Ugandan president: Army hampered in fight against rebels coming from DRC

Ugandan security forces cordon the scene outside the Mpondwe Lhubirira Secondary School in Mpondwe, western Uganda, June 17, 2023. [Reuters]

Uganda’s president is blaming poor intelligence gathering for the army's struggle to stop rebels from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

President Yoweri Museveni blames members of the Allied Democratic Forces rebel group for a June attack on a school that killed 41 people.

In a security address Thursday, Museveni told Ugandans that the ADF had been wiped out, but that it was allowed to regroup and grow by the previous DRC leadership.

“The Congo government of his excellency [former President Joseph] Kabila, supported by some regional and international actors, gave them free tenancy in North Kivu and Ituri," he said. "They were mining gold, selling timber, harvesting people’s cocoa, collecting taxes, extorting money from people, et cetera.”

Museveni said ADF's members have operated in the DRC as individuals instead of a group since 2007 and have connected with other terrorist groups like al-Qaida. He said that since the ADF's defeat in Uganda 16 years ago, ADF had planted 34 bombs in the country.

He said that in recent years. the Uganda People's Defense Forces have built an antiterrorism capacity that ensures the rebels won’t take control of any part of Uganda.

Where are the rebels?

Still, he said, the Ugandan forces face an intelligence problem. DRC President Felix Tshisekedi has allowed the UPDF to enter Congo and fight the ADF, but the Ugandan troops "need to know where [the rebels] are in Congo and what they are planning."

Museveni added that some people have suggested he close the border with the DRC. Such a move would be costly, since Uganda earns millions of dollars in cross-border trade.

Museveni’s address came almost one month after the ADF attacked the Lhubiriha Secondary School near the Mpondwe border crossing with the DRC. Thirty-eight of the 41 people killed were students.

Security analyst Solomon Asiimwe of Nkumba University says it is time for the Ugandan government to look at other ways to neutralize the ADF.

"Terrorism cannot be defeated just through only military," he said. He noted that the ADF leader, Jamil Mukulu, had been arrested and imprisoned, "but ADF has not stopped. Maybe it’s high time [the] government also finds a way of talking to ADF. Because they are Ugandans, they have a reason why they are fighting.”

Museveni said the country’s young people need to be empowered and to rise out of poverty instead of being manipulated by the ADF.

The Ugandan security council chaired by Museveni is expected to meet within a week to discuss options for ending ADF attacks.