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Excerpt from A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Moonless, Starless Sky

Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa

by Alexis Okeowo

A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo X
A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2017, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2018, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
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When forces within Uganda and from neighboring Tanzania forced Amin into exile, Obote reemerged to win the 1980 election. His return was not smooth. Guerilla leader Yoweri Museveni accused him of rigging the race, and Museveni's rebel National Resistance Army, made up largely of southerners, waged war against Obote. The people of Uganda were tired. They had endured bloodshed and a never-ending turnover of despotic leaders, and were desperate for stability. But more coup plans, as always, were brewing.

General Tito Okello, an Acholi, overthrew Obote. Okello signed a peace deal with Museveni's rebels at the end of 1985, but Museveni seized power a month later anyway. He was still in power in 2017. Once Museveni assumed office, soldiers and government officials loyal to Obote and Okello fled back north. They were afraid of retaliation at the hands of the new government, which was angry about massacres Obote's army had committed in central Uganda of residents who supported Museveni. Acholis watched as Museveni's army then committed murder and rape and seized land and cattle, in their own communities, under the guise of establishing control in the north.

The general air of paranoia and discontent in the north gave way to the Holy Spirit Movement, led by Alice Auma Lakwena, who offered her followers protection from Museveni's soldiers, and promised Acholis a spiritual cleansing and redemption from all the violence that had both been done to them and been done by their bitter, haunted soldiers. Such salvation required them to, among other things, rub shea butter on themselves to evade bullets. Lakwena claimed that snakes, bees, and rivers would devour their enemies. Before the army defeated Lakwena and her legions of footmen, thousands of supporters and innocent civilians had died during battle.

Joseph Kony was her cousin. A former altar boy who dropped out of school, he was regarded by his community as a healer, able to lift curses and cure illnesses. He started the LRA in his twenties, when he said the Holy Spirit had visited him and told him to overthrow the government. He claimed the army was going to murder everyone in Acholiland. He vowed to recover the land and cattle stolen from the Acholis. The late 1980s was a time when resistance efforts against the government had genuine popular support among northerners. Kony recruited a contingent of Acholi ex-soldiers who called themselves the Black Battalion. But Acholis soon realized how sadistic the LRA was: Kony declared that the country should be ruled by the Ten Commandments; that it was now his duty to perform a cleansing on Acholiland and root out all evil in the world; and that he was possessed by spirits and powers, a claim that led many of his terrified followers to consider him a Godlike being.

When many Acholis refused to support his delusions, Kony turned on his own people. In the early 1990s, the LRA began attacking the very population it was claiming to protect. By the decade's end, the group was composed almost entirely of members who had been kidnapped against their will, usually children. The longer children spent in the group, the more brutal they often became and the farther up the ranks they rose. Brainwashed and desensitized to violence, they eventually became commanders.

President Museveni was equally culpable for the trauma and poverty that plagued the region. A period of relative stability and prosperity arrived after he took office, but the wealth didn't spread north of the Nile River. Some suspected that Museveni's government was even enriching itself off the war, by inflating its military budget as it took money from foreign donors and prolonged the fighting. The government's counterinsurgency sent many Acholis, mostly subsistence farmers, into displacement camps in order to empty rural villages of recruits and support for the LRA. People were forced to leave their green land. In the camps, many became infected with diseases because of cramped conditions and poor sanitation. People fell hungry, fell into despair, fell victim to violence, and were still, incredibly, abducted under the noses of the soldiers tasked to guard them. The army was also burning the homes of northerners and slashing their crops, executing LRA suspects, beating people and accusing them of collaborating with the rebels. "They are your children," the soldiers told them.

Excerpted from A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo. Copyright © 2017 by Alexis Okeowo. Excerpted by permission of Hachette Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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