Kampala-News that the Allied Democratic Forces rebels, (ADF), could be preparing to attack Uganda, comes at a particularly bad time.
Gen David Sejusa, the former coordinator of intelligence services, is abroad talking up possibilities of war to remove President Museveni and the army says a number of its own have deserted in recent times, some making off with army uniform.
The economy is in dire straits, with the majority of civil servants almost completing a second month without pay, while the politics is fractious, with Mr Museveni deemed not fully in charge.
The ADF is said to be led by Jamiru Mukulu, a former Salafist Tabliq Muslim cleric who fell out with the establishment in the mid-1990s.
The force is said to be a manifestation of political Islam and those in its ranks are said to conduct themselves in a strict Islamic manner.
But the outfit has not sent out any communication in many years and has no known spokesperson. It has not put out a political programme either.
If it declares war on Uganda, it will break the much welcome lull of peace Ugandans have enjoyed since Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was forced off Ugandan soil in 2006.
It could also pose a danger to oil extraction plans since the oil region is close to the areas in which the ADF used to operate.
ADF in earlier years
That the ADF could be regrouping must concern, especially those who were around in the late 1990s and early 2000s when insecurity in Kampala and parts of western Uganda was high.
Grenades were thrown at crowds in bars and taxi parks in Kampala and attacks were carried out in parts of western Uganda, including a deadly arson at Kicwamba Technical Institute in Kasese. The mayhem was blamed on ADF.
It is not clear whether the force has regained, or has the capacity to regain, the levels of organisation it attained during its earlier days and could therefore attack anytime soon.
Col Paddy Ankunda, the army spokesperson, is cryptic while addressing this question. “What do terrorists do?” he asks in response to a question on whether the ADF could strike soon, “Do you think they are organising for a dance?” He adds, however, that the UPDF has the capacity to defeat them.
The Daily Monitor reported this week that intelligence information indicates that the ADF’s strength now stands at an estimated 1,600 fighters spread across a series of bases in eastern DR Congo. The group is said to have within its ranks fighters from Uganda, Congo and other countries.
But the force’s ability to have any serious impact will mainly depend on whether it can access funding and equipment, and this depends in turn on who its backers are.
In its earlier days, ADF was said to be mainly funded by Mobutu Sese Seko, President of the then Zaire, which has since been renamed DRC, and Sudan.
Mobutu was eventually overthrown by a force led by Laurent Kabila, father of current President Joseph Kabila, with direct backing from Uganda and Rwanda in a war that drew in a number of other African countries, including Zimbabwe.
The Ugandan military expanded its operations in the DRC ostensibly to fight the ADF, but was in the end accused of plundering the country’s resources, including gold and timber.
DR Congo filed a case at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, which ended in the court slapping a $10b fine on Uganda.
Sudan, which was also backing Joseph Kony’s murderous LRA, was hostile to Uganda due to Uganda’s support of the South Sudanese force, the SPLA, which has since achieved the secession of South Sudan.
Khartoum was thought to back Ugandan rebel outfits to stretch the UPDF without necessarily posing a serious threat to the government in Kampala. At some point the ADF was reported to be attempting to cooperate with the more vicious LRA.
Will Uganda re-enter Congo?
Uganda has yet to pay the fine due to DR Congo, but new complications have emerged. Congo is regarded by some as an “absentee state” which cannot police its territory, especially in the eastern parts of the vast country, offering sanctuary to rebels that threaten the governments of neighbouring countries, particularly Uganda and Rwanda.
A rebel outfit is deemed to be capable of growing its capacity if it remains uninterrupted inside DR Congo, due to the vast mineral wealth and other natural resources like timber which it can traffic for dollars.
War currently rages in eastern DR Congo, as the government forces battle the M23 rebels very close to the Ugandan border. Talks between the Congolese government and the rebels, held in Kampala, seem not to be yielding fruit. Thousands of Congolese refugees have escaped to Uganda.
With not even the 3,000 strong force under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in eastern Congo deemed sufficient to handle the crisis, observers say Uganda could be tempted to jump into the fray. In fact, some allege that some Ugandan soldiers are already in DR Congo.
But Col Ankunda says entering DRC “is something UPDF is not thinking about.” But Col Ankunda speaks for the army, which takes orders from the political leadership, whose decisions are influenced by existing conditions.
Since the conditions are political in nature and political circumstances change, sometimes very quickly, it is hard to rule out anything.
Mr Museveni has in recent weeks been on a tour of the central Uganda districts dubbed “Luweero Triangle” on what he has called a poverty eradication drive.
But some have read into the tour a possibility that the President could have used it to study the situation to stem possible rebellion.
Mbarara, a district close to Mr Museveni’s home which for long periods was deemed to be beyond rebellion, has emerged as a controversial area in recent times, with the army staging raids and road blocks as if there is something to be afraid of.
Mr Asuman Basalirwa, the president of the opposition party Jeema, says “Uganda is back to the 1981 situation” when Mr Museveni waged war against the then government.
But he is skeptical about the reports that the ADF is regrouping. “Reports of war are commercial projects by security agencies,” Mr Basalirwa says, “They are used to justify increased budgetary allocations and supplementary budgets.”
But, he adds, in case the threat of war is real, the government should address the grievances of whoever is waging war.
“Elections are still being rigged, many Ugandans are marginalised, desperately poor, while their money is stolen,” Mr Basalirwa says.
Mr Latif Ssebaggala, the MP Kawempe North, is one politician, who has recently talked about what he calls the marginalisation of Muslims.
As a leader of the Muslim parliamentarians, Mr Ssebaggala says the President “ignores” Muslims when he makes appointments to important offices. The last complaint came in after the latest batch of senior judges was announced.
Mr Ssebaggala and his parliamentary colleagues would like to address the matter politically. Jamiru Mukulu is said to have chosen the military option by founding the ADF. But Mr Basalirwa says the ADF war “has absolutely no relationship” with political Islam.
“As a Muslim, I have never attended a conference anywhere or signed any document asking ADF to fight for me,” the Jeema president says.
Mr Basalirwa adds, however, that “the government may want to say the ADF is back in order to attract funding from America.”
The US war on terror has taken a proxy nature on many fronts, with the US government funding governments that fight groups which are deemed to be terrorists.