As Uganda struggles to come to terms with the Uganda bombings that claimed the lives of 76 people watching the World Cup final Sunday, the roughly 10,000 Somalis living in the country are growing increasingly concerned that they could face a backlash from the local population – and from authorities – after Somalia's Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the slaughter.
In the bustling Kisenyi district of downtown Kampala – a little Somalia of supermarkets and restaurants selling Somali goods and food – the atmosphere since the bombings has been tense, local inhabitants say.
“People are staying at home and not going out into the other parts of town,” says Omar Nur Gutale, a former television station director who fled his homeland in 2008. “By 8 p.m. last night the streets here were empty. Normally they would be full of people.”
Uganda is a melting pot of nationalities from around the region, due to the country's liberal immigration policies, so Kampala has traditionally been a magnet for refugees fleeing the instability that has wracked surrounding countries.
But since the bombings, tensions have been ratcheted up – with a swirl of rumors of upcoming vigilante attacks against Somalis or arbitrary arrests adding to the sense of uncertainty in a community already living a precarious refugee existence.
For many Somalis living in Kampala – a large number of whom fled Al Shabab’s murderous Islamic fundamentalism – Sunday’s bloodshed bought back painful memories of the daily violence they thought they had left behind when they escaped their war-ravaged homeland.
“When I heard the news it felt like I was back in Mogadishu,” says Gutale, who received death threats from the Islamic militant group in Somalia before deciding to leave. “We fled Al Shabab to come and live in peace in Kampala and now they have followed us here. We are victims as well.”
Appeals for calm
Despite the occasional bellicose statement, Ugandan officials have been quick to quash blanket accusations against the country’s Somali community and have repeatedly appealed for calm.
Despite Al Shabab’s claims of responsibility – backed up by the arrest of four foreigners and the discovery of a further unexploded suicide vest in a nightclub in the popular hangout area of Makindye Monday afternoon – so far police are refusing to say conclusively who was behind the attacks or point the finger at Somali nationals.
“This is not a matter of nationality,” said police chief Kale Kayihura. “I want to dissuade anyone in this country from turning this into a racial issue.”
Kayihura said that the attack could have been carried out by the ADF, a Ugandan rebel group linked to Al Shabab. An unspecified number of arrests, including what “could be some Somalis,” have been made since the attacks, Kayihura said. No further police protection was being given to Somali community at present, he said.
Somali leaders urge cooperation
Meanwhile, Somali community leaders are urging their fellow countrymen to cooperate with the Ugandan officials running the investigation and not let Sunday’s killings wreck what has for the most part been a peaceful coexistence.
“Our community has to work with the security agencies in Uganda to keep the country safe,” said Somali ambassador to Uganda, Sayid Ahmed Sheikh Dahir. “We cannot let these attacks make friction between the people here and the Somalis.”
But the ambassador warned that until the international community helps resolve the problems in Somalia once and for all, the surrounding countries would remain at risk.
“The threat for the region will be there until the Somalia is peaceful,” Dahir said.