According to the Washington Post, since the beginning of 2019, more than 1000 civilians have been killed in and surrounding the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern Beni region. These killings, which the UN has deemed as war crimes, are the most recent developments in massacres in the Beni region since the end of 2014.
As noted by the Washington Post, the atrocities were a result of an offensive carried out by the Congolese army to counteract the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist rebel group that originated in Uganda. As noted by News24, the Allied Democratic Forces began its uprising against the Ugandan government in the 1990s. Having its main bases in the mountains of western Uganda, bordering Eastern Congo, the Allied Democratic Forces have been a threat to the Congo region since 1995. Not to mention, while the late 1990s saw a Ugandan government offensive pushing the ADF fighters deeper into the eastern Congolese jungle which significantly helped counteract the insurgency, violence perpetrated by the rebels has resurged over the last few years.
As the Congolese army strove to diffuse ADF violence by invading their rebel camps as well as killing and arresting multiple members at the end of last year, attacks on civilians residing in the eastern Beni region rose. The Washington Post states that the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, the Congolese government, as well as numerous national and international media sources, have cited the Allied Democratic Forces as responsible for these attacks, saying they must assume responsibility. They further add that they feel as such as it is likely that a large portion of these attacks and killings were orchestrated by the ADF for retaliatory purposes.
Reuters reports that on Monday, May 17th, 2021, neighbors Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo agreed to share intelligence and coordinate an action plan to counteract the ADF Islamist rebels whom governments of both countries affirm are the reason for the rising violence in Eastern Congo. In particular, this plan entails both nations creating an operations center in Congo’s East to combat the rebel forces. A marker of the growing willingness for cooperation between Uganda and Congo, Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso, the spokeswoman for the Uganda People’s Defence Forces attests that “Definitely, there will be coordination, sharing intelligence, sharing information, and all sorts of security nature kind of activities.” In fact, to commence this coordination, the commander of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces’ Mountain Brigade, Maj. General Kayanja Muhanga has had meetings with security officials in Beni to discuss the start of anti-ADF operations, according to Reuters.
Uganda and Congo’s willingness to share resources to fight Islamist rebels is particularly noteworthy given the two nations’ historically tarnished relations. According to researcher and journalist Gaaki Kigambo, Uganda’s intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s wars since the mid-1990s led to these strained relations. Uganda first entered Congo in 1996 in pursuit of rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces who had conducted many deadly raids across Uganda’s western border. Around the same time, Rwanda invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo to dismantle refugee camps that remnants of the previous Rwandan government’s army were using to start raids in Rwanda. As dictated by Rwanda, Uganda and Congo forced the former Congolese president to step down from office to make way for the new President Laurent-Desire Kabila, to receive political influence in return. According to World Politics Review, when Kabila moved to downplay Rwandan and Ugandan influence, the two nations renounced him leading to the Second Congo War in 1998.
Yet, according to senior Ugandan diplomats and regional security experts, the mending of the two countries’ relationship is majorly due to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s success in capturing combatants of rebel groups such as the ADF with the aid of the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade, which has incentivized Uganda to contribute to this effort of ending the worsening violence in Eastern Congo.