DRC allows Uganda’s army to enter Congolese territory to fight the ADF

By Romain Gras
Posted on Thursday, 2 December 2021 10:11

Congolese soldiers at the scene of an ADF attack in which at least 16 people were killed, near Oicha, 23 July 2021. Al-hadji Kudra Maliro/AP/SIPA

One week after a double explosion in Kampala, the DRC’s President Félix Tshisekedi has reportedly authorised the Ugandan army to enter Congolese territory to fight the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). This strategy is not without risk.

The rumour had been circulating for several days in Kinshasa, but now there seems to be some confirmation. On 26 November, Tshisekedi gave his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, permission to send his troops to Ituri and North Kivu. Several diplomatic sources have verified this information.

The Congolese head of state has informed Bintou Keita, the head of Monusco, of his decision to allow the entry of the Ugandan military (UPDF). According to one of our sources, however, Tshisekedi has only given a verbal agreement and his Ugandan counterpart is now waiting for written confirmation.

The main objective of this operation in the DRC, which Museveni has been insisting on for several years, is to combat the ADF, an armed Ugandan group that has been active in the two concerned provinces for several years. This announcement comes a week after a double explosion in Kampala on 16 November, which the Ugandan security services attributed to “a local group linked to the ADF”. These attacks left three people dead and around 30 injured, according to the local authorities. Uganda had already been hit by two other attacks in October, again ascribed to the ADF.

‘Determined and impatient’

As a result, discussions surrounding a possible intervention by the Ugandan army have intensified in recent weeks. According to our information, Celestin Mbala, the FARDC’s chief of staff, went to Entebbe on 5 November to discuss the issue with his counterpart, Wilson Mbadi. The 16 November attack prompted Museveni to step up pressure on his Congolese equivalent.

We must not forget that the ADF [is] a common threat. If we have to move towards a joint strategy to fight against armed groups, it will be in the normal order of things.

On 17 November, the day after the attack, Tshisekedi met with the deputies of Ituri and North Kivu, two provinces that have been under siege since May, in Kinshasa. According to our sources, the Congolese president then raised the issue of military cooperation with the Ugandan army.

The head of state said his Ugandan counterpart was “determined” and “impatient” to send his troops to the DRC to support the fight against the ADF. He also expressed surprise at the delay in the force-sharing process. According to one participant, several government members present at the meeting welcomed the possible arrival of members of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).

No details regarding this future collaboration, which normally needs to be discussed in Parliament, have been released yet. “Intelligence exchange operations already exist. Ugandan officers come to us, we go to them, we work together. Today, if operations take place, it will be within the strict framework of ongoing intelligence exchanges,” says a Congolese government source.

“We must not forget that the ADF [is] a common threat. If we have to move towards a joint strategy to fight against armed groups, it will be in the normal order of things,” says this source, who assures that “before considering any troop deployment, there is work that is done upstream, which is not the case today. The day a decision is made, there will be an official announcement.”

Sensitive subject

The Congolese authorities are proceeding cautiously because the subject remains very sensitive, particularly in the eyes of Congolese opinion. The history surrounding the involvement of foreign armies in the DRC is indeed marked by several tragic episodes, starting with the famous six-day war in Kisangani, where Ugandan and Rwandan soldiers clashed between 5 and 10 June 2000.

The subject of pooling forces with the DRC’s neighbours has been on the table since the beginning of Tshisekedi’s term in office. In October 2019, a project for an integrated headquarters – involving, alongside the Congolese army, the armies of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania – was discussed. Plagued by both internal political and social reluctance, as well as by rivalries between some of these neighbours, the project was quickly abandoned to make way for joint intelligence mechanisms.

Tensions between Kigali and Kampala

This cooperation agreement is being signed amidst a complicated regional situation, marked by the exacerbation of tensions between Rwanda and Uganda. Both Kigali and Kampala have been at loggerheads for several years, over mutual accusations of destabilisation, and have been strengthening their ties with Kinshasa ever since Joseph Kabila resigned as head of state. This rapprochement has taken place mainly with a view to increase security cooperation.

Paul Kagame and Tshisekedi have also been eager to demonstrate their increased understanding. On the ground, several leaders of the Rwandan FDLR rebellion have been shot dead and the Rwandan military has been accused – on several occasions – of being directly involved, even though Kigali has denied these claims.

Is Rwanda now afraid of seeing its neighbour and enemy intervene in the DRC? Kagame regularly accuses Museveni, whom he has known since the 1980s, of supporting rebel groups that are hostile to him. In the regional tug of war between the two men, the Ugandan-Congolese project that aims to build a trade route around Rwanda is one of the most contentious issues. Concluded in Uganda in June 2021, this project concerns three road axes that are more than 200km long: Kasindi-Beni, Beni-Butembo and Bunagana-Rutshuru-Goma.

It seems that the Congolese president made sure to inform his Rwandan neighbour that he was about to give Ugandan forces permission to intervene. A few days after his 5 November visit to Kampala, Mbala paid a visit to Kigali, shortly after members of the M23 had launched an attack, which the Congolese army attributed to Rwanda.

Kagame also made a quick trip to Kinshasa on 25 November, the evening before Tshisekedi gave Museveni the green light. Officially, the Rwandan president had come to participate in the summit. However, everyone was surprised that he was there, as Kagame rarely visits the Congolese capital. The last trip he had made to Kinshasa was back in 2019, when he attended Etienne Tshisekedi’s funeral.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options