Ugandan rebel leader’s arrest a shot in the arm for justice

The announced arrest in Tanzania of the leader of one of the longest-standing insurgencies in Africa’s Great Lakes region marks a step forward for justice and accountability but is unlikely to bring an end to the transnational network he leads.

Jamil Mukulu, 51, who heads the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a partly Islamist grouping of Ugandan origin formed in 1989 and now based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was arrested in Tanzania earlier this month. Uganda is seeking his extradition in order to prosecute him in the International War Crimes Division of its High Court.

A senior Ugandan army official who asked not to be named because of protocol considerations confirmed to IRIN that the detained man was Mukulu, who has been subject to an international arrest warrant since February 2011.

“We hope the extradition modalities will be completed soon. He committed various atrocities in Uganda and DRC. He has to face justice,” Henry Okello, Uganda’s state minister for international affairs, told IRIN.

Interpol’s Uganda director Asan Kasingye said DNA tests would be conducted to make certain the arrested man was Mukulu.

Interpol issued a red notice for Mukulu in connection with the June 1998 Kichwamba Technical Institute massacre in the western Ugandan district of Kabarole, in which about 80 students were killed. He also faces charges of human rights abuses, kidnapping and recruitment of minors in both Uganda and DRC.

In January 2014, the DRC army began operations aimed at neutralizing the ADF, whose local and regional business interests include motorcycle taxis, logging and gold mining.

In late 2014, the ADF was blamed for a spate of killing sprees in Beni Territory of eastern DRC’s North Kivu province that claimed the lives of some 250 men women and children. 

Mukulu’s arrest has been welcomed in Uganda, but with caveats. Here’s a sample of reactions.

Stephen Oola, programme manager, conflict, transitional justice and governance at Uganda’s Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project

“The arrest of Jamil Mukulu is a welcome development to the people of Uganda and in particular the population in western part of the country and the greater Rwenzori sub-region who bore the brunt of the ADF insurrections.”

The arrest “opens a new chapter for accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity given [a] recent decision of the Supreme Court …which implies that an insurgent like Jamil who has been arrested can no longer benefit from amnesty.”

“Our hope is that his arrest translates into meaningful justice for the multitude of victims and survivors of this atrocious war.”

Fidel Bafilemba, field research consultant, eastern DRC for the Enough Project

"The arrest of Jamil Mukulu is definitely not the end of ordeal of people in Beni. Nor does the killing of his third deputy [Kalume Kasdha, by the DRC army in late April]. However, both actions mean less evil for unarmed civilians who nonetheless remain prey of rogue officers within the Congolese army.

"Jamil Mukulu deserves a fair trial to shine a light on his criminal network in the region."

Jason Stearns, Congo Research Group at Center on International Cooperation, New York University

“If it is true that Mukulu has been arrested, this will be a huge blow to the ADF. Mukulu has been at the head of the organization for two decades and is its uncontested figurehead.

“This [arrest], along with a strong military offensive by the Congolese army will reduce the group to a shadow of itself. However, I doubt that this is the end of the ADF.

“Over its history, with Mukulu at its helm, the ADF has engaged in crimes against humanity, including burning dozens of students to death in Kabarole district in 1998. His group is also the main suspect for the massacre of over 300 people around Beni since October. Putting Mukulu to trial could not only provide some comfort for victims, but also could shine light on one of the most opaque insurgencies in the region.”

Thierry Vircoulon, International Crisis Group project director Central Africa

“This trans-border armed group requires serious regional intelligence investigations to be dismantled instead of military operations.

“The ADF is living thanks to trans-border trafficking between Uganda and DRC that extends its ramifications in East Africa. The DRC government chose the war path instead of choosing the intelligence path and, as a result, it is back to square one in 2015. The ADF are back to the area where they operated before and they are still murdering innocent villagers.

“The arrest of Jamil Mukulu should be followed by very serious investigations to identify his support network from the DRC to Tanzania and Kenya. The intelligence approach is the best way to understand the local and regional nexus behind these armed groups and to neutralize them.”

Christoph Vogel, Associate Lecturer, Institute for African Studies, University of Cologne

“Once confirmed by the Ugandan and Tanzanian authorities that the suspected individual is Jamil Mukulu, it will be crucial to understand his attempt to flee. While ADF has been weakened significantly and divided in the past months, there was no major indication he [Mukulu] has been dismissed from power over the group’s military wing or … its politico-spiritual council.

“Mukulu’s odyssey to Tanzania can either mean that he has been sacked by his own troops or that at least the wing under his command is simply too decimated to keep up."

so/am