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NIAS AFRICA STUDIES
Resurging insurgency in Uganda and insecurity in East Africa

  Anu Maria Joseph

Resurging insurgency in Uganda and insecurity in East Africa

Recent developments say insurgent groups active in East Africa are expanding across borders. While the insurgent groups are expanding towards relatively stable countries like Uganda and Kenya, Ethiopia’s violence in Tigray and Sudan’s ongoing conflict are potential grounds for the insurgent groups to amplify.

Anu Maria Joseph

On 18 June, Al Jazeera reported that at least 41 people were killed in western Uganda which according to the Ugandan government, is a suspected attack by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). ADF is a rebel group based in Uganda that has sworn allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The militants attacked the Lhubiriha secondary school in the town of Mpondwe, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In response to the attack, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni stated: “Their [ADF] action -- the desperate, cowardly, terrorist action -- will not save them.” Ugandan police spokesperson, Fred Enanga stated: "As a country, we continue to stand by each other in the fight against terrorism. No matter how heinous the attack or how brutal or inhumane the methods used, the ADF will not be able to succeed in demolishing the solidarity of Ugandans in the fight against terrorism and extremism."

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack stating: “Those responsible for this appalling act must be brought to justice.” He reiterated the importance of “collective efforts, including through enhanced regional partnerships, to tackle cross-border insecurity between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda and restore durable peace in the area.”

ADF insurgency in Uganda and DRC: A brief background

The rebel groups, the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU) and the Uganda Muslim Liberation Army (UMLA), joined forces to form the ADF in 1995, opposing President Yoweri Museveni, whose government is alleged of persecution of Muslims. The group was routed from its bases in the western Rwenzori region, along the borders of Uganda and DRC in early 2000, where its fighters had been raiding villages and schools. Since 2013, ADF has been active in eastern DRC. According to the UN Joint Human Rights Office, they recruited 59 children and killed 1,066 civilians in the DR Congo's North Kivu and Ituri provinces between January 2019 and June 2020. Nevertheless, the group continued its attacks in Uganda. In 2021, the Ugandan government blamed the group for suicide bombings in the capital, Kampala.

Failing ‘Operation Shujja’ 

Following escalating rebel attacks in both countries in 2021, Uganda and the DRC signed a Memorandum of Understanding in November 2021 for a military operation, "Operation Shujaa," against the ADF in eastern DRC. The aim of the operation was to neutralise the group’s campaigns. Initially, the joint forces had made significant gains dislodging the ADF from its bases in the Virunga forest. Subsequently, the group scattered into smaller groups as a tactic to over stretch the forces. However, most recently, the group has been conducting frequent attacks along the border regions of DRC and Uganda. On 6 April, the UN mission in the DRC (The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or MONUSCO) stated that more than 30 people were killed in ADF attacks in the border territories of Mambasa and Irumu between 2 and 3 April.  The attack in Mpondwe follows the previous week’s ADF attack in Bukokoma village of the North Kivu province in eastern DRC near the Ugandan border, killing at least ten civilians. Increasing frequency of ADF attacks means the group is gaining ground and strengthening its intentions in terms of returning to Uganda to establish an Islamic government.

A larger debate on rising insecurity in East Africa

In the previous quarterly report by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, published on 27 March, he reiterated that more than 485 civilians were killed in eastern DRC between 1 December 2022 and 14 March 2023 in a series of attacks carried out by several armed groups including March23 (M23), ADF and Cooperative for Development of the Congo (CODECO). Most recently, on 12 June MONUSCO reported that more than 45 people were killed in an attack by CODECO in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in northeastern DRC. On 14 June, Al Jazeera reported on al-Shabab militants killing eight police officers in Garissa county in Eastern Kenya, bordering Somalia. In Somalia, although President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud had announced an “all out war” against the al-Shabab militancy in August 2022, the group continues to expand its campaign in east Africa. On 5 June, 54 Ugandan soldiers were killed in an al-Shabab attack on the African Union base in Somalia. Recent developments say insurgent groups active in East Africa are expanding across borders. While the insurgent groups are expanding towards relatively stable countries like Uganda and Kenya, Ethiopia’s violence in Tigray and Sudan’s ongoing conflict are potential grounds for the insurgent groups to amplify.


About the author

Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.

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