Since the ouster of former Ugandan President Idi Amin Dada in 1979, elements of his defeated troops crossed into the northern part of North Kivu and Ituri province which neighbor Uganda directly.
Nearly four decades later, the region is the latest theater of a so called jihad by Islamists led by Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces rebels ADF and their partners the National army for the liberation of Uganda (NALU). They form the ADF-Nalu alliance.
Civil society group in north Kivu said last week that 2,850 civilians have been killed in Beni since 2014. In recent months, dozens are killed weekly. Congo’s army FARDC has been fighting to dislodge the ADF rebels, who in turn punish Congolese villagers.
According to the community of Congolese Muslims (COMICO), the ADF found willing sanctuary in the greater North Kivu covering Butembo and Beni on to Ituri, regions which have seen growth of a Muslim community associated with Pakistan and the Tablighi sect.
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi also financed proliferation of mosques in this region from the late 1980s and early 90s.
With the arrival of the UN mission in 1999, Pakistan as second biggest troop contributor to the force now counting over 18,000 troops, eastern Congo will never be the same again.
The Pakistanis have used their command and control of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration program, to aid in the expansion of their brand of Islam in eastern Congo, according to Belgian investigative journalist Colette Braekman.
In her latest publication in Le Soir newspaper, based on interviews with COMICO, sources in regional government and local authors, it is said the Pakistani contingent has built “dozens” of mosques in greater north Kivu and Ituri regions.
The ADF-NALU rebel movement, with money from exploitation of forests in the region and minerals, has made it easy for the Pakistan project to succeed. And their tentacles are going places.
In late 2017, Islamists were said to be taking part in the uprising in northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado. They attacked police stations and, though government says order has been restored, the situation remains tense.
The suspects captured said they were trained in eastern Congo by ADF.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has recently expressed concern over the possible arrival of ISIS in their region. South Africa and Malawi were major contributors to MONUSCO’s force brigade which neutralized M23 rebels.
It is highly unlikely that an airplane load of ISIS members flew into either country, say security experts, but it is quite possible that individual ISIS members have returned to central and southern Africa from Iraq or Syria, bringing with them experience, skills, techniques and tactics, as seems to have happened to an extent in Somalia.
Similarly, guerrillas south of the equator will also learn from those in the Sahel. We must expect the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the northeast of the DRC and the guerrillas in northern Mozambique to adopt some of those techniques and tactics.
Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi had ordered the relocation of his top military Generals to Beni to ensure the ADF are defeated.
Two weeks ago, locals in Beni started protests denouncing MONUSCO and attacked its bases accusing the well-armed troops of not protecting them. A tense calm still remains.