“Joseph Kony, a former altar boy subscribing to the same mchuzi mix of traditional-ne-fundamentalist Catholicism as Lakwena, and who also dabbled in the occult, had been lurking in the shadows in the last days of the Holy Spirit movement, recruiting former soldiers to his cause”
This is the third part of the well-known and little-known bits of the story of the macabre insurgency by Uganda rebel leader Joseph Kony, and the often equally brutal response by the Uganda government over 20 years, as a way of providing context to judge “KONY 2012”, the video by the US group Invisible Children that passed 100 million last evening, to become the most successful viral video of all time.
The North-South divide in Uganda (common in other countries too) provides only a small explanation of the raw political passions that led to war in northern Uganda, and the rise of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The real devil is in the details of what happened in the bush during the Museveni rebellion, and some aspects that of campaign about which progressives in the ruling National Resistance Movement in Uganda today remain deeply embarrassed.
Museveni based his war in the heartland of the south, Buganda region, in what became known as the Luwero Triangle. It was not a random choice of battlefield. After Uganda’s titular president and Buganda king Mutesa was deposed in 1966, the Luwero Triangle and surrounding areas established an intricate network spiriting hunted loyalists out of Uganda, and funneling support into the country from Buganda exiles. Secondly, as noted in Part 2, because of the depth of resentment bred by what the people there saw as mistreatment by rulers from the north, Buganda was ready to pay a high price to fight Obote.
After the rebellion started, in the NRA there was a divide as to how it should be prosecuted. There were the leftist purists, who favoured fighting a high-minded war against Obote (and later the military junta of the Okello generals), and the conservatives who favoured exploiting southern tribal hatred of northerners. The tribalists were more successful, and indeed in the chaotic first weeks of victory in Kampala, there were summary executions and lynching of suspected soldiers and political activists from the north.
It became common, even in otherwise respectable newspapers like the now-defunct The Star, to refer to people from the north as “ensolo” (animals), and “Anyanyas”, after the secessionist South Sudanese rebel movements. The idea being to suggest that people from the north were not Ugandans, and should not be treated like second-class citizens.
For most of the north, the Museveni triumph became an existential threat. The defeat of a northern-dominated by a supposed weakling from the south, who was expected to die from mosquito bites in the jungle, was a mega psychological blow to the militarists about their worth and who they were. To add insult to injury, the loss of power was also an economic blow, because they lost jobs and government business.
When the Museveni regime then sent to the north soldiers, many of whom had been drawn from an allied southern bigoted force called the Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM), to pacify a frightened and suspicious region, it was a disaster brew made in Hell.
There will probably never be agreement as to what led to what, but a common view is that NRA units took to arresting and even killing ex-military men from the region, and persecuting old regime supporters. The north rose in arms, first through the Uganda Peoples Democratic Movement/Army – which eventually cut a peace deal with Kampala in 1988.
Then, most famously, there arose the Holy Spirit movement, led by a former prostitute turned spirit medium, Alice Auma. Because the spirit she channeled was called Lakwena, she became known as Alice Lakwena.
Lakwena’s Holy Spirit was a millennial movement whose rise is traceable many decades back before Lakwena led it to arms against the new Museveni government. But the immediate spark was the threat and harassment by the new victors, and Lakwena’s understanding that, especially the Acholi, were in a deep crisis and demoralised. Lakwena figured that having been failed by mortals, she could only mobilise the north by appealing to higher heavenly forces.
She came up with the idea that the people who joined her struggle would be the Holy Spirit’s soldiers, and He would protect them with greater powers. Thus if they smeared miracle shea butter oil on their bodies, the bullets of Museveni’s soldiers would not kill them. Many believed it. In fact, Prof. Isaac Newton Ojok, who was minister of Education in the Obote government that was overthrown in 1985, was one of the very educated people who threw away their designer shirts and followed Lakwena, barefoot, on her spectacular, but ultimately tragic, match to Kampala.
The Museveni rebels had succeeded by clever and asymmetrical guerrilla warfare. Therefore little in their five-year war, where numbers were critical and great effort made to preserve them, prepared them for an adversary who didn’t fear death or take cover in the face of heavy fire.
The fact that Lakwena was able to raise a large highly motivated army that was not afraid to die, and because the slaughter of Holy Spirit fighters unnerved the NRA, allowed her to make the greatest advances ever against the Museveni regime of all his many enemies.
By November of 1987, Lakwena was massing in the sugarcane plantations outside the industrial town of Jinja, less than 90 kilometres from Kampala. In the capital, some of the Museveni regime supporters who never fought in the bush, and had flown in from cushy jobs in exile to take on new government positions, panicked. A few high tailed it out of Uganda back to Europe and North America, but most took the milder precaution of shipping their families out.
That threat galvanised the Museveni government, and in a ruthless fight back, obliterated the Holy Spirit Movement in the sugar plantations of Kakira. In November 1987 Lakwena fled to exile in Kenya, where she died in a refugee camp in 2007. We shall never know how many “oil protected” Holy Spirit Movement fighters were killed, but in some battles as many as 700 were slaughtered.
Joseph Kony, a former altar boy subscribing to the same mchuzi mix of traditional-ne-fundamentalist Catholicism as Lakwena, and who also dabbled in the occult, had been lurking in the shadows in the last days of the Holy Spirit movement, recruiting former soldiers to his cause.
Like Lakwena, Kony appreciated that the Museveni victory had created a yearning among the people, especially of Acholi, to rediscover their sense of greatness, and were therefore ripe for a messiah. So he named his group the Lord’s Resistance Army, whose manifesto would be to implement the 10 Commandments of God. He also understood the opportunities Lakwena had wasted. Having raised the large army she did, she squandered its possibilities with belief in witchcraft and shunning good military science, and embracing unhelpful ideas about body oil stopping bullets.
Still, after Lakwena, the LRA was not going to be oversubscribed. Kony resolved that small problem by choosing to abduct his soldiers, including children. Among other advantages, children could more easily be brainwashed and managed.
And Kony or his advisers, must have understood that having to fight and kill child soldiers would eventually become an international diplomatic nightmare for the Museveni regime – as it eventually did. The business of child soldiers in Uganda is very murky. Museveni’s NRA rebel group had many child soldiers (called kadogos) in its ranks, and when it became the national army, it continued the practice of using children in the war in the north. But most of the children were forcefully recruited into the LRA. In all, anything between 100,000 to 150,000 had been conscripted by the time Kony was finally pushed out of Uganda.
Having done away with Lakwena’s shea oil, seems Kony figured that the 10 Commandments would not be enough to keep loyalty. To deal with this complication, he came up with one of his most macabre solutions; he would keep his men served with an endless supply of women. Since there are no women who would volunteer, again Kony abducted them. Then, to remove the easy option of his abducted recruits escaping and running back to their homes, they were made to kill – often relatives and villagemates. That made them unwanted. Kony is the ultimate diabolical genius.
The Museveni government vs. LRA war was not going to be one between Beauty and the Beast. It would pit demons and beast. Only a few ingredients remained to be thrown in…
•Part 4 0f 5 Tomorrow, March 16.
SEE: “7 Excellent Books About Kony And The LRA” (http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/2012/0313/7-excellent-books-about-Kony-and-the-LRA/Social-Torture-The-Case-of-Northern-Uganda-1986-2006-by-Chris-Dolan)
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