Wilfred Arinda Nsheka; Involve Citizens in the Fight Against Terrorism

A few days before Christmas, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels affiliated with the Islamic State group killed at least 10 people in Kamwenge district, western Uganda, bringing their tally to at least 64 Ugandans killed in six months. The lessons learned, once again, are that there are intelligence gaps that hinder policing from being very successful. It’s the government’s role to end terrorism, but the government will never succeed unless it has the full cooperation of its citizens. Policing is successful when everyone is involved. Perhaps we haven’t been hit hard enough to rally everyone to join hands to end this plague of ADF terrorism.
In 1995, members of the terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo boarded trains at different ends of Tokyo’s sprawling subway system. They coordinated their attack so that the trains would converge a half-hour later at a single central stop: the attack killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000 others. Over the subsequent several years, Japanese police and intelligence officials conducted one of the largest manhunts in the country’s history. By 1997, Aum Shinrikyo had been eradicated as a terrorist organization. Most of its leadership structure was in jail, and the organization was bankrupt. It eventually changed its name to Aleph but ceased to be involved in terrorism. How did Aum Shinrikyo end as a terrorist organization? Efforts by Japanese police and intelligence services were fundamental to ending Aum Shinrikyo as a terrorist organization. They conducted widespread surveillance and penetration of Aum Shinrikyo, made hundreds of arrests, and adopted a range of legal measures that crippled the organization’s financial base. They also discredited the group’s ideology, leading to a mass exodus of supporters. In short, policing was an effective strategy against Aum Shinrikyo. All this was done with the full support of the Japanese.

There are a few other ways in which terrorist groups end: military force, politics, or victory. Other tools may also be useful, such as providing economic aid to countries dealing with terrorism, imposing economic sanctions on states that harbor terrorist groups, dissuading groups by hardening targets, improving intelligence, or engaging in diplomacy. But these are often too weak to be used in a leading role. In practice, terrorist groups typically end due to a combination of factors. With limited resources and attention, understanding where to prioritize efforts is crucial. Many factors may have contributed to the end of a group, but which was the most significant?

Military force involves deploying military forces to capture or kill key members of the terrorist group. In this case, the UPDF has been hunting down some of the rebels and succeeded, even killing some top leaders. Even unsuccessful offensive actions that force terrorist units or cells to stay perpetually on the move to avoid destruction may help to reduce their capability. Constant surveillance makes it difficult for them to plan and organize.

In some cases, terrorist groups may choose to participate in politics following a peace settlement with the government. One of our top political leaders in Uganda was once a rebel leader. Finally, some rebel groups end once they attain victory. That is, terrorist groups may abandon terrorism because their objectives have been achieved, similar to how the NRM rebel outfit finally came to power and ended fighting.

Why am I bringing all this history? None of the above was achieved or can never be achieved unless Ugandans are involved. In the ongoing fight against terrorism, it is crucial that citizens and security agencies collaborate closely, recognizing the shared responsibility in maintaining the safety of our communities. Citizens, being the eyes and ears of their neighborhoods, contribute significantly by providing valuable intelligence on suspicious activities. This community awareness acts as a crucial early warning system, allowing for preventive measures to be taken before potential threats escalate into attacks. The trust built through citizen engagement fosters a more transparent relationship with security agencies, encouraging individuals to come forward with relevant information. Diverse perspectives from citizens, rooted in their varied backgrounds, offer unique insights that enhance the overall effectiveness of counterterrorism efforts. By actively involving citizens, authorities not only tap into a wealth of local knowledge but also empower communities to build resilience against potential threats. This collaborative approach underscores that preventing terrorism is a collective endeavor, wherein the strengths of both citizens and government agencies working hand in hand result in a more robust defense against the challenges we face.

The government is recruiting LDUs to bolster security in western Uganda. The key point that must be emphasized in this fight is involving citizens to fight terrorism. In the aftermath of a terrorist attack in western Uganda, it’s important to prioritize a stringent approach: anyone found in the company of an individual they cannot identify or explain their association with should face consequences, as a measure to root out potential terrorists. This rigorous stance aims to create a deterrent and ensure that every Ugandan takes responsibility for their associations, contributing to the collective effort to eliminate terrorist threats from our communities. This will make the fight swift and successful. That’s how battles are won. Maybe when we’re hit hard, that’s when we will involve citizens in this fight.

May the innocent Ugandans who fell victim to the barbaric attacks by the ADF rest in eternal peace. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to their grieving families during this difficult time.

The author is the LC5 male youth councillor for Rubanda district.