Eastern Congo: The ADF-NALU’s Lost Rebellion
Africa Briefing N°93
19 Dec 2012
The Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (Forces démocratiques alliées-Armée nationale de libération de l’Ouganda, ADF-NALU) is one of the oldest but least known armed groups in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the only one in the area to be considered an Islamist terrorist organisation. Although it does not represent the same destabilising threat as the 23 March Movement (M23), it has managed to stand its ground against the Congolese army since 2010. Created in the DRC in 1995 and located in the mountainous DRC-Uganda border area, this Congolese-Ugandan armed group has shown remarkable resilience attributable to its geostrategic position, its successful integration into the cross-border economy and corruption in the security forces. Therefore, before considering any further military action against the ADF-NALU, it would be wise to separate fiction from fact and instead pursue a course of weakening its socio-economic base while at the same time offering a demobilisation and reintegration program to its combatants.
Formed of an alliance of several armed groups supported by external actors (Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire and Hassan al-Turabi’s Sudan), the ADF-NALU initially fought the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni. However, despite its Ugandan origins, it never managed to gain a foothold in its own country and instead settled in eastern Congo, particularly in the remote mountainous border areas. There it became integrated into local communities, participated in cross-border trade and forged relationships with various armed groups in eastern Congo as well as with both Congolese and Ugandan civilian and military authorities. Given their location in this “grey zone”, the ADF-NALU’s lost combatants have been able to survive despite not winning a battle in over fifteen years and having been defeated several times, but never neutralised.
Due to the ADF-NALU’s leader, Jamil Mukulu, a Christian convert to Islam, the group has transformed from a purely Congolese-Ugandan problem into one with regional dimensions, as a component of the trend of radical Islamism in East Africa. However, little is known about such purported links between ADF-NALU and radical Islamist organisations in the region and the group’s allegiance to Islamism seems rather superficial.
The fight against armed groups in eastern Congo continues to be viewed through a military lens, but it would be wise to avoid another ineffective military operation. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the UN, the DRC and Uganda should therefore adopt a different approach that seeks to:
Formulate an intelligence-based strategy to neutralise the ADF-NALU’s cross-border economic and logistical networks. The officers of the Joint Verification Mechanism deployed by the ICGLR in 2012 should work with the UN group of experts to produce a detailed study of these networks and use it to define an appropriate strategy for undermining the armed group’s economic and logistical base.
Include the leaders of ADF-NALU’s support networks, inside and outside the DRC, on the list of individuals subject to UN sanctions for their support of armed groups. Congolese and Ugandan military personnel colluding with these networks should be dealt with appropriately by the authorities of their country.
Rotate on a regular basis Congolese and Ugandan officers deployed in this region.
Introduce a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) program for Congolese and Ugandan combatants who after investigation are found not to be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. MONUSCO should appeal to donors to fund the program for Congolese ADF-NALU combatants.
Authorise villagers in the Erengeti and Oïcha areas to resume work on their farms, which was suspended by the military authorities.
Nairobi/Brussels, 19 December 2012