Encyclopedia Womannica

Warriors: Rose Lokissim

Episode Summary

Rose Lokissim (1955-1986) was a soldier and activist in Chad who fought against Hissene Habre's violent regime.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins.

This week of Encyclopedia Womannica is brought to you by Native. For 20 percent off your first purchase, visit nativedeodorant.com and use promo code ENCYCLOPEDIA during checkout.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica. 

This month, we’re talking about warriors -- women from throughout history and around the world who stood up to fight for what they believed in. For some, that meant literally taking up arms. For others, that meant marching, writing or speaking up for the cause. 

Today’s warrior was a relentless fighter — an elite soldier who fought against Hissene Habre’s dictatorship in Chad. We’re talking about Rose Lokissim.  

Rose was born in 1955 in a small village in Chad. Her father was polygamous, and with his many wives, had many children. There is little known about Rose’s life before she became a soldier and an activist. Her uncle described her as the only family member who could keep her father’s emotions at bay. Rose was hardworking.

In 1978, at the age of 23 Rose joined the army. There she made a name for herself. She was one of the first female soldiers in Chad. Her courage impressed her fellow fighters. 

In 1982, Hissene Habre became the fifth president of Chad. His regime was characterized by cruelty, torment, and human rights abuses. He had thousands of people killed and tortured, engaged in ethnic cleansing of a variety of groups. Hissene’s dictatorship lasted eight years.

In 1984, Rose joined the fight against Habre’s rule. She spoke out against his regime, undeterred by the implications of her actions. She made clear that she wanted her activism to attract international attention to spread awareness. 

Rose was attempting to smuggle documents to fellow members of the resistance when she was arrested by the police. At that time, arrests were brutal. Police forced people out of their homes, put wires on them and shocked them with electricity. 

The police, called the Documentation and Security Directorate or DDS, brought Rose to a high-security prison, where she was put in a windowless cell referred to as the “Cell of Death.” It was given that name because people died there daily.

The guards worried that Rose would escape. They had initially placed Rose in a cell with other women but switched her to a men’s cell with tighter security. She stayed in the men’s cell for 8 months. When she was put back with the women, she was covered in dirt and lice. 

Rose’s smuggling career didn’t stop when she was imprisoned. She secretly sent prisoners’ letters to their families. When prisoners were executed, Rose found ways to let their families know. In a documentary called “Talking about Rose,” people who were in the same prison cell as Rose described her as someone who lifted morale. When other prisoners were treated cruelly, she comforted them.

Rose documented her experiences. She wrote on anything she could get her hands on: including boxes and cigarette paper. She wrote about the torture and executions in the prison around her. She was warned that if her documents were found, she would be punished. Still, she continued to write.

In 1986, the policeDCC found her documents, dragged Rose out of her cell and forced her to confess. Her final interrogation was held on May 15, 1986. In the notes from that interrogation, the police wrote, “Even if she dies in prison, she doesn’t regret it because Chad will thank her and history will talk about her.” 

She was declared a threat and was executed that day. Rose was 33 years old. 

In 2016, Hissene Habre was found guilty by a court in Senegal for human-rights abuses. His crimes included rape and ordering the deaths of 40,000 people. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Rose Lokissim tirelessly fought against injustice even in dire circumstances. All the while, she was a light for her fellow warriors. 

As always, we’ll be taking a break for the weekend. Tune in on Monday to hear the story of another warrior.  

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Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator. 

Talk to you on Monday!