Suicide bomb survivor works to save Islam from radicals

July 28, 2017

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 4000km 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 July11, 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 10000 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