Why did a band of Somali Islamists bomb World Cup viewing parties in Uganda?

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July 12 2010 3:01 PM

Payback in Kampala

Why did a band of Somali Islamists bomb World Cup viewing parties in Uganda?

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The first explosion Sunday night was at the Ethiopian Village, a restaurant popular with Ugandans and expatriates (the food is great) who'd been flocking to its big-screen World Cup telecasts. It was Ethiopia that, in 2007, invaded Somalia to remove from power the Union of Islamic Courts, of which al-Shabaab was a part.

The second attack took place at a World Cup party co-sponsored by Vision Voice FM, the radio station of the New Vision newspaper, a parastatal entity controlled by the government and Museveni's ruling National Resistance Movement. It was there, as hundreds of people watched the match from lawn chairs on the crowded pitch of the Kyadondo Rugby Club, that most of the casualties took place.

"We will carry out attacks against our enemy wherever they are," Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, an al-Shabaab spokesman, told the Associated Press.

Museveni has for years supported U.S., European, and African efforts to prevent Somalia from falling completely to radical Islamist forces. After a U.S.-backed coalition of warlords was pushed out of Mogadishu by the Union of Islamic Courts in 2005, he took part in an aborted plan to use American mercenaries to retake the capital for Somalia's internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government.

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Today it's Ugandan lives on the line in Somalia. Twenty-two Ugandan soldiers have been killed there since 2007, and more than 50 have been wounded or brought down by disease. By taking part in the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, the Ugandans are helping to prevent Somalia's takeover by al-Shabaab and its friends in al-Qaida. But AMISOM forces have also engaged in heavy shelling of the capital that has killed many of the civilians the peacekeepers are sworn to protect.

By sunset on Monday, shells were again falling on Mogadishu, collective punishment for a population that has endured nearly 20 years of pillage and chaos. (More than 3.2 million Somalis rely on emergency humanitarian aid to survive.)

Back in Uganda, Museveni swore revenge. "We shall look for them and get them, wherever they are," he told reporters.

The Kampala blasts will surely be used to bolster a crackdown on the Ugandan opposition—a quadrennial election-year squeeze that has helped keep the president in power since 1987. Terrorism and security will, more than ever, be used as justification for the arrest of activists and reporters.

Museveni is a Western favorite. The United States and Europe seem content to look past his authoritarian streak in exchange for Uganda's contribution to operations in Sudan and Somalia.

Uganda is also home to more than 4,000 Somali refugees. These migrants will find themselves the objects of intense suspicion and hatred in a country that woke up this morning to the realization that punching above your weight doesn't mean you can't still be bloodied.