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Contribution by Heike Behrend to the Biography of late Mike Ocan

It is a great pleasure and honor for me to contribute a text to the biography of late Mike Ocan.

While I was doing research on the history of the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Lakwena in northern Uganda I met Mike Ocan in Gulu in 1991. He was recommended to me by various people because of his deep knowledge, learning, kindness and generosity. He had already shared some of his wisdom with Apollo Lukermoi, a student writing a thesis in Religious Studies and Philosophy at Makerere University. Indeed, when we started our conversation I realized immediately that he himself felt called to be the historiographer and ethnographer of the Holy Spirit Movement of which he had been a member in the civilian wing. Since he was on the side not of the victors but of the defeated, he was ready to explain himself and took over the great burden to translate what had happened to a local and global audience. As an eyewitness and a participant he wrote a brilliant text that became the essential foundation of the book “Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirits. War in Northern Uganda 1986-97.”

His text also formed the basis for a long dialogue he and I conducted on the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Lakwena. We re-uttered his text and in this long conversation were able to give speech back its due. The generosity of the University of Bayreuth’s Special Research Programme allowed me to invite him to come to Bayreuth and Berlin in Germany to continue the discussion.

When he came to Berlin I told him about the radical left-wing student movement of 1968 in which I had participated. It was a movement that protested against the USA’s colonial war in Vietnam, against the capitalist system and its regimes of exploitation and repression and against the generation of our parents in Germany who had been more or less involved in the Nazi horror. Mike’s narrative and analysis of the Holy Spirit Movement made me realize the many similarities that existed between the Holy Spirit Movement in northern Uganda and the 1968-student-movement in Berlin. In spite of social, cultural, religious and ideological differences, both movements had attempted to create a better world, experimented with alternative forms of life and had failed. Thus, we shared the endeavour to radically change the world and the experience of loss and failure.

I am deeply indebted to Mike Ocan. His powerful text, speech and thoughts that he shared with me opened up the possibility to correct my European perspective and the asymmetrical relations of power. In fact, we changed positions: Mike Ocan as ethnographer and historian of his own society became my teacher and I his pupil. I am grateful to him for all what he generously gave to me. And I am also honored and grateful to his wife Betty and to his son Jimmy for giving me the chance to write this contribution and thereby express again my unending gratitude to him and them.

Heike Behrend

(retired Professor of Anthropology at the Institute of African Studies, University of Cologne, Germany)

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Written by Odoki Jimmy (2)

Jimmy Odoki Acellam is Coordinator of Heartsounds Uganda and a Mental Health Advocate.

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