Admist the stream of media attention paid towards the fight against M23 in the Eastern DRC, there operates another Ugandan-formed, Congolese-staffed rebel organisation, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Although originally Ugandan, and formed by a Christian to Islam convert Jamil Mukulu, the ADF now bears more similarity to Congolese rebels groups than Ugandan organisations. For one, the group recruits and consists in a large part of Congolese rebels and strong-armed militia, and operates within the Eastern DRC, ambushing a Jordanian and Nepalese MONUSCO convoy in mid-July. More critically, the ADF has been touted as a radical islamist group, linked to al Qaeda and al Shabaab, raising the spectre of islamist terrorism once again in Central and Eastern Africa.
The consequences for such a link are important to consider. Firstly, if true, the patronage of al Qaeda and al Shabaab means better expertise and training in the setting of ambushes, roadside bombs and attacks on ‘soft’ civilian targets. It also means greater access to better weapons, explosives and equipment overall. The Ugandan Government has been emphatic in the linkages between the ADF and islamist terrorists, stressing the need to clamp down on the rebel group before a major attack occurs. But in doing so, there is little to no actual evidence of significant terrorist involvement in what is essentially a local rebel group less keen on fighting for theological grounds so much as for economic.
By invoking the bogyman of islamist terrorism, the Ugandans are attempting to draw in larger Western powers, and all the associated military aid and funding for local ‘capacity-building’ that comes with it. Uganda already enjoys a favoured military partnership with the United States, allowing the deployment of 400 (though less on paper) American soldiers to train Ugandan soldiers and ostensibly hunt for Joseph Kony. Linking the ADF to al Qaeda makes the looming terrorism scourge in the region seem far more dire than it really might be.
The actual link is tenuous. Aside from vague assertions by the Ugandan Government alleging the training of al Shabaab/al Qaeda (it’s difficult, apparently, to distinguish) in ADF camps, there is very little tangible evidence. This is remarkable given the differences between an average ADF rebel from Uganda/DRC and that of an al Shabaab terrorist. In a recent ICG report this lack of evidence was made clear, with the report stating that “little is known about such purported links between ADF and radical Islamist organisations in the region and the group’s allegiance to Islamism seems rather superficial.” In this case, the linkages to islamist terrorist organisations is very much crying wolf before any serious threat has credibly emerged. Although links to al Shabaab trainers have been made in various UN reports, the links themselves are based purely on Ugandan security reports and are not verified through any other credible channel.
The invoking of terrorism at the drop of the proverbial hat is an irresponsible tactic to use for succoring military aid and support from Western powers with an interest in countering global terrorism. Uganda is in a troubled-enough region that the spread of terrorism could well seep into its borders and that of the DRC without the need for conjuring up ghosts of al Qaeda pre-emptively. To do so now, against the ADF, could well stem the flow of actual, useful, military assistance in future wars against terrorist organisations.