Kampala - A mass grave suspected of belonging to the Kanungu cult leaders has been discovered at Mawanga zone, Bunga near Kampala. The site is located behind a garage of a bungalow formerly rented by Fr. Dominic Kataribabo, one of the ring leaders behind the now de-registered Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments who are now being pursued for murdering over 1000 people.
Kataribabo's former landlord Mr. Moses Ssengendo yesterday told Sunday Vision that his workers first became suspicious on Monday after the garage rear sunk following the recent heavy rains. He said the workers whose attention was drawn to the site by a strong stench immediately informed him and he in turn reported the matter to Ggaba police station.
KANUNGU, Uganda - They removed their followers from the influences of home and family. They hoodwinked or bribed local authorities, and they kept their flock hungry and silent. An intricate system of controls allowed leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God to orchestrate, and seemingly get away with, the murder of hundreds of followers. At least 530 of them were boarded into a building last month and burned alive at the cult's headquarters in this remote corner of southwestern Uganda. The blaze, initially treated as a mass suicide, turned out to be the fiery climax of a killing rampage that investigators believe was intended to fulfill an apocalyptic agenda. About 400 other sect members were killed in previous weeks or months and dumped in mass graves at several other cult compounds.
A month after the grisly discovery of the mass graves, there are still many unanswered questions about the cult, including precisely when and how the killings were carried out, by whom, the exact identity of most of the victims and the fate of the cult leaders. Although a massive manhunt has been launched and international arrest warrants issued, police have little proof that the cult leaders are all still alive. Overwhelmed and ill-equipped investigators are piecing together evidence from the scant observations of neighbors, accounts from former cult members and fearful rural communities.
Still, from that sketchy information, a picture is emerging of how the cult leaders were able to avoid suspicion of family members and neighbors as they engaged in their killing spree, and prevent authorities from cracking down on them. Normally, there are relatively few police in the rural area, and officials who should have been keeping an eye on the cult either failed or were bribed. Instead of the southwest, Ugandan security forces are focused in the high-risk west and north of the country, where insurgencies are common. "We were taken off guard," said police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi.
Investigators also suspect the deputy resident district commissioner, who has been arrested, blocked moves to penetrate the group despite reports of child kidnapping and possible rebel infiltration - either because he had been bribed or because he may have been a cult member. Mugenyi said the official was seen having lunch with the cult's leaders the day before the March 17 inferno.
Orders have also been issued for the arrest of the head of the local office of the Criminal Investigation Division on charges of "culpable negligence." Two months before the inferno, he had been ordered to investigate the group, but gave it a clean bill of health. International arrest warrants have been issued for six of the cult's leaders including the suspected masterminds: Joseph Kibwetere, 68, a failed politician and self-styled bishop; Credonia Mwerinde, 48, a former prostitute believed to be the de facto head of the cult; and Dominic Kataribabo, 64, a defrocked Catholic priest.
"We are hunting for these people," Mugenyi said. "We want them dead or alive." Investigators and community leaders believe there could have been up to 5,000 cult members, and that some of them could be hiding the leaders. Only a few people have responded to police appeals and reported the disappearance of kin, making it difficult to determine how many more members there might be. But official failure cannot alone be blamed for the cult's success at deceiving a whole community. Members, predominately poor former Catholics, were sworn to silence - unable to utter a single word except during prayer.
Nairobi - What is it that attracts people to religious cults and other unconventional modes of worship? Last month nearly 1,000 Ugandans died in what was suspected to be a ritual mass suicide. In 1978, in Guyana, South America, Reverend Jim Jones of the People's Temple led 914 of his followers into taking a fruit drink laced with cyanide. In 1993, more than 70 Branch Davidian cult members died in Texas after a fire and a shoot-out with the police. It was in that same year that, in a Vietnamese village, 53 people were led by one Ca Van Liem - a blind man - into taking their lives in the belief that this would elevate them to heaven.
Why would a human being succumb to the manipulations of an individual and commit suicide using some of the most painful methods? In all instances, religious cults have been behind such bizarre acts. According to the book, "Leaders and Followers...A Psychiatric Perspective on Religious Cults", a cult is a group that follows a dominant leader who claims to be divine, and who is regarded by his or her followers as divine.
Leaders in cults claim that they possess the only truth there is. Furthermore, a cult observes a mode of worship that differs sharply from that of established denominations, and develops its own radical set of guiding principles that are to be adhered to by all members without question.
Much mysticism, including conducting rituals and ceremonies, surrounds cult practices. Dr Samwel Gatere, a Nairobi-based psychiatrist adds that such ceremonies are usually conducted within enclosed premises from which the rest of the society is excluded. Many people believe that any sect that radically branches away from a denomination is a cult. To some therefore, all sects are cults. The number of cults world-wide has been placed at over 3000.
According to a study carried out by the Committee on Psychiatry and Religion, there are major similarities between established religions and cults, a fact that has led some people to proclaim that one man's religion is another man's cult. Initially, many religions were regarded as cults, at least until they had won themselves mass following over long periods of time. Christianity began as a cult within Judaism. The Mormons, Christian Scientists, Methodists, Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day-Adventists are examples of groups that began as cults and developed into recognised denominations. Should all sects therefore be regarded as cults?
The book "Followers and Leaders" outlines the characteristics of cults: they have authoritarian leadership and organisation, they practise excessive self denial, they claim to possess exclusive truth, they have an attitude of moral superiority, they use manipulative techniques of mind control, they exploit members' labour and finances, and usually hold ceremonies in secluded places.
According to Prof Joseph Nyasani, a lecturer of Philosophy at the University of Nairobi, for a cult to be born, there must be willing followers and an immoral, evil-minded charismatic leader. Followers usually possess pathological fears about death and are highly uncertain about the future. Their fear, Prof Nyasani explains, generates a crisis within them. "The follower's mind is then surrendered to the whims of cult leaders who can manipulate the impoverished persona of the subject," he says.
Dr Gatere holds that cult followers, like all human beings, have the need to identify with a hero. It is when a man or woman 'hero' offers to adequately meet the emotional needs of followers that a cult may be born. Dr Gatere observes that individuals with the potential to lead cults are gifted with the charm and power to influence and inspire people. "They hypnotise and mesmerise followers," he says. "They project a God image and invoke emotionalism as opposed to reason. If the people are evil in their intentions," he adds, "God help us." Influential figures like Jomo Kenyatta and Nelson Mandela, or singers like Bob Marley and Elvis Presley, could have wrought havoc had they been immoral, mentally sick or evil-minded, he adds. When Elvis died, 15 girls in Brazil committed suicide "because their god had passed away Cult followers, Prof Nyasani explains, are not normal people. "They don't question whatever they are told." Cults thrive on fanaticism, or what Dr Gatere describes as "a mental illness that manifests itself in the form of extreme religiosity." Leaders of cults are able to attract much blind loyalty by promising their followers welfare here and hereafter. "After years of being brain-washed, followers oblige when their leaders announce that 'the time to make our long-awaited transition - and the time to act - has come", Gatere says.
Should modern charismatic churches then be viewed as cults, especially given their 'different' approach to worship? Experts say it would be incorrect to consider them cults per se. Rather, a professional explains, they are groups whose members have been gripped by the spell of charismatic and highly convincing opportunists. Modern charismatic church leaders - having the advantage that their followers have an insatiable urge to find God - have commercialised this need. They have found a ready and profitable market for evangelism.
Experts agree that most followers are genuine in their quest for God - only they have misplaced their trust. Says a professional who seeks anonymity: "The followers are sheep without a shepherd." The churches have the potential to evolve into established denominations or religions - or into fully-fledged cults.
Do these evangelical revivals then pose any danger to society? Do they harbour cult-like convictions, and are we likely to witness in Kenya what was witnessed in Uganda recently? As with cults, the emerging religious sects vary widely in their practices, membership and ideologies. While some may harbour suspect individuals, others are nothing but institutions created merely to enrich the entrepreneurs-of- sorts who establish them. It is, however, difficult to clearly predict the future of these groups because both the environment in which they operate and their followers are changing. "We should not expect miracles from them," says an expert. "Many have promised radical improvements but all we see is increasing crime and evil?" Our government lacks the means through which to regulate these bodies without compromising the constitutional guarantee to freedom of worship. Society also deems it improper to probe the groups. The only workable preventive strategy then is for the followers to be alert and not let anyone sway them into wayward, unorthodox practices.
Let us learn from the Ugandan government's recent admission that it failed to detect those telltale signs that, if identified early, could have saved the country so many lives.
KANUNGU, Uganda--They removed their followers from the influences of home and family. They kept their flock hungry and silent, and they hoodwinked or bribed local authorities.
An intricate system of controls allowed leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God to orchestrate--and seemingly get away with--the slayings of hundreds of followers.
At least 530 sect members were boarded up in a building last month and burned alive at the cult's headquarters in this remote corner of southwestern Uganda. The blaze, initially regarded as a mass suicide, turned out to be the fiery climax of a killing rampage that investigators believe was intended to fulfill an apocalyptic agenda. Nearly 400 other sect members had been killed in previous weeks or months and dumped in mass graves at several other cult compounds.
A month after the grisly discovery of the mass graves, many unanswered questions remain about the cult, including precisely when and how the killings occurred, who carried them out, the identities of most of the victims and the fate of the leaders. Although a massive manhunt has been launched and international arrest warrants issued, police have little proof that the cult leaders are still alive. Overwhelmed and ill-equipped investigators are piecing together evidence from the scant observations of neighbors, accounts from former cult members and tales from fearful rural communities.
Still, from that sketchy information, a picture is emerging of how the cult leaders were able to avoid suspicions of family members and neighbors as they engaged in their killing, and how they prevented authorities from cracking down on them.
Normally, relatively few police patrol this rural area, and officials who should have been keeping an eye on the cult either failed to do so or were bribed.
Instead of the southwest, Ugandan security forces focus on the high-risk west and north of the country, where insurgencies are common.
"We were taken off guard," said police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi.
Investigators also suspect that the deputy resident district commissioner blocked moves to penetrate the group despite reports of child kidnapping and possible rebel infiltration--either because he had been bribed or because he may have been a cult member. Mugenyi said the official--who since has been arrested--was seen having lunch with the cult's leaders the day before the March 17 inferno.
Cult Leaders Wanted: Dead or Alive
Authorities are seeking to arrest the head of the local office of the Criminal Investigation Division on charges of "culpable negligence." Two months before the fire, he was ordered to investigate the group, and he gave it a clean bill of health.
International arrest warrants have been issued for six of the cult's leaders, including the suspected masterminds: Joseph Kibwetere, 68, a failed politician and self-styled bishop; Keredonia Mwerinde, 48, a former prostitute believed to be the de facto head of the cult; and Dominic Kataribabo, 63, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest who once studied in the Los Angeles area.
"We are hunting for these people," Mugenyi said. "We want them dead or alive."
Investigators and community leaders believe that there may have been as many as 5,000 cult members and that some of them may be sheltering the leaders. Only a few people have responded to police appeals and reported the disappearance of relatives, making it difficult to determine how many more members there might be.
But official failure alone cannot be blamed for the cult's success at deceiving a community.
Members, predominantly poor former Catholics, were sworn to silence--unable to utter a single word except during prayer.
"This rule was ruining people," said Father Paul Ikazire, a priest who was one of the cult's leaders for three years before returning to the Catholic Church. "I think they did this so nobody could warn if there was anything wrong."
Contact and conversations with outsiders--even relatives--were forbidden. Visitors to the cult's compounds were met by a designated individual and were kept away from cult members.
"Their argument was they did not need to meet with sinners, because sinners did not have to know what was going on on their compound," said one community leader, a close acquaintance of Kataribabo, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Sect members often were moved to camps outside their home region, where they were less likely to be approached and questioned by outsiders. If family members did inquire about their kin, they were told that the relatives had been sent away for training or a special mission, they said.
The Rev. George Tibamwenda, a local Anglican priest, recalled that many of the people he saw toiling on the cult's bountiful farms were not from the area.
Investigators and residents suspect that dissenters in the group were killed at one camp and their bodies transferred to another to be buried so that the corpses would not arouse suspicion among other members.
Local religious leaders also believe that cult leaders explained the burial of fellow members in mass graves without the presence of relatives by saying that only members of the sect were worthy to attend the funerals. The cult members probably also were told that if the deceased were laid to rest in the same grave, they most certainly would reach heaven together.
Peter Ahimbisibwe, 17, who narrowly escaped dying in the Kanungu inferno, had joined the sect 10 days earlier at the urging of his mother, a longtime member. He recalled that while newcomers were fed well on meat, rice and millet, long-term cult members ate mostly beans. Many of the children were unhappy because they weren't getting enough to eat, he said.
Ahimbisibwe, who sneaked out of the compound and ran home to find food just hours before the blaze, said the leaders' meals were cooked in a different kitchen than that of regular members. Everyone rose at dawn. Prayers were recited morning, noon and night. While the children struggled to play in silence, the adults labored in the fields. Bedtime came at 10 p.m.
At the cult's compound in the village of Rugazi, where 155 corpses were unearthed from Kataribabo's house and garden, the victims showed signs of having been strangled, clubbed or hacked to death. People who knew the former priest doubt that he acted alone.
"I'm sure he was persuaded and influenced by the other leaders in the sect," said Arsen Oworyanawe, Kataribabo's brother, who lived near the compound. "It wasn't like him to do something like that. I doubt my brother killed those people. He was a good man." Neighbors suspect that the bodies found at Kataribabo's home were transported there for burial at night. They say they heard the rumbling of the sect's Toyota pickup truck most nights. It seemed to come and go more frequently after the beginning of the year.
Oworyanawe said that he had an excellent relationship with his brother but that even he was not allowed onto the compound. Kataribabo had told him that a reed fence around his property was erected simply to keep his property safe, Oworyanawe said.
Not even George Byontura, 18, who worked for Kataribabo for three years, suspected that scores of rotting corpses lay under the soil he raked. He was never allowed inside his boss' house.
"I used to see people come," said Byontura, who has spent recent days spraying the putrid compound with disinfectant. "[Kataribabo] said they had come for a course, for retraining." On March 9, Byontura and others watched as several members burned their belongings, including Bibles, clothing and plastic water containers, before setting off in the Toyota truck to an undisclosed location.
On March 12, Kataribabo told Byontura and others at a farewell party that he was going to the neighboring town of Rukingiri for a course and that he would return in a month. However, he told his brother that he was traveling to Kampala, the Ugandan capital, but would soon be back.
Relatives were baffled because the former priest already had sold his house to a nephew and burned all his belongings, ignoring requests to leave them to his family and friends.
In Kanungu, neighbors living near one of the cult's farms said they noticed a decrease in the number of people working in the fields in the weeks preceding the inferno. Tibamwenda, the Anglican priest, said queries about the whereabouts of sect members were met with silence or an explanation that they were spreading their doctrine elsewhere.
The sect's registration in 1989 as a nongovernmental organization helped convince people that it was legitimate. Poor and illiterate villagers, desperate to find solace, were eager to join, especially since many local priests were involved. Kataribabo, for example, was respected as an honest and intelligent man.
However, children were barred from going to school. Spouses were forbidden to have intimate relations. Members were persuaded to sell their property and give the proceeds to the cult leaders. They were told that the money would be used to enable leaders to travel to America to buy a modern Noah's Ark that would save them from God's wrath when Judgment Day arrived.
Promise of Party Attracted Teen
Sadres Kyoheirwe's son Bernard Nahurira, 18, who she suspects died in the inferno, had given the cult the $65 he had earned selling the tomatoes, maize and pineapples he grew. He became discontent and left the cult, but after the beginning of the year, a female member began visiting him, and on March 10 she persuaded him to rejoin.
"On the day he left, he told me they were going to have a very big party and he would go to attend," Kyoheirwe said. "He said Kibwetere, the bishop, would be there and would give them their money back." Evas Jonas Tumushabe's husband, Esdor Byamugisha, a member of the cult since 1997, sold four acres of land, a cow and some goats and gave the money to the cult. He even ripped the aluminum sheeting off the roof of the family shack to sell it. Tumushabe appealed to local officials, who put her husband in jail for a couple of days and ordered him to re-roof the house and not sell any more family belongings.
In November, Byamugisha came home and tried one last time to persuade his wife to bring their six children and join him at the camp. She refused. But Byamugisha took their 11-year-old daughter by force.
"He told us that we should go with him because the world was coming to an end," said Byamugisha's son Francis, 18. "He said [the leaders] had shown him a book with a message from God, and they said they would go to heaven." As investigators continue their search for the sect's leaders across the border in Congo, relatives of cult members said they won't rest until the perpetrators are caught.
"I am very, very angry at them," Kyoheirwe said. "They must be killed as they killed others."
Kampala - The Police are investigating reports that the Kanungu doomsday cult leaders made calls on mobile telephone days after the Kanungu inferno in which at least 350 followers perished in a church fire, reports Patrick Mugumya.
A Police source said yesterday a cult leader, the Rev. Fr. Dominic Kataribaabo, telephoned a Catholic priest in Mbarara Municipality. Kataribaabo reportedly denied involvement in the Kanungu fire. The southwestern regional CID chief, Mr. Terence Kinyera, said Kataribaabo's MTN mobile phone was being used days after the fire.
"We came across Kataribaabo's mobile phone number from his nephew, who bought his estate in Rugazi. When we started monitoring it, we discovered that it was still being used," Kinyera said.
He said they monitored the phone for several days and when they blocked it, no one reported to MTN to have it reactivated. He said they also monitored another telephone number, which they found in the documents found at Kanungu and in other places. He gave no details.
"We found another telephone number and we monitored it," he said.
The Police referred The New Vision to Mr. Aisu, the officer in- charge of serious crime at the CID headquarters. Efforts to contact Aisu failed. The Police have issued international arrest warrants for the leaders of the doomsday cult, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, responsible for up to 1,000 deaths of its followers.
Kinyera said they questioned former Rukungiri Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Yorokamu Kamacherere, who was in charge in 1997 when the district local council rejected the registration of the cult.
Kampala - Police are investigating activities of a suspected 'cult' group in Iganga whose members include Eriya Lisi Kaguta, an uncle to President Yoweri Museveni, reports Abubaker Mukose.
A team from the Criminal Investigation Department, assisted by the office of the Iganga District Internal Security Organisation, have been on a two-week probe on the 'Isa Masiya' sect led by 'Apostle' Christopher Besweri Kaswabuli.
The sect has over 100,000 followers with several branches in Mbarara, Ntungamo, Bushenyi, Mukono, Iganga, Pallisa and Tororo. Other believers include Kenyans and Rwandese some of whom stay at the camp.
'Apostle' Kaswabuli, who claims he had a vision instructing him to lead the people of God through evangelism, said his sect only believes in what is written in the 1877 Luganda version Bible of Isa Masiya. The sect also restricts believers to marry within the Church and encourages them to be hard working people.
He told The New Vision on Wednesday that Lisi Kaguta was baptized in 1987 in the Church adding that he (Kaguta) often attends annual meetings at the Church headquarters in Bugabo village, Iganga district.
He said Kaguta is one of the sect elders, adding that many big shots in government including Vice President Dr. Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, information minister Basoga Nsadhu and Kibirige Ssebunya, the state minister for agriculture had visited their camp. The New Vision saw signatures of the mentioned government officials in the Church visitors' book.
Kampala - Thirty-seven churches and Christian organisations have met in Kampala to revisit, among others, the impact of the Kanungu tragedy on the church in Uganda.
Some clergy have reported that their work and ministry had become harder since the Kanungu tragedy, according to a statement issued in Kampala, by the Christian leaders.
"The clerical collar is no longer a symbol of dignity, integrity and godliness. The fact that the leaders of the Kanungu cult wore collars has cast collars and clerical work in sinister light", the statement signed by the Director of Kampala Evangelical School of Theology (KEST) Philip Wandawa.
The meeting, which attracted over 70 participants, on April 19, was organised by KEST, Evangelical Fellowship of Uganda (EFU), the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) and the Institute of Christian Impact (ICI).
The meeting also pointed out that the incident had polarised the different churches against each other.
Kampala - Police are investigating reports that some cult leaders made telephone calls to their friends days after the March 17 Kanungu inferno in which over 400 people were burnt.
Uganda Police OC CID South-Western Region, Terence Kinyera yesterday told The Monitor that cult leader Fr. Dominic Kataribabo seems to have made calls to his friends after the fire. Kataribabo reportedly had a mobile MTN number.
"For three weeks (after the fire), this phone was in use" the CID boss told The Monitor. He said police had been monitoring the phone and confirmed the cult leaders could have used it to call their friends. The number was blocked afterwards although up to now no one has reported to any of the MTN phone centres complaining about it.
"This means it is somewhere," he said.
Kinyera refused to disclose the phone number saying police are still investigating it. A source with links to the Catholic church who preferring anonymity told this reporter April 19 that Kataribabo telephoned a Catholic priest in Mbarara diocese some days after the Kanungu incident.
"He rang and told this priest that they (cult leaders) were not responsible for the blaze," he said.
The source refused to reveal the identity of the priest when asked.
CID boss Kinyera said that days towards the inferno Kataribabo tried to sell his cell-phone to his nephew but he refused to buy it and it is not clear whether another person bought it.
Kataribabo also sold his land at Shs 5m and over 150 bodies of cult victims were exhumed from an underground cellar in the same house.
Initial reports after the fire Kanungu fire, in which over 400 members of the Movement for the Restoration of The Ten Commandments of God, claimed that Fr. Kataribabo died in the fire.
Police has since, however, issued both a local and international warrant of arrest and a reward for his arrest and five other led by cult leader, Joseph Kibwetere.
"Their whereabouts are unknown," a police spokesperson told reporters at the time of issuing the warrants.
They have been summoned to appear in court May 08. In all, the Kanungu cult leaders are blamed for the death of over 1,000 people. Most of the bodies were found buried in grounds outside the burnt church, and other properties owned by the cult leaders in places like Bushenyi district. These are the single largest recorded cult deaths in the world.
Index Page: Ten Commandments of God: Tragedy in Uganda
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