Access the full Draft Report on Kibwetere Massacres which is finally out. On the 17th of March 2000, a cult leader burnt over 600 people in what came to be known as the continent’s biggest religious murder. The man behind the killings, Kibwetere, has continuously eluded arrest and his whereabouts remain unknown
On the 17th of March 2000, a cult leader burnt over 600 people in what came to be known as the continent’s biggest religious murder. The man behind the killings, Kibwetere, has continuously eluded arrest and his whereabouts remain unknown.
This report is government’s first effort at documenting what happened on that day 14 years later.
The report comes in the wake of a petition by the orphans of the people killed in the massacre demanding to know exactly what could have happened to their parents.
EXCLUSIVE: Kibwetere Kanungu Massacre Report Leaks
Elusive Kanungu cult leader Joseph Kibwetere relied on the low literacy levels of his followers and their “unwavering commitment and belief in its leader’s belief system, ideology, and practices as the truth” to massacre 600 people at a ‘church’ in Kanungu district in 2000, Parliament has revealed.
By Kenneth Kazibwe 46 minutes ago
Over 600 people were killed in the Kanungu massacre of 2000 (Internet photo)
Over 600 people were killed in the Kanungu massacre of 2000 (Internet photo)
Parliament also discovered that government authorities had been tipped that Kibwetere was engaged in mass murders of his followers but fell short of taking a robust action to stop him.
At one time, Kibwetere’s church was closed by a Resident District Commissioner only to be reopened after his transfer to another area, paving way for the brutal Kanungu massacre that sent shockwaves across the world.
The details of these findings are contained in the leaked report prepared by the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs following the petition by the orphans of the victims of the Kanungu church infernos.
On March 17 2000, a tragic fire broke out at the premises of the church of the Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments of God at Nyabugoto in Kanungu district claiming an estimated 600 people.
This Church is said to have been led by a one Joseph Kibwetere. Further investigations prompted by this inferno unearthed hundreds of other cases of cult related deaths exemplified by graves in Bushenyi and Kampala districts bringing the cumulative death toll to about 1000.
Seven months later on December 2nd, 2000, the Government of Uganda instituted a seven-member Judicial Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Augustus Kania to investigate the inferno but their findings have never been made public.
Available information indicates that those who joined the Membership of this ill-fated Church, many of whom perished in the aforementioned inferno, were either influenced by the Church authorities to sell off their personal property and hand over the proceeds there-from to the church leadership allegedly in preparation for the end of the world or voluntarily did so.
Having perished in the inferno, the said Church’s followers are said to have left behind no property at all for their surviving family members. The petitioners claim to be part of the surviving family Members of some of the victims of the inferno.
Having allegedly attempted to seek help, albeit in vain, from various public offices including, Kanungu District Local Government, the former Ministers of Internal Affairs and the one of Disaster Preparedness, as well as from the President, the petitioners opted to petition Parliament, hence this petition.
During their investigation, MPs met President Museveni, senior security officials, NGO leaders among others.
What really happened?
MPs discovered that the infamous Church of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments (CMRTC) right from inception was premised on the calculated belief that the end of the world was imminent hence the need to prepare for this apocalyptic end.
Perhaps the most elaborate historical perspective of the CMRTC was provided to the Committee by Hon. Muruli Mukasa-the Minister for Security who traced the evolution of this church to 1980 with the alleged reception of a vision from the Virgin Mary by a one Bulandina Buzigye at Nyabugoto Rock in Rwanyabingi Hills, Nyakishenyi, Rubabo, Rukungiri district and the subsequent emergence of the Nyabugoto Sisters who later metermophosized into the CMRTC.
This vision was about the end of the world by the year 2000.
Available literature indicates that the early founders of the Movement included; Angelina Migisha, Credonia Mwerinde, Gaudensia Kamuswa, Fulumera, Robert Mugisha, Gaudensia Rutandekire and Ursula Kyomuhangi.
Between 1989 and 1995 the Movement attracted more recruits including Joseph Kibwetere, Fr. Dominic Kataribabo, Fr. Joseph Mary Kasapurari and John Kamagara and witnessed tremendous growth as evidenced by establishment of branches in neighbouring areas of Rutooma, Rugazi, Kyaka, Rubirizi to mention a few.
Whereas doomsday was initially declared for 31st December 1999 and that the Church was akin to Noah’s Ark1, that prophesy proved futile prompting deferral to the period 16th – 18th March 2000 and indeed 17th March 2000 became the date for the now infamous Kanungu inferno.
One of the reasons that explain why Kibwetre was successful to woo followers was the “Unwavering commitment and belief in its leader’s belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth. From the preceding narrative, the dogmatic belief in the prophesy about the apocalyptic end of the world is symptomatic of the cultic orientation of the CMRTC.”
The second was the discouragement and punishment of questioning, doubt, and dissent.
“It is noteworthy that in the aftermath of the inferno, several mass graves were discovered in various premises of the cult leaders. The Police report for instance reveals that; 1 Noah’s Ark is the vessel in the Genesis flood narrative (The Biblical Book of Genesis chapters 6–9) by which Noah saves himself, his family, and a remnant of all the world’s animals from the flood,” the MPs observed in their report seen by Chimpreports.
It has been argued that the futility of the initial prophesy of the end of the world on December 31st 1999 precipitated various questions and doubts among some followers and it is believed that such doubters were brutally murdered to stem any possible dissent.
In fact the Committee was informed that in the aftermath of the futility of the initial prophesy some doubters demanded for a refund of the proceeds of the sale of their property, one of the Church leaders – Credonia Mwerinde initiated the recording of the names of those who were demanding such refunds.
MPs suggest that it is highly possible that some of such records were used to systematically identify and eliminate dissenters.
Another factor that enabled Kibwetere to kill his followers in large numbers was the reliance on mind-altering practices (such as a strict rule of silence, meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines and impoverishment of followers) to suppress doubts about the group and its leader.
“Available information shows that the CMRTC instituted a strict rule of silence among its members and this is believed to have been a strategy to curtail any questions or propagation of any potentially questionable ideas among its Members,” said MPs.
Other salient features of cults that fit within the nature of the CMRTC include; the elitist nature of its leadership that often predetermines how the rest of the Members should think, as exemplified by the highly educated leaders such as Joseph Kibwetere and Dominic Kataribabo who were accomplished and highly learned people.
The Committee is strongly of the view that the CMRTC was indeed cultic and therefore a lot of its activities should be construed as such.
It was discovered that before the Kanungu inferno, he had already engaged in atrocities.
I55 bodies were exhumed at the residence of Rev. Fr. Dominic in Kataribaho in Bushenyi district, 153 bodies were found at Buhunga cult church in Rukungiri, 81 bodies at Rushojwa cults church in Bushenyi and 55 bodies in a residence at Buziga in Kampala
“The Committee found no evidence that the Members of the CMRTC were coerced into joining that particular belief system. Whether or not they were aware of the Church’s cultic orientations may be debatable but that does not in anyway relieve the victims of the inferno, save for the child victims, from the responsibility of using their discretion to either exit the Membership of the Church or alert law enforcement authorities,” the report adds.
It as for instance been argued that the CMRTC was registered as an NGO in the mid 1990s and therefore the NGO board had the responsibility to effectively monitor and regulate the activities of the Church. But the Committee notes that in the case of this Church, it overtly exuded signs of being law abiding and its proximity to some people in positions of authority aided its registration as an NGO.
The report of the Uganda Human Rights Commission titled “The Kanungu Massacre”, states that; “Originally, the state did not approve of Kibwetere cult activities.
As far back as 1994, Yorokamu Kamacerere, the RDC of Rukungiri, refused to support the cult’s registration as an NGO. He had also closed its school but when he was transferred to Kasese, within two months of his departure, the cult’s leadership had already convinced his successor, Kitaka Gawera into supporting it and laying a foundation stone on one of their buildings at the cult’s headquarters.
The leaders and followers appeared to be law abiding citizens yet with inherent deception. They participated in various community and civic activities including voting during elections.
The Cult was registered as an NGO in 1997 and later incorporated as a company in 1998. It appears that the relationship between the cult and Mutazindwa Amooti was mutually beneficial. It is common knowledge in Kanungu that the cult had assigned two “nuns” to do domestic work at A/RDC Mutazindwa’s residence permanently.
MPs confirmed that on the fateful day Rev. Mutazindwa had travelled to Kanungu from Lyantonde – his new station – to attend a farewell party organised for him by the cult leadership.
The cult leaders were known for their “generosity”. Former RDC Kamacerere informed MPs that after closing their school and refusing to support their application for registration as an NGO Kibwetere, Mwerinde and Kataribabo tried to bribe him.
They went to his office and offered him “a big envelope” which he rejected. Presumably this was extended to other leaders/authorities in Kanungu and Rukungiri.
After registration as an NGO, the cult was free to legally operate in different parts of the country like Rutooma, Buhunga, Nyakishojwa, Rugazi and Buziga in Kampala. These centres were used for retreats and seminars to indoctrinate the followers of the cult.
“But it was also in these places that people were killed and buried secretly. What is astonishing is that the cult carried out its murderous activities without state detection and people’s slightest suspicion,” the MPs observed.
In the circumstances, the Parliament committee stated, it was therefore incumbent on the individual members of the Church except the Children to notify law enforcement authorities of the downside of this ill-fated church to enable timely state intervention.
The Committee further noted that the relative ignorance and low literacy levels of most of the Members of this Church as compared to its highly elitist leaders, created a dogmatic environment where the followers hardly questioned the values the Church was imparting unto them.
This coupled with the fact that the Members were under instruction not to communicate verbally rendered any viable form of information collection by the agencies tasked with monitoring the NGO futile.
The committee notes the need for “stronger monitoring of the work of such groups that may use the banner of faith to mete catastrophic danger unto unsuspecting members of the public,” considering that the “CMRTC presented itself as a service delivery and faith based organization.”
While the service delivery component projected it as a good organization, the faith-based dimension was shrouded in secrecy.
The Committee notes that even when the officials from the National NGO Board visited one of the sites of the CMRTC prior to the inferno, the followers could not communicate verbally.
On April 6, 2000, International Warrants of Arrest were issued against all the six suspects but to date they have not been arrested.
These are; Joseph Kibwetere, Rev. Fr. Dominic Kataribaho, Rev. Sr. Cledonia Mwerinde, Rev. Fr. Joseph Mary Kasapurali, Rev. John Kamagara and Rev. Sr. Ursla Komuhangi.
The Committee also pointed out that prior to the inferno, in January 2000, a complaint by a one Mr. Conrad Baryamwisaki to the then 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 known as Nabagoti religion and that the sect was operating within Kanungu, Bugongi and Kashewahero.
He alleged that the sect headed by a one Kibwetere was kidnapping and retaining young children against their will as well as those of their parents. He stated that the children who passed away were buried in a mass grave.
In his letter dated 25th January 2000, SACP J.B. Okumu directed the DPC Rukungiri to find out the truth about the activities of the ring leaders of the cult and to ascertain whether the sect is registered or not.
The then DPC Rukungiri-SP Mugizi Patrick in his response letter dated 5th February 2000 to the Private Secretary to the President responsible for CID Affairs, copied to the RDC and LCV Chairman Rukungiri stated that the sect was not illegal and was registered as an NGO.
He also stated that there were cases of children joining the organization voluntarily without the consent of their parents and that it was not true that the children were killed and buried in mass graves.
However not long after the DPC’s report, there was an inferno on 17th March 2000.
Consequently inquiries were instituted into the allegations that the DPC Rukungiri had not carried out thorough investigations into the activities of the cult.
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