Sui­cide bomb sur­vivor works to save Is­lam from rad­i­cals

Young Ugan­dan en­gages sus­cep­ti­ble youth and imams

African Independent - - NEWS - HAS­SAN ONYANGO

THE 2010 foot­ball World Cup, held in South Africa, left an in­deli­ble mark on the con­ti­nent and will go down as a mo­men­tous event in sport­ing his­tory.

How­ever, in Uganda, the tour­na­ment will al­ways be syn­ony­mous with “blood­bath” and a grim re­minder ter­ror­ism is among the big­gest men­aces of to­day.

As Spain and the Nether­lands were search­ing for a goal to break the dead­lock on a chilly Jo­han­nes­burg night, more than 4 000km north in the Ugan­dan cap­i­tal Kam­pala, ex­trem­ists were ex­e­cut­ing an evil plan.

Al-Shabaab car­ried out sui­cide bomb­ings in crowds watch­ing the fi­nal at two lo­ca­tions in Kam­pala, killing 74 peo­ple and in­jur­ing 70. The Is­lamist mili­tia based in So­ma­lia claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the blasts as re­tal­i­a­tion for Ugan­dan sup­port for the AU mis­sion in So­ma­lia.

Ugan­dan sur­vivor Has­san Ndugwa, 30, re­counts the ill-fated day seven years later.

“I was join­ing my friends on July 11, 2010, at the Kyadondo Rugby Club in Kam­pala. White chairs cov­ered the rugby pitch where the crowd viewed the match on a gi­ant screen. As the game closed on the 90th minute mark, two ex­plo­sions rocked the field in quick suc­ces­sion, killing dozens.

“It was al-Shabaab’s first at­tack out­side its home base of So­ma­lia. At the same time, a restau­rant else­where in the cap­i­tal was tar­geted. At fi­nal count, 74 peo­ple were dead,” said Ndugwa, who needed multiple stitches in his face.

“It was not un­til I saw news re­ports on TV two days af­ter the in­ci­dent, and al-Shabaab’s claim to be act­ing based on Is­lamic val­ues, that I re­alised what I wanted to do… to com­bat the peo­ple who had hi­jacked the re­li­gion I love in or­der to jus­tify vi­o­lence.”

“That was the be­gin­ning of my en­gage­ment with coun­ter­ing vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism,” he said.

To­gether with a col­league who also sur­vived, Ndugwa founded the Uganda Mus­lim Youth Devel­op­ment Fo­rum (UMYDF).

“In­stead of sit­ting back and blam­ing the gov­ern­ment or the rad­i­cal Mus­lims, we started the very ac­tive process of cre­at­ing di­a­logue and build­ing ca­pac­ity among the young Mus­lims and imams so the youth do not be­come tar­get of rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion. This would en­sure mosques be­come cen­tres of devel­op­ment where the youth can learn life skills.

“Through UMYDF, we are able to di­rectly reach 10 000 East African youth through di­rect train­ing and on­line plat­forms.

“My mis­sion is to contribute pos­i­tively to­wards my com­mu­nity by in­volv­ing my­self and my peers in pro­cesses lead­ing to a tol­er­ant and peace­ful so­ci­ety,” said Ndugwa.

“I have been deeply in­volved in ini­tia­tives to counter vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism and rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion of the youth. I have been lis­ten­ing and learn­ing on the ex­tent and causal fac­tors of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism in East Africa, so as to de­ter­mine the best prac­tices to save the re­gion from the con­tin­u­ing scourge.”

At UMYDF, Ndugwa im­ple­ments ini­tia­tives like the East Africa Re­gional Cred­i­ble Voices Ex­change Pro­gramme that brings to­gether 40 re­li­gious, youth, women and cul­tural lead­ers from Kenya, Uganda, So­ma­lia and Tan­za­nia, with the aim of devel­op­ing strate­gies to prevent the spread of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism.

He also man­ages the Skills En­hance­ment Pro­gramme for imams, which seeks to build the ca­pac­ity of Mus­lim cler­ics to use on­line tech­nolo­gies and so­cial me­dia to re­duce the spread of hate speech and vi­o­lent nar­ra­tives by en­gag­ing sus­cep­ti­ble youths.

Ndugwa also runs the Teach­ers for Peace pro­gramme to equip teach­ers to prevent ex­trem­ism.

The Na­tional Mus­lim Civic Lead­er­ship In­sti­tute, an­other UMYDF ini­tia­tive, pro­vides pos­i­tive al­ter­na­tives to youths at risk of re­cruit­ment by ex­trem­ists.

A holder of so­cial sciences de­gree and cur­rently pur­su­ing a Mas­ter’s in lo­cal gov­er­nance and hu­man rights at Uganda Mar­tyrs Uni­ver­sity, Ndugwa’s cru­sade is glob­ally en­dorsed.

He is a pi­o­neer mem­ber of the Gen­er­a­tion Change Global Fel­lows pro­gramme im­ple­mented by the US In­sti­tute of Peace and a 2015 Man­dela Wash­ing­ton Fel­low.

“In the US, I got ex­posed to new knowl­edge and dif­fer­ent ac­tors in coun­ter­ing vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism, which deep­ened my un­der­stand­ing of the ex­trem­ism ide­ol­ogy.”

He is also among the 10 global ad­vo­cates se­lected by the Koffi An­nan Foun­da­tion and youth em­pow­er­ment move­ments to counter vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism in the world through the Ex­tremely To­gether ini­tia­tive. – CAJ News

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