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.

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.

Ugandan Rebel Movement Re-emerges along the Oil Bearing Ugandan-Congolese Border

July 25, 2013

Andrew McGregor

The once moribund Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel movement now operating out of remote bases in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has returned to life by taking a series of small towns in the region near the border with Uganda before launching an assault on the larger center of Kamango that displaced over 60,000 people (Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 13). The sudden rebirth of the ADF is concurrent with the rapid decline in Ugandan-Sudanese relations since January, when Kampala hosted a conference of Sudan’s political opposition and armed rebel movements. Khartoum countered by claiming it is in contact with various Ugandan opposition groups, though it declined to name them. Conflict in the region is further complicated by the fact it is close to oil-bearing areas near the western border of Uganda that Kampala is eager to develop, potentially shipping its production east to Kenya’s Lamu Port by connecting to a planned new pipeline that will divert South Sudan’s oil production from Port Sudan with a concurrent loss to Khartoum of valuable and much needed oil transit fees.