Violence and Viruses: How a Poorly Armed Insurgency in the Congo Poses a Global Threat

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Monitor

November 2, 2018

Angry locals filled the streets of the Congo’s Nord Kivu province town of Beni on October 21, torching the post office, destroying parts of the town hall and throwing stones at vehicles belonging to health workers fighting a deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus. Eventually driven off by tear gas and live ammunition fired into the air, the demonstrators were enraged by the inability of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) troops and UN peacekeepers to prevent yet another terrorist strike in the town that saw 11 people hacked to death and 15 others (including children) abducted by militants of the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], October 21; AFP, October 22, 2018).

Nord Kivu province borders Uganda and Rwanda to the east and has absorbed defeated militant groups from both countries. Scores of armed groups are active in the region now despite the presence of large numbers of UN peacekeepers and troops of the Forces armées de la république démocratique du Congo (FARDC – Armed Forces of the DRC).

After two decades of ADF activity in the Uganda-DRC border region, ADF operations are now centered round the Nord Kivu town of Beni, a hub for regional trade routes. Beni is close to Virunga National Park, the Ituri Forest and the Rwenzori Mountains, all used at some point as bases for ADF activities. The region is rich in gold, tin, timber and diamonds.

The Allied Democratic Forces

The ADF has its roots in the Ugandan chapter of the Tabliqi Jama’at, an Islamic revival movement which began to claim political persecution in the 1990s. Many of the jama’at’s members left Kampala for the wild Rwenzori Mountains of western Uganda, where they formed the ADF by allying themselves with remnants of the Rwenzori separatist movement, fugitive Idi Amin loyalists and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), a group drawn from the Nande ethnic group of the Rwenzori Mountains. Today, most ADF members are locally recruited residents of Nord Kivu.

The ADF’s leader, Jamil Mukulu, was arrested in Tanzania in April 2015 and extradited to Uganda. When he was arrested, Mukulu was carrying no less than nine passports (Le Monde, May 15). Mukulu is a convert from Christianity who became involved in the Tablighi Jama’at and eventually adopted a Salafi-Jihadist stance with alleged ties to al-Qaeda (The Independent [Kampala], May 17, 2015).

The ADF was able to obtain Sudanese arms and training during the proxy war fought between Khartoum and Kampala, but this came to an end when the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with South Sudan brought a finish to the proxy war.

The ADF has a low-profile and highly isolated leadership. Mukulu’s successor as leader of the main ADF faction is believed to be Imam Seka Musa Baluku, the subject of an Interpol red notice (Daily Monitor [Kampala], September 24, 2015). As the prospect of ever actually overthrowing the Ugandan government grows ever more distant, the movement has splintered, losing any sense of ideological cohesion in favor of extortion, illegal taxation and resource exploitation.

The ADF resents interference in it local economic operations; a 2014 statement made their approach clear:

You, the population, we are going to kill you because you have provoked us too much. The same goes for the FARDC with whom we used to live without any problems…  Don’t be surprised to see us killing children, women, elderly… In the name of Allah, we will not leave you alone.” [1]

Other ADF factions include the Feza Group (more religiously inclined than the others), the Matata Group, the Abialose Group (commanded by “Major” Efumba) and the ADF-Mwalika. [2] Factional leaders have often married the daughters of local chieftains to strengthen local ties.

The Uganda Peoples’ Defence Force (UPDF) succeeded in expelling the ADF from Uganda in 1999 and the rebels re-established themselves across the border in the DRC’s lightly governed but resource rich Nord Kivu province. The ADF has posed little threat to Uganda since suffering heavy losses in battles with the UPDF in 2007-2008.

The situation in Nord Kivu, however, is different. Some 700 civilians have been killed by the ADF since violence intensified in the region in October 2014 (Le Monde, September 9). Well over 200 civilians have been killed by armed groups in over 100 attacks in the region around Beni this year. [3] Hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The poorly-armed ADF typically relies on the use of machetes and axes in its attacks on civilian population centers and relies on raids on military bases to obtain more advanced weapons. Fighters often abduct civilians and take them to their bases in the bush for use as sex slaves or porters. Children are trained to become ADF fighters. Women and children participate in ADF attacks, looting and finishing off wounded victims, including other women and children. [4]

Jamil Mukulu used to issue cassette tapes to condemn Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and the leaders of the West while urging violence against non-Muslims. Since his detention, the movement has drifted from jihadist rhetoric, or, indeed, any rhetoric at all, making its current aims something of a mystery.

FARDC Troops Targeting ADF Positions


The UN’s Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO) was founded in 1999-2000. It is now the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, with 17,000 troops and an annual budget of $115 billion. [5] The ADF, who travel light and known the difficult terrain intimately, have proven far more mobile than MONUSCO forces.

Fifteen Tanzanian peacekeepers and five Congolese troops were killed at Semuliki in the Beni region in a December 2017 ADF attack (Reuters, January 13).  The assault followed earlier attacks on the Tanzanians in September and October2017. A UN investigation of the incident identified a number of weaknesses in MONUSCO: “The mission did not have an actionable contingency plan to reinforce and extract its peacekeepers… Issues of command-and-control, leadership and lack of essential enablers such as aviation, engineers and intelligence were also major obstacles and need to be addressed urgently” (Reuters, March 2).

The UPDF claimed to have killed over 100 ADF fighters in cross-border artillery and jet-fighter strikes (Operation Tuugo)  on ADF positions following the attack on the peacekeepers (New Vision [Kampala], December 22, 2017; Observer [Kampala], December 28, 2017). Uganda is suffering a wave of assassinations and murders mostly tied to local tensions, though Museveni (without evidence) has blamed the ADF for many of the killings, including those of seven Muslim shaykhs between 2012 and 2016. He has also blamed the DRC and the UN for harboring and supporting ADF terrorists (AfricaNews, June 6).

Insurgency and Disease

Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever with an extremely high fatality rate. The virus is spread through contact with the infected bodily fluids of people or primates (the latter is known as “bushmeat” by those who eat it, including ADF militants). Ebola emerged in the DRC in the 1970s and has since killed thousands across West Africa.

Nord Kivu Health Workers (AFP)

The epidemic was announced on August 1, shortly after an Ebola outbreak in the DRC’s Equateur Province. The epidemic might have been detected earlier, but local health workers were on strike after not having been paid for seven months (Actualité.cd [Kinshasa, August 2).

Though health officials have initiated a vaccination program, there are other factors besides the conflict that inhibit its implementation, including the region’s often difficult topography and a strong degree of resistance to vaccination in some communities, resulting in flight into the forest where health workers cannot reach them.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the virus could spread to Uganda and/or Rwanda at any time. In a worrying trend, the organization notes the 19 health workers who caught the disease by October 11 had all been infected outside health facilities, pointing to Ebola’s spread in the larger community (Al-Jazeera, October 11).

In August, seven people were reported to be suffering from hemorrhagic fevers at Mboki, a village in the heavily forested southern region of the Central African Republic, close to the border with the DRC. The lightly inhabited area is frequented by a number of armed groups who often rely on bushmeat. Tests done on rebels arrested in the DRC and extradited to the CAR revealed 80 per cent of them had Ebola antibodies in their system, suggesting both contact with the disease and their potential role as transmission vectors. Emmanuel Nakoune Yandoko, head of the CAR’s Pasteur Institute, has met with leaders of some of these cross-border militant groups and believes they could be usefully integrated into a disease surveillance system as they also fear Ebola and other fatal diseases in the region (Le Monde, August 17).

A recent OXFAM report identified several challenges to combating Ebola in Nord Kivu, including:

  • The need to change culturally-entrenched burial practices to reduce infection; Attempts by health workers to take over the burial of Ebola victims provoked attacks on them, forcing security forces to accompany health workers on such missions (Al-Jazeera, October 10).
  • The need to solve the puzzle of how to provide security for health-workers in a conflict zone while using as few FARDC and UN troops as possible in order not to provoke local flight into the forest;
  • Establishing health education programs in remote communities where Ebola is often ascribed to witchcraft;
  • Given the security situation, it is important to avoid gathering civilians in large numbers for vaccinations or other distributions.

The threat to health workers is serious; two nurses were killed on October 19 and there are three to four attacks a week against medical personnel fighting the virus. Many experience being stripped by the people they are trying to help and having their clothes burned in front of them (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], October 23).

On September 23, 18 people and four soldiers were killed in the streets of Beni. Most were the victims of machete attacks in an incident that again revealed the inability of the Congolese Army to secure even Beni’s urban center against the ADF, which looted shops until FARDC reinforcements arrived (AFP, September 24, Anadolu Agency, September 23). This attack and a second one on Oicha, a village about 12 miles north of Beni where Ebola cases have been identified, led to a 48-hour suspension in efforts to treat the spreading disease (AFP, September 25). FARDC and MONUSCO troops, who arrived well after the Oicha attack despite being based just outside the town, were met by stone-throwing civilians (AFP, October 11). In July 2016, 19 people were slaughtered only 300 meters from a Nepalese MONUSCO base at Eringeti despite an informant warning MONUSCO officers of the attack the day before (Le Monde, July 1, 2016).

FARDC Weakness and the Role of the UPDF

FARDC is far from a cohesive entity, being composed of both integrated and non-integrated former rebel factions with different languages and customs. President Kabila, who regards his army as a potential threat, relies for his own personal security on the three brigades of the Garde Républicaine. Pay problems are endemic and encourage trade and economic cooperation with the rebel movements they are intended to fight. There is little incentive to venture into the bush without remuneration.

With ADF militants wearing FARDC uniforms and operating with apparent immunity at times, there are major suspicions locally of FARDC corruption and collusion in the attacks. There is growing anger in the region at the military’s inability or unwillingness to bring armed groups under control. Locals arrested as suspected insurgents are often subject to summary executions. Many of the FARDC units operating in Kivu region are from western provinces of the DRC and tend to behave more as an occupation force than defenders of Kivu civilians.

General Marcel Mbangu

Led by General Marcel Mbangu, FARDC launched its own anti-ADF operations independent of MONUSCO in January. Though the military promised a conclusive campaign, local residents have noted lethargy and inefficiency in FARDC’s efforts, which often appear to be focused on self-preservation rather than protecting the community. [6] Belief in collaboration between the two supposed antagonists is strong enough that locals refer to “the ADF FARDC” (Le Monde, March 6, 2017). Both FARDC and MONUSCO suffer from poor intelligence work due to the suspicion and fears of the Nord Kivu community.

Military cooperation between FARDC and the UPDF is limited to a UPDF presence on the border to prevent ADF militants from escaping Congolese operations. A Ugandan presence in the DRC is unwanted in Kinshasha, as tensions between the two countries have remained high since the 1998-2003 civil war.

Brigadier General Muhindo Akili Mundos

Brigadier General Muhindo Akili Mundos, an ally of President Joseph Kabila and commander of the anti-ADF Sukola 1 (Lingala – “cleanup”) operation, was alleged by a confidential UN report to have recruited, financed and armed ADF elements and others to carry out attacks on local civilians over 2014-2015. Included in the supplies were FARDC uniforms. The Brigadier denied the allegations, pointing out killings had continued after his transfer from North Kivu (Reuters, May 14, 2016). The UN imposed sanctions on General Mundos in February on the grounds he had incited killings in Nord Kivu (Jeune Afrique, February 2).

Other FARDC officers suspected of working with the ADF have been tried by the North Kivu Military Operational Military Court. Colonel David Lusenge was tried on charges of supplying arms and ammunition to the ADF, as well as participating in the planning of attacks on Beni civilians (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], February 15, 2017). A former senior ADF military instructor testified that Colonel Shabani Molisho and other FARDC officers supplied the ADF with ammunition in 2014 (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], February 11, 2017). Colonel Katanzu Hangi was sentenced to 12 month in prison after being found guilty of collaborating with the ADF (Radio Okapi [Kinshasa], June 6, 2017). Though three colonels were eventually convicted, there was a marked reluctance by the court to pursue allegations against more senior officers.


Over the last decade, the ADF leadership has avoided any public proclamation of their aims or intents, expressing themselves solely through their direction of uninhibited violence. The last negotiations with the ADF came in 2008, but were even then complicated by divisions within the movement.

Growing public anger in Nord Kivu with the government and its security forces works against local cooperation with health workers or the Congolese military. President Joseph Kabila’s term expired last December, but his refusal to step down has ignited violence across the vast DRC, taxing the resources of both FARDC and the UN. With little chance of a negotiated settlement or a military victory in Nord Kivu, the international community must address the question of how to tackle epidemics of disease in failed or failing states before they spread across borders in a shrinking world.


  1. Report of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office on International Humanitarian Law Violations Committed by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) Combatants in the Territory of Beni, North Kivu Province, Between 1 October and 31 December, 2014,
  2. United Nations Security Council, “Letter dated 23 May 2016 from the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo addressed to the President of the Security Council, May 23, 2016,
  3. “DR Congo: Upsurge in Killings in Ebola Zone,” Human Rights Watch, October 3, 2018,
  4. Report of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, op cit.
  6. “DR Congo: Upsurge in Killings in Ebola Zone,” op cit.


This article first appeared in the November 2, 2018 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

An American-Educated Warlord in Equatoria: A Profile of South Sudan’s General Martin Terensio Kenyi

Andrew McGregor

March 3, 2017

According to a confidential UN report, six million people, half the population of South Sudan, are in need of humanitarian assistance less than six years after the nation gained its independence as a result of militia warfare spinning out of control (AFP, February 15). Power struggles in the oil-rich but otherwise completely undeveloped nation have devolved along tribal and ethnic lines. Intensifying the problem is the large variety of South Sudanese warlords, invariably “generals,” whether self-appointed or granted this distinction in order to pull them within the orbit of the governments of Khartoum or Juba.  These inflated militia leaders share a habit of changing sides according to whatever profits them most, making rational solutions to the crisis in South Sudan difficult in the extreme.

General Martin Terensio Kenyi

One such “General” is Martin Terensio Kenyi, a member of South Sudan’s Ma’di tribe and the most important warlord in the hilly and forested Eastern Equatoria region bordering Uganda.

General Kenyi calls for a federal system in South Sudan that would break Dinka domination of the government, though the government claims he is working for the separation of Eastern Equatoria from South Sudan (Sudan Tribune, December 7, 2014). General Kenyi’s career is marked by a pattern of defections and changing loyalties based more on opportunism, tribal rivalries and personal relations with other warlords than the interests of the young nation.

Kenyi has called for a united front to dismantle the “tribally-dominated regime” of President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who many South Sudanese believe is intent on establishing the dominance of South Sudan’s Dinkas, the largest ethnic group in the nation (Sudan Tribune, January 31, 2015). When not in the field, the General lives with his family in Kampala, Uganda.

South Sudan

The Ma’di People and Eastern Equatoria

 In South Sudan, the Ma’di people live in Magwi County in Imatong State. Other Ma’di live across the border (including South Sudanese Ma’di refugees) in Uganda’s adjoining Adjuman and Moyo districts. The Ma’di have an intensive interaction with Acholi clans (some friendly, some not) that live side by side with the Ma’di on both sides of the border.

The tribe’s oral history claims a Nigerian origin, though this has not been substantiated. The Ma’di were among many southern tribes that endured slave-raiding by Egypt’s Turko-Circassian army in the mid-19th century. The Ottoman onslaught drove many Ma’di into the bush and others south to Uganda, though General Charles “Chinese” Gordon made efforts to end slavery in the region while Ottoman governor of Equatoria (1874-76). The slave raids left the southerners with a deep hostility toward their northern Muslim neighbors that would help fuel Equatorian participation in the Anyanya rebellion (a.k.a. “The First Sudanese Civil War,”1955-1972). Government repression was heavy and atrocities frequent during the rebellion in Equatoria, the conflict’s focal point. [1]

After a brief period of Belgian rule in part of the Ma’di territory (the “Lado Enclave,” 1892-1910), all the Ma’di fell under Anglo-Egyptian rule in the Southern Sudan or British colonial rule in northern Uganda by 1910.  The Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) arrived in Eastern Equatoria in 1985 when the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) began raiding Ma’di territory. The use of Acholi recruits on these raids heightened tensions with the Ma’di community for several years.  By 1986, some Ma’di began to form self-defense militias, though others, like Kenyi, joined the SPLM/A. [2]

Most Ma’di are Christian, though there is a significant number of Muslims, especially in trading families.  Syncretistic forms of Islam and Christianity are common and a minority continues to follow traditional forms of ancestor worship. Most Ma’di are sedentary agriculturalists specializing in tobacco and cotton.

Early Career

General Kenyi was born in the Sudanese border town of Nimule in 1962.  He and his family took refuge in Uganda during the Anyanya Rebellion, which ravaged Equatoria before a Ma’di officer named Joseph Lagu united the Southern guerrilla groups and forced Khartoum to negotiate the Addis Ababa agreement that ended the war in 1972.

The family returned to Sudan after the end of the war, and Kenyi eventually went to the United States to earn a B.A. in political science and economics at Iowa’s Loras College in 1986. After completing a M.A. in political economy and comparative politics at Western Illinois University in 1988, Kenyi returned to Sudan and joined the rebellion led by John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). [3] His American education earned him a spot in 1989 at the military college in Bonga, Ethiopia, a strongly Marxist institution that trained the rebel movement’s officers from 1984 to 1990 under the patronage of the military-communist Derg regime in Addis Ababa. [4] On graduation Kenyi was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the SPLA. Kenyi rose to the rank of captain and served as adjutant to co-founder and military chief-of-staff William Nyuon Bany (Nuer, killed 1996).

Early  SPLA Leaders: William Nyuon Bany (died 1996); John Garang de Mabior (died 2005); Salva Kiir Mayardit (current president of South Sudan); Kuol Manyang Juuk

Defection to the SSDF

In 1992, Kenyi followed Nyuon in defecting to the breakaway South Sudan Defense Force (SSDF), a Nuer-dominated umbrella group led by Riek Machar Teny (Dok Nuer) that incorporated a variety of South Sudanese ethnic militias aligned with the Khartoum government. Besides Nyuon, other leading members included Gordon Kong Chuol (Jikany Nuer) and the late Paulino Matip Nhial (Bul Nuer). However, there were serious tensions between the Nuer and the Equatorians in the movement that led to internal clashes and an assassination attempt on Kenyi allegedly ordered by Nyuon (Radio Tamazuj, November 23, 2014).

Birth of the Equatorian Defense Force (EDF)

Separating himself from the rest of the SSDF command, Kenyi assumed the role of military commander of the Equatorian Defense Force (EDF), which continued as a part of the SSDF. By 2001 Kenyi was a Colonel and the SSDF’s commander of the Equatoria military region. The EDF was one of dozens of pro-government militias operating in South Sudan during the Second Civil War.

With fighters from the Ma’di, Acholi and other small ethnic groups, the EDF fought Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA, still largely Ugandan Acholi at that point) along the Ugandan border through 2001-2004 (BBC Monitoring Africa, March 30, 2004).

The political wing of the EDF was led by Dr. Theophilus Ochang Loti. The movement signed on to the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement that committed the government to a referendum on independence, but the SPLM/A refused to sign the pact. The agreement called for the SSDF and its constituent parts to remain a separate entity from the Government of Sudan (GoS) army, but under a joint SSDF/GoS military command. This clause, like the referendum, was never implemented. [5] Nonetheless, the SSDF relied on Khartoum for arms and supplies.

In 2003, Kenyi claimed that the SPLM/A’s decision to negotiate a peace agreement with Khartoum validated his choice to collaborate with the GoS rather than rebel against it: “Today the SPLA is negotiating a peace agreement with the GoS. We are not opposed to such a process because after all these years the SPLA has come to follow our example.” [6]

With the encouragement of Riek Machar [7], Kenyi led the EDF out of the SSDF and re-joined the SPLA as a brigadier general after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. A major consideration was the need to drive the irrational and bloodthirsty LRA out of South Sudan, an objective best achieved by uniting forces.  Kenyi was made deputy director for procurement at SPLA headquarters in Juba, director of procurement for 2009-2010 and then , 2013-14.

Assassination Attempts

Not all Ma’di oppose the Juba government; some have little interest in prolonging the violence and are willing to cooperate with the Juba government. Prominent Ma’di supporters of the regime include Dr. Anne Itto Leonardo, the presidential advisor on agriculture and food security, and John Andruga Duku, a former ambassador for the SPLM/A. Both are held in suspicion by some Ma’di who are wary of their ties to Dinka leaders in Juba (, May 9, 2015).

One South Sudanese media source cited a leaked government report in May 2015 that alleged Dr. Itto and Ambassador Andruga met privately with President Kiir on April 15, 2015 to discuss means of convincing General Kenyi to abandon his rebellion. Three plans were devised: the first involved bribery and assistance in resettling in South Africa; the second would drop capital offense treason charges against Kenyi, allowing him to return to Juba; while the third plan was to convince General Kenyi that his rebellion was unwanted by the Ma’di people, who suffered repression on account of it. Kenyi’s caution made face-to-face discussion of these options impossible, so Andruga allegedly led South Sudanese security agents on a mission to assassinate Kenyi in Nairobi, but a tip from a South Sudanese security agent allowed Kenyi to escape (, May 9, 2015).

With the Juba regime still believing that the elimination of General Kenyi would lead to the collapse of a number of other small rebellions in Equatoria, Chief-of-Staff General “King” Paul Malong Awon (Dinka) and Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk (Bor Dinka) were alleged to have met with Equatorian General and 6th Division commander Johnson Juma “JJ” Okot (Acholi) in January 2016 to plan Kenyi’s assassination. This plan also failed when it was prematurely revealed (, January 7, 2016). [8]   

The SPLM/A-IO claimed National Security Service agents attempted to kill Kenyi on July 1, 2016 by ambushing his car. Kenyi was not in the vehicle at the time, but his security chief, George Ruben Ishamala, was allegedly wounded, abducted, tortured and finally murdered by security agents who dumped his body in the Juba morgue (, July 3, 2016).

Renewed Alliance with Riek Machar

The South Sudan Civil War broke out in December 2013, ignited by a tribally infused rivalry between the nation’s Dinka president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and his Nuer vice-president, Riek Machar Teny. The latter formed the SPLM/A-IO (“In Opposition”), which Kenyi joined in November 2014. [9] Riek Machar made Kenyi a major-general and placed him in charge of the movement’s forces in Eastern Equatoria.

In January 2015, Kenyi explained his reasons for joining the opposition:

[The government] has created an atmosphere for rampant corruption. It has created an army, inherited an army, which is so parochial, sectarian, tribalistic, nepotistic. It has created a system of governance that has no sense of accountability. It has created a system… which generates crisis, ill-feelings… There is a need to struggle to establish a democratic system in this country. A democratic system which will reflect the diversity and multi-ethnicity in this country. This can best be addressed by creating a federalist system in South Sudan… [10]

Despite his decision, Kenyi would acknowledge local calls to form an independent Equatorian front:

There is a call for [an] Equatorian front because the people of Equatoria have repeatedly found themselves marginalized and even now in the government of Salva Kiir. They are right. There is no question about [it]. They have been marginalized and even treated as underdogs and called all [kinds of] names, including being branded as cowards, even when some of us led in battles and we captured major towns [during the civil war of 1983-2005] (Sudan Tribune, February 1, 2015).

Riek Machar made Martin Kenyi deputy Chief of Staff for moral orientation in 2014. In early January, 2015, Kenyi was named commander of the SPLM/A-IO forces in Eastern Equatoria.

The arrival in Eastern Equatoria of Dinka herdsmen and their cattle fleeing the civil war added to ethnic tensions in the region when the Dinka showed little interest in returning home after South Sudanese independence in 2011 (Sudan Tribune, August 18, 2011). Since then, the Dinkas have demanded land, grazing rights and representation in local government, all opposed by traditional Ma’di chiefs (Radio Tamazuj, April 5, 2015).

On the Road to Nimule

The Juba-Nimule Highway – Perfect Ambush Country

Since 2014, General Kenyi has made efforts to cut the vital Juba-Nimule road (a.k.a. the A43 Highway), the only tarmacked road connecting the land-locked nation to the sea via Uganda and Kenya. The many dips and hills along the 192 kilometers (km) A43 make it perfect ambush territory, especially as it passes through heavily forested areas. Vicious attacks on all manner of road traffic by well-armed guerrillas believed to be under Kenyi’s command pose a serious threat to South Sudan’s economic viability and have brought his group into confrontation with the Ugandan military. Customs duties and taxes paid by traders are a significant source of revenue for the government of South Sudan, which is otherwise reliant on oil revenues. Cutting the road hurts Uganda as well; Ugandan Ministry of Trade statistics indicate that South Sudan is Uganda’s largest trading partner, with annual export revenue of over $350 million a year (ChimpReports, December 17, 2014).

Led by Lieutenant Jada Anthony Tibi, Kenyi’s men destroyed three vehicles on the A43 carrying food for government troops in mid-December 2014 and announced that Kenyi had closed the “Salva  Kiir Mayardit lifeline to the outside world” (Sudan Tribune, December 18, 2014). A Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) spokesman warned that “this development will compel Uganda Special Forces commando units to use combat action to clear the rebels’ pockets of resistance along the Juba-Nimule road if it continues” (Nyamile, December 17, 2014).

Kenyi’s forces claimed to have overrun Nimule for three hours on July 4, 2015, capturing ammunition stores and vehicles after the local garrison fled into the bush following a short fire-fight. The attackers pulled out before retaliation from Ugandan and South Sudanese military units (Sudan Tribune, July 9, 2015). Two days later, a policeman was killed and three vehicles burned in an attack on an A43 checkpoint (Radio Tamazuj, July 6, 2015; Sudan Tribune, July 7 2015).

Burning Tanker on the Juba-Nimule Highway (Radio Tamazuj)

Kenyi’s forces under the operational command of Commander Marli Max attacked an SPLA-Juba barracks in mid-August 2015 and overran the town of Pageri approximately 25 km northeast of Nimule (Radio Tamazuj, August 18, 2015). Kenyi’s militia claimed the attack on Pageri happened only after they were attacked by government troops. The timing of the incident was curious, as SPLM/A-IO leaders had signed the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-sponsored Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan the day before. [11] SPLM/A-IO Major General James Koang Chuol Ranley suggested the government attack was an attempt by the Salva Kiir government to derail the peace process (Sudan Tribune, August 19, 2015).

South Sudan – Uganda Border Region

Attacks on the road continued, with rebels killing truck drivers and bus passengers (Radio Tamazuj, November 24, 2015). Six Ugandans were abducted in July 2016 inside Uganda’s Lamwo District by rebels believed to be under Kenyi’s command (Monitor [Kampala], July 19, 2016). The UPDF was involved at the time in the evacuation of over 8,000 Ugandans and people of other nationalities from renewed clashes in Juba. By August 2016, heavy fighting again closed the A43. The attacks on government forces were believed to be retaliation for a security sweep of Ma’di territory that left 13 civilians dead (Nyamile, August 7, 2016).

Government troops flooded the Juba-Nimule road in September 2016 after two South Sudan security officers were killed on the road in a Ma’di area by attackers armed with rocket-propelled grenades and other sophisticated military equipment. Hundreds of Ma’di fled the area afterwards, fearing retaliation from the army (Sudan Tribune, September 2, 2016). A flurry of attacks on buses and fuel tankers followed, with one unfortunate driver being burned to death (Monitor [Kampala], September 5, 2016;, September 9, 2016; Sudan Tribune, September 11, 2016).

Observers from UNMISS (the 13,000-man United Nations Mission in South Sudan) confirmed reports of clashes between government troops and SPLM/A-IO fighters in Magwi County in January 2017. According to the SPLM/A-IO, its forces under the command of Major General Patrick Ohiti Chapuho ambushed the government troops as they burned Acholi villages in the region (Sudan Tribune, January 25).

Government troops have been accused of illegally detaining and torturing civilians suspected of supporting General Kenyi (Radio Tamazuj, May 20, 2015; Sudan Tribune, December 2, 2015). Serious abuses were reported in February 2017 by Eastern Equatoria’s Bishop Paul Yugusuk, who alleged government troops were using a base south of Juba intended to provide security for travellers on the A43 to commit large scale rapes, looting and illegal detentions and torture (Sudan Tribune, February 15).


Many Equatorians are uninterested in the conflict between the Dinka and Nuer and resent the activity of SPLM-IO forces, which inevitably draw reprisals on civilians by government troops.  An agreement was signed earlier this year providing for joint South Sudanese/Ugandan police patrols to provide security along the highway (Monitor [Kampala], January 27). General Kenyi has been unable to sever the Juba-Nimule highway on anything more than a temporary basis even while most government forces are deployed against larger SPLM/A-IO in the northern regions of the country. Though his activities have encouraged government repression of the Ma’di, this is consistent with terrorist/guerrilla strategies of inciting repression in order to compel rebellion.

Given General Kenyi’s pattern of changing sides, the question now is whether he will maintain his campaign along the A42 on behalf of Riek Machar, who has now fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, settle with the Juba regime or lead his fighters in a Quixotic struggle for the independence of Eastern Equatoria. Ultimately, this warlord, like his South Sudan counterparts, will do what’s necessary to maintain a personal stake in a nation blessed by oil riches but tormented by a tendency to resort to violence in nearly all issues, a proclivity bred by decades of brutal warfare.


[1] Edgar O’Ballance, The Secret War in the Sudan: 1955-1972, London, 1977, p.83.

[2]  Douglas H. Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, International African Institute, Oxford, 2003, p.86.

[3] “Maj Gen Martin Speaking Directly to the People of South Sudan,” January 29, 2015,

[4] Mawut Achiecque Mach Guarak, Integration and Fragmentation of the Sudan: An African Renaissance, AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2011, pp. 305-309.

[5] “Interview with Martin Kenyi and Garhoth Garkuoth of the South Sudan Defence Force,” Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, June 22, 2003,

[6] Ibid

[7] Matthew LeRiche, Matthew Arnold, South Sudan: From Revolution to Independence,” Oxford University Press, 2013, (p. 273, fn. 51).

[8] After persistent accusations of corruption and misappropriation of salaries intended for soldiers in the 6th Division (which led to troops rioting in October 2015), General Okot was relieved of his command in February 2016 (Radio Tamazuj, February 17, 2016).

[9] John Young, “A Fractious Rebellion: Inside the SPLM-IO,” Small Arms Survey, HSBA Working Paper 39, Geneva, 2015, p.30.

[10] “Maj Gen Martin Speaking Directly to the People of South Sudan,” January 29, 2015,

[11] Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, Addis Ababa, August 17, 2015;

This article first appeared in the March 3, 2017 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Why is the Ugandan Military Still in South Sudan?

Andrew McGregor

May 30, 2015

A full year after the planned departure date of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) from its military intervention in South Sudan, the Ugandan military presence in South Sudan is growing in size and cost.

Uganda in SSudanThough the Uganda government recently announced $5.4 million in funding for its military operations in South Sudan, the true costs of the mission are obscured by conflicting claims from Kampala and the South Sudanese capital of Juba. While Juba has insisted it is paying the cost of the deployment (which has prevented the overthrow of the Dinka-dominated South Sudan government of President Salva Kiir Mayardit by Nuer-dominated rebel groups), Ugandan MPs claim figures related to the South Sudan deployment have not been made available to the parliamentary defense committee responsible for approving them and demand to know who is funding the Ugandan military operations. In response, Ugandan Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga said providing such details would endanger the lives of Ugandan troops in South Sudan, though he did not specify exactly how that would occur (Uganda Radio Network, April 24, 2015; Observer [Kampala], April 27, 2015).

In early April, Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni came under criticism from John Ken-Lukyamuzi, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, who claimed the Ugandan military mission in South Sudan “grossly violates international law.” The opposition leader cited a number of other problems with the mission:

  • The actual deployment came before it was approved by a January 14, 2014 parliamentary vote;
  • The mission’s extent has vastly exceeded the Ugandan government’s original declared intention to evacuate Ugandan citizens and protect the airport and presidential palace in Juba;
  • No documentation of a formal invitation for Ugandan troops from the South Sudanese government has been provided despite a request from parliament;
  • It is unclear who is paying for the UPDF’s presence in South Sudan (Observer [Kampala], April 9, 2015).

The Ugandan deployment was soon opposed by the other seven members of the regional trade bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) who have continued without success to urge President Museveni to withdraw his forces and allow a political settlement to take shape.[1]  Both the rebels and the United States have also called for a full withdrawal of foreign troops from South Sudan. Instead, South Sudanese media noted a major increase in the numbers of UPDF troops deployed in the region in February, 2015, claiming the size of the force had grown from 3,000 to 7,000 (Sudan Tribune, February 11, 2015; Uganda Radio Network, February 11, 2015).

Uganda in SSudan 2Uganda Chief of Defense Forces Katumba Wamala and Brigadier Kayanja Muhanga in Bor, 2014. Kayanja commands Ugandan forces in South Sudan. He is the former deputy commander of Ugandan forces in Somalia and is currently commander of the UPDF’s 4th Division.

The UPDF, which has received extensive American training through its participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia and the anti-Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Operation Lightning Thunder, consists of five divisions with one armored brigade and one brigade of artillery. President Museveni restructured Uganda’s Special Forces (including the Presidential Guard Brigade) into a new unit, the Special Forces Command (SFC), under the leadership of his son Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba in 2012.[2] The move solidified Muhoozi’s meteoric rise through the ranks of the UPDF and gave him full control of well-trained and armed troops responsible for the security of all oil installations and important government facilities. According to Fungaroo Kaps Hassan, the opposition’s shadow minister of defense, “Muhoozi is the de-facto army commander… Museveni has personalised the army… He calls it his army and has put Muhoozi in-charge, which is why you see Muhoozi posturing, going to Somalia doing things that should be done by his seniors” (Independent [Kampala], February 1, 2015).

Juba’s reliance on the UPDF comes despite massive defense spending by the young state; a report released last week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) revealed a steady rise in South Sudan’s military spending from $982m in 2013 to $1.08bn in 2014, making it the biggest spender in the region. As a non-diversified petro-state, South Sudan is almost entirely dependent upon oil revenues in a stagnant market while still devoting an astonishing 60% of its net income on the military (Sudan Tribune, April 26, 2015; East African [Nairobi], April 25, 2015). Insecurity in South Sudan has immediate economic effects on Uganda – South Sudan is Uganda’s most important export market.

Uganda in SSudan 3

South Sudan


The danger of Uganda’s deployment and the risk it may ignite a wider conflict was displayed in March, when Sudan’s state news agency reported the massing of 16,000 Ugandan troops along the border with (north) Sudan (SUNA, March 2, 2015). With Khartoum ready to act after receiving this alarming report, UPDF spokesmen were forced to issue quick denials to prevent an outbreak of hostilities between Sudan and Uganda, which have been fighting a proxy war for regional dominance for years at the expense of the region’s civilian population.

Juba is on the verge of economic collapse and cannot sustain its all-consuming defense budget, particularly as it comes at the expense of nearly all other forms of development and government services. No amount of defense spending will heal the political rift between Dinkas and Nuer (not to even mention the numerous other tribal rivalries that have spilled over into open conflict as a result of the current rebellion). Declining oil prices and interruptions in oil delivery through northern pipelines are placing financial strains on the Salva Kiir government.

Uganda will eventually present Juba with its bill for preserving the existing government; in earlier Ugandan interventions in the Democrat Republic of the Congo (DRC), these frequently took the form of concessions in resource-rich areas for leading Ugandan officers and friends of the Museveni regime. With discussions ongoing regarding a joint Ugandan-South Sudanese pipeline through Kenya to the Indian Ocean that would allow South Sudan to avoid Khartoum’s prohibitive transfer fees, Kampala may be looking to claim a share of South Sudan’s oil production, further assisting Uganda’s efforts to become a regional economic and military player in east Africa. This would also have the benefit of providing an additional pool of patronage funds to ease the political transformation from President Museveni to his son.

With a strong degree of opposition to such a move even within the UPDF (where Muhoozi is unpopular), Museveni’s efforts to turn Uganda’s single most important institution, its military, into a personal army loyal to the president alone may ultimately backfire, particularly at a time when similar efforts to extend presidential terms beyond constitutional limits or to create family dynasties in supposedly democratic systems are meeting heated opposition in many other African nations. Officers of the UPDF are forbidden from engaging in politics while serving; Museveni routinely denies UPDF officers who wish to enter opposition politics permission to resign their commissions, effectively bottling up opposition while simultaneously and inadvertently ensuring it has access to arms. Several senior officers who have managed to retire now figure in the leadership of several opposition parties despite starting out as Museveni loyalists during their military careers. President Museveni continues to surround himself with long-time loyalists in the upper ranks of the UPDF, but loyalty to Museveni does not necessarily extend to Muhoozi, who is viewed within the military as an arrogant upstart whose promotions have come at the expense of more senior and capable officers. The establishment of Uganda’s Special Forces Command as an army within an army under Muhoozi’s personal control is no doubt a response to this situation intended to guarantee a family dynasty in the president’s office, whether by acclaim or by force.

[1] Besides Uganda and South Sudan, IGAD includes Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Kenya.

[2] Not to be confused with Ugandan land forces commander Major General David Muhoozi.

Congolese Forces Take the Offensive against Uganda’s ADF-NALU Militants

Andrew McGregor

March 20, 2014

Fresh from a victory over the rebel troops of the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23) in the unsettled but resource-rich Nord-Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Congolese army has launched an offensive against the self-described “Islamists” of the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) who have operated in that region since 2004. [1] After several years of dormancy, ADF-NALU renewed operations in July 2013 with a wave of raids, kidnappings, massacres of civilians and attacks on security forces and UN peacekeepers. The once poorly-armed ADF-NALU militants appear to be newly supplied with machine-guns, mortars and rockets to replace their previous reliance on machetes and knives. According to the UN, M23’s defeat was followed by large-scale surrenders by thousands of members of various militant groups in the Nord-Kivu region, but few of these came from ADF-NALU (IRIN, January 27).

ADF-NALU Militants

Operation Sokola

The operation against ADF-NALU was intended to begin in December 2013, but was delayed after the intended leader of the campaign, Colonel Mamadou Moustafa Ndala, was killed by a rocket in an ambush originally attributed to ADF-NALU fighters in early January (Uganda Radio Network, February 1). Ndala was the Muslim commander of the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in the eastern DRC and the successful leader of Congolese Special Forces operations against M23. The loss of the capable and popular colonel represents a serious blow to the Congolese army, a situation made worse by the claims of a bodyguard who survived the attack that the attackers were uniformed members of FARDC. Two individuals have been arrested in connection with the incident, including Colonel Tito Bizuru, who is described as a Tutsi, the same ethnic-group that formed the base of the rebel M23 movement (AFP, January 3; Africa Review [Nairobi], January 7; Jeune Afrique, January 22). [2]

FARDC launched its operation against ADF-NALU in the Beni region of Nord-Kivu on January 16. As operations began, Uganda’s military confirmed that it would not play a direct role in the campaign, preferring to only share intelligence with FARDC while maintaining a sufficient presence on the border to prevent fleeing elements of the ADF from entering Uganda (Reuters, January 13; IRIN, January 27). On February 14, the Congo government announced the destruction of the ADF’s headquarters in the ongoing offensive and the death of 230 ADF militants opposed to the loss of 22 members of FARDC (AP, February 14). The elimination of the ADF HQ brought about a personal call of congratulations to DRC president Joseph Kabila from long-time rival Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda (Observer [Kampala], February 10).

A new UN Intervention Brigade (IBDE), formed mainly by 3,000 troops drawn from Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa under the broader command of the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en RD du Congo (MONUSCO), has been deployed to the Nord-Kivu region with an offensive mandate enabling them to participate in operations designed to end the presence of a number of local and cross-border militant groups in the region.  Acting in support of FARDC troops, the combination has so far been effective in ending the once-potent M23 threat and has begun to turn its attention to the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR, a Hutu rebel group from Rwanda) as well as the ADF, though Rwanda recently complained MONUSCO was not committed to taking the fight to the FDLR (New Times [Kigali], March 14). Other MONUSCO forces are opening operations further south in Katanga province, where a company of Egyptian Special Forces troops has joined some 500 MONUSCO troops in operations against the Mai Mai Kata-Katanga militia. MONUSCO, with a strength of 18,000 troops, has also deployed two Italian-made Falco surveillance drones based in Goma (capital of Nord-Kivu) to track ADF and FDLR movements in the area (VOA, December 4, 2013).

On March 1, two MONUSCO attack helicopters struck an ADF-NALU base northeast of Beni, an isolated town in North Kivu that has become a center for ADF activities (AFP, March 2). The aircraft involved were likely South African Rooivalk combat support helicopters, previously used against M23 and deployed several days after the ADF-NALU operation in support of a successful FARDC attack on a base of the Alliance des patriotes pour un Congo libre et souverain (APCLS), a militant group based on the Hunde ethnic group of Nord-Kivu province. Support from the Rooivalk gunships has been instrumental in the recent and unprecedented success of the FARDC forces in Nord-Kivu. The Rooivalk is a formidable weapon in skilled hands, with stealth capabilities, a nose-mounted, dual-fed 20mm gas-operated cannon capable of firing 740 rounds a minute and 70mm folding-fin aerial rockets. There are reports that ADF-NALU fighters have broken into small groups headed further north to the Ituri Forest in Orientale Province to evade the ongoing FARDC-UN offensive (IRIN, January 27).

Rebels in Exile: The ADF

The ADF has its roots not in the western Uganda region, but in Kampala and central Uganda, where a number of Ugandan Muslim followers of the Indo-Pakistani Tablighi Jama’at (a normally non-violent Salafist religious reform movement) became radicalized in the early 1990s, claiming political persecution after they opposed the government’s appointment of a new national mufti (chief interpreter of Islamic law). Under pressure from security forces, members of the group took refuge in the wild Rwenzori mountains along the Uganda-DRC border, where they formed the ADF as a means of resisting the Museveni government in Kampala with the assistance of the Sudanese military, which was seeking a proxy to combat Uganda’s support of the independence struggle of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The ADF absorbed remnants of an earlier Rwenzori separatist movement and were joined by a number of Idi Amin loyalists who had sought refuge in southern Sudan and were likely encouraged by Sudanese intelligence to join the ADF.

An alliance was also created between the ADF and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), a group drawn from the Nande ethnic group of the Rwenzori Mountains. This alliance may have followed introductions provided by Sudanese intelligence officers (al-Jazeera, December 24, 2013). NALU was a relatively inactive movement at the time that had once been responsible for regional raids and a suicide bombing on a Kampala bus that killed 30 people. The ADF-NALU alliance was very active in the 1990s, attacking Ugandan security forces, bombing buses in Kampala and carrying out a number of massacres in their home territory.

However, Ugandan operations in the DRC in 1999 weakened the group and by 2004, operations by the Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) had forced the movement out of its western Uganda bases and across the border into the lightly governed Nord-Kivu province of the DRC. The discovery of oil in Bundibugyo, a small district at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountain range along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), appeared to revive the movement. The ADF attempted to destroy new oil facilities in western Uganda in 2007, but a powerful response from the UPDF eliminated nine of the group’s commanders and temporarily ended the ADF threat (New Vision [Kampala], June 19, 2007).

FARDC Fire Missiles at ADF-NALU Positions

ADF leader Jamil Mukulu is a convert to Islam from Catholicism and is believed to have been part of Osama bin Laden’s group in the Sudan in the mid-1990s, followed by training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Military operations are led by Hood Lukwago and commanders Amis Kasadha, Muhammad Kayira and Filipo Bogere Muzamil (Observer [Kampala], January 10, 2013). Mukulu is rumored to spend his time in London, the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi (known as “Little Mogadishu”) and the coastal region of Tanga in Tanzania (, July 20, 2013). Most ADF leaders come from Muslim-dominated regions of central Uganda. Muslims are a minority in Uganda, forming about 15 percent of the total population.

Though the Muslim leadership of the ADF adopts an Islamist stance, it has never released anything in the way of a political program and now relies heavily on non-Muslim recruits from the DRC. The ADF relies on illegal timber-cutting and gold mining in Nord-Kivu for revenues, as well as funds raised in the Muslim communities of east Africa. In the Beni region, ADF fighters had settled into the local community, running car and motorcycle taxis and marrying local women (al-Jazeera, December 24, 2013).

Like other groups active in the northeastern Congo that have experienced difficulty in recruitment from their original core (in this case Ugandan Muslims) through physical isolation or failure to establish a popular following, ADF-NALU enlarged its following through abductions, the use of kadogos (child-soldiers) and financial enticements for local Congolese youth who may now form up to 50% of the movement. Other recruits appear to have been lured from Kampala by promises of employment in western Uganda (New Vision [Kampala], April 11, 2013). ADF-NALU can likely field some 1200 to 1600 fighters, of whom only 800 could be regarded as effectively trained, but their intimate knowledge of the inaccessible Nord-Kivu border region and deep roots in the local non-Muslim Bakonjo community will complicate efforts to eliminate the movement.

The Ugandan Role

Ugandan military adventures in the DRC have proved lucrative in the past; the Ugandan military presence in the Congo from 1998 to 2002 allowed senior ranks to make small fortunes from illegal mining and timber exports, but ultimately resulted in a 2005 International Court of Justice ruling against Uganda that found that state guilty of grave human rights abuses and the plundering of the northeastern Congo’s wealth. While Kinshasha is looking for $10 billion in reparations, Uganda has yet to make any payments (Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 21, 2013; IWPR, July 31, 2007).

Uganda has become a heavily militarized state that requires continuous threats to justify the continued diversion of a large part of the nation’s budget to support a large military base and its various operations.  The UPDF’s lead role in the African Union’s military mission in Somalia has provided Uganda with a well-trained, well-equipped core of troops with significant combat experience. Some Ugandan opposition figures fear the revival of ADF-NALU activities and anecdotal allegations of ADF cooperation with Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamists will lead to new military activities in the cross-border Rwenzori region (for alleged ADF ties to al-Shabaab, see New Vision [Kampala], July 12, 2013, Observer [Kampala], July 14, 2013). Asuman Basalirwa, leader of the largely Muslim Justice Forum party (popularly known as “Jeema”), maintains that the ADF has no relationship with political Islam and suspects Uganda’s powerful military establishment of exaggerating the Islamist element of the ADF to attract US funding: “Reports of war are commercial projects by security agencies… They are used to justify increased budgetary allocations and supplementary budgets” (Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 21, 2013).


The resumption of military activities by newly armed ADF-NALU fighters last year suggests that the group has found a new sponsor. Uganda’s military has suggested Sudan is still supplying the group, but cannot yet provide evidence to support this claim (al-Jazeera, December 24, 2013). Sudanese-Ugandan relations entered a steep decline several months before the militants resumed operations. However, the Ugandan military has become too strong for groups like ADF-NALU or the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to operate on Ugandan soil. Under military pressure in Nord-Kivu from combined Congolese/UN forces and facing UPDF troops along the Ugandan border, ADF-NALU has little choice but to disperse into the Ituri Forest and wait out operations. Kinshasha’s challenge in the region is to provide a permanent security regime to establish its sovereignty in the region and prevent the re-entry of militants into areas where they had previously been cleared. FARDC appears to be gaining confidence through its joint operations with the UN Intervention Brigade; the question is whether it will have the trained manpower, equipment and funding to secure this resource-rich region once UN forces have stood down.


1. For earlier assessments of the ADF, see Andrew McGregor, “Oil and Jihad in Central Africa,” Terrorism Monitor, December 20, 2007 and “Ugandan Rebel Movement Reemerges along Oil-bearing Ugandan/Congolese Border,” Terrorism Monitor, July 24, 2007.

2. Video of the incident can be found at For the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23), see Terrorism Monitor, January 4, 2013; Terrorism Monitor July 26, 2012; a profile of M23 leader General Bosco Ntaganda is available in Militant Leadership Monitor, August 31, 2012.

This article first appeared in the March 20, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

South Sudan on the Brink: A Profile of Nuer Opposition Leader Riek Machar Teny

Andrew McGregor

January 31, 2014

As South Sudan teeters on the brink of another civil war less than two years after gaining independence, most of the focus has been on the young nation’s former vice-president, Riek Machar Teny. The 61-year-old is a veteran rebel who spent years collaborating with the Khartoum government even as he led a movement ostensibly fighting for the separation of southern Sudan from the central government in Khartoum. Today, Machar is at the head of a loosely organized force drawn largely from Machar’s own Nuer tribe (South Sudan’s second largest) that opposes the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Salva Kiir Mayardit, a member of the Rek Dinka (the Dinka are South Sudan’s largest and most powerful tribe).

Riek MacharDr. Riek Machar Teny

Early Life

Riek Machar was born in 1953 as the 26th son of a chief of the Dok Nuer in the oil-rich Unity State of southern Sudan. After studying mechanical engineering at the University of Khartoum, Riek went abroad to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy and strategic planning at the University of Bradford, graduating in 1984. On his return to Sudan, he joined the rebel forces of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) under the command of Colonel John Garang, a Twic Dinka. The SPLA had launched a new rebellion against Khartoum in 1983, which was to be the beginning of a 20 year conflict.

As a young, foreign educated Nuer, Machar became part of a new social class of uninitiated Nuers known as tuut dhoali (“man-boys”), who had failed to achieve full adult male status in their society by the absence of the gar (facial scarification given during initiation), membership in an initiation-determined age-set and failure to receive the mut, or lineage-spear, from his father at the time of initiation. [1] Machar would later make an unsuccessful effort to ban tribal scarification, a deeply ingrained tradition in South Sudan.
Machar carried out diplomatic missions for the SPLA rebels as well as acting as a field commander. By 1990, however, Machar was unhappy with his role in the rebel movement and, with Shilluk SPLA commander Lam Akol , began plotting the overthrow of John Garang as movement leader.

Machar Splits the SPLM/A

With Colonel Garang unwilling to abandon his political vision of a “New Sudan” that recognized Sudan’s many peoples within a federal system, Riek Machar forced a split in the SPLA/M in August 1991. However, not all the separatists within the SPLA/M (which included Commander Salva Kiir) joined Machar’s new faction, which the latter liked to present as the “real” SPLA/M. The split occurred largely along tribal lines as many Dinka separatists threw their lot in with the Garang loyalists. Even some prominent Nuer separatists, such as then-Major James Hoth Mai remained with Garang, viewing Machar’s decision as a divisive blow to the Southern movement. With the split in place, John Garang’s group became known as SPLM/A Torit (or Mainstream) and Riek Machar’s group became known as SPLM/A Nasir (or United). The Nasir faction was at first composed mainly of Nuer and Shilluk, though many Nuer remained loyal to Garang, resulting in numerous clashes between Nuer troops of varying loyalties over the next decade.

It was a critical time for the SPLA. It had just lost its principal backer with the fall of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia, but Garang’s forces were about to make a decisive march on the southern capital of Juba that might have meant victory in the campaign against Khartoum. However, the coup against Garang was poorly planned and poorly received by many field commanders. In the end, most of the fighters that rallied to Machar’s SPLM/A-Nasir faction were Lou Nuer and Bul Nuer already under his command, while Lam Akol had great difficulty persuading Shilluk fighters to join the new separatist movement. [2] The two were joined at the head of the new faction by Gordon Kong Chuol, a Jikany Nuer SPLA commander. The Nasir faction was later joined by two other groups from the government-sponsored Anyanya II militia; Lou Nuer fighters under Paulino Matip Nhial and Bul Nuer fighters under Yohannes Yual.

In a review of South Sudan’s political history, Machar characterized the SPLM/A of the time as a repressive force preventing South Sudanese independence:

Since 1983, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) has been fighting South Sudanese groups that called for the right of self-determination for the people of South Sudan. This was epitomized in the bitter wars the SPLM/A waged against the Anyanya II “separatists” from 1983 to 1991 and against the Nasir faction of the SPLM/A since 1991. [3]

Though the split was, at its core, ideological rather than tribal, tribalism in its ugliest form did not take long to surface. On November 15, 1991, largely Nuer SPLA/M-Nasir troops under Machar’s command joined the Nuer White Army militia in massacring over 2,000 Dinka civilians in Bor, the capital of Jonglei Province (Sudan Tribune, April 4, 2012). Many thousands more died of starvation after the attackers destroyed crops and stole all the livestock.

Such activities did little to persuade other elements of the SPLA that the Nasir faction was indeed a pro-reform, pro-democracy movement, as it claimed. With military pressure growing from Garang’s Torit-faction, Machar and his allies made a deal with Khartoum. Soon the Sudanese military was airlifting arms and supplies to the southern secessionists. Khartoum ignored the long-term goals of their new proxies, seeing in Machar and his colleagues an opportunity to create a deadly internal conflict within the SPLM/A that would result in the eventual defeat and elimination of all South Sudanese armed groups not loyal to Khartoum.

Machar still found time in 1991 to marry a British aid worker, Emma McCune, who was later killed while pregnant in a 1993 car accident in Nairobi. The story of their relationship was documented in a 2003 book entitled Emma’s War. [4] The marriage was partly a strategic exercise by Machar, as his British wife succeeded in persuading Western journalists covering the conflict that reports of atrocities and collaboration with Khartoum were false. [5] It was during this time that Machar began developing his media skills, providing journalists and aid representatives with a smiling and receptive representative of the southern movement despite Khartoum’s growing input into his decision-making. Machar is now married to Angelina Teny, a leading politician in the South Sudan and a former State Minister for Energy and Mining in the transitional GoSS (2005-2010).

Machar’s movement gained a somewhat broader tribal base when it was joined by the mercurial Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, a Twic Dinka SPLA commander fresh from a spell of imprisonment in an SPLA base. Kerubino brought his troops with him and was made deputy commander of the Nasir faction. Kenyan and American efforts to reconcile the two SPLA factions in late 1993 were a failure.

The Riek Machar SPLM/A United faction was renamed the Southern Sudan Independence Movement/Army (SSIM/A) in September, 1994 (dismissed by Riek Machar in February 1994, Lam Akol claimed the title of SPLM/A United for his group in West Central Upper Nile in October 1994). Machar expelled Kerubino Kuanyin and Nuer commander William Nyuon Bany (a favorite of Khartoum, later made a major-general in the Sudan Armed Forces [SAF]) from the SSIM in 1995 after learning they had signed separate deals with Khartoum.
Machar’s relations with Khartoum became somewhat more transparent when he signed an agreement with Khartoum in 1997 calling for centralized federalism in Sudan, which helped establish Machar’s new Khartoum-backed United Democratic Salvation Front/South Sudan Defense Force (UDSF/SSDF), based mainly in the eastern Upper Nile. Machar, the professed separatist, was made a special advisor to Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and placed in command of the newly formed pro-Khartoum South Sudan Defense Force (SSDF).

In 2000, Machar abandoned the SSDF and formed yet another Khartoum-sponsored militia, the Sudan People’s Defense Forces/Democratic Front (SPDF). Having fallen into disfavor with his own Dok Nuer for his failure to prevent their displacement from the Unity State oil-fields by Paulino Matip’s pro-Khartoum militia during clashes in 1998-99, Machar moved his base of operations to Jikany Nuer territory. Finding himself shunted back onto the political sidelines, Machar began talks with Garang’s SPLA that led to the integration of the SPDF into the SPLA in 2002. After a decade of brutal combat and human rights violations by all sides that left hundreds of thousands dead, Machar was once more under Garang’s command. It was not the end of the fighting, however, as many militias, both from the Nuer and other tribes, were still in the field, often using arms supplied by Khartoum to pursue both Khartoum’s aims and their own local agendas.

After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement

Under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of January 9, 2005 that ended the Second Sudanese Civil War, all armed groups in the South Sudan, regardless of political viewpoint, were to be absorbed into the SPLA, thus creating a massive army and officer corps in which there was little unanimity of purpose. Recalcitrant gunmen and militias were forcibly disarmed in an SPLA campaign that began in December 2005 and ended in May, 2006. The SSDF was absorbed into the SPLA after the Juba Declaration of January 8, 2006. Machar attempted to also dissolve the White Army, but his orders were ignored and the militia was destroyed (temporarily at least) in the SPLA’s disarmament campaign. [6] In July 2005, Machar was made vice-president of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS), a role he kept when he became vice-president of the new Republic of South Sudan in July 2011.

During this period, Machar was also involved in negotiations with Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to end that group’s depredations in South Sudan and elsewhere in the region. However, after Machar invested several years in the effort, Kony failed to show up for the signing of a peace agreement, keeping Machar, dignitaries and observers waiting for days in a bush clearing in Western Equatoria (see Terrorism Monitor, April 16, 2008).

Machar’s status as an uninitiated tuut dhoali arose in 2009, when the sacred dang (rod) of the 19th century Nuer prophet Ngundeng was returned to the South Sudan after being taken as loot by a British officer during an Egyptian Army operation in 1927. A group of Ngundeng’s descendants, led by an SPLA colonel, condemned Machar for conducting traditional cattle sacrifices during the ceremonies to welcome the return of the dang, noting that he did not bear the long horizontal forehead scars of initiated Nuer men. However, Machar was defended by several older descendants of the prophet, who insisted the rules for sacrifice applied only in Ngundeng’s “holy city” of Wec Deang, not Juba (Sudan Tribune, April 22, 2009; May 21, 2009). Though the dang was intended to be returned to Wec Deang, it never left Machar’s hands thereafter and there are suspicions Machar may have taken it with him when he fled Juba, believing that possession of the dang would give him great respect amongst the Nuer (Reuters, December 23, 2013).

Several months before South Sudan’s independence was declared in July 2011, a pro-government Khartoum newspaper carried a story alleging that unidentified persons were plotting to assassinate Riek Machar and several senior SPLA commanders, including Paulino Matip Nhial (Bul Nuer), Thomas Cirilo Swaka (Equatorian) and Ismail Kony (Murle) (al-Rayaam [Khartoum], March 30, 2011; Sudan Tribune, March 31, 2011). No arrests were made and it was possible the story was an attempt by Khartoum to spread dissension in the GoSS.

In 2012, Machar made a surprise admission of responsibility and apology for the Bor Massacre during a meeting held at the home of John Garang’s widow, Rebecca Nyandeng (London Evening Post, August 16, 2011). With Machar at the head of an increasingly vocal number of critics within the SPLM in the last year, the president began to make provocative and highly undiplomatic public references to his vice-president’s role in the Bor Massacre (VOA, January 9, 2014).

Coup or No Coup?

The current crisis might be said to have its immediate origins in President Kiir’s July 2013 decision to dismiss Vice-President Machar and the entire GoSS cabinet in what many observers saw as a demonstration of the president’s increasing authoritarianism.
With tensions simmering and rumors of coups flying about in Juba since the cabinet was dismissed last July, it was perhaps not surprising that a small clash between Nuer and Dinka members of the Presidential Bodyguard on December 15 could erupt into a major crisis. President Kiir took to national TV in full uniform to proclaim a Machar-led coup had been foiled even as the vice-president headed for the bush. Machar’s Juba home was not spared an attack by Dinka elements of the presidential bodyguard that destroyed much of the property and may have killed several of Machar’s bodyguards and relatives (Sudan Tribune, January 18, 2014). Machar insists there was no coup attempt and claims he is being “used as a scapegoat” in the president’s purge of rivals within the SPLM (al-Jazeera, January 5, 2014).

Salva Kiir Mayardit

South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit

Shortly after clashes broke out in Juba, 13 senior members of the SPLM were arrested on charges of plotting a coup against the GoSS. Not all the 13 detainees were Nuer and two of the 13 were subsequently freed). Machar insisted the 11 remaining prisoners be released, but the U.S. government urged Machar to abandon his demand for the release of all 11 senior SPLM detainees as a precondition for negotiations (al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 11).

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has committed Ugandan troops to South Sudan to protect Ugandan interests and citizens, but it is widely believed (especially by the Nuer opposition) that the Ugandans are providing some forms of military assistance as well (Sudan Tribune, January 1, 2014). Machar has claimed his followers were attacked by both Ugandan helicopters and jet-fighters (Sudan Tribune, December 27, 2013).Museveni promised to lead a military effort by member states of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) against Machar’s forces, but did made it clear whether he had received commitments for military contributions from IGAD members (including Sudan) (Reuters, December 30, 2014). Museveni is widely viewed as a strong supporter of GoSS president Salva Kiir.

By the end of December, Machar maintained that his forces were “marching on Juba” (Telegraph, December 31, 2013). A few days later Machar backed away from the claim, saying he was “being restrained by the international community” (Telegraph, January 3, 2014). The former VP pledged to send a negotiating team to talks hosted by Addis Ababa, but said he would not attend himself.

Machar has received support from a surprising quarter – his former rival John Garang’s widow, Rebecca Nyandeng, a political force in her own right, and their outspoken son, Mabior John Garang. The latter has charged Salva Kiir with arbitrary rule, false accusations and possible corruption. According to Mabior, “Salva Kiir wanted to foment tribal violence by sacking the vice president. Any lay person in South Sudan would have known that if you sack this person you would foment tribal violence” (New Vision [Kampala], December 26).

Machar’s revolt failed to gain the support of Nuer General James Hoth Mai, the SPLA chief-of-staff. Despite being a separatist, the general was a loyal member of Colonel Garang’s inner circle who refused to join Machar in his split from the SPLA in 1991. General James Hoth Mai has consistently directed the SPLA under his command to avoid interfering in South Sudan’s political rivalries. This stance has led to a dispute with President Kiir, who earlier sought guarantees from the army that it would support the head-of-state should he feel compelled to take action against his political rivals (Sudan Tribune, September 16, 2013).

In Machar’s view, the political crisis in South Sudan is entirely the work of President Kiir:

If we had intentions of toppling the regime, which is under the umbrella of the SPLM and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), we would have opposed the ruling party. On the contrary, Kiir is the one who turned against the SPLM and the country’s constitution though his security crackdown… My group and I, who belong to the southern tribes, are against tribalism, but Kiir is the one who wants to provoke a tribal war. Kiir carried out tribal massacres in Juba on December 15, and the days that followed, until today (al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 2, 2014).


Machar’s opposition forces and the GoSS signed a ceasefire agreement mediated by IGAD in Addis Ababa on January 23, 2014. Since then, there have been numerous reports of ceasefire violations. Though the agreement did not address the question of the 11 SPLM detainees, it was reported to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, an end to media/propaganda campaigns targeting the other party, access for humanitarian agencies and a withdrawal of foreign troops (i.e. Ugandan forces) from South Sudan (Radio Dabanga, January 18, 2014; Sudan Tribune, January 28, 2014).

However, in a recent interview, Machar described the Addis Ababa agreement as only “ink on paper” without the release of the 11 SPLM detainees, while promising that his forces would give the “invaders” from Uganda “a lesson” (New Yorker, January 23, 2014).
At the moment there are few indications that the ceasefire will hold, but there are hopes that cooler heads will prevail and yet another devastating civil war will be avoided in a young nation that is unlikely to survive such a catastrophe. Though Machar does not speak for all the Nuer opposition, it is essential that he be engaged in negotiations for a political settlement before he once again turns for support to his former patrons in Khartoum, who would welcome the return of their one-time proxy as a means of applying pressure on the GoSS, which Khart