Lakwena’s death opens new wounds in the north

Alice Auma Lakwena, Uganda’s self proclaimed prophetess and leader of the defunct Holy Spirit Movement passed away last week at Ifo refuge camp in Kenya, after twenty years in exile.

She fled to Kenya after her movement’s defeat in eastern Uganda in 1987, barely a year after launching an armed rebellion against the then nascent NRM government of Yoweri Museveni in July 1986. NRM had captured power in January 1986.

Ironically as the NRA was celebrating the defeat of the Holy Spirit Movement, another rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony declared war on the government. Uganda has been at war ever since, save for the past few months since the now stalled talks between the LRA and the government begun in Juba.

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It would be interesting to trace the origins of spiritual based armed political movements in Uganda. But also, implications of spirituality on the peace processes. 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.

For, although everyone would wish for the suffering of the Acholi people to end, a former LRA fighter told Al Jazeera’s Anna Borzello (formerly of the BBC) in an interview that the suffering of the Acholi people was “God’s plan”. He added: “When God wants people who have strayed to return to him, he inflicts suffering (punishment) on them”. This subject may need another time to explore.

What is of concern now is the growing list of Uganda’s political leaders who have died in exile. King Edward Mutesa, Prof. Lule, Bazillio Okello, Juma Oris, Zubair Naseem Atamvaku, Idi Amin, Milton Obote, and now Alice Lakwena. The list could be longer. All, except Lule and Mutesa have died during Museveni’s rule. All except these two, are northerners.

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, Gulu District RDC flew to Nairobi to ensure a safe return of Lakwena’s body to ensure a decent burial for her in her ancestral home.

President Yoweri Museveni could have sensed the danger of ignoring Lakwena even in death when he directed the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs to assume responsibility for the burial of Alice Auma Lakwena. (“Museveni directs on Lakwena burial”: The Daily Monitor, January 25). There is no doubt that the president’s decision was a political one, not different from his earlier one to return Apollo Milton Obote’s body and to accord him a state funeral.

Lakwena’s body could have opened new wounds in the already shattered north. That past efforts to have Lakwena return home alive were fruitless, some northerners may look at the government’s action of taking care of the dead, having neglected the living, as an act of hypocrisy.

Lakwena passed on at a time when talks between the LRA and the government have 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 Uganda’s rebels in the ’80s took refuge in Kenya.

It was in Nairobi that the failed peace talks between Museveni’s NRM/A and the military Junta of Gen Tito Okello Lutwa (RIP) 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 and later Kony.

What could this mean to the peace process?

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