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Tuesday 23rd of November 2021

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The political history of the Swahili city-states (600-1863AD): Maritime commerce and architecture of a cosmopolitan African culture @rhaplord

Dotted along the east African coast are hundreds of urban settlements perched on the foreshore, their whitewashed houses of coral rag masonry crowd around a harbor where seagoing dhows are tied, between these settlements are ruins of palaces, mosques, fortresses, tombs and houses; the remains of a once sprawling civilization that tied the African interior with the Indian ocean world.

"Swahili" is one of the most recognizable terms in African culture and history, first as a bantu language -that is one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa with over 100 million speakers- and secondly as a city-state civilization and culture that dominated the 3,000 km long east African coast from Mogadishu in southern Somalia to Sofala northern Mozambique.

The origins of the Swahili city-states are dated to the middle of the 1st millennium AD following the last expansion of the bantu speakers between 100-350 AD that involved small populations of farming and fishing communities who were drawn to the coast from the surrounding interior.

These "proto-Swahili" communities grew sorghum and millet and subsisted on fish, their architecture was daub and wattle rectilinear houses, a few engaged in long distance trade especially at Unguja Ukuu (on Zanzibar) and Qanbalu (on Pemba) in the early 7th century, by the turn of the 11th century, a number of these villages had grown into sizeable settlements on the archipelagos of Lamu, Kilwa (in Kenya and Tanzania) and Comoros, in the Benadir region of southern Somalia, at Sofala in northern Mozambique and Mahilaka in northern Madagascar. Maritime long-distance trade, while small, begun to increase significantly, a number of local elites adopted Islam and a few timber and mud mosques were built beginning with shanga in 780AD these were later rebuilt with coral stone at 900AD. From the 12th century onwards, Swahili urban settlements rapidly grew across the coast and nearby islands, state-level societies based on elected elders chosen by a council of the waungwana (elite families) were firmly established on Mogadishu, Kilwa, Zanzibar, Lamu, Mombasa, Barawa, etc, some of the rulers of these city-states took on the title sultan and aggressively competed with other Swahili cities to dominate the increasingly lucrative maritime and overland trade especially in gold from great Zimbabwe, ivory from the interior and the grain-producing agricultural hinterlands and islands. Iron and cloth industries in the cities expanded and substantial construction in coral-stone architecture was undertaken.

During this time, the ruling elites of the Swahili city states begun to firmly integrate themselves within the wider Islamic world and define their relationships between each other by creating an origin myth for the prominent Swahili cities. This origin myth narrates a story in which a prince (or a princess for the matrilineal Comorians) named Ali, sailed (or fled) from his home in Shiraz in Persia due to his maternal Ethiopian ancestry, he is said to have founded Kilwa, while his brothers (or his seven sons) founded six other towns (the exact list of these towns varies). The oldest version of this origin myth was recorded in the 16th century Kilwa chronicle, subsequent versions would then be written or narrated much later in dozens of cities in the late 19th and early 20th century local chronicles and collections of oral traditions with significant variations in the gender of the founder, the origins of the founders (Shungwaya, Syria and Yemen) and the cities they are claimed to have founded. while early historians first took these origin myths at face value, recent work by archaeologists and linguists has rendered that old simplistic interpretation untenable in light of the overwhelming evidence in favor of autochthonous development that has led them to interpret this mythical origin as representing the tendency of many Swahili to invent conspicuous genealogies for themselves and a way for the Swahili elite to legitimize their Islamic identity by tracing the origins of their founders to Muslim heartlands -which is a common phenomena among Muslim societies across the world. The so-called shirazi and their dynasties were according to the historian Randal Pouwels: "the Swahili par excellence, those original 'people of the coast’ that comprised the original social core of recognized local kin groups, whose claims to residence in their coastal environs were putatively the most ancient". The Swahili constructed their identity against later Arab interlopers whom they considered intrusive and often held in negative regard; sentiments that are expressed in both their literature and traditions.

The term Shirazi (wa-shirazi) was thus used endonymously as a distinctive (self) designation by the people of the coast now known as Swahili. 

The term Swahili on the other hand is exonymous, being derived from the Arabic word for coast, it was first used by Arab writers to refer to the area within the bilad al-zanj (land of the zanj) which they described as beginning at Mogadishu and ending at Sofala

The center/heartland of the zanj was located on the Pemba island by Ibn Said (d. 1275AD) and later by ibn Battuta (visited 1331AD).

It was during this so-called "wa-shirazi era" that the Swahili cities were at their peak roughly from 1000-1500AD. 

This golden age ended by the time the Portuguese interlopers arrived in 1498, their predations along the coast and the sack of Kilwa, Mogadishu and Mombasa and brief occupation led to the rapid deterioration of the cities' wealth and the abandonment of several towns, a period of political upheaval followed as multiple imperial powers notably the Ottomans and Omani Arabs, tried to lay claim on the cities while the latter played each of these powers against the other; a number of Swahili cities remained independent until the 19th century when they increasingly came under Omani suzerainty, culminating with the fall of Siyu in 1863.

This article focuses on prominent Swahili cities for each period and weaves their individual threads down to the Omani occupation in the 19th century.

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@WHO Weekly epidemiological update on COVID-19 - 16 November 2021

During the week 8 to 14 November 2021, the increasing trend in new global weekly cases continued, with over 3.3 million new cases reported – a 6% increase as compared to the previous week. 

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COVID-19 infections are still rising in 58 countries. @ReutersGraphics

17 countries are still near the peak of their infection curve

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The market has three rate hikes priced in for 2022. @biancoresearch
World Of Finance

June hike = 79%
2nd hike in Sept = 69%
3rd hike = 64%

The odds of a May rate hike, before the taper is done (unless they speed it up) is now 47%!

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.3387
Dollar Index 96.576
Japan Yen 115.08
Swiss Franc 0.9329
Pound 1.3387
Aussie 0.7218
India Rupee 74.514
South Korea Won 1188.975
Brazil Real 5.5871
Egypt Pound 15.7093
South Africa Rand 15.8688

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WHO regional overviews Epidemiological week 8-14 November 2021 African Region .@WHO

The case incidence rates in the African Region have continued to decline since July, with a 33% decrease reported as compared to the previous week. 

However, 31% (15/49) of the countries in the region reported an increase of >10% in new cases as compared to the previous week

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Africa is currently reporting a million new infections about every 89 days @ReutersGraphics

All countries are currently below the peak of their infection curve.

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African nations mend and make do as China tightens Belt and Road @Reuters

Deep in Kenya's Great Rift Valley, members of the National Youth Service tirelessly swing machetes to clear dense shrubs obscuring railway tracks more than a century old.
It's a distinctly low-tech phase for China's Belt and Road drive in Africa to create the trade highways of the future.

There's not enough money left to complete the new 1,000-km super-fast rail link from the port of Mombasa to Uganda. It ends abruptly in the countryside, 468 km short of the border, and now Kenya is resorting to finishing the route by revamping the 19th-century colonial British-built tracks that once passed that way.

China has lent African countries hundreds of billions of dollars as part of President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which envisaged Chinese institutions financing the bulk of the infrastructure in mainly developing nations. Yet the credit has dried up in recent years.
On top of the damage wrought to both China and its creditors by COVID-19, analysts and academics attribute the slowdown to factors such as a waning appetite in Beijing for large foreign investments, a commodity price crash that has complicated African debt servicing, plus some borrowers' reluctance to enter lending deals backed by their natural resources.

"We are not in the go-go period anymore," Adam Tooze, a Columbia University historian, said about China's overseas investment projects

"There is definitely a rebalancing from the China side," said Tooze, whose new book Shutdown examines how COVID-19 affected the world economy, adding that Beijing's current account surplus was "dwindling somewhat".
Chinese investments in the 138 countries targeted by BRI slid 54% from 2019 to $47 billion last year, the lowest amount since the BRI was unveiled in 2013, according to Green BRI, a China-based think-tank that focuses on analysing the initiative.
In Africa, home to 40 of those BRI nations, Chinese bank financing for infrastructure projects fell from $11 billion in 2017 to $3.3 billion in 2020, according to a report by international law firm Baker McKenzie.
This is a blow for governments who were anticipating securing Chinese loans to build highways and rail lines linking landlocked countries to sea ports and trade routes to Asia and Europe. 

The continent is facing an estimated annual infrastructure investment deficit of around $100 billion, according to the African Development Bank.
"The pandemic has actually made things worse. Those numbers will go up," said Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the bank, citing the need for additional infrastructure to support health services.
Hold-ups have hit some other BRI projects across the continent, such as a $3 billion Nigerian rail project and a $450 million highway in Cameroon.
China's ministry of foreign affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
Beijing officials have said that the two sides have a mutually beneficial and cooperative relationship and that lending is done openly and transparently.
"When providing interest-free loans and concessional loans, we fully consider the debt situation and repayment capacity of the recipient countries in Africa, and work in accordance with the law," Zhou Liujun, vice chairman of China International Development Cooperation Agency told reporters in late October.
Another Chinese official, who declined to be named as they are not authorised to speak to the media, said Beijing always intended to implement BRI gradually to manage debt default risks by countries or projects.
Officials in Kenya said its rail route were long-term projects that would be seen through over time, without giving any specific timeframe. 

The COVID-19 has presented the world with unforeseen and unprecedented challenges, they added.
"Eventually, this standard gauge railway will still be complete because it is part of what we call the Belt and Road Initiative," said James Macharia, Kenya's transport minister.
The government has already spent about $5 billion on its new rail link, and can't currently afford the additional $3.7 billion needed to finish it. The last station hooked up is only accessible by dirt roads.
Hence engineers in the Rift Valley are no longer building new infrastructure, but rather shoring up colonial-era viaducts and bridges in an operation that the government estimates will cost about 10 billion shillings ($91 million).
There are knock-on effects and, over the border in Uganda, construction on a modern railway line has been delayed because it's supposed to link to the Kenyan one.
That has been one factor in the hold-up in a $2.2 billion loan from the Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank), David Mugabe, spokesperson for Uganda's Standard Gauge Railway project, told Reuters.
In Nigeria, the government turned to London-headquartered Standard Chartered Bank (STAN.L) this year to finance the $3 billion railway project initially slated to receive Chinese backing. 

Standard Chartered declined to comment on the deal, citing confidentiality agreements.
In Cameroon, the $450 million highway linking the capital Yaounde and the economic hub of Douala, whose funding was secured from China's Exim Bank in 2012, stalled in 2019 as the bank stopped disbursing further tranches of the loan.
Exim Bank did not respond to a request for comment on its loans to Uganda and Cameroon.
Zhou Yuyuan, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for West Asian and African Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said the COVID-19 crisis had strained Chinese lending institutions and African finances alike.
In future, he added, Beijing was likely to encourage more corporate Chinese investment in the continent, to fill the role of state-backed financing. 

"Once the pandemic is over, Africa's economy is likely to recover," he said. "That could drive China's corporate investment."
The pandemic has added to the obstacles facing President Xi's self-described "project of the century". 

After peaking at $125.25 billion in 2015, Chinese investments into BRI nations have dropped every year, apart from 2018, when they edged up 6.7%, the Green BRI data showed.
In 2018, Pakistan balked at the cost and the financing terms of building a railway. 

The previous year, there were signs of growing problems for BRI, after China's push in Sri Lanka sparked protests.
AidData, a research lab at the College of William and Mary in the United States, said in a study at the end of September that $11.58 billion in projects in Malaysia had been cancelled over 2013-2021, with nearly $1.5 billion cancelled in Kazakhstan and more than a $1 billion in Bolivia.
"A growing number of policymakers in low and middle-income countries are mothballing high-profile BRI projects because of overpricing, corruption and debt sustainability concerns," said Brad Parks, one of the study's authors.
China's foreign ministry said in response to the AidData report that "not all debts are unsustainable", adding that since its launch the BRI had "consistently upheld principles of shared consultation, shared contributions and shared benefits".
A key problem is debt sustainability.
Copper producer Zambia became Africa's first pandemic-era sovereign default last year after failing to keep up with payments on more than $12 billion of international debt, for example.

 A recent study suggested more than half of that burden is owed to Chinese public and private lenders.
In late 2018, Beijing agreed to restructure billions of dollars in debt owed by Ethiopia.
Some African governments are also growing more reluctant to take out loans backed commodities such as oil and metals.
"We can't mortgage our oil," Uganda's works and transport minister Katumba Wamala told Reuters, confirming the country had refused to pledge untapped oil in fields in the west to secure the railway loan.
The finance squeeze means African governments must make more strategic investment decisions in terms of debt sustainability, said Yvette Babb, a Netherlands-based fixed income portfolio manager at William Blair.
"There is no infinite amount of capital," she said.

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9 APR 20 :: The End of Vanity China Africa Win Win

To quote a Chinese saying, "The ocean is vast because it rejects no rivers."

"The red rising sun will light up the road ahead." 

Interestingly, At that 2018 FOCAC Meeting Xi Jinping also delivered a thinly veiled warning
China's Xi says funds for Africa not for 'vanity projects' Reuters #FOCAC2018
Our African Leaders did not take notes and that Warning was missed.

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Four scenarios and the funeral(s): Ethiopian powder keg is ready to explode in tragic ways @dailymaverick

The war is marching closer to Addis at a fair lick. Just 10 days earlier, with the fall of the city of Dessie, the front was 300km from Addis. There is little evidence of a government plan to stop the advance by the rebel Tigray Defense Forces.

“Give a small man a big gun,” said the ambassador, “and he will prove he is a small man”.

I was reminded of this aphorism in navigating 11 checkpoints on the 145km northwest from Addis Ababa to the civil war’s front just beyond the Amharic city of Debre Berhan. 

At each one we were stopped by a man with a gun, sometimes Oromia or Amhara militia, depending on whose territory the section of road criss-crossed, sometimes local or federal police, and a couple of times, by a mixed group of Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) soldiers and plainclothes intelligence officers.
It was the latter, just outside the town of Debre Sina, that gave us the hardest time. 

The war is marching closer to Addis at a fair lick. Just 10 days earlier, with the fall of the city of Dessie, the front was 300km from Addis. 

There was little evidence from our route of a government plan to stop the advance by the rebel Tigray Defense Forces (TDF). 

All the signs are, so far, that — surprise, surprise — the TDF has simply gone around most ENDF positions and continued virtually unabated on its mission to unseat the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.  
Addis abounds with stories about Turkish and Iranian drones, and Israeli and Chinese weapons. 

There is talk about new arms imports which are going to turn the tide in the favour of the government.
But the only technology seen on our road-trip was the AK-47, a hotch-potch variety of generally badly fitting uniforms, the ubiquitous Toyota Land Cruiser (Africa’s war technology of choice) with young men hanging manically on to RPD machine guns propped on their roofs, and a new development: the mud-smeared white pickup, the latest in washable camouflage patterning. 

No heavy weaponry, no helicopters, no artillery, no prepared emplacements beyond ropes across the highway, not even on the run-up to Debre Sina, 10km from the latest fighting, and the most likely defensive position before the run into Addis itself.   

At every checkpoint, we were asked for our identity documents, and the reason for our travel. 

My two companions had recently done the route several times in consular support of their nationals.
It made for slow going, the 280km round trip taking 7½ hours, including one checkpoint on entry to Addis where we queued for 90 minutes, only to shuffle on to the last one where we experienced, again, the full treatment: out of the car, frisked and all bags searched. (I did consider offering a copy of my latest book to boost sales, but then thought better of it.)
Abiy’s plan, if there is one, is to continue his belligerent rhetoric imploring sacrifice (of others) in the name of an uncertain vision which seems to be based around not returning the country to the type of rule of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a Tigrayan, who died in 2012 after nearly 20 years in charge, during which time the TPLF gained a disproportionate share of political power and economic opportunities.    
Addis’ analysts are also agog at how quickly the ENDF has collapsed. Like the Taliban advance towards Kabul, the TDF has, just as it did 30 years ago in ending the rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, outperformed Abiy’s troops on the battlefield and, especially, in the media.
The ENDF is seemingly a spent force.  

It is surprising that Abiy, a former military officer, does not have a particularly workable plan for war. Muddy camouflage won’t wash it. But then again, the prime minister is famous for his self-belief. 

This may also help to explain why, for all of the help and willingness of outsiders from the African Union to conflict resolution experts, Abiy lacks a plan for peace. 

Never mind that he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018. He is not the first mistake the Nobel committee has made and probably, on that committee’s seeming inability for self-reflection, won’t be the last.  
Abiy first totally pissed off the Tigrayans in rolling back to the Meles years, a fall-out which he might have survived given that they amount to just 6% of the population, had he not done the same to the Oromia (over a third of the population) and then upped the stakes by siding with Amharic nationalists, who are essentially against nearly everyone else. 

He also managed to upset the Sudanese and Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and then trumped it all by relying on arch-enemy Eritrea to slap the Tigrayans down militarily in November last year. 

He then rubbed salt into ethnic wounds by dispossessing and detaining Tigrayans in a bout of ethnic business-cleansing in Addis, and in locking up the Oromia leadership.  

In fact, if anything, Dr Abiy (he, remarkably, has a doctorate from the Institute for Peace and Security Studies in Addis) has stepped into all the imaginable potholes present in a peace-making process — 

holding unrealistic objectives, resorting to belligerent rhetoric, running interference to ensure a staccato rather than a constant peace process, mediation “shopping”, working against rather than with the grain of international actors, and openly failing to see his opponent’s position, strengths and weaknesses and acting on them. 

All of this is fine, of course, if the objective is to buy time; which is useful only if there is time to buy for a winnable war-fighting strategy.

At Debre Sina, the single-lane A2 climbs to over 3,000m through several small tunnels, to an escarpment that looks over the town of Shewa Robit, where fighting had erupted the morning of our journey. 

A larger concentration of military and militia barred our further progress, and despite our protestations, we were ordered to turn around. 

Once we had done so, we were immediately stopped again for questioning by a member of the National Intelligence Service and told to follow him and a hapless policeman to Debre Berhan where we were detained for further interrogation. 

My colleagues explained that we were searching for one of their citizens, “Sergio”, working for an international NGO, who had gone missing. 

Eventually they tired of us — there was a war to fight after all — and having snapped all our IDs on their phones, and openly wondering what the hell a South African was doing among this lot, let us go back to Addis. They were, at best, a little twitchy.  

Four scenarios are now possible.
In the first, the international community gets behind an African peace deal, enabled by Abiy taking immediate symbolic de-escalatory steps, including opening humanitarian access to Tigray, turning back on telecoms, banking and electricity services to the province, and speaking out publicly against Eritrean occupation.
This might, in a long shot, halt the war, but it is unlikely to save Abiy. It is difficult to negotiate from a position of weakness.  
In the second scenario, suddenly bolstered by fresh international weaponry, the ENDF performs a miracle, and holds on, stopping the TDF and its allies from coming into Addis, the stalemate being followed up, in a positive outcome, by a peace process and a final settlement through a national dialogue.
More likely such a stalemate links to a third scenario, in which the Eritreans distract the TDF’s advance by re-invading Tigray, forcing the TDF’s retreat back up the road to defend their homeland to Ethiopia’s north. 

This TDF reaction is not certain, however. Rather Asmara’s further involvement might cause them to launch an all-out no holds barred offensive on Addis, perhaps expedited by closer collaboration with the Oromo Liberation Army. 

Any further Eritrean intervention, whatever the short-term military consequences, will almost certainly lead to greater longer-term inter-communal violence and possibly even the dissolution of today’s modern version of the Ethiopian state.

If the Eritreans step in, what happens?
There is evidence to suggest that its president, Isaias Afwerki, has good reason to fear the reaction of his own generals to what will be an inevitably brutally bloody and possibly politically fatal struggle as much as the increasing international opprobrium that would surely result. 

This leads to a fourth, final scenario, that Addis falls, and probably sooner rather than later.  
The question is, what then? The Tigrayans will, if they are as smart as they profess to be, not seek to return to the past, save taking back their businesses, but will set about creating a national dialogue that will enable power-sharing with legitimate Oromia and other leadership, and a fairer distribution of resources. 

Any failure to take this mature approach can only seed yet another conflict.
The ball is still in Abiy’s court, but only just. 

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If the TDF makes it up the escarpment, it’s a flat run into Addis. (Photo: Greg Mills) @dailymaverick

February 1st 2021 ‘The genie out of the bottle’ @AfricanBizMag

“Everybody else is going to start wanting more freedom within the constitution. It’s impossible for the state to manage a guerrilla war up there and at the same time manage to control the rest of the country. If he put more resources into Tigray he’s going to lose more control of the other regions.''
“There’s no hope for him. If he has a fair election he will lose full stop.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.

9-JUL-2021 :: His Army has been defeated and now he is sending conscripts to slaughter whilst his Adversaries are fighting for their existence.

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PM Abiy threw an ill-trained peasant army against a battle-hardened, formidable army with an iron will to fight and expected to win - @RAbdiAnalyst @SeweS_

November 8, 2020 .@PMEthiopia has launched an unwinnable War on Tigray Province.

Ethiopia which was once the Poster child of the African Renaissance now has a Nobel Prize Winner whom I am reliably informed

PM Abiy His inner war cabinet includes Evangelicals who are counseling him he is "doing Christ's work"; that his faith is being "tested". @RAbdiAnalyst

@PMEthiopia has launched an unwinnable War on Tigray Province.

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JUN-2019 :: Hugh Masekela said I want to be there when the people start to turn it around. Sudan is a Masekela pivot moment.

The "zeitgeist" of the Revolution in Khartoum was intoxicating
As I watched events unfold it felt like Sudan was a portal into a whole new normal.
And now we have two visions of the Future. One vision played out on our screens, the protestors could have been our wives, children. 
The other vision is that of MBS, MBZ and Al-Sisi and its red in tooth and claw. 

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Rebels without borders in the Rwenzori borderland? A biography of the Allied Democratic Forces @JEASjournal @KristofTitec & Koen Vlassenroot

Having its roots in Ugandan Islamic community, it has become part of larger transborder dynamics of rebellion and resistance. 

It is argued that although its institution is linked to several internal dynamics in Uganda, the movement's character has been largely shaped by the specific characteristics of the Uganda–DRC Rwenzori borderland, where it became a key player of local power struggles and conflicts. 

Shinn for example argues how “ever since the ADF launched its first attack in Uganda in 1996, the organization has been shrouded in mystery”.

The rebel group has been continuously treated as a marginal phenomenon and described as a movement lacking a clear political agenda. 

Very little is known about its background, ideology, internal organization, military capacity, lines of supply and supporters. 

Nevertheless, the ADF has been responsible for a very violent military campaign in Uganda's Rwenzori districts during the second half of the 1990s, and since then has been a continuous source of instability at the Congolese side of the Rwenzori Mountains, where it established its bases after its military defeat in Uganda

A second crucial determinant of the rebel group is its integration into Congolese society, leading to a gradual process of “Congolization”. 

Since their institution in 1996, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have adopted the Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda as their theatre of operations

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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November 2021

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