Armed groups

Burundi | Central African Republic | Democratic Republic of Congo | RwandaSouth Sudan | Sudan | Uganda |

As well as official militaries run by governments and international bodies, there are numerous prominent armed groups and regional militaries which must be looked at closely when learning about armed conflict in the central and eastern African region. We have split this section up by country, however you will find that most armed groups exist in a much more fluid form than a national army. Often these groups are formed of, and operate in, more than one country.

What is an ‘armed group’?

Non-state armed groups have the potential to employ arms in the use of force to achieve political, ideological or economic objectives; are not within the formal military structures of States, State-alliances or intergovernmental organizations; and are not under the control of the State(s) in which they operate.

– United Nations working definition

This overview of the key players aims to provide a measure of clarity to the situation. By looking at the history and mutations of these groups, we can begin to understand the complexities that have made peace so difficult to attain. In the same way, by looking at the international influences and support to these armed players, we can how see many outside actors have contributed to destabilization and insecurity in the region. To do this, we’ll focus primarily on these groups’ origins, objectives, strengths, allies, enemies, and how we (Westerners) tie into it all.

Our summary is by no means exhaustive. We only seek to present bite-sized information on these groups in order to facilitate a better understanding.

Burundi

Palipehutu-FNL

Central African Republic (CAR)

The Seleka Alliance

In 2012 several Bush War groups returned to arms, with some – the UFDR, CPJP, and others – banding together to form the Seleka alliance. Michel Djotodia (UFDR) took leadership. Bozizé met with the groups in Libreville, Gabon in January 2013 to sign the Libreville Accords – seen by some as just another in a series of such peace agreements. By February, Seleka leaders had broken the cease fire citing Bozizé’s lack of commitment to upholding the terms of the Libreville Accords. On 25 March, Seleka took control of Bangui, forcing Bozizé and his family to flee to Cameroon. Michel Djotodia installed himself as the new president of CAR and was confirmed by a later council election in which he was the only candidate. After ejecting all foreign troops from the country, Djotodia and his cabinet began setting up the transitional government. In May 2013, the transitional government issued an arrest warrant for ousted leader Bozizé.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The conflict in the DRC is enough to make even the most focused scholars on the subject scratch their heads in utter confusion.  The conflict motives are often convoluted and masked.  Likewise, the actors are constantly fluid with ever-changing alliances and sub-factions.  Below you will find the non-governmental armed groups operating within the DRC, both past and present, which have become part of the narrative in the DRC. These will include the FDLR, Mai-Mai, Raia Mutomboki, CNDP, LRA, and PARECO.  While there are many other groups operating with the DRC, these have been some of the major players and are also the most well-documented.

Allied Democratic Forces / National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF/NALU)

The ADF originated in western Uganda in the 1990s and has long maintained rear bases in eastern DRC. For many years the group had support from Sudan as part of the proxy war against Museveni in Uganda. In 2001, the ADF were included on the United States’ Terrorist Exclusion List.

Largely thought to have reduced in numbers and potency after a final stand on Congolese soil in 2008, the ADF made a brief, recent resurgence in 2013. The Ugandan government alleges that the ADF may be linked to the islamist group al-Shabaab, which has operated primarily in Ethiopia but which did set off two bombs in the Ugandan capital in July 2010.

Congress for National Defense of the People (CNDP)

This Congolese group led by Laurent Nkunda was once considered one of the most destructive groups in eastern Congo. It has since transitioned to become a political party.

Throughout its history, the CNDP’s main objective was to protect the Tutsi population in North Kivu against the FDLR. As one of the strongest armed groups in eastern Congo, the CNDP perpetrated mass atrocities. Since its disbandment in 2009, many CNDP fighters integrated into the FARDC while others joined other militia groups. The most prominent of these is Bosco Ntaganda, the former CNDP cheif of staff, who began leading the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23). Disbanded: 2009

Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC)

The official military of the DRC.

Numerically its forces are weak and they have been accused of multiple human rights abuses, including those troops trained by US forces specifically to professionalise the military. FARDC troops have repeatedly succeeded in dispelling armed groups from the large city of Goma and other towns in eastern DRC in recent years.

Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération de Rwanda (FDLR)

At the invitation of Mobutu Sese Seko, Hutus fleeing Rwanda settled in refugee camps near the Congolese town of Goma in 1994. There they managed to recruit from among the refugees, rebuild and strengthen their armed group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), as well as continue their fight against the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), now the national Rwandan military. They are reported to have around 6,000 to 8,000 FDLR fighters today.

Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL)

This Burundian Hutu group began in the 1980s in Tanzania. They took up arms against the Bujumbura government after the 2010 elections. Part of the FNL uses DRC’s South Kivu province as a fallback base.

Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)

Originating in northern Uganda, the LRA conflict spilled into DRC in the early 2000s. The group is led by Joseph Kony and is comprised of many small bands of combatants, famous for raiding villages, kidnapping, and cutting off the lips, nose, and ears of victims. In 2001, the LRA were included on the United States’ Terrorist Exclusion List. From the mid-1990s until the mid-200s, the Sudanese government supplied the LRA with arms and funding as a means of destabilising the Ugandan regime in retaliation for President Museveni’s support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in southern Sudan (today known as South Sudan).

In recent years the LRA has spread further north into Central African Republic and the Darfur region of Sudan, but the majority of LRA attacks still occur in the Orientale provinces of the DRC. This group has also been the primary focus of extensive international advocacy efforts, including the media phenomenon KONY 2012, which began in March 2012.

Mai Mai (also spelled Mayi Mayi)

The Mai Mai are several independent groups led and organised by communities throughout eastern DRC. There are approximately 20 Mai Mai groups in North and South Kivu. Occasionally Mai Mai groups will band together to create a larger or more effective fighting force. Some of the larger groups have gained levels of individual notoriety in recent years, including the Patriotes de la Résistance Congolaise (PARECO) and Alliance des Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souvrain (APCLS).

Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23)

On 23 March 2009 the government signed a peace treaty with the CNDP, incorporating them as a political party and their soldiers into the military. Dissatisfied with this compromise, several combatants of the new M23 movement (which takes its name from the date of the peace accords) continued in their mission to overthrow Kabila and his government. Shortly following a divisive split among the M23 members, the original commander General Bosco Ntaganda – nicknamed ‘The Terminator” – surrendered to the US Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, in March 2012.

A recipient of significant media attention in recent years, the M23 has alternated periods of intense fighting and negotiations with the Congolese government. Kabila issued official arrest warrants for the various M23 leaders in July 2013. The M23 continued fighing throughout a series of attempts to secure a diplomatic solution, ending with the Kampala Peace Talks of November 2013. Not until a sound military defeat in December 2013 did M23 agree to a final peace agreement with the Congolese government. Still, rumours of the M23 regrouping and recruiting have continued into 2014.

Raia Mutomboki

The movement, whose name means “Outraged Citizens,” has four main factions and began as an initiative responding to the integration of CNDP into the national military. Raia Mutomboki carries out attacks against the FDLR and against other Kinyarwanda-speaking communities. They are active in both North and South Kivu.

Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD)

This is the former name of the Congress for National Defense of the People (CNDP) led by Laurent Nkunda until 2009.

Rwanda

Content coming soon. Why not read more about Rwanda in the meantime?

South Sudan

Content coming soon. Why not read more about South Sudan while we are working on it?

Sudan

Content coming soon. Why not read more about Sudan?

Uganda

Below are several of the most prominent armed groups and regional militaries operating within Uganda in the period between 1990 and 2014.

Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)

Founded in 1989, the ADF began operations in south-western Uganda, aiming to overthrow the Museveni government and replace it with an islamist administration. Its first notable activity did not occur until 1996. At different times, the ADF has received support from Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, and allegedly from the governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan as well as the National Islamic Front (NIF). In the early 2000s, the ADF retreated into eastern DRC where it lay dormant until a 2013 resurgence alongside its chief allies the National Alliance for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU).

Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF/NALU)

The ADF originated in western Uganda in the 1990s and has long maintained rear bases in eastern DRC. For many years the group had support from Sudan as part of the proxy war against Museveni in Uganda. In 2001, the ADF were included on the United States’ Terrorist Exclusion List.
Largely thought to have reduced in numbers and potency after a final stand on Congolese soil in 2008, the ADF made a brief, recent resurgence in 2013. The Ugandan government alleges that the ADF may be linked to the islamist group al-Shabaab, which has operated primarily in Ethiopia but which did set off two bombs in the Ugandan capital in July 2010.

Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)

The LRA is led by Joseph Kony and is comprised of many small bands of combatants, famous for raiding villages, kidnapping, and cutting off the lips, nose, and ears of victims. In 2001, the LRA were included on the United States’ Terrorist Exclusion List. From the mid-1990s until the mid-2000s, the Sudanese government supplied the LRA with arms and funding as a means of destabilising the Ugandan regime in retaliation for President Museveni’s support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in southern Sudan.
In recent years the LRA has spread further north into the Central African Republic and the Darfur region of Sudan, but the majority of LRA attacks still occur in the Orientale provinces of the DRC. This group has also been the primary focus of extensive international advocacy efforts, including the media phenomenon KONY 2012, which began in March 2012. Find out more in our LRA In Focus section.

National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU)

NALU formed in 1988 in western Uganda, led by Amon Bazira – a former deputy under President Obote. After failing to gain much momentum in Uganda, NALU moved into eastern DRC where it joined the ADF and has continued operations ever since.

National Resistance Army (NRA)

This is the military branch of the National Resistance Movement, a political group headed by Yoweri Museveni in the 1980s. The NRA formed in 1981 from Museveni’s short-lived Popular Resistance Army (PRA) with significant cooperation from Rwandan exiles – many of them joining the early years of fighting in Uganda. At its height, the NRA was a key player in the Ugandan Bush War against the Ugandan National Liberation Army and enjoyed the support of foreign leaders including Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)

In 1987, Rwandan Tutsi refugees in Uganda began the Front Patriotique Rwandaise (more commonly known by its English acronym RPF). Many members of the RPF joined Yoweri Museveni and the National Resistance Army during the Ugandan Bush War, creating close ties between the two groups. The RPF used southern Uganda as a base to run operations during the Hutu-Tutsi conflicts in Rwanda. Today the RPF is the ruling party in Rwanda, headed by its once-military leader Paul Kagame.

Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF)

The national military of Uganda encompassed the armed wing of Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement, the NRA. A relatively well-organised fighting force, the UPDF has frequently clashed with local armed groups rebelling against the government. The UPDF has received extensive training from international militaries including the United States army and has contributed professional troops to international peacekeeping operations. Of these, the most notable are AMISOM in Somalia and the RTF-LRA in CAR and DRC.

Latest section update: June 2014