ON the face of it, Uganda is not a country most of us would associate with Islamist inspired terrorism. But a series of bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala lately have had security and intelligence analysts looking once again at the activities of groups affiliated or associated with the Islamic State (IS) group.  

Perhaps the first thing it’s important to realise here is that Uganda is far from unique in this regard. Ever since the expulsion of IS from its “territorial caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, the group has been busy shifting its locus elsewhere and Africa is now firmly one of if not its major stomping ground. 

This year alone, more than 700 civilians have been killed by IS and al-Qaeda affiliates in the Sahel region of West Africa. In Somalia meanwhile, al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab has been responsible for mass bloodshed for 20 years. More recently Islamist militants in northern Mozambique have since 2017 killed 2600 people, displaced 700,000 and brought Total’s $20bn gas project there to a calamitous halt. 

Across sub-Saharan Africa, IS now operates through two principal groups. The Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP, covers present-day Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameron, Burkina Faso, and Mali. Meanwhile the Islamic State Central Africa Province, or ISCAP, covers the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mozambique. 

The Ugandan authorities have been quick to blame “radicalised groups” linked to the Allied Democratic forces (ADF) a rebel movement based in neighbouring Congo which IS counts as among its local affiliates for the latest bombings.  

That seems to have been subsequently born out after IS claimed responsibility for the Kampala attacks. But some analysts still insist that evidence linking the attacks to the ADF is shaky as is proof of the group’s operational links to IS.  

For years, the ADF has been opposed to the long rule of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power now for 35 years and was only re-elected to a five-year term in January.  

Recently the ADF have upped their challenge to Museveni’s rule, but some human rights activists say blaming the bombing on the ADF suits the president and provides a convenient pretext for crackdowns on his many other political opponents.  

Last Friday however the Ugandan authorities were pressing home their message that the ADF was to blame after killing at least five people, including a Muslim cleric accused of having links to the ADF. 

Born in the 1990s in an alliance of convenience between Islamist rebels and ethnic separatists from the Rwenzori mountains straddling Uganda’s border with Congo, the ADF has mounted several attacks in the past before decamping to lawless eastern Congo, pursued by Uganda’s army.  

For their part IS of course have long fostered links with local groups taking advantage of their grievances for their wider jihadist ambitions. They see Museveni as an ally of Washington allowing as he does US bases on Ugandan soil and being one of the first African leaders to deploy peacekeepers in Somalia to protect the federal government from the extremist group al-Shabaab.  

It was in retaliation to this deployment that the ADF carried out attacks in 2010 that killed at least 70 people who had assembled in public places in Kampala to watch the football World Cup final.  

While for years the ADF’s leadership was drawn mainly from those whose sole agenda was overturning the Ugandan state, what we are seeing now insist some analysts is its main faction swearing allegiance to IS. 

“With today’s attacks in Kampala we are starting to see signs of the development of a regional financial, recruitment and explosive device proliferation network connected to IS-affiliated individuals who are operating in both the ADF camps in eastern Congo and among northern militants in Mozambique,” says Dino Mahtani, deputy director of Africa at the think tank, International Crisis Group. 

“What has happened in Kampala is going to be just one dimension of an overall regional terror threat that is emerging,” Mahtani added, in an interview with the Financial Times. 
Many agree with his assessment, pointing to the fact that for an organisation like IS sub-Saharan Africa is a place where it can have massive impact using minimal resources.  This all points to one thing – IS sees Africa as fertile ground for the creation of its new “territorial caliphate”. 


The National: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro

REMEMBER all that optimism just a few weeks ago at COP26 when over 100 world leaders promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030?  

Well, among the most noticeable perhaps of those signatories to the summit’s first major deal was Brazil. Not that some – I included – were wholly convinced of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s (above) assurances that he would make good on curbing illegal logging in his troubled nation.  

Certainly, if the latest data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space research (INPE) is anything to go by then Bolsonaro will have to double down on his government’s efforts.  
In a staggering indication of the damage being done, INPE satellite imagery showed that some 5110 square miles of Amazon rainforest have been torn out in the past 12 months between August last year and July.  

To put this another way and into context, Brazil has lost a chunk of the world’s largest rainforest the equivalent in size to Belgium or an area nearly 17 times the size of New York City, mostly at the hands of illegal loggers, cattle ranchers, gold miners and land grabbers.

Home to an estimated 390bn trees, the rainforest cuts across nine Latin American nations and acts as a giant carbon sink for emission from all over the world. Not that the environmental significance of this seems to matter much to Bolsonaro. 

It will be curious indeed to see how Bolsonaro now responds to the global publication of this latest data, but if his track record is anything to go by then no one will be holding their breath that the far-right former army captain will do anything other than continue his calls for more mining and commercial farming in protected parts of the Amazon.

“The numbers are still a challenge for us, and we have to be more forceful in relation to these crimes,” Brazil’s Environment Minister Joaquim Pereira Leite was quick to reassure reporters at a news conference on Thursday. 

But Leite’s remarks seem little more than window dressing, when the world knows fine well that what a minister says is one thing and what a president like Bolsonaro tells him is something else again. 

As environmentalists have rightly pointed out, what the reality of the latest imagery shows is that Bolsonaro’s government has in fact accelerated the course of the Amazon’s destruction. 

For some time now there has been broad agreement that the groups destroying the forest have become emboldened since the rise of Bolsonaro, who regularly expresses sympathy with the likes of the gold miners or garimpeiros as they are known locally. 

For Brazil’s environmental enforcers, those on the ground in what is often a dangerous region, deforestation can only be tackled with a firm hand. 

The latest data from INPE shows that firm hand is far from being offered by the Brazilian government and instead is being undermined by Bolsonaro’s presidency. 

Many Brazilians must now be thinking that next year’s presidential elections scheduled for October cannot come quick enough. They certainly can’t as far as the future of the crucial Amazon rainforest is concerned. 


The National: Chinese president Xi Jinping

THINGS really are rather testy between Washington and Beijing right now. As The New York Times wryly pointed out last week, the virtual meeting between US President Joe Biden and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, revealed the extent of what has rapidly become a “chilly relationship of mutual mistrust”.  

Xi’s nautical metaphor, comparing the two countries to ships that must together navigate the ocean’s wind and waves without colliding, was no sooner out of his mouth than it seemed to run aground.  

Even before he spoke, everything from human rights abuses in in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, to “unfair” trade and economic practices and the issue of China’s claim to Taiwan, have ensured relations between the two continue to spiral downwards at a rate of knots. 

But as if all this was not making things tense enough, the US president has since announced he is considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Such a boycott if implemented, is seen as a way of responding to the Chinese government’s human rights abuses without impacting US athletes. 

“They are trying to thread the needle,” said Michael Mazza, a non-resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. 

“They are trying to make sure that with any actions they take, the burden doesn’t fall on athletes,” Mazza told The Washington Post Beijing however didn’t see it that way, and there was something ironic in the response of Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, who said on Friday that “politicising sports goes against the Olympic spirit and damages the interests of athletes from all countries”. 

Personally, I can’t help feeling that US Senator Mitt Romney had a point when he observed that in “authoritarian states, the Olympics has more often been a tool of propaganda than a lever of reform”.  

In this bitter war of words it seems that virtually anything goes, but with the Games only three months away, time is pressing for Biden to make clear whether he plans to send an official delegation. 

It was Antony J Blinken, the US secretary of state, who recently called managing America’s relationship with China “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century”.  

With China looking to have a greater voice in global leadership and the Biden administration determined to thwart that, the tussle over the Olympics shows that nothing is off the table right now in this contest of geopolitical supremacy.  


The National: David Cameron said Libyan leaders had assured him that Colonel Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam will receive a fair trial

I’LL never forget being in Muammar Gaddafi’s walled citadel palace, Babal- Aziziya, in Tripoli shortly after rebel forces stormed it back during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. 
The “Colonel” himself of course had legged it by then only to be caught a short time later hiding in a drain in the city of Sirte before being killed.  

The world back then could have been forgiven for thinking that it had seen the last of a Gaddafi seeking to rule the country. But if news this week is anything to go by that might prove wrong after Saif al Islam Gaddafi, inset, the son of the authoritarian Libyan leader said he wanted to run for president of Libya in the December 24 poll. 

The very name Gaddafi you might think would be something of an election liability, but not so according to some Libya watchers who say that a section of disaffected youth might vote for him given that he has steered clear of the political mess in the country over recent years. 

Perhaps it’s just me but I’ve always found it a bit disconcerting whenever sections of a country’s population suffer from seeming collective amnesia and hanker in some nostalgic way for a political dynasty from the past, they know in their heart to be toxic.  

Even as non-Libyan, I can’t for the life of me get the image out of my head of Saif al Islam Gaddafi (shown above), brandishing a machine gun back during the early days of the uprising against his father’s despotic regime and vowing to crush the revolutionary “riff raff,” seeking to depose him. 

But then again, I’ve not had to live in this chaotic and turbulent country these past years as a series of political warlords, tribes and outsiders have tried to carve out a piece of the oil rich country for themselves.  

With the young Gaddafi – 49 – having already presented his candidacy papers the scene is set for what will now be an even more curious and controversial election. 
With Libya’s electoral commission yet to decide which candidates qualify, a degree of uncertainty still surrounds the ballot. 

Less in doubt is that some Libyans are obviously nostalgic for a past when things were more stable, even if it meant living under a dictatorship such as that of the Colonel.  

Oh, and before I forget to mention it, this prodigal Gaddafi son is still wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity back in 2011.