The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have been spreading violence throughout the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo for decades now. However, this group is feared not only for its violence, but also for its secrecy. Recently, an attack on the Bulongo village left a dozen villagers dead overnight, the ADF is blamed, but nothing can prove for a fact that they are culpable.
According to the Kivu Security Tracker, the ADF has killed at least 1,219 civilians in the Beni area alone since 2017. Al-Jazeera also noted that “the ADF has the reputation of being the bloodiest of some 122 armed groups active in the DRC’s four eastern border provinces,” yet their methods are completely misunderstood by the international community.
Since 2000, they turned gears and avoided the public eye. No more statements, no more media and ruthless punishments for deserters. Thus, their lack of communication makes it hard to grasp the extent of their network and their motivations, even for the most extensive international investigations.
The only way to get a sense of their organization is to look at their history. ADF is based in Uganda, led by Ugandans to overthrow the Ugandan regime. However, they are known to change their ideologies according to the current environment they reside. This may be to ease the recruitment process and to tie fighters together under one common relevant goal. This has also been key in making it impossible for international organizations to pin them down.
The ADF weaved itself between already established conflicts. Their territory of choice is the Rwenzori Mountains, which is on the border of Uganda and the DRC. They would create conflicts in tense areas and retreat in the untraceable mountains after inducing and conducting attacks. They also have a presence in North Kivu where they have bonds with local militias and armed groups.
Their opportunistic behaviour has made them key players in Eastern DRC politics. They were involved in both Congo wars, even working with the established governments of Mobutu and Kabila to fight off Ugandan and Rwandan troops.
Nowadays, their attacks are allegedly motivated by reprisal. From 2011 to 2016, many offences led by Ugandan, Congolese and UN forces reduced the ADF’s military to mere hundreds. From early 2017 to 2018, they violently attacked civilian villages in punishment, as they suspected the villagers to have colluded with the groups that attacked them.
According to Africa Center for Strategic Studies, “the surge in ADF attacks has been accompanied by a propaganda campaign built around ethnic and jihadist narratives that has brought in fresh recruits from Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.” Due to restlessness in many of these countries, their population is prone to radicalization, making it a prime recruitment area for the ADF. It is slowly growing in numbers as their jihadist rhetoric becomes more compelling in unstable countries. Their attacks are increasingly violent and targets innocent civilians.
Unfortunately, the scariest weapon the ADF has is its adaptability. While working in the shadows, it molds itself to current political environments to further their strength. Their motives are nebulous, and pinning their military movements is a difficult task for even the best strategists in the world. Their surge of violence in recent years is a sour display of their capabilities, and it remains to be known what they might do next.