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ADF threat to oil is under control, authorities say

Following a raid on his Nairobi home last year, the leader of Uganda’s rebel ‘Allied Democratic Forces’ appears to be cornered in the forests of eastern DRC—but the insurgent group seems to be regrouping and, analysts say, may target oil installations for terrorist attacks.  This article by Oil in Uganda staff considers the security implications.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu region, bordering Uganda, is one of the most insecure and volatile regions in Africa. The inability of the DRC government to manage the area, coupled with its abundance in minerals like gold, diamond and cassiterite, has transformed it into a haven for tens, possibly hundreds, of armed groups and local militias.  Prominent among these is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group, led by Jamilu Mukulu, a Muslim convert to the Salafist Tabliq tendency, from Kayunga District in central Uganda.

First erupting in the mid 1990s, the ADF insurgency was contained by Ugandan government security forces, but as recently as June 2008 the rebel group launched an attack on Kichwamba Technical College in Kabarole District. More than 80 students were burnt alive in the atrocity, and a similar number abducted.

UPDF spokesman, Colonel Felix Kulayigye, recently told The Independent newspaper in Kampala that reports of an ADF regrouping began surfacing in 2010.  Soon after, the rebels attacked and overran a big camp of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC).  According to Kulayigye, the ADF has continued actively to recruit, mainly among Muslims in Uganda’s Busoga region, and maintains camps in the North Kivu areas of Mwalika, Mutwanga and Eringeti, near the Rwenzori Mountains.

Jamilu Mukulu has eluded regional security forces for fifteen years. His luck almost ran out in 2010, when Kenyan authorities raided his house in Nairobi, capturing one of his sons. Kenyan authorities also recovered over ten passports used by the ADF leader and other important documents relating to his group’s operations. One important outcome of this raid was the discovery that Jamilu Mukulu had several aliases, with several citizenships, one of them being “Kalamire Patanguli,” a British citizen. From the recovered passports, it was evident that the rebel leader was capable of doctoring his appearance to evade capture.

Armed with this evidence, the Uganda government pressured the International Police (INTERPOL) to act. In 2011 the international agency issued a ‘Red Notice’ for the arrest and possible extradition of Mukulu on charges of terrorism. His photographs were posted on the INTERPOL website, together with bio-data indicating that he was born on January 1, 1964, and speaks English and Arabic.

With local and international security agencies hunting for him and several of his aliases blown, Mukulu’s international travel, critical for his financial networking and mobilisation, was seriously disrupted. He then apparently opted to return to the jungles of eastern DRC, where chances of his capture were lower and where he may remain to date, overseeing the rebel regrouping.

Having been caught off-guard by the 2008 attack on Kichwamba, when the ADF appeared to be a spent force, the government appears not to be taking the threat posed by this group to the Albertine Graben lightly.  In Kulayigye’s words, “They [ADF] are not in the jungles of eastern DRC for tourism.”

Analysts believe that the ADF is unlikely to engage in conventional warfare against the Ugandan army, but may resort to individual terrorist attacks or even hit-and-run attacks on Uganda’s oil infrastructure and related installations. This view is further supported by reports following the July 2010 bombings in Kampala, after which links between the Somalia-based Al Shabaab terrorist network and the ADF started to emerge.

According to a South African Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) research report released in March, there had been increased contact between the Al Shabaab and ADF prior to the July terrorist attacks. The report goes on to say that raids carried out by  the Congolese forces in 2009 and 2010 uncovered evidence that Al Shabaab and ADF were intending to establish a mujahideen frontline on Uganda’s border with the DRC.

This helps explain why the army’s Special Forces Group (SFG) and the police have massively deployed in the oil-rich Bunyoro region. Police Chief, Lieutenant General Kale Kayihura, revealed in April, while appearing before the parliamentary committee investigating the oil sector, that a Special Police Unit has been established within the new Directorate of Oil and Gas Protection, on the directive of President Yoweri Museveni, to secure the Albertine Region.  Several private security firms are also operating in the area.

‘Militarisation’ fears

Some local and international groups have criticised such deployments, which they perceive as undue militarisation of the oil sector. A November 2010 report by the UK-based anti-corruption watchdog, Global Witness, accused President Museveni of “conflict of interest” as well as “personalisation” of oil exploration activities in the country. The report voiced concerns over the deployment of the Special Forces Group in the Albertine, commanded by the President’s son, Colonel Muhoozi Kainerugaba, and the involvement of Saracen, a private security group owned by the President’s younger brother, General Salim Saleh.

At the time, Captain Edison Kwesiga, the SFG Spokesperson, responded that “The primary responsibility of the army, among other roles, is to guard national assets and other institutions. Oil is a national asset and this is within the mandate of the UPDF.”

Onesmus Mugyenyi, of the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), acknowledges the need for vigilance but would prefer the police to be at the forefront of security operations.  “We cannot pretend that all is well when we are seeing what is happening in eastern DRC,” he told Oil in Uganda, “But if there are any deployments to be made, they should be done with the involvement of other stakeholders. Also, unless the situation specifically warrants military deployment, I believe a specially trained unit of the police is capable of maintaining law and order in the Albertine.” He added that the Inspector General of Police will be very critical in maintaining dialogue between security and other stakeholders like NGOs and advocacy groups.

Bahemuka Andrew Kamara, the Oil Project Manager at International Alert, an international peace building organisation, also believes that police can oversee the security in the Bunyoro region. “Whereas the military could be effective in protecting the national borderline between DRC and Uganda to prevent infiltration of negative elements into the country, the police can manage the security inland. We welcome the creation of the new Special Police Unit,” he said.

Authorities take no chances

Captain James Mwesigye, the Kasese Resident District Commissioner (RDC), who also serves as the Chairman of the District Security Committee, told Oil in Uganda that although there were some remnants of the ADF operating in the eastern DRC, the security situation in the District remained under control. “The problem is that sometimes the media exaggerates issues, like the capacity of the ADF to launch a successful attack on Uganda. But for us we are fully in charge and the security is very good.”

Deputy Hoima RDC, Abdul Swammad Wantimba, also asserts that the security situation in Hoima is normal. “There are absolutely no signs of rebel activity in the District. What happened recently is that some strangers sneaked into the District from the neighbouring Districts of Kyenjojo, Kisoro and others, and were involved in illegal lumbering activities in Budongo forest. The local population got alarmed and reported to us that there were some rebels operating in the forest.”

He acknowledges that following the discovery of oil many people, including Congolese, have settled in the District, and with the increasing population, comes the escalation of crimes like theft and arson.

Whilst emphasising that there are no specific rebel threats to oil production, Swammad Wantimba made clear that the security forces are taking no chances. “In fact, the UPDF is planning to set up a barracks in Hoima, in addition to having already deployed a Battalion in the area, with several other detaches in the Albertine Region.”

In addition, he said, the Joint District Security Committee has resolved to put more measures in place to tighten security in Hoima. For example, the Local Council leaders have been instructed to register all new people in their areas, while also maintaining a current register of all the residents in their villages. Community Security Committees have also been set up at village level to monitor and report any suspicious incidents to the authorities.