What you need to know:
- According to the committee’s findings, as early as February, less than a month to the inferno, a red flag was raised by a concerned citizen.
- Nine months after the killings, on December 2, 2000, then second deputy prime minister and minister of Internal Affairs Moses Ali announced the creation of a judicial commission of inquiry into the Kanungu massacre.
- In its report, the UHRC made 10 recommendations to government among which was “for government to establish the true facts that led to the then RDC of Rukungiri, Kitaka Gawera, to fraternise with the cult leadership in Kanungu to the extent that he laid a foundation stone on one of their buildings dedicated to Jesus Christ and Mary in memory of the late Paulo Kashaku on June 28, 1997, notwithstanding his predecessor’s letter to the NGO Registration Board advising against the registration of the cult.”
Yesterday marked exactly 18 years since the inferno at Nyabugoto Church in Kanungu District claimed more than 1,000 lives.
The Kanungu massacre sparked off other discoveries that shocked the country. On March 25, 2000, barely a week after the inferno, 153 bodies were discovered buried in one of the cult’s buildings in Buhinga village, in Rukungiri District.
Two days later, another 155 bodies were discovered buried under the house of Fr Dominic Kataribabo’s home in Rugazi, Bushenyi District. Kataribabo was one of the cult leaders.
After another two days, 81 bodies were found in Rushojwa. Slightly more than a month after the incident in Kanungu, another discovery was made on April 27, 2000, of 55 bodies in Buziga, an upscale residential suburb of Kampala.
This was the work of a religious cult calling itself the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. According to the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) report of 2002 titled Kanungu Massacre: The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, “Indeed, it is conceivable that if government had not suspended exhumation of such bodies the number would have even been higher.”
The victims had been promised by the cult leaders – Joseph Kibwetere, Credonia Mwerinde, Fr Joseph Kasapurari, Angelina Mugisha and Fr Dominic Kataribabo – that by the beginning of 2000 there would be an apocalypse, but that them as believers would not die.
In preparation for this departure, the followers were asked to sell all their earthly processions and hand all the money to the cult leaders.
As hours into 2000 started counting down and the apocalypse was not happening, the believers started asking questions. The story ended with the leaders one day locking up their followers in the church named the Ark, in reference to Noah’s ark, and setting them ablaze.
On April 6, 2000, less than a month after the incident, Buganda Road Court issued an international warrant of arrest for the cult leaders believed to have survived the inferno. Eighteen years later there has been no single arrest and investigations seem to have been either shelved or totally abandoned.
In the aftermath of the mass killings, government seemed determined to find justice for the victims. Besides the police and the Human Rights Commission investigations, a judicial commission of inquiry and a parliamentary inquiry were set up to investigate the cult’s actions.
The Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs investigated the origin and activities of the cult.
In its report, the committee discovered that from its inception the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God had its belief that the world was coming to an end in 2000 and embarked on preparing its followers for the apocalypse.
Among the reasons the cult leaders are believed to have managed to hold onto their victims included the undoubted belief and trust they demanded from their followers, and also the punishment that was meted out to those who doubted or questioned the leaders.
While appearing before the same committee, then Security minister Muruli Mukasa traced the origin of the church to 1980 when a one Buladina Buzigye claimed to have received a vision from the Virgin Mary. The vision is said to have revealed the end of the world in 2000 at Nyabugote hill. As the church grew, its leadership evolved to the point of Kibwetere taking the mantle at the time of the massacre.
In its report, the parliamentary committee discovered that the church’s activities had come into question but government fell short of taking action. The report pointed out that: “As early as 1994, Rukungiri RDC Yoram Kamacerere refused to approve the church’s registration as an NGO, and he went ahead to close its school. But two months after his transfer, his successor Kitaka Gawera approved the registration, and laid a foundation stone at one of the cult’s buildings.” Kanungu was still under Rukungiri District at the time.
According to the committee’s findings, as early as February, less than a month to the inferno, a red flag was raised by a concerned citizen.
“In January 2000, a complaint was lodged by a one Conrad Baryamwisaki to senior Assistant Commissioner of Police John B Okumu, a private secretary to the President responsible for CID affairs, that there was an illegal existence of a cult…. headed by a one Kibwetere that was kidnapping and retaining young children against their will,” the committee heard.
In his January 25, 2000, letter Okumu directed Rukungiri DPC Patrick Mugizi to investigate the group and ascertain whether it is a registered organisation.
The DPC in his response dated February 5, 2000, said: “The sect was not illegal and was registered as an NGO.” He went on to say that there were cases of children voluntarily joining the organisation without the consent of their parents.
Two years before the inferno, a complaint number UHRC no 182/98 was reported to the Uganda Human Rights Commission.
The complainant was a one Goreti Mitima against her late brother’s wife who had transferred her children from their home in Kabale to Kibwetere’s camp in Kanungu.
In response on March 20, 1998, UHRC wrote to Mitima, then a nurse at Nsambya Hospital, advising her to get letters of administration for her late brother’s property and children. The advice bore reference number Ref UHRC.182/98. Five of the children and their mother perished in the inferno.
Nine months after the killings, on December 2, 2000, then second deputy prime minister and minister of Internal Affairs Moses Ali announced the creation of a judicial commission of inquiry into the Kanungu massacre. The seven-man commission was headed by Justice Augustus Kania. Other members were Prof Peter Matovu, Rev Fr Dr Lawrence Lugolobi Ssemusu, Dr Emilio B. L. Ovuga, Rev Canon Mugarura Mutana, Dr Margaret Mungherera, Sarafiyano Bigirwenkya and Christopher Ndozireho.
At the announcement minister Moses Ali said the commission would, among its terms of reference, define a cult, establish what happened at Kanungu and reveal the perpetrators of the murders.
The commission would also establish if there was laxity in any of the government departments and also provide government with recommendations on how to avoid such incidences in the future. The team had six months in which to execute its work. Unfortunately, the commission never met. It stopped at the announcement of its creation.
There were indications that the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God had links with an Australian-based group called the Marian Workers of Atonement. The group’s leader, William Kamm also known as ‘Little Pebble’, had a lot in common with Kibwetere’s cult and even held meetings in Uganda.
According to British newspaper The Guardian of April 18, 2000, “Between October 6 to 10, 1989, Mr Kamm held four meetings in Kampala when reports of manifestations of the Virgin Mary, an aspect common to both cults, were becoming frequent throughout Uganda.”
The British paper further says that the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God manifesto titled “A Timely Message from Heaven: The End of the Present Times,” names Little Pebble among those from various countries who got revelations and visions of the chastisements that were coming.
In its report, the UHRC made 10 recommendations to government among which was “for government to establish the true facts that led to the then RDC of Rukungiri, Kitaka Gawera, to fraternise with the cult leadership in Kanungu to the extent that he laid a foundation stone on one of their buildings dedicated to Jesus Christ and Mary in memory of the late Paulo Kashaku on June 28, 1997, notwithstanding his predecessor’s letter to the NGO Registration Board advising against the registration of the cult.”
The commission also tasked government to, “thoroughly investigate and establish the true facts surrounding the relations between Rev Y Mutazindwa Amooti, then assistant RDC in-charge of Kanungu sub-district, and the cult leaders.”