January 24th, 2007 12:48 EST
Alice Lakwena: God's General
Had she been born in America or Europe, t-shirts with her image would outnumber those with the famous Che Gevara. After all, people love controversial and strong personalities. Instead, she was born in a God-forsaken village in northern Uganda, Africa, and her death merited nearly a paragraph in world broadsheets. Alice Lakwena-- a healer, prophet and fighter-- died on January 17, 2007.
Death caught her in Kenya, where she had been in enforced exile for almost 20 years. In 1988, the governmental army decided to launch a decisive campaign against Lakwena, whose forces were only 60 miles of the Ugandan capital, Kampala. But in several days, the situation turned upside down and it was the rebels who had to flee in panic. Her army in tatters, Lakwena found a shelter in neighboring Kenya. There, in harsh conditions of a refugee camp, she was fighting her last battle-- against an unidentified enemy that was destroying her body from inside. None of her healing tricks helped, and after one decade of a struggle, she died at the age of 51.
Her life was abundant in controversies. Having divorced two husbands, Lakwena converted to Catholicism only to let “a spirit” posses her and tell her to wage a brutal war against the Ugandan government. For a year, she worked as a healer, apparently saving dozens of lives, but then she gathered a handful of people and ordered them to rape, burn, and kill everything that had two legs. “I want to give you water to heal diseases. But you must fight against the sinners,” she heard from the spirit. And the sinners she ardently killed.
Although Uganda had been ravaged by scores of various uprisings at that time, Lakwena's rebellion was something of a novelty. Unlike other leaders, she had neither a clear goal nor any political plan to reshape the country. All that she wanted was to overthrow the incumbent president, Yoveri Museveni and free Uganda of all “sinners” --whoever they might have been. But, probably, it was the way in which Lakwena led her rebellion that caught media attention. Lakwena claimed to have had the holy oil, given to her by the unnamed spirit, which prevented her followers from all enemy bullets. Before every battle, the mystic soldiers would cover themselves in the oil and, with hymns on their mouths, would face armed-to-the-teeth governmental forces. Preposterous as it seems, in several months they managed to reach the outskirts of the capital, with more and more people joining their ranks. But their biggest success was the beginning of their eventual tragedy. The government understood that Lakwena was a serious threat to the country's fragile stability and decided to resolve the problem by taking the military offensive. The army mercilessly crushed the rebels, forcing them to either hide in dense jungle or cross the Kenyan border. Alice Lakwena chose the latter and disappeared as one of thousands of refugees in camps scattered along the border.
But Lakwena's end was not an end for the rebellion. At the same time that her forces were being annihilated, her cousin, Joseph Kony mounted his own holly war. Just like Lakwena, Kony also had a strong spiritual experience that turned him-- a simple village boy and a school dropout-- into the ruthless soldier whose name would cause panic all over Uganda for almost two decades. The Lord's Resistance Army-- as Kony's forces were known-- combined Lakwena's spirituality and revolutionary fever, while time rejecting her juvenile naivety. It is estimated that around 1,200,000 people have been displaced and many thousands killed due to the LRA military activities in northern Uganda. The most horrible fate, however, awaited thousands of children, fed with drugs and forced to serve in the army or turned into sex slaves for Kony and his closest aids. According to the BBC, the LRA leader has had over 60 wives-- the spoils of war. Recently, Kony agreed to start peace negotiations with the Ugandan government. How true his commitment to end the 20-year-long civil war is remains a mystery until his signature is finally put on the agreement.
The news of Alice Lakwena's death has sparked a wide discussion in Uganda. Some, with the revolutionary's relatives in the forefront, demand a funeral with the highest honors. They remind that when Lakwena's life was drawing to a close, she renounced violence and wanted to heal people, claiming to have invented a miracle cure for AIDS. Says Betty Ocika, Lakwena's elder sister, “Lakwena should be accorded a State burial by the government like it did to Dr Obote (Uganda's former dictator).” But for some, Lakwena still epitomizes the brutal uprising which claimed hundreds of lives and brought the country on the verge of collapse.
The majority of Ugandans, however, want simply to forget about the troublesome past and focus on the future.