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Alice Lakwena; rebel led failed insurgency in Uganda in 1980s

January 19, 2007|From the Associated Press

Alice Lakwena, a Ugandan warrior priestess who led an insurgency in the 1980s and claimed to have spiritual powers to protect her fighters from bullets by anointing them with oil, has died at a Kenyan refugee camp, a government official said Thursday.

Lakwena, who was in her 40s, died Wednesday after being sick for about a week with an unknown illness at the Ifo refugee camp in the eastern Garrisa district, said Dennis Ogola, a local administrator.

A member of the small Acholi tribe in northern Uganda who was raised in the Anglican Church, she mesmerized her followers with claims that spirits spoke through her.

Lakwena, which means "Messiah" or "Messenger," led the Holy Spirit Movement, which combined Christianity with traditional beliefs of her Acholi people, in a yearlong insurgency aimed at toppling Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Army troops defeated the movement in late 1987.

Her cousin, Joseph Kony, is the messianic leader of the Lord's Resistance Army. His rebellion in northern Uganda continues today and has seen as many as 1.8 million people displaced, tens of thousands killed and about 20,000 children abducted.

Lakwena's rebellion -- one of about a half-dozen in Uganda at the time -- began soon after Museveni, a southerner, overthrew a military government led by a northerner.

She raised a battalion of followers numbering as many as 15,000, armed with only sticks and stones. She inspired them to go into battle singing hymns, their chests smeared with oil that they believed would repel bullets. She told them the sticks could turn bees into bullets and the stones would explode like grenades.

Thousands of her followers died before Museveni's army crushed her campaign.

Lakwena, who called herself a prophet and a medium of God, fled to Kenya in December 1987, where she was promptly jailed for three months for illegally entering the country.

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