BY MOSES NAMPALA & CHARLES OKALEBO
On a sunny morning, a group of juveniles sat in a courtyard at a camp in Namunasa, Kachonga sub-county, Butaleja district. Juveniles are an active, cheerful age-group, but the case was different with the juveniles in the camp. Like children under custody of a highhanded parent or guardian, a stranger will find the little juveniles sad, reserved and elusive.
“These are juveniles attached to the Shalaf Fanatic Muslim sect, who had been lured to join the rebel activities of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They were recently rescued by security authorities,” Muhammed Nasamba said as he guided Saturday Vision around the camp. Since they were handed over to the district authorities, the juveniles have been in the camp because their families have not claimed them.
The LC1 chairman of Namunasa village in Kachonga sub-county with the children at the camp in Butaleja Pictures by Charles Okalebo
Their parents are still in the bush and the relatives refused to take hem under their custody, for fear of being linked to subversive activities. Over 200 people, the majority of whom are women and children, are living in the camp at Namunasa. “They are wives and children of scores of youth in the area that are suspected to have joined rebel activity,” explains Nasamba, the Namunasa LC 1 chairperson. Chris Mugololo, the Kachonga LC3 chairperson, says the immediate challenge facing the local authorities is providing necessities for the vulnerable children.
Until security operatives cracked down on suspected rebel activity, the needs of the children were being catered for by the Muslim sect. Salama Asima, 12, one of the returnees, says life at the camp is increasingly becoming grim. “Nobody knows the whereabouts of the camp administrator. The food stock in the store ran out two days ago. We have not had meals for the last two days,” a pale Asima says. Years of the indoctrination have resulted into the cult members drawing water from designated points in the community. “They prefer the shallow trenches that they have excavated,” explains Nasamba. “No amount of persuasion could make them change their mentality.” Unlike the sect in Butaleja, which lives in the camp, members in other areas live in their homes. Sources that spoke to Saturday Vision
said the members of the sect held fellowships referred to as Madrasa, every Wednesday. Sulaiman Kato, the LC3 chairperson of Mpunge in Mayuge district, says his sub-county hosts the headquarters of the sect at Maina-Mwezi village. Youth who were recently released from the camp in Buvuma did not speak, fearing a backlash from both leaders and government security operatives. “It is not easy to escape from the Congo, but when an opportunity presented itself, we took advantage,” says one of the youth who travelled back after a truck driver offered them a lift.
According to the two returnees, the group targets the youth because they are the most productive. At the start of recruitment, every potential recruit is implored to propose their dream economic activity. They are then funded, but with a condition. They are forced to relocate their business to another district. The group then keeps on relocating a potential recruit until they are in any of the districts bordering DR Congo
A mosque in Mpunge, Mayuge is guarded all day by the youth of the sect
Life in Congo is hostile, say sect members
“Once in Congo, you are subjected to military training and that is when the idea of fi ghting the government would be unveiled to you,” narrated a youth who was in the camp in DR Congo. “Most of the youth with whom I joined the group were killed in cold blood both during armed incursions and endless raids by alien rebel groups, government forces and UN peace keeping forces,” he narrates.
Like any military armed group, escaping from the camp is not only treacherous, but it is punished by death by firing squad. The returnees confess that their liberty did not come cheap. One time, another rebel group attacked their camp, forcing everybody to scamper.
They took advantage of the confusion to escape. They walked for four days and nights, until they reached an access road, where they ran into a truck driver, who was stuck in the thick of the forest, with a puncture. They helped him fix the spare tyre and asked him for a lift back to Uganda. “We condemn the subversive activities against the Government in the strongest terms and wish to disclose that scores of youth like us are in the bush against their will.
Relevant security authorities ought to know that they found themselves in the bush because they were duped,” says Abdullah, one of the youth conscripted into the sect. That story is no different from the one about the two former rebels. Most of the juveniles say they are children of the youth who joined rebel activity. Others are children of natives of the Muslim community in their respective districts. Salafi sm spreading fast Salafism, the most radical sect of Islam, is also the world’s fastest-growing sect of Islam.
The Salafi methodology, also known as the Salafi st movement, is a movement among Sunni Muslims named after the Salaf (‘predecessors’ or ‘ancestors’), the earliest Muslims, whom they consider the examples of Islamic practice. The movement is often described as related to, including, or synonymous with Wahhabism, but many Salafi sts consider the term Wahhabi derogatory. At other times, Salafi sm is deemed a hybrid of Wahhabism and other movements since the 1960s. Salafi sm is being funded by Saudi Arabia.
Salafi sts have been an integral element of the Arab Spring in Egypt, who, along with the Muslim Brotherhood, are now entrenched in the new political ruling class of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Germany has cracked down on the Salafi sts, placing a ban on the ultraradical group. France has banned Muslims from praying in the streets and both France and Belgium have banned the wearing of full face veils. Switzerland has banned minarets (towers) on mosques and Norway has prohibited the building of Saudi-funded mosques
A woman drawing water from a source in Namunasa camp. The sect does not share water sources with the rest of the community
My children were duped with a bursary
Fazir Haruna Hasacha, 58 of Namunasa village, Kachonga subcounty is a father of two of the children rescued from Buvuma by the authorities. He says Mohammed Walusansa, whom he ater learnt was the head of the Buvuma sect, approached him in March 2013 with a proposal to offer bursaries to his children. According to Hasacha, Walusansa said he was the country director of a foreign-funded education trust.
Hasacha had then obliged when Walusansa assured him that he would educate them in the poshest Muslim-founded boarding schools in Kampala. “I obliged, only to learn later that my children ended up in Buvuma,” says Hasacha. But Asima, 12, one of the victims, says initially, they converged at the sect camp in Namunasa, with some children from Mayuge district. They were then split into groups before they could be evacuated to Buvuma. Sources said the 30 juveniles were split into three groups.
One of the groups used the Mayuge-Buvuma route by boat, while the other two groups connected to Buvuma through Rippon landing site in Jinja and Kiyindi landing site in Buikwe. At Buvuma, the children say they were settled in a camp ran by Walusansa. “Because of the bad policies of the Government, our school was closed, but we shall endeavour to see that you get quality education,” Walusansa is reported to have constantly told the children. At the camp in Buvuma, they were taught Luganda and Arabic.
“Nobody was allowed to take notes or to read anything other than Arabic literature,” explains Asima. They would feed on cassava, rice, posh, beans and chicken, among others. “We were never allowed to mingle with children from the community. Were warned never to talk to strangers, whom they referred to as cafuluna,” narrates Fazira another victim.
They were never allowed to play, as they were constantly reminded to ‘think a lot’ because ‘they were the leaders of tomorrow’. The day that preceded their evacuation from Buvuma, something strange happened.
“We were in the camp when we saw Walusansa being herded back by armed security operatives,” narrates Amina Baluka. The following day, Walusansa and the children were taken to Kampala. Like any cult, the Salaf has an elaborate and conservative list of values that every subject is compelled to not only appreciate, but practice.
According to Yasin, who was conscripted in the sect, strangers are not allowed in the vicinity of the sect mosques, which are constantly guarded. “During prayers, a section of the believers volunteer to guard the mosque and to scrutinise the believers and will rudely harass any intruder,” narrates Yasin.
The conventional mosques are designed with a wing commonly referred to as mimbali, where the Imam stands to lead the prayers. However, the architectural design of the Salaf mosque disregards such an arrangement. “Their argument is that the mimbali is an evil innovation of the ‘unholy’ Muslims, intended to hold Imams with undue respect,” narrates Fizal. When a member of the sect dies, members are not allowed to touch the body ge close to the grave during the burial.
According to Fizal, women i have a standard style of dressing. “The women and young girls are compelled to wear long outfits, complete with a veil that covers their faces, while the men are compelled to wear trousers that stop slightly below the knee,” explains Fizal. Other values governing the sect include shunning designated safe and clean water sources and buying meat from conventional butchers. “If the family must eat meat, then the cow must have been slaughtered by a sect member or the family member,” explains Fiz
Chris Mugololo , LC3 chairman, Kachonga Subcounty
The immediate challenge facing the local authorities is providing for the vulnerable community, which previously received aid from the Muslim sect until security operatives bust their cells. “We call on the local authorities to provide food and other basic essentials for the children who are starving,” Mugololo appeals