EVEN AS SHE WASTED AWAY at the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, Alice Lakwena, who died on January 18, never stopped practising her alleged traditional healing skills and had earned herself many disciples at the camp.
The deputy commander of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) Vincent Otti, described her as a "comrade-in-arms," despite the fact that, she steadfastly denied any spiritual or physical links with the LRA.
Before she died, Lakwena had been sick on and off, though the nature of her sickness remains unknown. Reports from Ifo, the biggest camp in Dadaab where she lived, say she adamantly refused go to hospital because she did not believe in Western medicine
How does "man" dissuade someone who fights in 'God's name' from rebellion? What language does one use to persuade a 'prophet' or 'prophetess' to abandon 'God's mission' to, say, establish the rule of the Biblical Ten Commandments as the LRA claims to be fighting for? Should the clergy be part of negotiations? Should other self-styled spiritualists be invited to participate in the talks? Or do we perhaps want to assume that such groups can be analysed in terms of psychological phenomena and employ some psychologists and even a few psychiatrists to help with the talks.
So, although Lakwena's death could have caused fewer ripples in other parts of Uganda, the North is counting its dead leaders. Nobert Mao, Gulu District Chairman and Lt. Col Walter Ochora the RDC, were united in grief and flew to Nairobi to see to a safe return of Lakwena's body to ensure a decent burial for the fallen heroine in her ancestral home in Acholiland.
The former Ugandan rebel leader and self-declared prophetess whose movement gave rise to Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) died January 17, 2007 in a refugee camp in Kenya.</strong>
Alice Auma was born in 1956. After two marriages in which she proved infertile, she moved away from her hometown. She eventually converted to Catholicism but, on 25 May 1985, was purportedly possessed by a spirit, Lakwena, and went ‘insane’, unable to either hear or speak. Her father took her to eleven different witches but none could help. According to the story, finally Lakwena guided her to Paraa National Park where she disappeared for 40 days and returned a spirit-medium, a traditional ethnic belief.
Prior to the defeat of Tito Okello, Alice Auma was one of many spirit-mediums working near the town of Gulu as a minor oracle and spiritual healer. In the midst of the chaos of the anti-NRA insurgency of the Uganda People's Democratic Army and the increasingly brutal counterinsurgency of the National Resistance Army, it is claimed that on 6 August 1986 Lakwena ordered Alice to stop her work as a diviner and healer, which was pointless in the midst of war, and create a Holy Spirit Movement (HSM) to fight evil and end the bloodshed. Through this divine mission that coincidentally required the retaking of the capital of Kampala, the Acholi would redeem themselves from the violence they had collectively done to the civilians of the Luwero triangle and initiate a paradise on earth. An explanation was given in a letter given to local missionaries:
The good Lord who had sent the Lakwena decided to change his work from that of a doctor to that of a military commander for one simple reason: it is useless to cure a man today only that he be killed the next. So it became an obligation on his part to stop the bloodshed before continuing his work as a doctor.
This came in the midst of a profound spiritual crisis matched only by the threat posed by the occupying southern forces. The increased level of societal tension and number of deaths was attributed to witchcraft. Simultaneously, the soldiers fleeing back into Acholi from the defeat at Kampala often refused purification ceremonies to protect the community from the vengeful spirits of the people they had killed, and the elders found that they no longer had the authority to force compliance. These new evil spirits could then be used for even more witchcraft, creating the sense of a religious crisis spiralling out of control.
The insurgency led by Lakwena required that Alice be possessed by numerous other spirits to achieve its aims, which was unusual in the context of Acholi spirit-behaviour. After a series of spectacular victories, Alice led the Holy Spirit Movement south out of Acholiland towards Kampala, where she garnered much support from other ethnic groups that had grievances with the Museveni government. However, the military setbacks inevitably suffered by the HSM prompted some followers to accuse Alice of being a witch using spirits for destructive ends. As the HSM suffered its final defeat under. withering artillery fire in the forests near Kampala, Lakwena left Alice and she fled.
Alice Auma lived in the Ifo refugee camp near Dadaab in northern Kenya for the remainder of her life, and claimed to have been abandoned by the spirits.
Lakwena passed on at a time when talks between the LRA and the NRM government had collapsed in Juba. The LRA is the natural successor to Lakwena's Holy Spirit Movement. Kony wants the talks shifted to another venue, preferably Kenya or South Africa, and demands a new chief negotiator, having lost confidence in Dr. Riek Machar, South Sudanese Vice President. Some of the LRA's negotiators are said to have already arrived in Nairobi in anticipation of government's consent to the change of venue. They will be there to see Lakwena's body off when it finally boards that last flight.
Among other things, Nobert Mao is reported to be consulting with the LRA leaders now in Nairobi on the way forward for the stalled peace talks. This returns Kenya to the centre of Uganda's conflicts once again. It will be recalled that many of Uganda's rebels in the 1980's took refuge in Kenya. It was in Nairobi that the failed peace talks between Museveni's National Resistance Movement/Army and the military Junta of Gen Tito Okello Lutwa were held under then Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi. Like many observers have maintained, it is the collapse of those talks that created conditions for the emergence of Lakwena's Holy Spirit Movement and later Kony's Lord's Resistance Movement. What could this mean to the peace process?