Briefing Paper

The Question of Marginalisation and Vulnerability to Violent Extremism in Uganda

Over the years, Uganda has experienced various manifestations of violent extremism which have informed conceptions of violent extremism among the various P/CVE actors. However, unlike others in the region, the Government of Uganda has ostensibly adopted the rhetoric of a broader framing in the language of violation of the national objectives. By broadening its definition, Uganda could possibly avoid the profiling practices of neighbouring countries, such as Kenya, which can undermine the human security of their Muslim populations. It could also potentially provide Ugandans with a political discourse enabling a new form of government accountability relating to human rights violations and discriminatory practices, although some worry that paradoxically the government might instead invoke Uganda’s national principles to justify them. The national framing of violent extremism has led to the government designating four groups as violent extremist organisations in Uganda (or ‘terrorist’ organisations – the preferred terminology): The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), Tablighi/jihadi-Salafists and al-Shabaab. Government responses to these organisations are fundamentally security-focused and largely situated within the government’s broader strategic (arguably rentseeking) behaviour as it relates to global assistance to counter-terrorism. In addition, reflecting a global pattern in Uganda, donors primarily adopt an ideological lens in their understanding of violent extremism. It is certainly the case that ideology has been and is an important aspect of both the LRA’s and the ADF’s militancy, representing, respectively, Christian and Islamic extremism. However, both organisations have also evolved in rapidly changing socio-political contexts, and recent academic studies now characterise them more as organisations fighting for survival more as ‘borderland insurgencies’ than as organisations driven by ideology. Recruitment to these violent organisations is also mediated by the discourse of marginalisation attached to them in northern Uganda and among the country’s Muslim population as explored in this brief.