The fight against entrenched armed groups in eastern Congo such as the ADF-Nalu needs to switch from a military to an intelligence-based approach.
Eastern Congo: The ADF-Nalu’s Lost Rebellion, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines how the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-Nalu), a Congolese-Ugandan armed group, shows remarkable resilience, owing to its geostrategic position, its successful integration into the cross-border economy and corruption in the security forces.
“The ADF-Nalu is one of the oldest but least known armed groups in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the only one in the area to be considered an Islamist terrorist organisation”, says Marc-André Lagrange, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Senior Analyst. “Although it does not represent the same destabilising threat as the 23 March Movement (M23), it has been accused of terrorist attacks in Uganda and has managed to fend off the Congolese army since 2010”.
Created in the DRC in 1995 through the merger of several armed groups, the ADF-Nalu fought the Ugandan government led by Yoweri Museveni, but never managed to gain a foothold in that country. A Ugandan movement in origin composed of Christian and Muslim fighters, it put down roots in eastern Congo, especially in the remote border area of the Rwenzori mountains. It has become integrated into local communities, has participated in cross-border trade and has established relations with various armed groups in eastern Congo and with Congolese and Ugandan civilian and military authorities. The ADF-Nalu blended into this grey area where state authority has been traditionally weak and illicit economic activities have consistently prospered.
More than the recent Muslim radicalisation of the movement, the ADF-Nalu’s local integration in a strategic border zone allowed it to survive without winning a battle for more than fifteen years and to resist several attempts to neutralise it.
Since the Nalu component stopped fighting, the movement is now only made of ADF combatants. Responding to such a small group of well-integrated rebels does not require a “military solution” but an intelligence-based strategy. Their cross-border economic and logistical networks inside and outside the DRC should be identified, leaders of these networks should be included on the UN sanctions list and Congolese and Ugandan military personnel colluding with them should be punished by the authorities of their country. Simultaneously, the ADF combatants who have not committed crimes against humanity and war crimes should be offered a civilian reintegration package.
“Strong military tactics are not required, but a process of weakening the group’s socio-economic means of support while at the same time offering a demobilisation and reintegration program to its combatants should be pursued”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director. “In eastern Congo, armed groups do not last because they are particularly combative and clever, but because poverty is massive and the state deficient”.