1990’s: new rebel groups
The 1990’s were marked by the emergence of new rebel groups. The armed struggle against Museveni’s regime began in northern Uganda, but rebel groups also emerged in the northeastern region of Teso.
The northwestern region of West Nile Bank was relatively quiet until the mid-1990’s, when the West Nile Bank Front (WNBF) group made its entrance. When the rebel group Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF) began an armed struggle in the west in 1996, the spread of the conflict was greatest, with the northern and western parts of the country affected.
In this situation, the conflict also spread across the border to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo hereafter). After this, the geographical spread of the fighting decreased until 2003, when again only the northern parts of the country were affected by fighting. Since then, the majority of the clashes have taken place outside Uganda’s borders, in southern Sudan and since 2008 also in northwestern Congo and the Central African Republic (CAR). In this way, the conflicts in the region have largely grown together.
The important role of neighboring countries
In addition to the fact that the Ugandan rebel groups have sometimes been based on the territory of neighboring countries, there have been several dimensions in the intergovernmental relations in the region. The governments of Uganda and Sudan, for example, have been hostile to each other for many years and supported rebel groups fighting the other regime. The same was true of the Congolese government, which for many years helped Ugandan rebel groups.
Since the beginning of the 2000’s, relations between neighboring countries have improved somewhat and Uganda has been allowed to join troops in southern Sudan (now South Sudan) in order to take up the hunt for the LRA. In 2008, Uganda and Congo also began cooperating in the conflict against the LRA and, since 2010, also against the ADF. However, the collaboration is not unproblematic and occasionally cracks in the joints.
The surviving rebel groups
Since the turn of the millennium, only two rebel groups are still fighting the Ugandan government: the LRA and the ADF.
The ADF entered in 1996 and accused the regime of rigging the elections held earlier in the year. The group had been formed by a merger of the remaining forces from at least three previous opposition organizations.
Like many other rebel groups in Uganda, there was a big difference between what the ADF said and what they did. While making statements that they were fighting for democracy, they did not seem to have any real ideological roots and its behavior towards the civilian population was extremely brutal. Massacres were common, as were the mutilation of the victims and the mass abduction of children, who were forced to become rebels.
ADF’s rise and fall
The ADF was mainly based in the Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda, and as long as Mobutu Sese Seko was president of neighboring Zaire (later the Democratic Republic of the Congo), he allowed the group to also have bases on Zaire territory. This was one of the reasons given by Uganda when it entered the Congo in 1998. From 1998, the conflict between the ADF and the government took place in two countries: Uganda and Congo.
Uganda’s government army’s repeated offensives against the rebels, both in Uganda and in the Congo, eventually paid off. In 2000, several important ADF bases in eastern Congo were destroyed, leading to a marked weakening of the group, which in the early 2000’s was no longer considered a threat.
ADF is coming back
In 2007, the ADF once again began raiding the border into western Uganda. However, it was not until the end of 2009 that the situation seriously worsened. Congo informed Uganda that the ADF was becoming increasingly active.
In June 2010, the Ugandan and Congolese governments agreed to cooperate on the issue, and soon after, Congolese troops launched an offensive against the group’s strongholds. This continued in 2011, but did not succeed in crushing the group.
Operation Sokola weakens the rebels
After the rebels escalated their attacks in 2013 and more than 60,000 people fled across borders to Uganda, the government launched “Operation Sokola” in January 2014. The offensive continued in the spring and the government, supported by UN troops stationed in Congo, reported great success. It was said that the ADF rebels had split into smaller groups and that they were heading north to avoid the offensive.
In October, however, the ADF launched a new wave of attacks on civilians and these continue, despite the launch of a new offensive – Operation Usalama – in May 2016.
In April 2015, the group suffered a severe setback when its leader Jamil Mukulu was arrested in Tanzania. He has since been handed over to Uganda, where he is charged with mass murder and crimes against humanity. It is still unclear how this will affect the development of the conflict. Mukulu was an important figure in the ADF, but it is reported that a new leader has now been appointed and that the group has regrouped under the new leadership.