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Another election and fear of ADF

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

June ended with reports that suspected Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels had attacked Mutwanga, a town in the Democratic Republic of Congo killing 16 civilians.

The resurfacing of the ADF in the Eastern Congo town which is 50 kilometres from the Uganda border has left the Uganda army, Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), on high alert. According to the UPDF Spokesman, Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye it was not a surprise. Kulayigye believes the rebels staged the attack to create a climate of fear before Uganda’s presidential race in February 2011.

Probably they (ADF) are beginning active operations in an attempt to gain more food and more resources. The last time they tried to operate inside our country, they were given a bad blow.  This was in March 2007, and they have been trying to recover from that blow and maybe they are trying to capture or kidnap more people to beef up their numbers, Kulayigye said.

Serious activity by the ADF was between 1996 and 1999 when they terrorised the Rwenzori sub-region mainly targeting civilians, killing hundreds and looting property. Their activities left thousands of people on the mountains displaced up to until 2002.

Headed by one Jamil Mukulu alias Kyagulanyi, an elusive figure, the rebels operated in the Rwenzori Mountains on the Uganda and DR Congo border. They attacked various places notably Kasese and Bundibugyo towns and later Kichwamba Technical College in which over 80 students were set ablaze and killed in their dormitory on June 8, 1998.

The Uganda military intelligence traces the origins of the ADF to a militant young wing of the Tabliq Muslims in Uganda. It is said to be a combination of formerly armed groups that had fought the government of Uganda before. These included the remnants of the Uganda Army, National Army for Liberation of Uganda (NALU), West Nile Bank Front, and the militant wing of the Salaf Tabliqs who formed the Uganda Muslim Freedom Fighters.

Kulayigye’s belief that the rebels staged the attack to create a climate of fear before Uganda’s presidential race in February 2011 fits a pattern set by previous attacks.

In a move that seems to coincide with election time, in June 2005, the security reports indicated that the ADF were regrouping to attack Uganda in the same area. It is important to note that this time the country was preparing for the general elections in 2006.

Reports of ADF resurgence tend to occur after years of limbo in which the rebel outfit is considered defeated. Before the 2005 attacks, the UPDF had announced the group had been annihilated by a joint operation of the Ugandan and Congolese armies in 2004.

Like national elections, military campaigns demand deployment of huge sums of money, men, and resources.  Observers making that connection, say reports of imminent ADF strikes are designed to create an excuse for expanded public expenditure, especially classified military expenditure which is prone to abuse. Uganda is one of the East African countries that are to benefit from the US$100 million for the US East African Counter terrorism Initiative.

Talk of ADF attack could also serve as a perfect pretext for the government to arrest critical voices or members of the public.

According to media reports the attack on Mutwanga town was apparently precipitated by the ongoing offensive by the Congolese army against the remnants of the ADF rebels. They were fleeing Congolese soldiers fire when they attacked the town in retaliation after reportedly having lost at least 40 of their fighters.

The report comes a month after a joint meeting between Ugandan and Congolese military chiefs in Fort Portal town, in western Uganda. The meeting dwelt on the rebel threat.

Timeline of some of the major activities in the ADF rebellion

1996:  Operating out of a base in Congo, the ADF makes its first reported attack on a Ugandan target in November 1996.

1998: The deadliest attack attributed to the ADF occurs when a locked dormitory of Kichwamba Technical College in Kabarole district of Uganda was set on fire, killing 80 students. An additional 80 students are abducted.

1999: Ugandan government officials indicate that the ADF was involved in a series of terrorist attacks on Ugandan targets leading to the murder of at least 350 civilians and the abduction of more than 200 children.

2001: The then Army Chief-of-staff, James Kazini, states that the army has captured ADF Commander Abdullah Yusuf Kabanda’s headquarters at Kanombyo, on the Ugandan-DRC border.

2005: After years of near inactivity, Ugandan authorities indicate that there is evidence that the ADF is resurfacing.

2010:  The UPDF is put on a heightened alert over the possible ADF attack.

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