It seems as if nobody in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo can catch a break in life. Areas in the eastern part of the country are suffering from both an Ebola outbreak and militia activity that the government either does not have the ability to arrest, or to which it is giving some tacit approval. Most recently it was a group of Anglican Christians in the Diocese of Bogo that have experienced brutal violence by a militia and lack of action by the government.
On August 23, an attack was reported in the town of Boga, which is in Ituri Province. Over 200 people were taken hostage from the Anglican cathedral. According to the Anglican Ink report by Alison Barfoot, “More than 200 youth, children, and women were abducted, shops were looted, cows stolen, and the Anglican Mission Hospital was looted.” The attacking force was reported to be the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) which is a Ugandan militia group that has recently established ties to the Islamic State. The ADF has been active in the region since 1996.
This terrorist group has been able to maintain a low profile during the decades of conflict that have affected the region since the Rwandan Genocide and the collapse of the Mobutu Government in the mid-1990s. It was during this time, when the international community was focused on the activities of groups such as the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), the government in power during the Genocide; M23, a Congolese militia acting as a proxy for other regional powers and local warlords who took advantage of weak governments in Kinshasa; and the notorious LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) led by the ICC indictee Joseph Kony.
That brings us to the incident which occurred on August 23. Recently the ADF has been more brazen in their attacks in the Congo. In addition, in the view of some analysts, the ADF also have a cell in operation in Mozambique as well. The group has benefited from the lack of governance in Kinshasa .
The strengths of the ADF are its ability to recruit and its financial networks. A watchdog group reported in December 2018 that the group received funds from Waleed Ahmed Zein, a major financier for the Islamic State. This fact does not necessarily provide a direct link between the ADF and the Islamic State. But it does suggest that there is linkage and that together they are working for a common goal: establishing the Caliphate.
One thing that seems to slip under the radar is the lack of accountability that the Kabila government had during its years in power regarding the security situation in the Kivu Provinces and in Ituri. President Tshishsekdi did ask for assistance from the Trump Administration to reign in the militia activity in the east. But the other stakeholders in the conflicts (Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi) also have some responsibility in the unrest in these provinces. This conflict has been allowed to fester for decades.
The brazenness of last week’s attack on the Cathedral and the Anglican Christian community in the Diocese of Bogo will be an attention-getter in the DRC. In addition to the Anglicans, the Roman Catholic Church has a prominent presence in the country. It played an important role during the most recent election cycle.
To see a cathedral come under attack, and to note the disputes over the response, or lack of response, by security forces may place the government as a whole under greater scrutiny. The Congolese government has the responsibility to protect its citizens in the strife-torn region of the country. But at this juncture, their silence is deafening.