Allied Democratic Forces Take Charge in Eastern DRC: Why This? Why Now?

28 Mar
ADF    FoxNews.com

ADF FoxNews.com

 

On Friday, January 17, 2014 the Congolese army (FARDC) successfully drove soldiers in the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) from the city of Beni, North Kivu Province backed by the UN’s 3,000 strong  “Intervention Brigade” assigned to subdue all rebel activities occurring throughout Eastern Congo.  This happened after the same Congolese forces secured the city of Kamango the day after Christmas once ADF troops had claimed it the day before. While attacking the city ADF soldiers burned down buildings, wounded many residents, and were responsible for over fifty deaths causing the populace of the city to flee in terror. But the reason for this take-over is still a mystery. The members of ADF are no strangers to the people of Kamango having settled into this area themselves many years ago. Could it be that with the surrender of the M23 rebels from the same region ADF leaders have moved in to take over the lucrative illegal gold trade between the DRC border towns and Uganda? And once the ADF militia has been subdued who’ll move in next to control the smuggling operation?

But who are the ADF and where did they come from? Originally it was composed of a small band of rebels from Uganda who settled in the rugged terrain of the Rwenzori Mountains lying between the countries of Uganda and the DRC. These rebels espoused a specific Islamic ideology known as Tablighi prevalent in the Sudan. In time, their cause- reclaiming the Ugandan government brought them in contact with another group of rebels known as the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). This rebel group had also been pushed into the DRC by the Ugandan army when the DRC was known as Zaire and under the dictator, Mobutu’s control. Many of NALU members were Islamic Ugandans but there were others who had lost their political clout and /or personal fortunes once Museveni and his freedom fighters secured Kampala and ousted anyone connected with the former dictators Obote or Idi Amin. In time the ADF/ NALU morphed into one group. That happened in the mid- 1990’s but by all accounts the ADF camps reported on in recent years have dramatically changed their goals and it seems that retaking the government of Uganda is no longer a top priority for them. Plus after having been forced out of Uganda by the Ugandan army the ADF established permanent camps moving into the Congo- side of the Rwenzori Mountains for good. It’s estimated that as much as 60% of ADF’s current fighting force is composed of Congolese rather than Ugandan nationals now.

The Ugandan NALU integrated into the Nande community in Eastern Congo settling near the city of Beni. Their leader Enoch Nyamwise became a famous Nande politician who was contracted by the dictator Mobutu during the first war in the Congo and used his men to patrol the border between the Congo and Uganda. As the revolution raged on Nyamwise and his men became heavily invested in both legal and illegal activities as they began trading with neighboring villages in Uganda and it is said that it was these contacts between Congolese rebel militias and the Ugandan army that served to establish the first gold smuggling routes. By the time the ADF joined them they began augmenting their smuggling revenues by adding “kidnapping for ransom” ventures, mineral mines, logging industries, taxis, and borda-borda drivers to their economic empire.

Eventually most of the village militias on both sides of the revolution morphed into political parties after the wars in the Congo ended but the militias attached to each party never formally disbanded and remain armed and active to this day. This easy access to organized groups accustomed to using violence to get what they want has had a significant impact on the continuation of the war-like atmosphere pervasive throughout all of Eastern Congo.

By the time the year 2000 arrived gold smuggling had become “big” business in Beni. In 2013, the Enough Project reported that 98% of all the gold illegally leaving Eastern Congo was being sold out of Uganda specifically mentioning the actions of one Major Helaire Kembi, a former officer in the Congolese Army who deserted his post along with many of his men to head a highly lucrative gold smuggling operation in the area. One Congolese official confessed that gold worth millions of US dollars crosses the border into Uganda each and every day making it an extraordinarily profitable venture. Right now there are at least 15 different rebel militias operating in the Beni region alone- all jockeying for trading rights to the gold but it seems that M23 managed to gain control of the largest portion of the operation less than one year ago.

Then everything changed; the United Nations Intervention Brigade entered the fight and the Congolese Army began defeating M23’s troops so much so that M23  formally surrendered in November of 2013 ending their 20 month rebellion. Colonel Makenga and his men took refuge in Uganda where they still remain so what has happened to their gold smuggling operation? And around this same time ADF began changing its image from a small, local militia of less than 1,500 men into something far more dangerous.

Intelligence videos made by Ugandan operatives showed ADF troops engaged in formal training sessions led by men suspected of having connections to the Somali terrorist organization, al- Shabaab. According to the African Defence Review Burka –clad women were also observed living in certain Rwenzori camps while helicopters began making regular supply deliveries.
Rumors that new ADF recruits had been sent to Somalia to train began circulating throughout the area. It was common knowledge that the ADF continuously received funds from the UK, Kenya, and the Sudan but these monies had never been thought to be that significant. Then their troops were spotted carrying new, more advanced weapons including rocket launchers. Has the current leader of the ADF, Jamil Muhula rekindled his ties with al- Qaeda or has a new connection been forged between the two groups? Is al- Shabaab training ADF soldiers to become mujahideen – international mercenaries of terror? And if so, who’s paying for their services? Or does al- Shabaab or al- Qaeda seek to become the next masters of the illegal gold trade themselves now that M23 has been removed from the picture?

ADF’s motives remain unclear. Why would the ADF attack Kamango on Christmas Day after attacking it for the first time at the end of July, 2013? Why did they return three days later to take the city again only to behead 21 civilians? Why did they urge the villagers to flee to Uganda and above all, why would they act like an invading army when they too live in the Beni area and were sure have relatives and friends living in the city. Most ADF soldiers are Bandandi – Congolese ethnic Bakonzo so why would they turn on their own people. It’s not a logical move to invade a city knowing that UN troops are in the vicinity with orders to destroy all wayward militia groups. These men may be smugglers but they are intelligent business men as well who sell the produce from their farming operations in the local markets. What would possess them to anger and alienate their customers so? What was their motivation? It had to be something dire enough to cause them to jeopardize their livelihood. I suspect it had something to do with warning other groups in Beni away from M23’s operation? Was this the reason for the beheadings? Did they conquer Beni to lay an official claim to M23’s former gold operation by murdering the competition or were they paid to provide military support for another much stronger group like al- Shabaab- intent on picking up where M23 left off?

According to my sources in the area prior to Kamango ADF troops always followed an unofficial set of guidelines but predictable ones nonetheless: 1.) Never attack the Congolese Army only fight back in self- defense. 2.) Never attack large groups of Congolese civilians, and 3.) Avoid residing in villages; remain in the forest camps.

Whatever the reason, the ADF managed to anger the United Nations Security Council which on January 30th of this year reiterated its former mandate to MONUSCO ordering that all rebel groups be made to disband and that M23 troops be prevented from regrouping. It also resolved to continue to enforce its previous arms embargo, travel bans, and asset freezes on the DRC especially on those in the Kinshasa government. The UN Intervention Brigade presently consists of a force of 3,000 soldiers from the countries of Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi as well as another 17,000 troops serving in MONUSCO, the United Nations fighting force assigned to the protection of the Eastern Congo.

Defeating the rebels may lessen the immediate crisis but it is far from a real solution to the problem. Until the United Nations makes a unilateral effort to connect all sections of the country together by providing a reliable infrastructure nothing will change. Men will continue to come forward declaring themselves warlords and forming entirely new militias because there is no mechanism in place to stop them. The DR Congo is estimated to contain 24 trillion dollars US in untapped deposits of raw mineral ores, including the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s diamonds, gold, and copper. That sum is equivalent to the Gross Domestic Product of the European Union and the United States of America combined. With that much money at stake there are millions of men even other countries willing to do whatever it takes to secure some of that wealth for themselves.

According to the Encyclopedia of Nations, The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the third largest country in Africa and at 903,563 square miles is about ¼ the size of the United States of America. Yet according to the United Nations Development Index for 2013, 87.7% of its citizens live below the international poverty level. How can a country that rich in resources provide so little for its own people? The biggest problem is that most of the country’s wealth is being illegally smuggled across its Eastern border because the DRC has no infrastructure; which means – no dependable roads connect the 11 separate provinces in this country together, the government is located too far to the west of the country to do anything about it, while the rich deposits are located in the East in a very isolated mountainous region lined with tropical rain forests much too dense to cross.

Travelers in North Kivu district constantly come across roads that merely stop in the middle of nowhere suddenly turning into foot paths. Most roads turn to mud as soon as it rains and there are little to no repairs made on the existing ones. Plus traveling by car for any length of time is an impossible task for there are no dependable gas stations, hotels, stores, or restaurants in the rural areas- and above all, no law enforcement agencies. That means no police force and above all, no one to turn to if something goes wrong unless you’ve been adopted by the local tribe. No one travels far in the Congo except for Congolese soldiers grouped together in small bands who walk the roads by day with automatic weapons in hand dispensing justice to those who pay them the highest fees. There are local buses but they will only take you one or two villages away from home and operate within the same province. Pulling into a border town feels very much like entering the bar scene in Star Wars I where violent assaults literally occur at the “drop of a hat”.

The rule of thumb when entering Eastern Congo – “if you haven’t packed everything you’ll need to take you in and out of there, don’t go!” Nothing will ever improve for the people of Eastern Congo until the minerals have been adequately protected and North Kivu Province is opened up to the world at large.

 

Kat Nickerson                      Kingston, Rhode Island                                                                                               March 27, 2013

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