractive. These jihadists insist that each Muslim has a personal duty to fight to establish proper Islamic government in this world by killing Islam’s enemies.
President Museveni has made it clear that his government is not at war with Islam or the Muslim Community but a resurgent insurgent ADF terror network that has a warped knowledge of Islamic ideas and vocabulary to put itself at war, not only with all non Muslims, but virtually with all Muslim Ugandans too. Muslim concepts like the duty to wage jihad (holy struggle a term the extremists interpret in a militant fashion) and the requirement to kill apostates. These elements are used to brew intense, resentful, accusatory and violent ideology with the power to intoxicate and exhilarate Muslims.
In this war of ideas, government needs to better understand the ideological battlefield, it needs to identify the most influential voices in the Muslim community to oppose jihadist violence, it needs a clear strategy to find clerics, journalists, educators and politicians throughout the Muslim community in Uganda who are opposed to terrorist violence and find ways of amplifying these moderate voices, these should be empowered financially to improve their ability to communicate their messages through print, broadcast and internet especially social media.
A terrorist leader has a tough job to indoctrinate young people to overcome the natural human aversion of killing children and to destroy ordinary people going about their daily business let alone blowing himself up. The difficulty of indoctrination is one of the enemies key vulnerabilities. Victory in this war will depend majorly on fighting the ideas that the enemy is using to recruit and indoctrinate new terrorists
- Jackson Kagiri Nixon.
Foreign Affairs scholar and Administrator