Uganda's Militant Islamic Movement ADF: A Historical Analysis

Article (PDF Available) · December 2016with 560 Reads
Cite this publication
30 Th e An n u A l Re v i e w o f is l A m in Af R i c A is s u e no. 12/13 2015-2016
Uganda’s Militant Islamic
Movement ADF: A Historical
Analysis
Abdulhakim A. Nsobya
University of Cape Town
Introduction
On the morning of Sunday, August 14 2016, armed
assailants raided Rwambongo District in the city
of Beni, in North Kivu province of the Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC) near the Uganda
border. On that occasion, more than fty people
were killed and an unknown number left with
injuries, according to a United
Nations report.1 Six suspects,
including one Ugandan and one
Tanzanian, confessed in front
of the Beni High Court to being
members of a Ugandan rebel
group known as the “Allied
Democratic Forces” (ADF).2
Commenting on the massacre, the head of the
Holy See, Pope Francis, called the reaction of the
international community a “shameful silence.”3
ADF is a rebel group established in the mid-
nineties in opposition to the government of
Uganda, predominantly on the basis of their belief
that the country should adopt sharia law. ADF’s
theology and interpretation of Islam are largely
based on the teachings of the Sala school of
thought. After their establishment, the ADF had
come into the spotlight for a number of violent
incidents, including their attack on a technical
institute in Kabarole District (western Uganda), in
which fty students were burnt in their dormitories
and 150 were abducted.4 Since then, the group has
persisted in carrying out numerous attacks that
target both the army and civilians. The group has
also been linked to a number of terror attacks in
Kampala and to numerous assassinations of Muslim
scholars opposed to their ideology, including a
Shia leader in 2015.5 According to a report released
by the Bureau of Democracy,
Human Rights and Labor of the
US Department of State, a total
of twelve prominent Muslim
scholars have been killed in
Uganda in the past four years
by the ADF.6 In 2015, the ADF
founder and leader Sheik Jamilu
Mukulu, was arrested in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
and extradited to Uganda where he is currently
awaiting trial.7
History of Islam in Uganda
The arrival of Islam in Uganda dates back to 1825in
the north and 1844in the central region.8 In the
north, Islam is believed to have spread thanks to
the stationing of Sudanese soldiers led by Emin
Pasha.9 These soldiers settled in the West Nile sub-
region due to developments in Sudan during the
era of the Mahdi.10 In the central region, historians
trace the roots of Islam to the arrival of traders
from the East African coast. It is said that one of
ADF is a rebel group established in
the mid-nineties in opposition to the
government of Uganda, predominantly
on the basis of their belief that the
country should adopt sharia law.
31
Th e An n u A l Re v i e w o f is l A m in Af R i c A is s u e no. 12/13 2015-2016
the rst Muslim traders to arrive in central Uganda
was Ahmad bin Ibrahim, a moderate Wahhabi
sympathizer who, according to European sources,
introduced Islam to the Buganda King Suuna I.11
In 1856, King SuunaI died before completely
embracing Islam and was subsequently succeeded
by his son Mutesa I. Unlike his father, Mutesa
was keen to adopt the new religion. At the same
time, however, he did not want to abandon his
traditional beliefs. Mutesa was primarily interested
in establishing strong ties with
the Arab traders who had
weapons which could be used
to strengthen his kingdom,
but he also did not want to
lose support from traditional
chiefs.12 Mutesa nally adopted
Islam and publicly identied
himself as a Muslim in the early
1860s. He learnt to read the Quran, studied Arabic,
observed the fast during Ramadan and built a large
mosque in the capital in which he led both the
Friday collective prayers and the daily prayers.
Moreover, he also established a strong relation-
ship with the Sultan of Zanzibar who would send
him different scholars of the Ba‘alawi Su order to
teach him and his subjects. Ba’alawi Tariqa is one
of the Su orders that originated with the Ba’lawi
family in Hadhramawt, Yemen. It was founded by
Sheik Muhammad bin Ba’alawi (d. 1232) in Hadh-
ramawt and spread widely across the rim of the
Indian Ocean. In East Africa it was popularised by
Habib Salih b. Alawi Jaml al-Layl (1844-1935), one
of the Hadhrami Diaspora.13
Using his status as a king and Islamic knowl-
edge from Ba’alawi teachers, Mutesa inuenced
his subjects to embrace Islam and to pray in his
mosque. Thanks to Mutesa’s action, by the late
1860s Islam had become the unofcial state reli-
gion of the Buganda Kingdom, with a signicant
number of converts from the Baganda tribe.14
Mutesa’s rule is remembered as a very autocratic
one. One incident, in particular, is related about a
group of Muslims who had complained to the King
because he had refused to undertake the Muslim
custom of circumcision, due to an old Buganda
custom according to which the blood of a king
should not be shed. When these Muslims refused
to pray behind him, he sentenced them to death
by burning.15
It was while these sorts of controversies were
raging that Europeans arrived in the late 1870s,
bringing with them resources and arms that were
superior in comparison to those from the Arabs.
At that time, Zanzibar had already come under the
indirect control of the British.
Once again, Mutesa welcomed
the new visitors and allowed
them to preach and spread
their religion, Christianity. The
introduction of Christianity
to the kingdom marked the
beginning of religious wars in
the years to come.
In 1884, Mutesa died of small pox. Prior to his
death, religious struggles between Muslims and
Christians had already started in the kingdom.
Muslims and Christians supported different sons of
Mutesa – who had converted to either Christianity
or Islam according to religious afliation.
Eventually Mwanga, a son who had no religious
afliation, took over. Nevertheless, Muslims and
Christians remained in competition. After four
years of Muslim reign in most of the key positions
in the palace, Mwanga was ousted and a Muslim
leader was chosen instead. They then proceeded
to establish a Muslim State, circumcised Kalema,
their king, gave him the title of Sheik and started “a
radical reordering of society along Islamic lines.”16
By the end of 1888, Muslims, who were the largest
group and the most heavily armed, had succeeded
in driving out their Christian (both Protestants and
Catholics) counterparts from the royal court. It was
not too long after this incident that the Christians
sought help from the Europeans, who intervened
by expelling Muslims from Buganda and Kampala.17
The resulting battle left scores of Muslims dead and
many others arrested, and their property burnt to
ashes. Just two years of Muslim rule in Buganda had
left a legacy of misery in the Muslim community.18
By the end of 1888, Muslims, who were
the largest group and the most heavily
armed, had succeeded in driving out
their Christian (both Protestants and
Catholics) counterparts from the
royal court.
ug A n d A s miliTAnT is l A m i c mo v e m e n T Adf
32 Th e An n u A l Re v i e w o f is l A m in Af R i c A is s u e no. 12/13 2015-2016
The Muslims who survived regrouped in the
kingdom of Bunyoro, a separately ruled region and
the main rival to the Buganda kingdom (modern-
day Western Uganda), with support from Bunyoro’s
king Kabalega. Upon learning this, Captain F.
Lugard (d. 1945), a military administrator in the
British Protectorate of Uganda from 1890 to 1892,
advised King Mwanga to immediately return the
exiled Muslims. This was largely due to the fear that
they might unite with foreign ghters from Sudan
after Britain had succeeded
in blocking the expansion of
Egypt up the river Nile in 1900,
making Buganda one of the
British protectorates.19
British authorities viewed
Islam as a threat to their
interests; the outcome of this was
that all the inuential positions
in the country prior to and after independence
fell into the hands of educated Christians. The loss
of their powerful status within the ruling class,
coupled with a lack of western education led to a
shift in the social and economic status of Muslims.
They largely resorted to work as butchers, taxi
and bus drivers, and shop-keepers. At the time
Uganda gained its independence in 1962, there
were only two Muslims with bachelor’s degrees in
the country, the late Abubakar K. Mayanja (1929-
2005) and Ally K. Kirunda (b. 1935).20
The colonial government also implemented the
famous Buganda agreement of 1900, which gave
land to chiefs and Christians, but left Muslims out.
In this agreement, Muslims were only allocated
one small, impoverished and arid county out
of the eighteen which were distributed. This
discrimination denied Muslims access to wealth
and socio-economic development and sowed
widespread ill-feeling towards their fellow
countrymen and the government.21 Muslims
became “second class citizens”22 under subsequent
governments following their failed attempt to
establish a state controlled along Islamic lines.
The situation continued in the same direction
until the rise of General Idi Amin in 1971.
The coming to power of Idi Amin was seen by
Muslims in Uganda as a second chance to regain
their glory. Amin took over power through a
coup-d’état and immediately changed the politics
of the country. One of the earliest points in his
agenda as a Muslim president was to redress the
religious imbalances created by both colonial and
post-colonial governments. He started by forming
an umbrella organisation called Uganda Muslim
Supreme Council (UMSC) and putting all Muslim
groups under its authority.23
Islamic education was also
promoted, contrary to the
policies of the previous regimes.
The regime laid the foundation
for the establishment of the
Islamic University in Uganda
(IUIU), the Uganda Muslim
Education Association (UMEA),
and various Muslim teachers’ training colleges
and schools. The Uganda Muslim Supreme Council
was given a twelve-acre prime plot in the middle
of the capital city. Construction of its headquarters
commenced immediately with the support of King
Feisal (d.1975) of Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, during Amin’s rule, with its ofcial
Muslim population of less than six percent,24
Uganda became a member of the Organisation of
the Islamic Conference (OIC), which allowed the
country to receive nancial assistance to build
mosques, schools and clinics. Important to note is
also King Feisal’s visit in 1972, which strengthened
the relationship between Uganda and the Kingdom
of Saudi Arabia, an alliance that opened up the
doors for young Muslim students to study at the
Islamic University in Medina.25
On the whole, Amin’s era was the time for
Muslims to ourish again in Uganda. Conversion
to Islam by soldiers was encouraged and highly
praised by the president. Every year, mawlid (the
anniversary of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday)
celebrations were ofcially organised under
the patronage of special envoys from the army.
Reports were brought to the President from the
various mawlid celebrations with lists of new
One of the worst incidents of post-coup
anti-Muslim violence occurred on 26
June, 1979, when a mob of Christians
armed with spears, knives and ropes,
rounded up Muslims in western Uganda
and tied their hands behind their backs.
AR T i c l e s
33
Th e An n u A l Re v i e w o f is l A m in Af R i c A is s u e no. 12/13 2015-2016
converts.26 On April 11, 1978, however, Amin’s rule
came to an end when he was ousted by Tanzanian
troops backed by some Ugandans in exile, in
what is locally known (in Christian circles) as the
liberation war.27
“We have nished the stem [i.e. Idi Amin],
the branches [i.e. the Muslims] are yours.” This
statement was attributed to the ghters who
ousted Amin,28 which illustrates the level of
animosity among religious groups that was felt
in the country. One of the worst incidents of
post-coup anti-Muslim violence occurred on 26
June, 1979, when a mob of Christians armed with
spears, knives and ropes, rounded up Muslims
in western Uganda and tied
their hands behind their backs.
The attackers said they were
working under the command
of then Minister of Defence
Yoweri Museveni (the current
president of Uganda at the
time this article was written),
as a revenge for the atrocities
committed by Amin.29 The men were then
assembled at River Rwizi in western Uganda,
where they were mercilessly butchered, with an
Imam’s head being cut into three pieces before
being thrown into the river.30 Among those who
were killed on that day was a woman, Madiya
Natende, who was seven months pregnant. Her
stomach was ripped open and she was thrown into
the water in front of her mother, who survived by
throwing herself into the river.31 Between March
and June 1979, a total of 67 Muslims were killed in
the sparsely populated Sheema district of western
Uganda.32
In northern parts of the country, such as in
the district of Arua, similar carnage occurred.
The victims were not only Muslims, but believed
to be part of the Kakwa tribe, of which Amin
was also part. The most widely documented
incident is the Ombaci massacre, for which a
truth and reconciliation program has recently
been commenced.33 During this incident, soldiers
under the orders of the leaders of the coup raided
various West Nile villages, and Arua in particular,
killing whoever they found hiding. They then
sought those who had taken refuge at the St.
Joseph Community College and at the adjacent
church. More than 2,000 people were massacred
thereby random ring and torture. In this climate
of violence, many Ugandan Muslims went into
exile in the forests of Zaire (today’s Democratic
Republic of Congo), from where they only started
to return in the late 1980s and early 1990s.34
Setting the Stage for the ADF
Amidst the political turmoil of the post-Amin years,
some Muslim youths who had travelled overseas
in the Middle East to carry
out studies in Islamic sciences
started to return to the country,
mostly from Saudi Arabia, but
also from Egypt and Sudan. The
returnees seemed to be more
vibrant and ready to articulate
their newly acquired knowledge
and identity not only to Muslims
but also to those in power.
Most of them had also been exposed to the
Sala doctrine and preached a strict form of
Islam which had not been known in the country
before.35
Sala is an Arabic word which carries a prior
meaning. Followers of this trend claim to be
Tabi‘un, or successors of the rst three generations
of Muslims. They preach strict adherence to the
Quran and hadith and persistently reject any
interpretations that conict with their “pious
ancestors” (al-Salaf al-Salih). They strongly criticise
Susm and all its practices, particularly ones such
as veneration of tombs, celebration of Prophet
Muhammad’s birthday (mawlid), music, taking
pictures of humans, and following the Islamic
legal schools.36
In the 1980s, the country also witnessed the
arrival of Jamaat al-Tabligh. The Tabligh movement
originates from the Deobandi school of Indo-
Pakistan. Their preaching is mainly directed at
grass-root Muslims to ‘correct’ their practices and
Among those who were killed on that
day was a woman, Madiya Natende, who
was seven months pregnant. Her stomach
was ripped open and she was thrown into
the water in front of her mother, who
survived by throwing herself
into the river.
ug A n d A s miliTAnT is l A m i c mo v e m e n T Adf
34 Th e An n u A l Re v i e w o f is l A m in Af R i c A is s u e no. 12/13 2015-2016
bring them in line with the sunna. The movement
requires its male members to leave their homes in
small groups for varying periods of time in order
to proselytize.37 Although the Sala and Deobandi
schools have substantial differences, many Salas
in Uganda became activists within the ranks of
the Tabligh movement, later parting ways to start
their own movement.38
Another phenomenon that
occurred in the years immedi-
ately following the deposition
of Amin was the fragmentation
of Muslim leadership in the
country. As the UMSC was basi-
cally Amin’s own project, it col-
lapsed almost after his unseat-
ing.39 After numerous court bat-
tles between different Muslim
factions (including traditional Sunnis, Sus, Ta-
blighis and Salas), each claiming to be the legiti-
mate leaders of Ugandan Muslims, the nal ruling
was made against the Salas. This event was the
catalyst that transformed the rst generation of
reformist Salas in Uganda, led by those who had
studied abroad, into a full-edged radical Islamist
movement.40
Exploiting the fragmentation of the Muslim
political and religious leadership, on 22 March,
1991, about 1,000 Muslim youths attacked
the UMSC headquarters and took it over. The
attackers claimed that they wanted to rescue
Muslim independence from government interests
and to purify the national mosque from the
leadership of non-Muslims – by which they meant
the leaders of the Su orders who controlled the
UMSC. The government responded by sending
armed military.41 At the end of the confrontation,
four policemen and one Sala activist were killed,
and more than 400 Sala activists were arrested,
including one of their leaders, Jamilu Mukulu.
Other leaders, like Sheik Yunusu Kamoga and
Sheik Abdulkarim Sentamu, ed into exile in
fear of being arrested.42 This event set the stage
for the formation of the Allied Democratic Forces
(ADF).43
The Aftermath
Prior to the UMSC attack and the arrests of Sala
youths, their leader Yunusu Kamoga had addressed
them in a long talk that lasted from zuhr (the noon
prayer) to asr (the afternoon prayer) prayers, from
approximately1pm-4pm.44 In the address, Kamoga
had appealed to the angry youths to “sacrice their
lives to what is believed to [be]
correct and right, irrespective
of the outcome.”45
An essential recruitment tool
for the Ugandan Sala leaders
was to remind their followers
of all the injustices endured by
the Muslim community. Jamilu
Mukulu, for instance, produced
a popular cassette entitled,
Okuta kwa basilaam mu Ankole
(“Muslim Massacre in Ankole”). This tape of about
thirty minutes narrates the incident of Ankole,
concluding with a call for Muslims to avenge the
blood of their brothers. For years, this cassette
has been available for sale in Kampala, until the
government banned the selling and consuming of
Mukulu’s audiotapes.46
After his arrest in the aftermath of the UMSC
attack, Mukulu spent three years in prison with
some of his followers. It is during his reclusion that
the plan to ght the government was elaborated.47
At his release, Mukulu found that new Sala leaders
like Sheik Sulaiman Kakeeto had charted a new
path for the Sala movement in Uganda. Kakeeto
had denounced violence and helped establish
the Sala movement as an autonomous religious
group with its own mosque.48 Mukulu immediately
denounced Kakeeto’s moderate policies, and in
August 1992 formed his own movement, the Sala
Foundation, which initially drew followers from
youths who had spent time in prison with him.49
During their debates, Mukulu further accused
Kakeeto of misusing the money which was earlier
sent by a Saudi philanthropist to cover the legal
expenses of the incarcerated youths.50
Faithful to his objective of disseminating
“correct Islamic beliefs and practice”, and to work
Faithful to his objective of disseminating
“correct Islamic beliefs and practice”,
and to work towards establishing an
Islamic social, moral and political order
entirely guided by the sharia, Mukulu
put his recruitment plan into action and
formed “a militant group with the view
of overthrowing Museveni’s government.”
AR T i c l e s
This research hasn't been cited in any other publications.
  • 38576-kayihura-tired-as-another-muslim- cleric-is-murdered on 22See also: Uganda Police Annual Crime Report Leader of Shia Muslims in Uganda shot deadAccessed from http
    July 2015. Accessed from http://www.observer.ug/news- headlines/38576-kayihura-tired-as-another-muslim- cleric-is-murdered on 22 October 2016.See also: Uganda Police Annual Crime Report 2014,http://ugfacts.com/ wp-content/uploads/2016/05/R_P_annual_report_2014. pdf p.7. 70 Charles Kakamwa, " Leader of Shia Muslims in Uganda shot dead, " New Vision, 26 December 2014.Accessed from http:// www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1318115/ leader-shia-muslims-uganda-shot-deadon 7 September 2016.
  • Islam and the English Language in East and West Africa
    • Ali Mazrui
    Ali Mazrui, "Islam and the English Language in East and West Africa," in Wilfrend H. Whiteley (ed.), Language Use and Social Change (Oxford University Press, 1971);
  • ADF recruiting in Kampala, says defector New Vision Accessed from http
    • Steven Candia
    71 Steven Candia, ADF recruiting in Kampala, says defector, " New Vision, 11 April 2013. Accessed from http://www. newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1317119/adf- recruiting-kampala-defector on 8 September 2016.
  • 13 For a detailed account of the Ba'alawi order in East Africa, see Islamic reform in East Africa, ca. 1870- 1925: the Alawi case, " a paper presented at the workshop Reasserting connections, commonalities, and cosmopolitanism: the western Indian ocean since 1800
    • Anne K David Robinson
    • Bang
    David Robinson, Muslim Societies in African History: New Approaches to African History, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 158. 13 For a detailed account of the Ba'alawi order in East Africa, see; Anne K. Bang, " Islamic reform in East Africa, ca. 1870- 1925: the Alawi case, " a paper presented at the workshop Reasserting connections, commonalities, and cosmopolitanism: the western Indian ocean since 1800 at Yale University, 2000, p. 17-24; see also Anne K Bang, Sufis and Scholars of the Sea: Family Networks in East Africa, 1860-1925 (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003), p. 13 -15; and Ali Aziz, Religion and Mysticism in Early Islam: Theology and Sufism in Yemen (New York: I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, 2011).
  • The Tanzania Invasion of Uganda: A Just War?
    • G Daniel
    • Acheson-Brown
    Daniel G. Acheson-Brown, 2001. "The Tanzania Invasion of Uganda: A Just War?" International Third World Studies Journal and Review, 12 (2001), pp. 1-11, p.9.
  • We've Never Tortured Jamilu Mukulu– Police Chimp Reports Accessed from http
    • Sam Waswa
    Sam Waswa, " We've Never Tortured Jamilu Mukulu– Police, " Chimp Reports, 7 September 2016. Accessed from http://www.chimpreports.com/weve-never-torturedjamilu-mukulu-police/ on 8 September 2016.
  • Salafism and Islamism: who is the enemy? Conflict Forum Monograph Global Salafism: Islam's new religious movement
    • Ahmad Moussalli
    • Wahabism
    Ahmad Moussalli, " Wahabism, Salafism and Islamism: who is the enemy? " Conflict Forum Monograph, 2009, p. 1-39; also for a detailed account of Salafism see, Roel Meijer (ed.), Global Salafism: Islam's new religious movement (London: Hurst & Company, 2009).
  • Leader of Shia Muslims Shot Dead New VisionAccessed from http://www. newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1318115/leader-shia- muslims-uganda-shot-dead on
    • Charles Kakamwa
    Charles Kakamwa, " Leader of Shia Muslims Shot Dead, " New Vision, December 26 2014.Accessed from http://www. newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1318115/leader-shia- muslims-uganda-shot-dead on 7 September 2016.
  • Chapter
    The emergence of Islamic radicalism in East Africa in recent decades is fired by a vision of the universal umma, the commonwealth of all believers over time and space. This radicalism is in some sense an attempt to recover this community vision of Islam. It is motivated by an impulse to influence other Muslims, as well as to reform their practices to bring them in line with scriptural Islam. This desire for reform to reconstruct local understanding of Islam has caused a massive internal struggle against the accepted or ingrained popular mind-set. It reflects both Islam's entrenchment in the region and tensions within the Muslim community that in fact mark the end of the period of religious tolerance of local Islam.1. © 2000 by Nehemia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels. All rights reserved.