African Insights Blog

Alice Auma Lakwena – Mystic-Priestess-Visionary-Warrior-Messenger from God?

The woman who inspired thousands into Battle with mere sticks and stones…

January 1986 was a good year for many Ugandans, it was the year that the current President came into power, much of the central and western region of the country rejoiced, but in the north, in the land of the Acholis, there was a sense of doom and gloom, it looked all they had fought for and worked for had been lost.

Elements of the army that had fought against Yoweri Museveni’s Resistance Army fled Kampala and blended back into their villages in northern Uganda while many others fled into South Sudan and regrouped hoping for another day.

The proud Acholi soldier warriors had been routed by Museveni’s army of matooke growers (plantain banana) from central Uganda and cattle keepers from the western regions of Uganda.  To the Acholi soldiers that was a simply too much to swallow.

The Acholi had lost their power in Uganda, their influence, their pride, their sense of identity.  The Acholis had gained that power by being some of the best soldiers in the army of Uganda (this began in the colonial days of Uganda under the British), becoming people of influence and power…now in January of 1986; it was a dark night in land of the Acholis.

Into this masculine culture of soldiers and warriors, or a proud people, enter an insignificant woman who lacked all the credentials in the world.  She was poor, un-educated, she simply lacked and yet it was this woman who would become the mother of the longest war in Uganda, an inspiration to thousands and a model for her cousin by the name of Joseph Kony.

Who was this Alice Auma, better known as Alice Lakwena?

Alice Auma Lakwena - The Warrior PriestessBorn in 1956 in the Acholi region of Uganda into a poor and un-educated family.  She lived in the small town of Obit, a railroad town where she made a living selling flour and fish, others say she was a prostitute.  She married twice, in both cases the men left her because she was barren. At one point, she became a practicing Catholic but we do not know much about her spiritual habits in those days.

In 1985, she claimed, that the spirit of the dead Italian Soldier Lakwena came to her and possessed her and she went insane. Her father took her to various witches but the condition did not improve in any way, if anything it became worse. Then she felt led by the spirit Lakwena to enter the Paraa area of Murchison Falls National Park and remained there for 40 days and a seeming clarity of mind and purpose, a sense of mission came to her as she sat along the powerful Nile River with its rapids and waterfalls.  It was there that she claims to have communicated with the animals about civil war within Uganda, the condition of her Acholi people, spiritual life and more. 

When she emerged from the Paraa area of Murchison Falls National Park after 40 days she became a medium, a spirit healer, a psychic claiming to heal people and a prophetess.  It was then that the spirit (demon) Lakwena told her to quit healing people since it was senseless to heal while people were dying in a time of war and to lead her Acholi people into victory against the government.

Lakwena means messenger in the Acholi language and Alice certainly became that. Alice Lakwena guided by her spirit guide Lakwena began her Holy Spirit Movement and claimed to be in direct contact with him through Lakwena.  This lowly woman, seller of fish and flour, barren, now gave birth of a movement that would recruit up to 15,000 men and lead them into battle against the new government’s army in Kampala.

She gave them a strict spiritual code, including the renunciation of witchcraft, remain chaste, no smoking, drinking, or quarreling, to renounce all sin in their lives and dedicate themselves to the work of purifying the Acholi people and the nation of Uganda.

She promised that the bullets of the government soldiers would have no effect upon them if they lived a life of spiritual purity and anointed themselves with water and oil, that the stones they would use against the enemy would turn into grenades, and explode, that they would be victorious and cleanse Uganda of its sinful ways and turn it to God.

Alice Lakwena used a combination of myth, voodoo, and traditional beliefs with her unique brand of Christianity thrown in. (To refer to her Holy Spirit Movement as Christian or Christian fundamentalist movement is ludicrous since the real inspiration was a spirit guide by the name of Lakwena.)  Alice became an inspirer of Acholi People; this priestess warrior entered her people’s history at their time of need and despair and the time was just right for her vision-mission to take root and grow.  Here you have a woman un-educated, unskilled in the art of war became an inspiration that mobilized thousands and led them into war without modern weapons but simply sticks and stones.

The first attack against the National Resistance Army took place near Lira in Northern Uganda.  Armed with bags of stones, sticks, singing songs, sprinkling water all around, their bodies anointed with sim-sim oil to thwart the bullets they marched into war.  Surprisingly to most, they inflicted great losses on the National Resistance Army that first day even though the rocks did not explode into grenades, and the bullets were not stopped by the Sim-Sim Oil, The warrior priestess soldiers prevailed.

What is amazing is that Alice Lakwena would not attack in secret. She would openly announce the impending attack of her troops.  Her soldiers, armed with sticks and stones, with the shouts of war, inspired by the warrior princess, the Holy Spirit Movement prevailed victoriously against an army with lethal weapons.  The movement added weapons later on and a quite a few NRA soldiers were killed in combat and even senior officers were injured, and executed.

Alice Lakwena did not lack recruits and added new bases in and near the Acholi area of Northern Uganda including in Lira where the Langi people live. It was amazing to many as to how this woman without an education could inspire so many

How could this have happened?  One can only come up with the effects of a form of psychological warfare, there is the power of myth, belief of Alice Lakwena’s troops that they were truly invincible.

Alice Lakwena took her troops into eastern Uganda where once again, the Holy Spirit movement prevailed and even a senior officer from the National Resistance Army was captured.  Everyone was amazed including the National Resistance Army.  From Soroti to Mbale, Alice Lakwena and her troops were victorious, Kampala seemed in sight.  The Holy Spirit movement seemed unstoppable but then…

They had reached the Busoga Kingdom area of Uganda overrunning various elements of the Ugandan government army until they reached the area near Jinja where the NRA finally defeated her.  The best troops were brought in, artillery and Katusha rocket launchers, the rebellion was over, the spirit Lakwena left Alice Auma and she fled into exile into Kenya never to return to Uganda.

The armAlice Auma Lakwena before her death in Kenyay celebrated its victory but it was short lived when it was announced that another rebel group called “Lord’s Resistance Army” had declared war on the government of Uganda.

Alice died in a refugee camp in Northern Kenya in January 17 - 2007 after a prolonged illness.  Alice Lakwena is still remembered in Uganda by those she inspired, those she fought and those who were in the path of her army.

Alice Lakwena barren in her natural life, gave birth to the longest war in Uganda, she was the mother to what would be the war of wars in the Pearl of Africa.  Something she probably never imagined in her mind when she set out with her mission that her cousin Joseph Kony would take her ideas and turn them into violent terror, most upon his own people.

Alice Auma Lakewena is no longer with us, her father, a preacher of a small church in the area of Gulu says, she went finished her mission for God.  To some she was evil, others she was an inspiration, to most a mystery.

Before her death, she encouraged her cousin or nephew Joseph Kony to give up fighting and to make peace so that the Acholi people could live in peace.

Alice Auma Lakwena will remain as someone unique in the pages of Uganda’s history in that she started the longest conflict inside of Uganda and at the end of the day; it would hurt her own people, the Acholis.  It was they who would pay a heavy price and lose most everything that they had and held dear, especially their children…from Kampala…jon

Excerpt from the Sudan Tribune - article by Dr. John Akec

Sunday 31 December 2006

Alice Auma (Lakwena), on the other hand, was probably the Mahadi answer for Northern Uganda, a region which was facing great challenges from the invading armies of Southern Uganda. A former spiritual healer in vicinity of Gulu, Alice Auma founded Holy Spirit Movement (HSM) at the time when Museveni NRA (National Resistance Army) had defeated Uganda Peoples Democratic Army (UPDA) and was advancing northward to tighten its grips on Acholiland . Claiming inspiration by the Holy Spirit through Lakwena (a name of a dead Italian soldier that means ‘messenger), Alice Auma (came to call herself Alice Lakwena) wrote to missionaries to explain the reason for forming Holy Spirit Movement (HSM):

“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.”

Notice the implication of that letter: Lakwena is a spirit of a man inside a woman (Alice Auma). Holy Spirit Movement (initially made up of Acholi fighters) scored military victories in Northern Uganda against NRA. Her forces advanced towards Kampala where the Movement won the support of members of other tribes. Some of her military tactics included attacking and running towards the enemy while singing hymns. The tactic was very effective at first. However, when HSM was about to capture Kampala, many of fighters were mercilessly slain by a raining shells of artillery of NRA. HSM suffered devastating military losses and defeat. Alice Auma fled to Kenya claiming that the spirit of Lakwena had left her. To this day she lived as a refugee in Kenya. But her story is an extraordinary tale of heroism, nationalism, and spiritualism all blended together. Alice Auma Lakwena was and is an extraordinary woman by any standard!

To some as you can see from the above article, Alice Auma Lakwena is a kind of Acholi "Joan of Arc."  Westerners usually tie her together with Kony, but there is a difference, Kony practices violence for violence sake, even and especially against his own people.  Alice Lakwena was quite different in that regard and she and Kony did not see the issues facing the Acholi people through the similar eyes...though Kony at times claimed that he was now the carrier of the spirit. 

Ugandans are divided on Alice Lakwena and it depends on where in Uganda one is from.  Those from the south, the west of Uganda see her as a evil woman whereas many northerners see her as Dr. Akec above. 

President Museveni in a radio interview reported in the New Vision Newspaper.

Uganda's President Museveni's commenting on the death of Alice Lakwena, Museveni said the government had facilitated the return of her body from Kenya, where she died recently.

Museveni described the late Lakwena’s actions as those of a “confused person” adding that she was quite different from Kony, former presidents Idi Amin and Milton Obote.

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Last updated: 24 November 2010

    Alice Auma Lakwena - to some a fool, to others  "Joan of Arc of Acholi Land"

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