div CESNURCenter for Studies on New Religions


"Credonia's cult of death "

by Richard Sanders ("The Mail & Guardian", May 22, 2000)

Johannesburg, South Africa--A fire which claimed the lives of more than 300 people alerted the world to a shadowy doomsday cult in Uganda, started by a former prostitute. By the time investigations of further mass graves are
complete, the death toll could top 1 000.
Seventeen-year-old Peter Ahimbisibwe had been praying all night and he was bored. Bored and hungry. He'd scarcely eaten for 12 hours and he knew the following day, Friday, was set aside for fasting. He'd been a member of the cult for only nine days and had joined really at the insistence of his mother. As dawn broke he slipped away and ran to his nearby home for some breakfast. Running down the path he saw a fellow cult member striding towards him carrying a hammer and some nails. He dived into the bushes and hid and then continued on his way.
His teenage restlessness saved his life. When he returned to the compound a few hours later the dining hall was in flames, the doors and windows nailed shut, 331 people, including his mother and sister, trapped, screaming, inside.
Police found six more bodies buried in the cult compound. A search of other cult centres over the next few weeks revealed a grisly trail of mass graves -- 153 bodies in the first, 155 in the second, 81 in the third, 55 in the fourth -- 781 people in all. Peter Ahimbisibwe was the only survivor of the largest cult mass murder in history.
The killings were the work of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. Born among the impoverished peasantry of Uganda's Aids-infested south-west, the cult was founded by a prostitute called Credonia Mwerinde. On June 14 1989 she claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary in a cave close to her home village of Kanungu. She said the Virgin had told her to tell the world that it must mend its ways or face certain doom.
Her common-law husband, Eric Mazima, was sceptical. "She was never religious at all," he says, "she wanted to make money." But she managed to win over a wealthy fellow-Catholic from the nearby village of Kabumba called Joseph Kibwetere, who would provide her movement with much-needed social and intellectual respectability. Credonia immediately moved into Kibwetere's family home with various of her sisters and nieces in tow. She told Kibwetere the Virgin had appeared to her again and told her that she and her relatives needed some new clothes. Kibwetere immediately bought them some.

Credonia now targeted two priests from the nearby parish of Rugazi -- Father Dominic Kataribaabo and Father Paul Ikazire. Like Kibwetere they were elderly men on the conservative wing of the church who felt left behind by the liberal reforms of the past few decades. They agreed to let Credonia and Kibwetere use their church for a meeting. .
Former cult member Abdoni Bishoborokire remembers the occasion vividly.
"Credonia said the world had sinned so much and that God's patience was running out, that people were committing adultery and unnatural things like homosexuality.".
Credonia's sister Angelina was introduced as the earthly incarnation of the Virgin Mary. She told the congregation to lie on the floor and then pressed on their throats with two toes to expel devils. The two priests instantly joined the movement and brought a part of their congregation with them.
Although the Restoration movement had 12 leaders in all, in imitation of the 12 disciples of Christ, these four -- Credonia, Kibwetere, Father Dominic and Father Paul -- would be the key figures; a prostitute and three frustrated old men whose lives were going nowhere and who suddenly found themselves confronted with the voice of the Virgin Mary in human form, and a particularly alluring one at that. It seems to have been an intoxicating experience.
Soon 260 followers were living at Kibwetere's home in Kabumba. "It was miserable," recalls Kibwetere's son Juvenal. "My father was feeding them, and I cannot say that the was feeding them in the best way. Only the leaders had any comfort." Conditions for the 60 children there were particularly bad.
They were kept locked in a darkened room 24 hours a day. "They had the scabies all around their body. They even couldn't sit, or lie down, because of all the sores," recalls Juvenal.
Credonia was also revealing a violent side. Juvenal's sisters were beaten and his mother, Theresa, persecuted. On one occasion Credonia burnt Theresa's clothes, an early manifestation of what seems to have been an obsession with fire. "My father was there but he couldn't say no, because he thought that it was a punishment from the Virgin Mary," says Juvenal.
The family eventually combined to throw the cult out of the house after Juvenal caught his father having sex with Credonia.
The movement, which had by now also been expelled from the Catholic Church, transferred to land belonging to Credonia's father in Kanungu. Membership was growing and the cult desperately needed funds to expand its facilities. It seems to have been at around this time that the leaders started demanding that new members sell their property.
"Bring money, bring money, bring money," was the message, remembers Father Paul, who was becoming increasingly disillusioned. "Sell your property, sell your cows, sell our goats, sell everything you have, bring the money here." Kanungu, they were told, was the "New Jerusalem" from which the faithful would ascend to heaven. Only those who had cut all their links with the past could live there.
In February 1994 Father Paul withdrew from the movement, taking 72 members with him. Credonia told him she would pray for his death.
By now other rules were also evolving, rules that, with time, would be applied with increasing severity. The one that most struck outsiders was the rule of silence. "Each section had a leader who kept a book in which everything one wanted to say would be written. You would write then forward the message to the leader who would take it to Credonia," says Ahimbisibwe.
The illiterate had to use sign language.
The cult also broke up families, separating husbands from wives and parents from children. "Sex itself was a sin," says former cult member Stephen Mutaremwa. But as a result of the break-up of the family unit a strange promiscuity prevailed -- among both leaders and ordinary members. Mutaremwa recalls catching married couples having clandestine sex in the toilets.
Sexual abuse does not seem to have been a feature of the cult. But, as at Kabumba, conditions for children were atrocious and they were subject to the arbitrary whims of Credonia and other leaders. "If a child had a good blanket they would confiscate it," says Mutaremwa. "And they would force the children to pray outside at night with nothing to cover their bodies.".
Cult experts find descriptions of the cult's practices uncanny, almost as if the leaders had sat down and read a book on how to set up a cult. "It's all about breaking people down physically and mentally," says Ian Howarth of Britain's Cult Information Centre. Deprived of food and sleep, cut off from the outside world and each other by the rule of silence, isolated from other family members, confused, intimidated, cult members were completely vulnerable. "It's classic, classic, classic," says Howarth. Mistreatment of children is particularly common. "Children are a problem to cults. They are a strain on resources and are of no use. The attitude is to keep them out of sight and mind and, if they won't keep quiet, to beat them," he says.
The cult's central message was that the end of the world was imminent and that cult members only would be saved. But by the late 1990s Credonia had already predicted the end of the world on at least two occasions and members were growing restless. Former member Paulina Zikanga remembers that during courses at Kanungu there were special sessions when new recruits were allowed to talk and ask questions. "Always the question of property came up," she says. "People would ask, 'If the world doesn't end, can we have our property back?' Credonia would get furious. She would stand up, shout, bang her fist on the table and then storm out.".
Credonia told members that on previous occasions the prayers of the faithful had persuaded God to show mercy. But now, she said, his patience was exhausted. The world would end at some point in the year 2000, and this time there would be no reprieve. She'd left herself with no room to manoeuvre. And it may well have been this that triggered the cult's final bloody end.
Once 2000 dawned, with no sign of the promised apocalypse, unrest seems to have grown. Those who asked questions about their property were branded "big-heads" and "disappeared", Ahimbisibwe says. What exactly happened in the final months is unclear. But there is no doubt that the elimination of the cult's membership was meticulously planned well in advance. .
Mass graves were later discovered at three sites in south-western Uganda -- Rugazi, Rushajwa and Rutoma. These were instructional centres which fed new recruits to Kanungu, the main centre where the fire would take place.
Neighbours at all three sites remember exactly the same sequence of events.
"When it came to October, they stopped cultivating the fields," says Dinah Tibahurira, the neighbour from Rutoma. "Credonia told me that there was no reason why they should work because the world was ending.".
Then they began to dig deep, deep pits, which they said were for latrines.
Between Christmas and New Year they constructed screens from papyrus mats around each of the three sites. Between New Year and the fire at Kanungu on March 17 neighbours remember increased movement of vehicles to and from the sites, particularly at night. The cult leaders were also selling off everything they could, at knock-down prices. Father Dominic sold his house at Rugazi, worth about R80 000, for R20 000. On March 12, the Sunday before the fire, all three sites were abandoned.
Everyone now assembled at Kanungu. Members were told there was to be a farewell party the following Saturday for a local official who had proved helpful to the cult and was leaving for another posting. On the Thursday night they were kept up until dawn, praying. But Ahimbisibwe, the 17-year-old who slipped away at dawn, had no idea that anything of any great importance was about to happen.
However, more senior members of the cult seem to have been aware the next day was no ordinary one. A taxi driver who slept at Kanungu the night before, and who enquired about joining the cult, was told: "It's too late, the ark is already full." And one of the neighbours at Rushajwa has a clear memory of being told the date for the end of the world had been set on March 17 -- the Friday.
Shortly after Ahimbisibwe left the church the cult members moved to the dining hall, a long, narrow building. The doors and windows were nailed shut.
Fire experts say it is clear large amounts of petrol were brought into the building.
At this point it would have been necessary to give some explanation to the members. Former cult member Mutaremwa is fairly sure he knows what they would have said. "They used to tell people that at the exact period when the earth would come to an end they should close themselves inside the house, without even a ventilator, so that Satan could not see the light which was coming from the house." He says they were told that they would be provided with a special fuel, blessed by the Virgin Mary. "When they saw petrol maybe they thought it was the blessed fuel they had been promised. And they thought, 'now let us light it and have our own light while other people are perishing in the dark'.".
Police say the hall would have been full of petrol vapours. The slightest spark would have been enough to ignite it. "At around 10.15am in the morning I heard an explosion," remembers Rutemba Didas, a local farmer who was tending his fields nearby. It was more a "whoosh" than a "bang", he says. "I looked and I saw fire and smoke coming out through the roof." He remembers the people inside screaming, crying out for help. He remembers it lasting from three to five minutes. But it was probably much shorter. The victims didn't even have time to run to the doors before they were overcome. The intensity of the fire was such that many of the skulls exploded.
Initially the police presumed they were dealing with a mass suicide. One of the first officers on the scene said he discovered evidence of a last supper -- a table set for 12 people with fine food in the rooms where the cult leaders lived. The calendar on the wall had the date of the 17th ringed and the word "bye" written.
But then they noticed a strange smell. Smashing through the concrete floor of Credonia's bedroom they found six bodies, killed with machetes just a few days previously. Now it was a murder hunt. At the instructional centres at Rutoma, Rugazi and Rushajwa police pulled down the papyrus screens to find the deep pits the cult had dug had been recently filled. Prisoners were brought in to dig them out.
What they found baffled police. The pits were full of bodies. But these were no ordinary mass graves. Every single body was naked. Every single one had died of strangulation. Other than in a couple of cases there were no other signs of violence. "It was almost as if they had walked into the graves themselves," says a senior policeman present at the exhumations.
The bodies had been packed in to maximise space in such a way that they must have been buried before rigor mortis set in. It was highly likely, therefore, they'd been killed at the site. All had been killed at roughly the same time -- just a few days before the sites were abandoned on March 12.
The fourth grave, discovered at a house rented by Father Dominic in the capital Kampala a month later, told much the same story, with the additional twist that there the bodies had been buried upside down.
A total of 444 people, murdered within the space of a few days, with no signs of struggle or violence, without the neighbours, who in most locations lived less than 20m to 30m away from the graves, hearing a single sound. Police think they must have been drugged. But, hopelessly overstretched, they have yet to complete forensic tests.
At Rushajwa and Rugazi, for which detailed figures are available, more than half the bodies were children. Just 12% were adult men. And police believe there are more mass graves waiting to be discovered. It's possible the eventual death toll, including those who died in the fire at Kanungu, will be more than 1 000.
Those who knew the cult leaders best have little doubt about the motivation.
"They murdered them because they wanted their money," says Father Paul. But there are some puzzling aspects. In the final days, as well as selling off everything they could lay their hands on, the cult leaders also went to great trouble to pay off all their debts. It's also important to bear in mind they were wealthy only compared to other cult members. Kibwetere's standard of living was certainly lower than it had been in the 1980s. Only Credonia and her sisters had become significantly wealthier.
But Howarth points out that the motivation of cult leaders is complex. Jim Jones, who led 914 members of his People's Temple to their deaths in 1978, had amassed $25-million. But he chose to kill himself rather than enjoy it.
"We can never underestimate the human craving for power over others," he says. And it is when that power is threatened that cult leaders are most deadly.
Greed, religious mania and straight insanity may all have played a part. It's quite possible some of the leaders genuinely believed they were saving a backsliding congregation from hell by killing them. But one thing is clear.
The scale of the killings means all must have been complicit.
The fate of the cult leaders is key to resolving the mystery. Ahimbisibwe, the 17-year-old who slipped away from the compound at dawn, says Credonia was the only one of the leaders he'd seen in the previous few days. And she too had disappeared at about 2am that morning.
But at Kanungu there was a small bunch of bodies separate from the rest. They were less badly burned and may have been attempting to reach the door. Had they possibly been the ones who had set the fire, meaning to escape, but underestimating the size of the explosion? One of the bodies was dressed as a priest and may, according to those who saw it, have been Kibwetere or Father Dominic.
As for Credonia, her fate might have been a total mystery, but for a chance encounter. Baguma Gaston is Kanungu's village drunk. At 6.30 on the morning of the fire he was still wandering the streets. He saw a white taxi leaving the village. He is absolutely convinced that it contained Credonia, one of her sisters, two children, and a man (not a cult leader).
Police are wary of the evidence of an alcoholic. But who better to recognise a former bar-maid? In fact, when he spotted the taxi he was on his way to Credonia's old bar to buy some cigarettes. He'd spent a large part of his life there and knew Credonia of old. Could he really be sure he'd recognise her? Other villagers snigger at the question.
Nothing about Credonia suggests the type of woman who would kill herself.
It's quite possible that some leaders survived while others didn't. The six bodies buried beneath Credonia's bedroom, brutally murdered and hurriedly buried just a few days before the fire, may provide the key. Was there some bloody dispute among the leadership in the final days?.
We may never know for sure. Fearful of disease, the authorities simply bulldozed the burned building at Kanungu, along with all the corpses, into a pit. Positive identification of the bodies would now be a laborious and gruesome task. There was no religious ceremony. And the Catholic Church forbade priests from saying mass for the dead cult members. Today there is not even so much as a stone to mark the spot.

"Cult deaths prompt Pentecostals in Uganda to regulate churches"

(Newsroom, May 16, 2000)

KAMPALA, 16 May 2000 (Newsroom) -- The Fellowship of Born Again Churches in Uganda has launched a program to regulate the operations of Pentecostal churches in the wake of a government crackdown on cults.
Since the deaths of an estimated 1,000 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments cult earlier this year, the Ugandan government has cracked down on churches it believes to be cults and issued new registration requirements for all religious groups. Approximately 17 million of Uganda's 20.6 million people say they are Christian.
Pentecostal churches in particular have been singled out for scrutiny, and many have been closed. Pentecostal pastors meeting earlier this month to write a constitution for the fellowship blame Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in Uganda for the government crackdown that has included the banning of evening prayer services.
"These people are jealous of our activities, and they are the ones encouraging the crackdown on our operations," said Pastor Simeon Kayiwa. He said that mainstream churches are jealous because of their continued loss of members to Pentecostal churches.
A member of the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), who asked not to be named, denied the allegation that the organization is behind the government's crackdown of Pentecostal churches. The council is the umbrella body of Catholics, Protestants, and the Orthodox believers in Uganda.
Kayiwa said the mass killings of members of the doomsday cult cast a bad image on Pentecostals, who in Uganda call themselves "born-again Christians." The Fellowship of Born Again Churches in Uganda is the umbrella body for Pentecostal churches in the country.
"Many people believed the Movement for the Restoration of the Commandments was a Born Again Church, but it is not true that any religious group which is not Protestant, Catholic, or Muslim is automatically Born Again," he told Newsroom.
In any case, said Geoffrey Katumba, of the Redeemed Society of the Lord church, "followers of the doomsday cult were confessed Catholics, and their doctrine was based on the teachings of the Catholic Church."
Leaders of the Fellowship of Born Again Churches say they are writing a constitution that will enable the group to set standards for pastors, decide church doctrine and teachings, and regulate church activities.
Until the Kanungu incident, where an estimated 530 people burned to death in the cult compound in March, Uganda enjoyed absolute religious freedom under the 1995 constitution. Churches sprung up so frequently and numerously that no one knows their exact number.
Ugandan authorities have been widely criticized for failing to stop the mass killing of the doomsday cult. The government has cracked down as a result, ordering churches to reregister.
Churches previously registered as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Approximately 2,000 churches have reregistered so far, including 380 Pentecostal churches in Kampala. Leaders of the Fellowship of Born Again Churches expect that 15,000 to 20,000 Pentecostal churches will register with the government.
Kayiwa told Newsroom that the fellowship has commissioned 50 people to go around the country to register Pentecostal churches and check on their activities.
"It has not been compulsory in the past for newly established born-again churches to first register with the fellowship, but since now we want to know every detail about the operations of these people, they will be required to register first," he said.

"Not All 'Balokole' Are Cults"

by Joan Mugenzi ("New Vision," (Kampala) May 15, 2000)

Kampala - The Church of Uganda has said some people were confusing the East African Revival Movement, Balokole, with other emerging cults.
They urged the public to distinguish between "these other sects and the traditional Balokole revival movement which is part and parcel of the Anglican Church of Uganda."
According to a press statement signed by the Provincial Secretary, the Rev. Can. Dr. George Tibesigwa, from the Church of the Province of Uganda, the Church asked the Government to make thorough investigations of religious organisations before granting licence to such sects.
The decision was reached at during a Provincial Assembly Standing Committee meeting on May 11 at Namirembe Guest House. The committee was chaired by Archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyooyo.

"Nun Speaks Up About Leader Of Uganda's Doomsday Cult"

(All Africa News Agency, May 15, 2000)

Kampala - Missionary work to restore the people's hope: That ought to be the focus of Christians, so says Sister Domenica Dipio, Ugandan Sister of the Missionaries of Mary Mother of the Church in reference to one of the worst tragedies caused by fanatical subservience.
Domenica, who was reflecting on the cult fervour, knew the defrocked Catholic priest Dominic Kataribabo, a member of the doomsday cult For the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, which led at least a thousand Ugandans to their death last March 17.
The 38-year-old nun, an expert in social communications, is from the Ugandan diocese of Arua. She met Kataribabo in 1990: "He was a good priest, very devout and everyone in Mbarare district admired him, he went regularly to visit the sick and prayed a lot".
Kataribabo tried to convince Domenica to join the movement. Says the nun: "The last time I met him was in 1998 at Kampala University. He had come to spread his movement among the students.
"He had changed a lot, he was very thin and still wearing his Roman collar although he had been suspended by the Bishop. I asked him about the local Church's opinion of the movement.
"He said the problem was not the Church, but my relationship with God, because at the last judgement they would not ask me what the bishop thought.
I did not trust him. But many others did.
"He taught the members to detach themselves from material things. He said that the end of the world was near and that they should leave behind all their worries and all their possessions. The sick were not even allowed to take medicine".
Domenica says that in Uganda there are many other similar groups spreading from the East of the country. Many of those who join are searching for a meaning of life because there are no social, economic or political projects.
"Politicians in the countries in this region are only interested in power- grabbing projects which lead only to war. Many feel the need to isolate themselves, get away from it all, in a different world in a millennial type of fever, it is easy to believe that God has chosen Uganda to be a new chosen people to lead the way out of the tragedies of life," she adds.
Domenica says Church leaders have a difficult task. "Faced with the spread of these pseudo religions, the first thing to do is to verify their foundation and fidelity to Church teaching. We cannot judge a priori".
But the tragedy of such sects is also a point for reflection: "We Catholics must keep away from these movements, but we should also see them as a stimulus to re-discover our missionary duty," she advises.
"We must go out to people proclaiming the good news of the Gospel and start forms of community Christian life which help to give meaning to life. Our people are naturally drawn to community life, to sharing and brotherhood. We can meet their expectations with the message of the Gospel".

"Cult Leader Held"

("New Vision" (Kampala), May 15, 2000)

Kampala - A leader of the Marian Workers, an Australian doomsday cult branch in Kabarole, has been re-arrested by Police in Fort Portal, reports Moses Sserwanga.
Rwamafa was arrested and released on Police bond two weeks ago after Police found empty pits in his modern house in Kijura, 20km north east of Fort Portal.
Police sources told The New Vision at the weekend that Rwamafa's bond had been cancelled because investigations had been expanded to the mysterious death of his Australian wife several years ago.
"He could temper with our investigations that's why he has been re- arrested.
We are not taking any chances. You know what happened in Kanungu. We want to carry out thorough investigations about this man before we let him off the hook," a detective said.
The New Vision has learnt that Rwamafa's wife, whom Police declined to name for fear of jeopardising investigations, died in a Fort Portal hospital after she was allegedly poisoned. She was buried at a Catholic cemetery in Fort Portal, sources said.

"Buziga Cult Death Still Under Inquiry"

by John Banalya ("New Vision," (Kampala) May 10, 2000)

Kampala - Police pathologists at the weekend said they had not confirmed the cause of death of the people exhumed from the Buziga house in Kampala Dr. Tadeo Barungi said, "We have examined the samples and forwarded them to the Government Chemist for further investigations."
He did not say whether the bodies exhumed from Buziga were poisoned. He said when investigations are complete, the public will be informed through the relevant organs.
Bukedde, a Luganda daily on Friday said the followers of the cult had been poisoned through groundnut soup with odourless and quick-reacting poison. The paper also said the 55 people had a meal together and died instantly before they were buried at the home of Dominic Kataribaabo, one of the cult leaders.
But Barungi said it was premature to state the real cause of the death.
The Police last Monday barred residents of the area from conducting prayers in memory of the dead from the site. The police said the site was still of investigative interest to them.
The Police Deputy Spokesman, Eric Naigambi on Thursday said the postmortem report would not be given to the public.

"Police Search For Grave In Nansana Cult Base"

by John Banalya ("New Vision," (Kampala) May 10, 2000)

Kampala - Police yesterday continued the search for a mass grave at the Kampala headquarters of the followers of Itambiro lya Mukama at Nansana.
The search, which began on Monday, revealed seven graves of children of cult members. They were buried between 1997 and 2000. The last was buried in March this year.
A newly-dug pit, which residents suspect was dug to bury followers, was found at the church. They tipped the Police.
Itambiro lya Mukama is led by Owobushobozi Bisaka and is based in Kibale district. The church has over 100,000 followers in Kampala.
The area chairman, Mr. Bernard Serwadda, said the cult has been in the area for some years and have been reporting their activities to the local council.

"Come Clean on Kanungu"

("The East African" (Nairobi), May 9, 2000)

Kampala - The public's reaction to last week's discovery in Kampala of yet more bodies of victims of the Kanungu doomsday cult was disturbing. As 55 bodies were dug up from the compound of a house rented by the cult in an affluent suburb of the Ugandan capital, talk was rife that such an outrage could not have gone unnoticed, that the murders must have had the tacit approval or involvement of the state or its agents.
For those charged with getting to the bottom of the matter, it must be alarming to see the entire nation jumping to conclusions. Their task is not made any easier by the puzzling fact that, after the initial flood of relatives who flocked to Kanungu in the aftermath of the March 17 inferno in which 530 cult members perished, no one else has come up to claim or identify the bodies exhumed afterwards in various parts of the country, even though a register containing the names of some 810 members of the cult has been published in the press.
Political demagogues have been quick to suggest that the murders were part of a wider conspiracy hatched by the state to exterminate its enemies or the enemies of its friends. These supposed enemies have been variously named as followers of the Tabliq sect, some of whose members have joined the rebellion in western Uganda, or ethnic Hutus.
The poorer sections of society find such theories easy to believe, given Uganda and Africa's history and the traditional mistrust of the state by its citizens.
Needless to say, whatever their nuisance value, these theories beg a number of crucial questions. Why, for instance, would a government that has access to huge dumping grounds on its own territory or even in the Congo go to the trouble of burying bodies in makeshift graves dug under houses? For that matter, what threat do women and children pose to the regime?
The pertinent issue is that the victims of the cult died because the state failed in its duty to protect its citizens. It now owes the public at least a full investigation of the activities of the Kanungu cult and how it got away with its grisly deeds for so long without arousing suspicion.
For more than 1,000 people to be murdered and the evidence disposed of so crudely all around the country should be most embarrassing for any government.
Indeed, it is high time our political leaders redefined their perception of security. Is the state under threat only when armed elements oppose the regime of the day, or does security also embrace threats to the wellbeing of ordinary citizens?
It is difficult for the Kampala regime to justify its intervention in Congo in the name of preventing genocide there, when such do-it- yourself massacres can go on unchecked at home.

"Museveni lays wreath on Kanungu mass grave"

by Patson Baraire & Arinaitwe Rugyendo ("The Monitor" (Kampala), May 8,2000)

Kampala - President Yoweri Museveni has disassociated the NRM from The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God doomsday cult responsible for the deaths of over 1,000 followers.
Museveni who also laid a wreath, May 6, on the followers' mass grave was visiting Kanungu where over 500 cult followers perished in a March 17 inferno.
He said the NRM government believes in continuity, development and uplifting of standards, and not the message the cult leaders were using to mislead their congregation.
Over 500 believers of the cult led by Joseph Kibwetere and Credonia Mwerinde were killed at the site in a fire believed to have been lit by the leaders. Since then, over than 400 bodies related to the cult killings have been exhumed in various parts of the country, bringing the number of the dead to over 1,000.
Museveni expressed sympathy with Kanungu residents for the tragedy, and called upon Ugandans to reject such prophets of doom.
"In the past government did not want to intervene in the activities of religious organisations, but now something must be done since some of them interfere with society by, for instance, making people sell their property," he said.
According a May 6 statement from State House, Museveni was accompanied to the site by Rukungiri LC-V Chairman Atanasio Rutaro and the new ARDC Rukungiri in charge of Kanungu, Muhwezi Mugisha. Museveni also confirmed that a three-month Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Kanungu deaths is to start work soon.
The President stopped in Kanungu on his way to Rukungiri to launch the District Movement National Referendum Committee.
At the launch later in the day, Museveni rapped people who think the Movement has made them poor, saying they have been sleeping for 14 years and woke up to find demands of an improved economy too much for them.
He also hit at district administrators who frustrate his development efforts by discouraging investors.
"These people have come to provide employment, so give them support," he said.

"Museveni Visits Kanungu Grave"

by Charles Opolot ("New Vision" (Kampala), May 8, 2000)

Kampala - President Museveni on Saturday said the Government is now closely monitoring the activities of churches in Uganda, especially those which preach about the end of the world.
Museveni said in an interview with The New Vision soon after he laid a wreath at the Kanungu cult mass grave that the Government policy has been not to interfere with religious matters.
"The Kanungu cult preaching is completely against the Movement preaching of continuity, development and progress. I urge Ugandans not to follow such religions which talk about the end of the world and as government we are going to monitor them very closely," Museveni said.
On March 17, at least 500 people perished in a mass murder by the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult led by Joseph Kibwetere. The death toll now stands at 1,055.
Museveni, who launched the Rukungiri district referendum campaign committee at the Riverside Hotel, later told a rally at the Rukungiri Stadium that the tarmacking of the Kampala -Rukungiri - Ishasha road commences in July.
"We have secured US$30m and the bidding process is about ready. Work will begin between July and August this year," Museveni said amid ululation.
He urged Rukungiri people to vote for the Movement which, he said, has proved to be reliable and dependable. The rally was also addressed by the chairman of the Rukungiri district Movement referendum committee, Jim Muhwezi, the LC5 chairman, Athanasius Rutaro, woman MP Winnie Babihuga.

"Commission To Probe Cult Murders"

by Emmanuel Mulondo ("New Vision" (Kampala), May 8, 2000)

Kampala - The Council for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) has instituted a five- man committee to probe the Kanungu cult murders.
CMD General Assembly chairman Haji Jjingo Kaaya said at a press conference on Thursday, "We shall inform the nation of the committee's findings since we are a government in waiting."
The CMD brings together the 26 groups that form the Multiparty National Referendum committee.
A number of mass graves have been unearthed since the March 17 mass murder of over 500 followers of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments led by Joseph Kibwetere.
The death toll so far is at 1,055.

"After the Massacre"

(Newsday, May 8, 2000)

Newsday photographer Ken Spencer covered the mass deaths of cult members at three villages in Uganda in mid-March with reporter Tina Susman. Since then, two additional burial sites have been discovered. The death toll now stands at 979.
I arrived at the third killing site, in Rugazi, at a house owned by one of the leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, at midday.
One body had already been found in an exploratory pit in the backyard, and digging was halted until forensic experts could get there from Kampala, a day's journey away.
Over a week's period, we visited the three known sites -- an ordinary home, a small farm and a church compound -- photographing, talking to neighbors and to one man who had once belonged to the group.
I tried to imagine the people's lives, but the images would not come.
Neighbors and former cult members had described a daily life of sleep deprivation, hard work and starvation diets. In my two weeks in Africa, I had met people who were very polite and friendly and who laughed easily. I had seen people who do not lead easy lives -- who work hard in the fields for long hours, seven days a week to survive. People like this were members of the cult. Had it given them hope?
I tried to imagine the circumstances of their deaths. How could they be murdered and buried one by one or in small groups in a nondescript backyard, until 150 people have disappeared from a place, and no one knows of the unspeakable crime? How is that done in two locations? And how could a church be filled with more than 500 people, its windows and doors nailed shut and a fire started that would incinerate them all? They did not all go willingly -- there was evidence of knife wounds and bludgeoning on a number of the victims.
I wandered the sites photographing, looking for evidence of the lives lived there. The metal end of a well-used hoe in the ashes of a burned building, a child's report card lying damp in the dirt outside an abandoned schoolhouse, a partially melted plastic comb and other personal effects in the ashes of a small fire off in a corner of one property.
It was eerie to walk around the abandoned sites, with the smell of death always present, knowing that the dead were underneath my feet. I walked slowly and photographed quietly. That seemed important on what had become such sacred ground.

"Government Denies Cult Links"

by Alfred Wasike ("New Vision" (Kampala), May 5, 2000)

Kampala - The Kanungu cult death chambers were not Government "safe houses", internal affairs minister Edward Rugumayo said yesterday.
Rugumayo told journalists in his office that Uganda no longer has safe houses. "All Governments all over the world operate safe houses. But even when we had safe houses, nobody was tortured there and nobody died there," he said. He criticised the media for "distortion."
The use of safe houses, which are not gazetted, sparked off a public outcry at the height of bomb attacks in Kampala in 1998, with calls on the the Government to gazette or close them.
Reacting to remarks by a local Muslim group leader, Rugumayo said, "The Government has noted with concern a statement attributed to the acting chairman of the Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly, Imam Kasozi, that the Government should declare all areas originally used as safe houses because they could contain mass graves."
The Monitor newspaper quoted Imam Kasozi on May 1, saying "we ask the Government to name and identify places they used to call safe houses. Give us the opportunity to visit those safe houses, which were torture chambers."
Imam Kasozi was preaching at Juma prayers at the Makerere Mosque on April 28.
Rugumayo said, "Although it is disgraceful for anyone claiming to be a leader, whether of a religious sect or political grouping, to try and politicise a clearly criminal tragedy, it is important to respond to this unfortunate outburst made by a person whose brand of religious extremism perhaps differs only slightly from that of persons responsible for the deaths in Kanungu, Rugazi, Rushojwa and Buziga."
"We condemn irresponsible religious extremism for the tragedy now associated with the so-called Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
The security services, like all other Ugandans, have been sensitive to, touched by and are trying to get to the bottom of the tragedy that is not unique to Uganda. The irresponsible utterances being made by Imam Kasozi can only be intended to tarnish the name of the Government," Rugumayo added.
He said, "The claims that safe houses were torture chambers were deliberately calculated to make us bend to the pressure exerted by terrorists and their agents."
He said it was necessary then to use safe houses "when it became apparent that we were dealing with internationally financed terrorism by those cowardly Ugandans who were indiscriminately targeting civilians."
He said the "debriefing houses were used given the sensitive nature of the operations we were undertaking." He said public facilities, like the prisons and the Police cells, were inadequate.
Rugumayo said the attack and release of "some terrorists" by ADF rebels when they attacked Katojo Prison in Fort Portal proved the need "to keep these people" in secret places.
He said the Government can never murder its own citizens and bury them secretly in safe house or any other place.
"That used to happen frequently under the Amin and Obote 11 regimes. The Movement has ushered in the rule of law where people like Imam Kasozi can speak the way they do without the risk of disappearing," he said.
He said Kasozi should prove his claims and take responsibility for legal consequences if he is found to have been irresponsible.

"Bodies Still In Kanungu House"

by Paula Beauchamp ("New Vision" (Kampala) May 4, 2000)

Kampala - More bodies of Joseph Kibwetere's victims remain buried beneath the floor of the leaders' house at the Kanungu headquarters in Rukungiri, six weeks after the tragedy.
A putrid stench of rotting flesh carries into the countryside up to a kilometre from the camp. With flies buzzing around the uncovered bodies, residents fear a health hazard.
On a return visit to the site last week, The New Vision found a door leading to the "Prayer Room" of the leaders' house ajar. Bodies of murdered cult- members lay in an uncovered pit beneath that building.
Ignoring the "health hazard" sign taped to the door, children walked freely through the unguarded building to inspect the pits below.
The deputy Police spokesman, Eric Naigambi, said, "Police aren't protecting the site. That should be the work of the local authorities. Our responsibility stops at gathering evidence."
Sarah Kiyingi, the Minister of State for Internal Affairs, suspended the exhuming of bodies from the Kanungu site on March 30. She cited the need to obtain protective gear for prisoners who were doing the work.
Naigambi says he was unaware of any bodies remaining in open pits at the site.
The Police were earlier criticised for their "indecent haste" in digging up and reburying bodies without a proper count and identification. The Police have since been absent from the site.
"People were set to guard the camp, but they left," said Francis Mugisha, a 16-year-old boy. With security absent, there is unhindered access to the site. The camp has become a playground for children.
At least 20 trailed reporters through the unguarded site during last week's visit.
Gagging at the smell of rotting flesh, children sifted through cult members' burnt belongings as they played with friends.
The site is littered with smashed crosses, poison bottles and rosary beads, all marinating in the putrid stench.
Surgical gloves used by medical workers and Police officers over a month ago litter the site.

"Police to resume search for bodies at home of cult leader"

(AFP, May 3, 2000)

Ugandan police will this week begin searching for more bodies in the home of a leader of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult, a police spokesman said Wednesday.
"We are planning to go to a house at Namasuba in Kampala. There is some suspicion about it and we have picked an interest. Though we can't say when we will begin digging, it looked suspicious and we hope to go soon," Asuman Mugenyi said.
The house was rented by Father Dominic Kataribaabo, one of six cult leaders who is being held responsible for the deaths of at least 780 cult followers.
At least 330 people were killed in a fire at the cult headquarters in Kanungu on March 17, in what was first treated as mass suicide, but later handled as mass murder.
In the ensuing weeks, police unearthed 450 bodies from four separate houses operated by the cult in western Uganda and in a Kampala suburb.
The final death toll could be as high as 1,000, according to an estimation by vice-president Specioza Kazibwe.
Two of the houses where mass graves were found had been rented and occupied by Kataribaabo, a disgraced Roman Catholic priest.
Mugenyi said that police investigations were being slowed down by lack of funds.
"We don't have enough money, as we have not been given extra money. We feel this is an emergency and that the ministry of disaster should step in to help, but we have not had any assistance or involvement from it," Mugenyi said.
Last Thursday, police exhumed 55 more bodies of murdered men, women and children in a mass grave in the Kampala home of Kataribaabo.
Police have also investigated three buildings operated by cult members at Entebbe in central Uganda in the past week, but found no bodies, Mugenyi said. He said investigations are due to be carried out at a house in the Kisubi district of Kampala this week.
Police are also waiting for funds and logistics to begin further digging at the Kanungu compound.
"We still suspect there is another site at Kanungu next to the pit latrines, which looked suspicious," Mugenyi told AFP.
In March six mutilated bodies were found dumped in a pit latrine inside a building at the compound. Police believe that more bodies could be buried in the vicinity.
Police last week also searched a house belonging to one of the local leaders of the Marian Workers group, which is linked to an Australian Doomsday cult run by William Kamm, also known as Little Pebble.
Police briefly detained the local leader of the group, known as Ramafa, but later released him, although they have asked him to explain why he had three empty pits inside his house.
An empty concrete pit was also found in one of the houses belonging to the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult in Entebbe, investigated by police earlier this week.
Police are searching for the owner to explain why the pit, which was in the garage, had been constructed.
Police deputy spokesman Eric Naigambi told AFP: "It seems that we are not over with this thing yet."

"Police Stop Prayers For Cult Dead"

by John Banalya ("New Vision" (Kampala), May 2, 2000)

Kampala - Armed Police yesterday dispersed hundreds of Makindye residents who had gathered to pray for the dead exhumed last week from a house occupied by one of the leaders of a doomsday cult.
The prayers for 55 late members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was organised by area MP Nsubuga Nsambu. He had scheduled it after the national Labour Day celebrations at Kololo Airstrip.
But residents, who flocked to the area from midday, were confronted by baton and gun-wielding policemen. The District Police commander Katwe, Mr. Godfrey Aropet, said, "The area is of investigative interest to us."

"Catholics Shun Rosary - Bishop Kakooza"

by Enock Kakande ("New Vision" (Kampala), May 2, 2000)

Kampala - Catholics fear wearing rosaries and carrying crosses symbolising their religion after the Kanungu cult inferno, the Auxiliary Bishop of Kampala, Joseph Kakooza, said yesterday.
Addressing guests during jubilee celebrations for seven sisters of the Little Sisters of St. Francis at Nkokonjeru, Kakooza said, "Believers, particularly children, are called Kibwetere whenever they wear rosaries and carry crosses," he said.
Sisters Jane Frances from Mitala Maria Parish and Francis Mary from Amukura Parish, Kisumu Archdiocese (Kenya) celebrated 50 years of sisterhood while Pauline Namuddu, Ann Christine, Anthonia Namuli, Stephania Nalubowa and Theopista Namirembe celebrated 25 years.
Jinja Bishop Joseph Willigers also graced the colourful occasion.

"Rakai ARDC Released On Bail"

by Felix Osike and Robert Kibuka ("New Vision" (Kampala), May 1, 2000)

Kampala - The Rakai Assistant Resident District Commissioner who was arrested over the Kanungu tragedy, has been released. Rev. Richard Mutazindwa was released at 2:00pm on Saturday on a sh500, 000 police bond, not cash.
The managing director, INTERID, Darlington Bakunda, and Mathia Mulumba of Private Eye Publications were his sureties.
Mutazindwa is to report to CID headquarters every week until investigations are finalised.
Police spokesman Asuman Mugenyi said, "It is true he was released on Police bond but the CID will continue investigating his case." Mutazindwa was arrested on March 29, from his home in Lyantonde, Rakai district for failing to act on information about the activities of the Kanungu cult members while he was the ARDC there.
Mutazindwa is said to have sat on a report by the Gombolola Internal Security Officer (GISO).
The GISO had reported that the members of the doomsday cult, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God were a threat to national security.
On March 17, at least 530 followers of the cult perished in an inferno in what was originally believed to be mass suicide but is now thought to be premeditated murder.
Postmortem reports from the field indicate that the followers died of neurological shock as a result of the fire.
The Government Chemist's report also shows that a highly inflammable substance was used.

"Cops Probe Suspected Graves "

("New Vision" (Kampala), May 1, 2000)

Kampala - Security agents in Fort Portal have interrogated men who dug and constructed empty pits which were found in the house that belongs to a leader of a local branch of the Marian Workers, an Australian doomsday cult, reports Moses Sserwanga in Fort Portal.
Three empty pits were discovered in a house that belongs to Rwamafa, the secretary to the Marian Workers group in Kabarole district. Rwamafa was arrested by police and later released on bond after questioning. "This is a matter under investigations. We want to establish the motive behind the construction of three pits in a modern house like this one," Paul Kato, the Regional CID officer South Western, told The New Vision yesterday.
"These are pit latrines built according to architectural plans," Police sources quoted Rwamafa as saying.
Kato and the Regional Police Commander, Mr. Farouk Muyirima both confirmed that police had searched Rwamafa's house in Kijura village Hakibale about 20 kilometers east of Fort Portal town in Kabarole district.
The New Vision has leant that three pits of about 20 meters deep were found inside Rwamafa's modern house in Kijura. Many of the cult's members and some of their leaders left Kijura early in the year following Allied Democratic forces (ADF), rebel raids in the area.
One of the three pits was being used as a latrine. Police said the two others were empty.
Security sources said Rwamafa was arrested after a tip off.
He was living in neighbouring Kasese district. Security sources declined to say whether or not Rwamafa was in hiding at the time of his arrest. Muyirima and Kato said Rwamafa's group was registered as a Non Governmental Organisation(NGO) and its registration certificates were in Police custody.

Index Page: Ten Commandments of God: Tragedy in Uganda

CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors.

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