By: Kelsey Kerouac, Analyst, Africa Section
Analytical Question: Will militant Sunni groups develop a stronghold in the eastern DRC in 2019?
A militia ambush in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has left three people dead, and seven others injured. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) took responsibility for the attack. Despite this recent ADF attack, it can be stated with moderate confidence that Sunni militant groups will not gain a stronghold in the eastern DRC in 2019.
The ADF was created in 1995, and is located in a mountainous region along the DRC’s border with Uganda. According to the United Nations, the ADF reached an estimated strength of 1,200 to 1,500 armed fighters. The majority are located in the Beni Territory of the North Kivu province1. The group was originally founded based on Konjo–Nande nationalism, but made a shift to sharia law in the early 2000s2. It should be noted here that the Nande people of the Congo and the Konjo people of Uganda are a single ethnic group (also referred to as Yira). The ADF was founded along the border between western Uganda, and eastern DRC, which is inhabited by this ethnic population. The ADF was founded on sociopolitical beliefs informed by Konjo–Nande nationalism, with the main goal of bringing down the Ugandan government; so it is regularly referred to as Konjo-Nande nationalism.
The ADF is currently led by “Sheikh” Musa Baluku. They have aligned themselves with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL), and receive funding from the same source as ISIL. They also refer to themselves as Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen (“The City of Monotheism and of Those who Affirm the Same”)2. The recent attack was an act of ADF gunmen who opened fire on a vehicle carrying traders. This act comes just days after DRC President Felix Tshisekedi announced “the final attack against ADF fighters in the coming days, to wipe them out once and for all”3.
The militia ambush occurred on October 14, 2019. ADF gunmen opened fire on a vehicle that was transporting traders from the town of Oicha to a market in Eringeti. Three traders were killed, and seven more were injured during the shooting. Four days prior to the attack, President Tshisekedi visited the same area in Beni to announce at a rally the final stand against the ADF4. This is not the first clash between the two sides, since 2014, the DRC Army has acknowledged the loss of 1,662 troops in clashes with the ADF3.
This ambush serves as a direct response from the ADF to President Tshiskedi. It is significant because it is the first major attack carried out by the ADF since July 2019, when a group of ADF men wielding guns and machetes killed 12 civilians. It also comes at a crucial time when the DRC government is concerned with the Ebola outbreak. The ADF has forced emergency relief workers to temporarily suspend their efforts more than once due to security risks. The ADF responds to military offensives by killing civilians. Their most recent attack only caused three casualties, but it was successful in re-affirming the ADF’s presence in Beni.
Despite this recent attack, it can be stated with moderate confidence that Sunni militant groups will not gain a stronghold in the Eastern DRC in 2019. The reports of this event can be evaluated with high confidence. The information appeared in both The Gulf Times and in The Punch. One is an English-language news source in Qatar, and the other a Nigerian news outlet. The death tolls in the stories were also independently confirmed by Noella Katongerwaki, a representative of a grassroots aid group in the Beni area. This development shows that the battle between the DRC and the ADF is ongoing. The ADF has been effective in small scale attacks and interfering with the treatment of the Ebola outbreak. Despite this attack the ADF has not made any territorial gains in months. The government in the DRC also claims that they will get rid of them for good. These developments do not alter our overall forecast; although there is a clear presence of Sunni militant groups in eastern DRC, it is unlikely that any will gain enough power to develop a stronghold in the region.
2 Beavor, E. (2019, January 16). The Allied Democratic Forces: the DRC’s most deadly jihadist group?
3 3 dead, 7 wounded in DR Congo militia ambush. (2019, October 14). Retrieved from
4 Three die, seven injured in DR Congo militia ambush. (2019, October 14).