Holy Spirit Movement

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The Holy Spirit Movement (HSM) was the Ugandan rebel group led by Alice Auma, a spirit-medium who claimed to receive direction from the spirit Lakwena.[1] Alice, an ethnic Acholi,[1] was purportedly directed to form the HSM by Lakwena in August 1986.

Technically, the Holy Spirit Movement was the political wing of Alice's organization and the Holy Spirit Mobile Force (HSMF) was the military wing, but there was no real separation of functions and the titles are used interchangeably. After gathering a small group of followers, Alice convinced the rebel Uganda People's Democratic Army (UPDA) to put some of their troops under her command in November 1986.

In November and December 1986, the HSMF achieved two unexpected victories over government National Resistance Army forces. These victories brought widespread popular support, including among other northern ethnic groups besides the Acholi, and attracted new recruits to the HSM. Much of the popular support was the result of a strict but fair set of guidelines given to followers that governed the relationship of HSM rebels with the populace, which created a positive impression compared to the government or other rebel groups that were often seen to be abusing their military strength.

The Holy Spirit Movement fought as a regular army — taking and controlling territory, as well as holding pitched battles with NRA forces — but had a number of practices that outsiders found bizarre. Spiritual "controllers" were integrated into each unit. Along with duties such as tending to Alice Auma while she was possessed, they smeared blessed oil on combatants that was supposed to stop bullets if the combatant's soul was pure.[1]

Stones were blessed so they would explode like grenades,[1] and combatants walked into combat in cross-shaped formations while singing hymns. While the HSM suffered a number of horrific defeats, particularly when defending NRA soldiers had machine guns to fire upon the hymn-singing formations walking towards them, these methods were, according to some accounts, surprisingly effective.[citation needed]

The alliance between the Uganda People's Democratic Army and the HSM quickly fell apart. By early 1987 the UPDA was attempting to capture the civilian resource base of the HSM by terrorizing Lakwena’s supporters into submission. Despite continued conflicts with other rebel groups, the HSM began an offensive in August 1987 with the objective of retaking Kampala and initiating a paradise on earth. By November 1987, it had extended its forces far into regions where it had no popular support. After suffering a series of defeats, the shaken HSM was decisively defeated fifty miles from Kampala in a forest battle in which the NRA used overwhelming artillery support.

The Holy Spirit Movement left in its wake a number of smaller rebel groups that mimicked its chiliastic message (the doctrine stating that Jesus will reign on earth for 1,000 years). Most of these groups soon fell into banditry, disbanded as members drifted away, or were defeated by government forces or other rebel groups. However, one of these groups eventually became the Lord's Resistance Army, which operated in Acholiland until 2006.


  1. ^ a b c d Uganda: A Country Study. The US Library of Congress.