Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen is a gripping story that uncovers what making a difference means. In the face of unconceivable tragedy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the strength of human connections prevails.
Through testimonies of many Congolese, Lisa J. Shannon beautifully ties together stories of a once peaceful Congo juxtaposed to their current day-to-day near escapes of death. This story educates the reader on the crisis in the Congo and pulls at the reader’s heartstrings, pleading the reader to do more than just read.
Brought together over their passion of the Congo, human rights activist Lisa J. Shannon and native Congolese, Francisa Thelin started to discuss the Congo in their Portland, Oregon homes. Shortly after their meetings began, Thelin began getting calls from “Mama Koko,” her great-grand mother, about the rising conflict in the Congo caused by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Soon after the first call, Thelin received a call every night for a year from Mama Koko about friends and family who were brutally murdered, many of who were burned alive on Christmas Day.
Thelin’s gaping homesickness for the home she once knew and her obligation to see her remaining family, probably for the last time, brought on a dangerous trip by her and Shannon to the Congo in 2010. Almost backing out on the day of their flight after hearing reports of attacks in Mama Koko’s town, they decided to take the trip.
Shannon collected testimony from Mama Koko and her husband, Papa Alexander, as well as testimony from dozens friends and neighbors in the most dangerous conditions while the LRA was camped at the edge of town they were visisting. In Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen, these testimonies are deliberately placed and built upon throughout the book, adding a personal touch that pulls the reader deeply into the book.
Tensions peak in the book as the LRA remained at the edge of their town. As the testimonies continue, Thelin and Shannon’s friendship is put to the test. Shannon encounters her limitations as an activist and is challenged with the overwhelming question of what makes change. In the book, Shannon grapples with her concerns that sharing stories isn’t enough to create the change she wants to see.
This question is still being asked today. The viral campaign of #Kony2012 started by Invisible Children was one of the most viral campaigns of all time, but didn’t succeed in capturing Joseph Kony.
Shannon knows the solutions for a war that has been raging for nearly 30 years won’t come quickly, no matter what anyone does. She writes, “the damage and the structural issues in Congo’s broken government that have allowed the violence to persist will take decades to heal.” And by ending her book with a list of “What You Can Do Before Setting This Book Down,” she has artfully used the powerful story of Mama Koko to keep people informed of the atrocities of Joseph Kony and more importantly, keep them engaged in the battle for peace in the Congo.