, KAMPALA, Uganda, Jul 24 – Ugandan forces imposed tight security in the capital Saturday as more than 30 heads of state began converging on Kampala for an African Union summit barely two weeks after deadly suicide attacks.
Police and military deployments in Kampala are regularly enhanced during international conferences, but after the July 11 bombings that left 76 dead, security is such that entering a shopping mall is similar to boarding a plane.
"Following the recent attack in Uganda, we have stepped up our security measures to a level that has never been seen," Deputy Foreign Minister Okello Oryem told AFP.
"Unfortunately, I think it has infringed on people\’s freedom to enjoy themselves," he added.
Kampala was chosen to host the 15th African Union heads of state summit, which opens on Sunday, long before the region\’s deadliest attacks in 12 years gave the venue extra significance.
It is an AU force that Uganda has led in Mogadishu since 2007 to support the fragile Somali transition government. That role was the reason the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab group claimed responsibility for the Kampala attacks in a bid to force Uganda to withdraw from Somalia.
The Ugandan authorities immediately responded by assuring its fellow AU members that the summit was still on and should serve as a platform to muster more regional and international support for efforts to root out the Somali insurgents.
At a popular city centre shopping mall with several restaurants and Kampala\’s only cinema, motorists and pedestrians are now forced to join long queues while they wait for their handbags, bodies and vehicles to be checked.
A security official this week got into a verbal spat with a would-be shopper who was frustrated by the delays.
"Others are not complaining!" the officer shouted, silencing the woman who was irked about her bag being thoroughly taken apart and inspected.
"All this is to ensure that all the delegates that are here and all the Ugandans do have 100 percent security and there is no repetition of what happened on 7/11," Oryem said, justifying the inconveniences.
Shortly after the attacks, Uganda\’s president balked at the notion that the summit should be rescheduled or relocated.
"Africa Union not take place because of this incidence? No! That is all rubbish," Yoweri Museveni told reporters at his country home in western Uganda.
"The African Union is not going to take place in a pitch," he added, referring to the rugby club which was one of the two spots targeted by the blasts on July 11 as crowds gathered to watch the football World Cup final.
A visible reminder of this contrast is the massive deployment of security personnel along the road that connects Kampala and the resort hosting the AU meeting.
Calling in re-enforcements from the anti-riot squads, the regular and military police, Uganda has positioned a two-person unit every 50 meters (55 yards) on both sides of the six-kilometre (3.7-mile) road.
A spokesman for the Speke Resort that is hosting the AU meeting said that given the plethora of screenings and checks required to access the summit grounds, it is possible a high speed traffic accident poses the worst security risk.
"You have all these convoys, driving at break-neck speeds, and I think the speeds they are driving at are a bit too excessive, especially when they are carrying nobody," Timothy Bukumunhe told AFP.
"It\’s like each driver has become a Michael Schumacher of sorts."
The pre-summit meetings with foreign ministers from most African nations began on Thursday, while heads of state and other foreign dignitaries, including US Attorney General Eric Holder are expected to land in Kampala on Saturday and Sunday.