Terrorism in East Africa: Sudan, Uganda, and the US on Different Pages

On Friday, the US Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan cited “a potential threat against commercial aviation transiting between Juba, Sudan and Kampala, Uganda” and said it had “received information indicating a desire by regional extremists to conduct a deadly attack onboard Air Uganda aircraft on this route.”

Kampala, Uganda

Kampala, Uganda

However, the Sudanese and Ugandan governments characterized the situation differently.

The Sudanese government dismissed the US’ warnings:

Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Muawiya Osman Khalid…said, “The United States, if having received any information or having any concerns in this regard, should have discussed them with the Sudanese authorities concerned so that required measures would be adopted, instead of circulating baseless information,” according to the report.

The Sudanese official also said the movement of international aviation between Sudan and other countries were progressing “normally and safely.”

He added that “the concerned security organs in Sudan are always following up with a highest level of alert the safety measures and are efficiently living up to their responsibilities.”

Uganda did not take the same tone, but still diverged noticeably from the US position:

The spokesman for the Ugandan army, Lt. Col. Felix Kulaigye told VOA that he was surprised the US had issued the warning at this time as the intelligence had been known since early December.

“As far as we know, in the Ugandan security circles, this is old information,” he said, “we got this information from our friends in Juba in early December.”

Lt. Col. Kulaigye said a number of security precautions had been taken since then on the planes and at the airport. “They didn’t even share that information with us,” he said.

The BBC has more on the Ugandan reaction:

Ignie Igunduura, a spokesman for Uganda’s Civil Aviation Authority, said the information was not new and the authorities had “been aware of this threat for some time”.

“But any time there is renewed information, and this renewed information came from the US but also others, you don’t start taking chances,” he said.

In light of past tensions between the US and Kenya regarding missile strikes in Somalia, and current tensions with Nigeria regarding that country’s inclusion on the enhanced airport screenings list (Sudan made the list as well), I am concerned at the fact that these three governments are not on the same page regarding this situation.

I am not assigning blame to any particular government. Perhaps the government of Sudan dismissed the threat because it perceived the embassy statement as an intervention in Sudanese affairs, or because of hostility toward the US. Perhaps Uganda’s government does not believe such an attack is likely. Perhaps the US government has not shared the critical information with these countries, or misinterpreted old evidence as pointing to a present threat.

It is impossible for me to know whether any of these scenarios, or another, is the case. But it is possible to say that this public lack of coordination, coming so soon after the Christmas Day incident, is dismaying. Wherever the responsibility lies, clearly the coordination and communication between Washington and African governments still has major holes.

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