Oil and Jihad in Central Africa: The Rise and Fall of Uganda’s Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF)

Andrew McGregor

December 20, 2007

In the midst of all the horrors generated in Central Africa by the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the collapse of Zaire in 1997, a little known group of Islamist radicals has done its own part to contribute to the suffering. Based since 1996 in Bundibugyo, an impoverished and underdeveloped district in western Uganda, the Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF) has killed thousands in its pursuit of an Islamic state in Uganda. Strangely enough, few of its rank and file are Muslims (or even Ugandans), and its leader is a convert from Catholicism. The movement was believed destroyed by the Ugandan Popular Defense Forces 1999 campaign, but seems to have enjoyed a revival after the discovery of oil in Bundibugyo. Now, however, there is word that the ADF is seeking peace talks with Uganda after a series of setbacks to enable the return of some 200 ADF fighters from the forests of the Congo to Uganda (Monitor [Kampala], December 4).

ADF 1The Allied Democratic Forces

Bundibugyo is a small district at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountain range along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It has a natural connection to the vast Ituri Forest, which has become a home for various regional insurgent groups. This mountainous area is the last region of Uganda to go without electricity and is notorious for the poor quality of its roads. Bundibugyo is currently enduring a bout of Ebola Fever that has killed 35 people (New Vision [Kampala], December 11). The ADF did not begin here, however, but started rather in the urban Muslim areas of Kampala and the towns of central Uganda.

The ADF has its origins in the evangelistic Tabliqi Jamaat movement of Uganda, a local offshoot of the larger Indian-Pakistani Tabliq movement founded in the 1920s. Tabliq means “to deliver (the message of Islam).” Muslims are a minority in mostly Christian Uganda, representing about 15 percent of the population. While the Indian-Pakistani Tabliq movement is usually non-political, the Ugandan Tabliqis claimed political persecution after they opposed the appointment of a new national mufti. Following a period of street-clashes and arrests in 1991, many in the Tabliq movement left for the wilds of the Rwenzori mountains where they were joined by radicalized prisoners released in 1993. The absence of Muslims in the higher ranks of President Yoweri Museveni’s administration also contributed to the growing militancy of the Tabliq movement. According to the Ugandan government, the Tabliqis received funds and encouragement from the Sudanese embassy in Kampala, leading to the severing of diplomatic ties in 1995. [1]

The first major strike by the ADF took place in 1996, when the movement’s fighters attacked Ugandan troops in Kasese District along the border with the Congo. At first most of the fighters had little more than machetes, but arms began to flow to the movement from external sources, most likely the Sudan or the DRC government of Laurent-Desire Kabila. During the 1990s, ADF militants carried out 43 bombings in Kampala and Jinja. Never well liked within Uganda, the ADF leaders found it simpler to recruit new fighters from the DRC by offering promises of money and education. Many children were seized on both sides of the border and incorporated into the ranks.

Once in western Uganda, the ADF formed an alliance with the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), a rebel group that had become fairly inactive. NALU was formed in 1988 and split from the Rwenzori Movement in 1991 [2]. NALU tactics typically involved raids on small villages and attacks on civilians, including a 1998 suicide bombing on a Kampala bus that killed 30. Eventually the ADF was also joined by remnants of the Rwenzori separatist movement and a number of Idi Amin loyalists who were living in the south Sudan.

Kampala’s campaign against the ADF was slow to develop but finally bore fruit in 1999. Borders were secured, roads brought under control, UPDF outposts placed on the high ground of the mountains, and self-defense units organized in the villages (IRIN, December 8, 1999). Despite this, the already impoverished Bundibugyo District was still forced to cope with over 100,000 displaced people.

ADF leader Jamil Mukulu was an associate of Osama bin Laden during the latter’s stay in Sudan in the 1990s, before launching his first attack in Uganda in 1996. Mukulu is believed to have received training from al-Qaeda both in Sudan and Afghanistan (Monitor, December 1). The ADF leader remains a shadowy figure, usually heard only on the cassette tapes the ADF distributes. Mukulu urges violence against non-Muslims and Muslims who fail to carry out jihad, including a heavy dose of invective against various international leaders: “Let curses be to Bush, Blair, the president of France—and more curses go to Museveni and all those fighting Islam.” According to Lieutenant-Colonel James Mugira, Uganda’s acting chief of military intelligence, “We think [Mukulu] will become the next bin Laden of Africa” (IWPR, June 6, 2005).

The ADF Attempts to Join the Global Jihad

On December 5, 2001, the ADF was added to the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations. In the chaos that followed the entry of U.S. troops into Baghdad in 2003, reporters were able to obtain a cache of papers from the bombed-out ruins of Iraq’s intelligence headquarters. Among the documents were a series of letters from the ADF’s “chief of diplomacy,” Bekkah Abdul Nasser, to Fallah Hassan al-Rubdie, the Iraqi chargé d’affaires in Nairobi. These 10-15 page English-language letters (translated into Arabic by the Mukhabarat) seek Iraqi financing to set up an African mujahideen front: “We in the ADF forces are ready to run the African mujahideen headquarters. We have already started and we are on the ground, operational.” Another letter suggested the creation of an “international mujahideen team whose special mission will be to smuggle arms on a global scale to holy warriors fighting against U.S., British, and Israeli influences in Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East” (Christian Science Monitor, April 18, 2003; Daily Telegraph, April 17, 2003). There was no indication from the files that Iraqi funds were ever sent, or that the correspondence was even encouraged.

During a visit to Washington in 2004, Ugandan Defense Minister Amama Mbabazi emphasized that “Uganda’s domestic terrorist groups have been subsidized and trained by al-Qaeda” (Afrol News, September 30, 2004). Uganda has been a beneficiary of the $100 million U.S.-financed East Africa Counterterrorism Initiative (U.S. Department of State, April 1, 2004).

By 2005, Ugandan officials were warning the ADF had regrouped and were receiving funding and training from other extremist groups. According to Captain Joseph Kamusiime, operations chief for the Ugandan anti-terrorism unit, the ADF had supporters in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, but its chief backer was Sudanese Islamist Hassan al-Turabi, leader of the National Islamic Front. In the early days after its creation in 1996, the ADF was reported to have received training at a camp run by Sudanese intelligence in Juba (Islamism and its Enemies in the Horn of Africa, 2004). By 2005 Ugandan intelligence estimated 650-1,000 ADF fighters to be in the Congolese bush, but other sources claimed many of these were only camp-followers. Kamusiime described the ADF as part of a larger Islamist project: “The ADF… is motivated by Islamic fundamentalists—more in line with al-Qaeda ideology like other African terrorist organizations with global reach, such as the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Somalia’s Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya” (IWPR, June 6, 2005).

A Struggle Going Nowhere?

The 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Khartoum government and the rebel Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in southern Sudan ended the usefulness of the ADF and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to Khartoum as counter-measures against Ugandan support for the SPLM/A. The last major attack by the ADF occurred in March, when 60 rebels crossed from the Congo into Bundibugyo to strike the new oil facilities. At least 45 guerrillas, including senior commander Bosco Isiko, were killed in a battle with the UPDF along the Sempaya River in the Semliki game reserve on March 27 (Radio Uganda, April 3; Monitor, November 20). In the three months between April and June of this year, nine ADF commanders were killed by the UPDF, effectively destroying the group’s command structure (New Vision, June 19).

ADF 2ADF Leader Jamil Mukulu during Extradition Hearing in Tanzania, 2015

Seven captured ADF rebels were granted amnesty in November after undergoing “psycho-social counseling” by the Ugandan Red Cross and officers of the UPDF (Monitor, November 21). Four Ugandans who aided the organization from the Ugandan side of the border with the Congo were not so lucky—they have been charged with treason (New Vision, October 12).

Ugandan security services claim to have interrupted a plot to bomb last month’s Commonwealth summit in Kampala. The plan, allegedly devised by ADF leader Jamil Mukulu, involved the use of state television vans to deliver bombs through security lines (The Monitor, December 1). Intended targets included the queen and about 45 other international leaders in attendance. Extensive searches of the vans by the Presidential Guards Brigade turned up nothing, but the security services claimed a success.


MONUC (Mission de l’ONU en RD Congo) has confirmed that the ADF has approached the UN mission to facilitate peace talks with Kampala. The initiative seems to have been spurred by a rift between Jamil Mukulu and his deputy Abdallah Kabanda (Monitor, December 4). MONUC is already demobilizing and resettling ADF rebels in the eastern Congo before a final operation to flush out remaining rebels in the region (New Vision, December 2). In a new complication for the Ugandans, Congolese dissidents are now crossing into Uganda to take refuge there from DRC/MONUC sweeps.

There is no question that some of the Ugandan estimates of ADF strength were exaggerated and the description of Jamil Mukulu by Ugandan intelligence as “the next bin Laden” seems calculated to draw U.S. military and financial assistance. Nevertheless, the ADF has been an integral part of a wave of violence that has denied security and development to millions of Africans in the Congolese-Ugandan-Rwandan border region. The collapse of this would-be international jihadi movement would be a welcome development in returning peace and security to this beleaguered part of Africa.


  1. Alex de Waal, ed.: Islamism and its Enemies in the Horn of Africa, Indiana University Press, 2004.
  2. The Bakonjo-Baamba people of Rwenzori made an abortive attempt at independence for the Rwenzori region in 1962. While the attempt failed, a small separatist movement lived on in the bush.

This article first appeared in the December 20, 2007 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Peacekeepers or Provocateurs? Kremlin-Backed Chechen Troops Raise Tensions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Andrew McGregor

North Caucasus Analysis, December 6, 2007

The unannounced and surprising arrival of pro-Russian Chechen military units as “peacekeepers” in Georgia’s separatist provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has sparked widespread speculation as to the reason behind their deployment. Their appearance coincided with violent protests in the Georgian capital of Tblisi against the government of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Complaints are common that Saakashvili is reversing Georgia’s democratic gains of the last few years. Chechens have played major roles in fighting both for and against Georgia since the breakup of the Soviet Union, so their renewed presence on Georgian territory is being watched closely.

Abkhazia-S.OssetiaThough the breakaway regions have proclaimed their independence from Georgia and their intention to join the Russian Federation, neither separatist government has gained international recognition—even from Moscow. The legally recognized Georgian regional government of Abkhazia is located in Georgian-controlled Upper Abkhazia, while the separatists, who declared independence in 1992, run their own government in Sukhumi. Russian citizenship was granted to 80% of the Abkhazian population in 2006. South Ossetia likewise has a separatist government in Tskhinvali and a Tblisi-approved “Provisional Administration” operating from Kurta, Georgia. Since 1989, the separatists in Tskhinvali have sought to unite South Ossetia with the Russian Federation. Joint Russian-Georgian peacekeeping forces were set up in Abkhazia and South Ossetia after violent internal conflicts erupted after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Gelayev Affair

It may not only be the Georgians who are unhappy to see Chechen fighters back in Abkhazia. Many Abkhaz recall that the last time Chechens were there (under the command of Chechen warlord Ruslan “Hamzat” Gelayev in 2001) they were acting as Georgia’s hired guns in a secret operation against the Abkhaz separatists.

Gelayev had already fought on the separatist side in Abkhazia in the civil war of 1992-93 as part of Musa Shanibov’s Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus (CMPC). In 2003, thousands of volunteers from the North Caucasus played a large part in driving the poorly trained Georgian army from Abkhazia while inflicting heavy casualties. One of Gelayev’s CMPC comrades was the late Shamil Basaev, who later suggested the volunteers may have been misused—“It was in Russia’s interest to have the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict grow into war so that both sides would be brought to their knees” (FBIS, 16 February 1994).

GelayevRuslan Gelayev

Gelayev started rebuilding his army in 2001 at Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge after his command was destroyed at the battle of Komsomolskoye the year before. In exchange for food and weapons from Georgian authorities, Gelayev and 300 of his men were taken in Georgian military trucks from their base in the Pankisi Gorge to the Abkhazian frontier. Incredibly, the entire covert operation was documented by a Japanese journalist who travelled with the Chechens and managed to escape Georgia with his life. Moreover, one of Gelayev’s men was a former Japanese Seld-Defense Force officer who had converted to Islam and joined the Chechen jihad. Russian intelligence appears to have heard of the plot in advance. Heavy fighting began on October 3, 2001, when Gelayev’s Chechens advanced into Abkhazia through the Kodori Gorge, where they were joined by Georgian partisans and a number of Ukrainians and Azeris. After a series of battles, Gelayev’s men were forced into a fighting retreat. Gelayev himself and a handful of others (including the Japanese journalist) were evacuated by helicopter (24 Saati, February 28, 2003).

A captured member of Gelayev’s band, Murtaz Maniya, claimed Gelayev’s plan called for driving right through Abkhazia to Sochi in Russia’s Krasnodar Krai, where the Chechens would seize the airport and demand independence for their homeland (Georgian Times, October 9, 2002). In February 2002, the Abkhazian government claimed that Chechens from Gelayev’s command were still in the Kodori Gorge in Georgian uniform. Georgian authorities dismissed the charge as a “fantasy” (Prime News, February 1). By December 2002, Gelayev had led a force of 800 Chechen, Turkish and Arab fighters into Chechnya. Gelayev was eventually killed by a Russian border patrol while trying to cross the border into Georgia in 2004.

Last year Alu Alkhanov, then president of the pro-Russian government of Chechnya, revived memories of the 1992-93 conflict when he suggested that “volunteers” from Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus would join any renewed fighting on the side of pro-Russian separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Interfax-AVN, October 19, 2006).

Peacekeeping in Abkhazia

There are about 1,500 Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia operating under a 1994 Commonwealth of Independent States mandate. The mission receives support from 100 unarmed UN monitors (United Nations Observer Mission to Georgia–UNOMIG). The Chechen peacekeepers in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are drawn from the Zapad (West) and Vostok (East) battalions of the Russian 42nd Motorized Rifle Division. Both battalions fall under the direct command of the GRU (Russian military intelligence). Men from the same units were deployed on a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon last year that passed without incident. There are reports that Said-Magomed Kakiev’s Zapad battalion (the more professional of the two) has already been used on covert missions in the mountainous border regions of Georgia (Moskovsky Komsomolets, April 6, 2006).

The Chechen presence in Abkhazia became well known after an October 30 incident along the Abkhazian border. An APC carrying Russian troops arrived at the Ganmukhuri youth camp in Georgian controlled territory, where they handcuffed three Georgian policemen to the APC before giving them severe beatings. The incident was caught on videotape by a Georgian journalist. Learning of a growing armed standoff between Georgian and Russian troops, President Saakashvili gathered a team of cameramen and flew to Ganmukhuri where he castigated the Russian peacekeepers personally. A number of Chechen troops in Russian uniform were caught on video that was later widely broadcast in Georgia. The Russian press reported that the Chechens “did a lot” to prevent the confrontation from escalating (Gazeta, November 7).

After his first-hand encounter with the Chechens, President Saakashvili issued a press release: “I think it is incorrect and strange that a large number of ethnic Chechens have been brought to Abkhazia as peacekeepers. I met these people today. We do not have [a dispute] with the Chechens. However, to say the truth, all this has a smell of a provocation… It was absolutely beyond my understanding today that a significant part of the [peacekeeping] contingent were ethnic Chechens… However, everyone should remember that this is not the Georgia of 1992. This is not some Bantustan where one can walk about as he likes. I think the results of [the Chechens] being dispatched to Georgia for the first time should have been a good lesson for those people in [Russia’s] military leadership who dispatched them…” (President of Georgia Press Release, October 30, 2007).

In the aftermath, Georgia declared the Russian commander of the peacekeeping mission, Major General Sergei Chaban, persona non grata on Georgian soil. Georgia also withdrew its agreement to the CIS peacekeeping mandate for Abkhazia. A month later Chaban dismissed Colonel Alexander Pavlushko, Chief of Staff of CIS forces in Abkhazia. The Colonel was accused of negligence and now faces criminal proceedings (with several other officers) in connection with the Ganmukhuri incident.

The Chechen presence became news again in mid-November, when Georgia’s Minister of Conflict Resolution, David Bakradze, accused Russia of sending artillery, armor, Russian paratroopers and hundreds of Chechen troops to the Black Sea coast town of Ochamchira (Prime News, November 12). The equipment allegedly included five T-72 battle tanks, five GRAD rocket launchers and seven howitzers (Civil Georgia, November 12) .Tanks are not allowed under the peacekeepers’ mandate, while rockets and howitzers have no peacekeeping applications. The embattled Georgian president interpreted the alleged Russian troop movements as the prelude to a coup attempt within Georgia and declared a state of emergency (Kommersant, November 15).The Russian Foreign Ministry called Bakradze’s allegations “a provocation” (Kommersant, November 13). General Valeri Yevnevich, deputy commander of Russian Land Forces, used similar language: “Such statements coming from Georgian government officials can’t be described otherwise than a provocation against Russian peacekeepers in the zone of Georgian-Abkhazian conflict and, in the final run, against Russia” (ITAR/TASS, November 15). By November 21, the Georgian government declared that the flow of Russian arms and troops to Abkhazia had ceased after a successful appeal by Georgia to the international community (Prime News, November 21).

In an interview with RFE/RL, a Chechen peacekeeper named Movsar Usmanov described the goals of his detachment in Abkhazia: “Considering the fact that we have seen the tragedy of war and know what it is like, we hope that it will be possible to solve this conflict and that these people will live peacefully. Sometimes we use force, but most of the time we operate through words” (RFE/RL, November 15).

South Ossetia

A company of 150 men from the Vostok Battalion arrived in Tskinvali, capital of separatist South Ossetia, in September (Gazeta, November 7). South Ossetia had its own conflict with Georgia in 1991-92. Russian peacekeepers arrived when hostilities ceased in 1992, but Georgia has frequently charged the Russian force with bias and calls for their withdrawal. Part of the region is still controlled by Georgian authorities, who are experimenting with a new regional government composed of former separatists that the government hopes may lead to the creation of an autonomous administration under Georgian sovereignty.

The South Ossetian peacekeeping mission is known as the Joint Control Commission (JCC), with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) providing a rather ineffectual monitoring group. The JCC consists of 500-man battalions from Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia and North Ossetia. In practice, this means Russian dominance of the mission, especially since Georgia stopped deploying a full battalion in 2006. Russian troops routinely violate their mandate by providing arms and training to troops of the separatist government (EDM, October 26, 2005). Chechens from both the Vostok and Zapad battalions have been assigned to the North Ossetian peacekeeping battalion, which, despite its name, actually contains troops from across Russia (Gazeta, November 7).


Unlike the Lebanon deployment, which provided Moscow with a minor propaganda success through an international display of Chechen loyalty to the Putin regime, the Chechen presence in the Abkhazian peacekeeping force seemed designed—at least at first—to draw as little attention as possible. Nonetheless, considering the recent history of Chechen involvement in Abkhazia, the choice of Chechen troops as peacekeepers suggests Moscow intended to send a message to Tblisi as both sides inch toward war.

In Abkhazia, much depends on the decision that has yet to be reached regarding Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. Russia might use what it views as Western support for Kosovo’s independence to declare that Abkhazia has the same right to secede from Georgia. With some Georgian MPs talking of an “automatic declaration of war” in the event of Russian recognition of an independent Abkhazia, Russia’s choice of Chechen “peacekeepers” seems designed to provoke Georgian memories of the disasters that befell Georgians during the 1992-93 Abkhaz War. Facing stiff domestic opposition at home, President Saakashvili has taken up the popular cause of restoring displaced Georgians to Abkhazia: “Sukhumi is my home…and I will not rest until I return to this home with over 400,000 of its residents” (Messenger [Georgia], November 14). According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian and Chechen peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are now the only obstacle “hindering Georgia’s military machine” (Civil Georgia, November 29).

This article first appeared in the December 6, 2007 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s North Caucasus Analysis.