We Could Be Chasing a Terrorism Red Herring [opinion]

The story of how the expression ‘red herring’ came to be used has many versions.

What is clear is that it could be used as misleading or distracting devices. Specifically, red herring is the kipper fish, which when preserved in brine or by smoking, lets off a g smell. Some legends have it that the red herring was used as technique of training scent dogs. According to Wikipedia, the pungent kipper would be dragged along a trail until a puppy learned to follow the scent.

Later, when the dog was being trained to follow the faint odour of fox or badger, the trainer would drag the kipper, whose g scent confuses the animal, perpendicular to the animal’s trail to confuse the dog. The dog eventually learned to follow the original scent rather than the ger scent.

Other theories have it that the escaping convicts used the smelly kippers to confuse the pursuing dogs. The story of the red herring could be relevant to us, especially in our current terror challenge.

First, whenever someone prominent is killed in unclear circumstances, police chief Kale Kayihura is quick to declare the culprits as remnants of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels. He said this when Sheikh Abdul Kadir Muwaya was gunned down in Mayuge and so was the case when Sheikh Mustapha Bahiga was murdered.

There is also an effort by the police to link the death of former prosecutor Joan Kagezi to al-Shabaab and ADF. The presumed reason is that Kagezi was the lead prosecutor in the case against suspected al-Shabaab terrorists, who bombed Kyadondo Rugby club in 2010 – killing people who had gathered to watch the World Cup finals.

Two, in some way, the incidents of terror that have been visited on this country have affected the minds and relations of Ugandans in respect to particular foreigners, who come from the horn of Africa – Somalis. Even security agencies have not helped to dispel this mindset. In the aftermath of the Kagezi murder, police raided Kyengera and arrested some people deemed to be Somalis.

They are said to have entered the country illegally. A mechanic who works in Nalukolongo recently told me of his worry that if the government does not bundle up all the Somalis and return them to their home, the country is likely to face several terror attacks.

“An ordinary person like me can’t get a decent house in Kabuusu, Ndeeba, Lubaga, Nalukolongo,” he said.

“Somalis rent all those flats there they pay in dollars. They have a lot of money yet they don’t work.”

He thinks Uganda has been so kind to Somalis and we have forfeited our sense of security to earning dollars from these rich foreigners. I may not agree with him. The Somalis, even those who have becomes citizens, are equally worried of being labeled al-Shabaab. A Somali lady who speaks fluent Luganda told a television that she is worried about her security – because whenever she goes, people start whispering al-Shabaab.

She only calms them when she surprises them with her response in Luganda. The point is, while al-Shabaab has cells in Somalia and whereas ADF has links with some Muslims, it is not fair to paint all Muslims who wear heavy beards with skimpy trousers as al-Shabaab terrorists.

Government has responded to armed violence and terrorism alike with heavy-handed ways that in some cases violate the rights of innocent citizens. Some sections of media have also become fellow travellers by either broadcasting or publishing police statement without the much-deserved scrutiny.

It appears police has decided to conduct its work in the media. Whenever they make a raid, they tip off cameramen to record their “triumph” over terrorism.

In the process, even innocent people are captured in the television or newspapers images as terror suspects. Unfortunately, when these people are proven to be innocent, the police have no occasion to undo the damage with the same vigour before the camera! Uganda should avoid making the mistake that the US made after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When the Imperial Army of Japan made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, there followed a series of hounding and persecution of Japanese.

Even those who were American already were mistrusted. It’s said that 110,000 Japanese Americans were arrested and detained after the attack. Japanese had almost become pariahs. Uganda should not take that route.

I would think preventive measures should be embraced. Security agencies should be given more resources to do investigations, intelligence gathering. It’s also important to fight terror with an open mind. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh, an American later described as a domestic terrorist, killed hundreds of people in Oklahoma after detonating bombs that destroyed and damaged several buildings.

So, we could be having unknown domestic terrorists, distinct from the usual suspects of al-Shabaab or ADF. Yes, we could be chasing a red herring!

The author is the finance director, The Observer Media Ltd.

Source : The Observer


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