Like Kenya’s post-election violence in 2007 and 2008, yesterday’s terrorist bombings which killed at least seventy-four people in the Ugandan capital of Kampala raise reasonable questions for travelers to East African countries, including Tanzania. Since Uganda borders upon Tanzania, one can surely understand why somebody going to Tanzania might worry. But just as in the case of the bloodshed in Kenya, I think the answers to those questions will satisfy anyone traveling soon to Tanzania. So although the bombings certainly provoke shock and pity, they don’t make me fear for the safety of Karimu’s twenty-seven volunteers and Marianne and myself during our seventeen-day visit to Tanzania beginning August 1.
Somalia’s militant Al-Shabaab Islamists quickly claimed responsibility for the attacks on crowds watching the World Cup championship game between Spain and the Netherlands. Violence against civilian “soft targets” in Uganda would be consistent with Al-Shabaab’s recent saber-rattling in the direction of Uganda as well as Burundi, whose soldiers make up the six-thousand-strong African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia. The high-visibility bombings occurred less than a week after the six member nations of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) had announced at their summit meeting in Ethiopia a plan to send two thousand more peacekeepers to Somalia. IGAD includes Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, and Somalia itself, suggesting that additional peacekeepers from Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and Djibouti could draw Al-Shabaab’s wrath on those four countries also.
Tanzania lies substantially closer to Somalia than Burundi does: just three hundred miles of Kenyan coastline stand between Tanzania and the chaos of Somalia, while one must travel over twice that distance inland, across both Kenya and Tanzania, to get from Somalia to Burundi. As a coastal nation, Tanzania would also seem far more troubled than Burundi by Somali pirates who, barely a week ago, hijacked a chemical tanker carrying lubricating oil—far north of Tanzania, to be sure, in the Red Sea.
The deadly 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya could have made both countries reluctant to challenge Al-Shabaab, which maintains strong links to the Al-Qaeda assailants of Tanzania and Kenya of a dozen years ago. Yet as an immediate neighbor of Somalia, Kenya cannot refuse involvement. True, Karimu’s volunteers will change airplanes, both coming and going, in Nairobi, Kenya. However, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport does not offer an easy invitation to carnage like the popular Ethiopian garden restaurant and the rugby field where terror struck on Sunday night.
What, if anything, the American military effort in Afghanistan has to do with this remains unclear. Apparently Al-Qaeda has a growing presence not only in Somalia, but also across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen. But is this because the American military’s success in Afghanistan has driven many Al-Qaeda operatives out, or because the U.S. failure there has persuaded Al-Qaeda that its militancy can also succeed in other places? Fortunately, this important question has no bearing that I can discern on Karimu’s upcoming–and very safe–trip to Tanzania.–Don Stoll