The Michael Ocan Story—When a Math and Physics Teacher Was Abducted by the Holy Spirit Movement


The late Ocan. Photo: Family of Ocan.


On February 6th 1981, Gen. Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) launched a bush war against Milton Obote’s newly minted government in Uganda. On the surface, Museveni claimed the new regime was illegitimate because the General Elections held in Uganda on December 10 and 11, 1980 were rigged in favor of Obote.  

However it is clear that Gen. Museveni’s war was not about redressing electoral grievances, otherwise Museveni would’ve have demanded the ascension of Paul Ssemogerere to the presidency before, during and after the war. After all, it is claimed, the elections were won by Ssemogerere’s Democratic Party (DP). 

Instead, Gen. Museveni had two reasons why he started a war: a good reason and the real reason.  

The real reason is that, at the time, there was a North-South ethnic divide which characterized our politics and Gen. Museveni believed it was the South’s turn to rule. So demonizing a government led by someone from the north was essential to his plans. 

All told, trouble started with the NRA when the Okello-Okello junta headed by Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa and Gen. Bazillio Olara Okello was overthrown by Museveni on January 25, 1986.

A great number of Acholi soldiers who served in this junta’s army, known as the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), retreated to the north to demobilize, disarm and to take up the lives of simple peasants again. Gen. Museveni, however, refused to let sleeping dogs lie and pursued a punitive campaign to “crush” the north.

Gen. Museveni’s NRA thereupon perpetrated many evils against innocent people through banditry, rape and mass murder. To escape this pogrom, the ex-UNLA soldiers took up their weapons again and joined the Holy Spirit Mobile Forces (HSMF), the armed wing of the Holy Spirit Movement.

Legend has it that on May 25, 1985, the Lakwena took partial possession of 27 year old Alice Auma, who also became known as Alice Lakwena,

She was from Gulu, in Uganda’s Acholi region, and she had recently converted to Catholicism. Legend has it that she became so possessed by the powerful Lakwena that she was left deaf and dumb. Traditional healers failed to recover her.

After disappearing for 40 days, Alice re-emerged and said she had stayed in the waters of the Nile. It was in this watery abyss that the Lakwena completed its possession of her. The Lakwena was rumored to be the spirit of an Italian who had died during the First World War, aged 95, near the Source of the Nile.

On August 6, 1986, the Lakwena—spirit medium or messenger—became the commander of the Holy Spirit Mobile Forces. This forms the backstory to the story of the late Michael Ocan. 

In 1986, the HSMF of Alice Auma Lakwena abducted the late Michael Ocan, a well-known educator, from Awere Senior Secondary School where he was headmaster. He had also taught mathematics and physics. 

Ocan’s story is told in “The Life and Legacy of Lapwony Micheal Ocan,” written by Ocan’s wife, Betty Aol Ocan, a member of Parliament in Uganda. 

Seven luminaries combine reflections on Ocan’s life to shed light on the life and times of a great man in a singularly companionable and highly readable fashion. According to the account, Ocan was abducted because he was virtuous. He only had one wife in a community given to polygamy. So the Lakwena made Ocan its “prime target” because he was morally upright. 

Ocan was necessary as a “cleansing force” in the revolt against Museveni’s “evil” regime.  The Lakwena viewed polygamy as impure. Many of the warriors were polygamous and so they wouldn’t receive divine protection and would be sitting ducks on the frontline. 

Michael Ocan, an enlightened teacher of mathematics and physics was therefore enlisted in the civil wing of the fighting force led by Alice Auma. The Lakwena also planned to have Michael Ocan lead the country, instead of Alice, in the event Museveni’s NRA was defeated. 

Alice Auma’s fighters marched to Lira, fighting their way forward and in October they reached Tororo and Busoga. Then, at the end of October 1987, they were defeated by Museveni’s NRA near Jinja. Michael Ocan was captured by Museveni’s fighters and imprisoned thereafter. Michael Ocan’s ordeal in the inhospitable conditions of a Maga Maga military prison in Jinja and later Luzira Maximum Prison are captured in the book. After he was released, he went back to teaching and he headed several schools in the northern part of Uganda.

Ocan was a great educationist. Even upon retirement, he continued to work with the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB)as supervisor of the national exams. Michael Ocan’s life is truly a testament to the spirit of service and a call for reconciliation amongst the peoples of Uganda. As a rebel, he showed us that it is important not to bow down to tyranny.  

Ocan also became an ethnographer and wrote what has been called a brilliant text that was foundation of “Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirits War in Northern Uganda 1986-97” a book by Prof. Heike Behrend.

Ocan died of heart failure on Feb. 22, 2017.   

The author Matogo can be reached via [email protected] 

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