February 22, 2021, marked fourth anniversary of the death of Lapwony Micheal Ocan who was an eminent Ugandan public servant, educationalist, peacemaker and church leader.
The Life and Legacy of Lapwony Micheal Ocan is a chronicle of Ocan’s life and times as told by his family, relatives and friends. The 132-page biography that was edited by Dennis D. Muhumuza and Ocan’s eldest son, Jimmy Odoki Acellam, was published by Optimist Media last year.
He was a physics and mathematics teacher at St Joseph’s College Layibi in Gulu District and head teacher at Awere Secondary School. He also taught at Sir Samuel Baker School and Kitgum High School.
Ocan married Betty Aol and they had seven children. Aol is also a teacher. They both taught at St Joseph’s College Layibi.
“He was a good teacher and very much loved by his students because he was very reserved and not given to applying the rod as a disciplinary measure. He preferred speaking to, mentoring and persuading students to approach their studies with the maturity of character that separates boys from men,” his wife Betty Aol writes in The man that was my husband and best friend.
Ocan was enlisted in the Civilian Wing of the Frontline Coordination Team. He was so highly regarded that priestess Alice Auma Lakwena had chosen him to lead the country instead of her if she took over power. This was not to be as Holy Spirit Mobile Forces were defeated in 1987 and Ocan imprisoned.
“It was a tough time for us as a family particularly with me left alone to shoulder the responsibilities of raising a young family as well as live with the constant tension of not knowing the fate of my husband,” recalls Aol, who is the Woman Member of Parliament for Gulu District as well as Leader of Opposition in Parliament.
“Micheal was Alice Lakwena’s prime target because he had only one wife in a community that was predominantly polygamous. Being so religious she wanted recruits as close to ‘holiness’ as possible, and believed that a person with two or more wives didn’t have the kind of protection from the spirits and so could easily get injured on the frontline unlike a man like Micheal who was monogamous and good-hearted,” Aol writes.
Aol says she did not hear from her husband until when the rebels were captured in 1988 close to Jinja District. They were taken as prisoners of war and transferred to Makindye Barracks in Kampala.
According to Aol, Micheal was released in 1989 and was taken to the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi District for training as a cadre.
“He performed so well that the regime wanted to retain him but he asked to be allowed to go back home to Gulu to continue practicing the profession he loved – teaching. Micheal’s wish was granted and he returned to the classroom, and steadily began to rebuild his life again as a husband, father, and educationist.”
As an eye witness and participant in the HSMF, Ocan became a historiographer and ethnographer, taking over the great burden of translating what had happened to a local and global audience. 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” by Prof Heike Behrend.
A businessman and resident of Lakung Sub-county in Lamwo District, Ben ‘Bukenya’ Okeny writes: “As a devoted member of the Acholi Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiative together with Archbishop John Baptist Odama, Sheikh Musa Khelil and Bishop Onono Onweng, Micheal Ocan played a crucial role in conflict resolution and peace-building process in Acholiland. These were the brains behind the peace negotiation that brought the LRA conflict to an end and Ocan was among them.”
Acellam describes his father as “a versatile and ambidextrous man who wore many hats and made a huge mark in the fields of education, politics, religion, family and social development. He had such a big heart and loved people authentically judging by how many reciprocated in his life and death.”
Acellam says his father was a strict disciplinarian. “He often reminded us that however brilliant one was, without discipline and humility they would go nowhere in life…He did not hesitate to correct us by caning whenever we went astray. This early childhood formation helped us to grow into responsible people.”
Ocan had a spirit of volunteerism and selflessness. He volunteered as Secretary of the Board of the Acholi Education Initiative (AEI), which worked hard to improve the education standards of schools as well as helped many students to get scholarships. He and others made the foundation for the memorial of late Archbishop Janani Luwum.