12 Lesser-Known African Militia Groups

12 Lesser-Known African Militia Groups

1 of 13

Since colonization of Africa, armed militias of all stripes – Christian, Muslim, and secular opportunist – have become part of the landscape, thriving wherever there is high unemployment and poverty. Here are 12 lesser-known African militia groups.

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, The New Yorker, The Economist, Voice of America, Human Rights Watch, The Atlantic.


Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) — Uganda

Led by Joseph Kony, a former Catholic altar boy from Northern Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army made its debut in Northern Uganda in 1986. It claimed to fight for a government based on the Biblical 10 commandments on behalf of the Acholi ethnic group against Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni. It has since become known as one of Africa’s most violent and persistent armed groups, combining religious mysticism, guerrilla tactics and bloodthirsty ruthlessness. Kony has turned scores of young girls into his personal sex-slaves, recruited hundreds of child soldiers and helped displace nearly 2 million Northern Ugandans. After 30 years in Uganda, the LRA has moved across porous borders of the region to join up with militias in the DRC, and most recently into the Central African Republic, where civil war has decimated the population.

Boko Haram

Boko Haram—Nigeria

Since kidnapping 300 schoolgirls in April 2014, Nigeria’s Islamist militia Boko Haram has moved to the top of the list of the most hated groups in the world. Boko Haram has caused havoc in Africa’s most populous country through a wave of bombings, assassinations and abductions from 2002 on. The organization formed to oppose Western education (“boko” means “fake”, but represents education; “haram” is “forbidden”), and wants to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state. Described as part-theologian, part-gangster, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, brought terrorism to new lows. The terror tactics appear to have worked. The militia is said to have carved out a caliphate the size of Belgium in the impoverished Northeastern part of Nigeria.



Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)—Nigeria

A loose web of armed groups in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), demands that the Delta receive more benefits from its oil, with a fairer share of the wealth invested in infrastructure. But MEND’s gangs kidnap civilians for ransom and make money by stealing crude oil from pipelines, while the Delta remains impoverished, despite five decades of oil extraction. Niger Delta politicians originally created MEND by arming young men to use as their private armies and to rig elections. Rallied by a commander known only as Jomo Gbomo, the young men turned their guns on the government and oil companies around 2006, and have since declared a war on militant Islamic groups, as well as any politician who beats current Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in the March 28 election.

Cobra Faction


South Sudan Democratic Army Cobra Faction

The name “Cobra faction” came about as leader David Yau Yau’s way to distinguish his second rebellion from the broad South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM/A). Yau Yau, a Murle tribesman, formed his first militia after the 2010 elections, when he lost a seat in the South Sudan legislature. He claims he fights for the Murle whom he says are marginalized, underdeveloped and ignored by the government. Yau Yau was promoted to the rank of general in the South Sudanese army, the SPLA. But unsatisfied with the spoils, he returned to Cobra, recruiting 3,000 children into his soldier ranks. Some of the children were released in January after Yau Yau accepted a cease-fire agreement that made him the de facto governor of the underdeveloped Pibor region.



Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)—Sudan

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) was established in early 2003 by a cadre of educated and politically experienced Darfurians. It was led by Khalil Ibrahim, a Netherlands-trained doctor and devout Islamist. Ibrahim sought national reform and regime change by fighting President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s government-back mercenaries, or Janjaweed. Following Khalil’s death, his brother Jibril took leadership. JEM fighters entered the civil war in South Sudan to back the South Sudanese government. With forces numbering around 35,000, JEM has the largest army and support base among the groups opposed to Bashir’s government. This has left an opening for new Janjaweed, now called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), to decimate Darfur once more. Acts of the RSF include surrounding villages and opening fire, killing all inhabitants.

Ansar Dine


Ansar Dine—Mali

Ansar Dine, which roughly translates to “defenders of the faith,” originally surfaced in Northern Mali in March 2012 seeking strict interpretation of sharia law after a military coup of the government in Bamako. The Islamist group, commanded by Iyad Ag Ghaly, gained partial control over the stretches of Mali alongside another rebel group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which wants a more secular government. An experienced commander, Ag Ghaly has been active in several Tuareg uprisings since returning to Mali in the late 1980s and became a leader among disenfranchished Tuaregs. Thought to be dead or in hiding, Ag Ghlay recently appeared in a video expressing solidarity with the group’s mujahideen brothers across the world and calling for the expulsion of France from Mali. Ansar Dine is said to receive funding from Qatar.



National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA)—Mali

A secular separatist Tuareg rebel group, MNLA started the crisis in Mali more than three years ago by demanding an independent state in Northern Mali named Azawad. The aspirations of the MNLA go back to the first Tuareg rebellion of 1963 and remain deeply rooted in the Tuareg people. The MNLA is led by Bilal Ag Cherif, who declared himself the president of the Azawad state. He has been generally disregarded and underestimated because MNLA allowed al-Qaeda-linked groups to take over the territory. Last year, Ag Cherif met with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI who encouraged the MNLA “to continue to take part in the regional dynamics, initiated by the United Nations” and basically keep the country together. That will likely not happen. Last month, a government-backed militia attacked MNLA with a suicide bomb, killing at least 12 people and further destabilizing the region.

Source: MoroccoWorldNews



Seleka—Central African Republic

An alliance of rebel militia factions almost entirely Muslim, the Seleka overthrew President Francis Bozizé and the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) on March 24, 2013. Seleka was led by Mahamed Bahar, a Muslim former Army general who joined in the coup that installed Bozizé 10 years prior. The Seleka demanded greater recognition and representation of the minority Muslims, who felt shortchanged in the country’s power-sharing arrangements. But after Michel Djotodia, the nation’s first Muslim ruler, failed to curb the violence, he resigned, leaving a power vacuum. Since then, the Seleka has wrought more havoc, kidnapping delegations aimed at national reconciliation, collecting taxes and tributes by brute force and clashing with U.N. peacekeepers.

: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/central-african-republic-conflict-pictures-1434130


 Antibalaka—Central African Republic

“Balaka”, the Sango word for machete, also alludes to the French word for bullets of an automatic rifle. In the case of the CAR’s Christian militia group, “anti-balaka” roughly means “invincible,” a power purportedly bestowed by the charms that hang around the necks of most of its members. The term antibalaka – which at one time referred to men who protected livestock from cattle-raiders in the once relatively peaceful CAR – became fashionable two years ago. It referred to the Christian majority tasked with retaliating against the country’s Muslim Seleka who rose up against the government and deposed the president. Since 2013, antibalaka forces have determined to rid the entire country of Muslims through looting, burning entire villages and outright slaughter. Before the war, there were nearly 700,000 Muslims in the country. Fewer than 90,000 remain.




When DRC’s civil war ended in 2009, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) was its largest rebel group. The CNDP joined the Congolese army following the March 23, 2009 peace agreement legitimizing it. The M23 officially formed on April 4, 2012 when 300 former members of the CNDP broke from the Congolese army. The group took its name as an affront to that deal, and cited poor conditions in the army and President Joseph Kabila’s inadequate implementation of the accord as the reasons it took up fighting again. Led by General Bosco Ntaganda – also known as “The Terminator” – M23 belonged to the minority Tutsi ethnic group and has been responsible for widespread war crimes, including summary executions, rapes, and the forced recruitment of children. In March 2013, Ntaganda turned himself in to the U.S. embassy in Rwanda and was extradited to The Hague to face trail for crimes against humanity. M23 officially surrendered after defeat at the hands of a U.N. peacekeeping mission. Battalions have been hiding out in Uganda awaiting amnesty from the DRC.



Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) 

The largest illegal foreign armed group operating in the DRC, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) largely consists of members of the Rwandan government and army ousted in 1994 as well as Rwandan refugees. The FDLR says it uses military pressure to open “inter-Rwandan dialogue” with the current Rwandan government. However, it is believed that the group, with 2000 combatants in Eastern DRC, aims to overthrow Rwandan President Paul Kagame. A U.N. peacekeeping operation to rid the DRC of the FDLR has been on hold since January because two Congolese generals tapped to lead the campaign have been accused of human rights abuses. DRC President Joseph Kabila criticized international interference in the country’s affairs and pledged to handle the FDLR on his own.

Mai Mai


Mai Mai militias—DRC

Mostly bush militias with shadowy connections to regional politicians, the Mai Mai refer to a wide variety of armed groups in the DRC that often have little in common other than a nominal claim on indigenous rights. Mai Mai usually operate under the name of their commanders, such as Mai Gédéon, led by Kyungu Mutanga Gédéon. Mai Mai gather for large operations, but usually operate in smaller groups, terrorizing villagers, looting food, engaging in mass rapes, killing village elders and combatting Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) patrols. After terrorizing the mineral-rich Katanga province from October 2003 to May 2006, Gédéon surrendered to U.N. peacekeepers in May 2006 and was sentenced to death in 2009. During a mass jailbreak, he fled the Lubumbashi prison and resumed his campaign of destruction. Many Mai Mai groups have ties to officers of FARDC and some are known to wear FARDC uniforms they steal during attacks, which they typically carry out naked after spraying themselves with “magic water” for protection from bullets.