Ugandan cult leader, Joseph Kibwetere who masterminded the tragic inferno in which 1000 people died in early 200, is still Uganda''s most wanted man.
By Vision reporter
Ugandan cult leader, Joseph Kibwetere who masterminded the tragic inferno in which 1000 people died in early 200, is still Uganda's most wanted man.
Kibwetere led the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult movement.
Heis still wanted in connection with the tragic death of 1000 people who perished in an intentionally set fire at the group's church compound in Kanungu.
Kibwetere's is believed to have fled the compound as soon as the church went up in flames.
Government has maintained that police is working with Interpol to track down Kibwetere and his accomplices
Kanungu tragedy – March 17, 2000
On 17 March 2000 about 1000 people were burnt to death in Kanungu, Rukungiri (now Kanungu) District.
Those who were burnt belonged to a religious cult calling itself the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, popularly known as Kibwetere cult, led by Joseph Kibwetere, Credonia Mwerinde, Angelina Mugisha, Fr. Joseph Kasapurari and Fr. Dominic Kataribabo.
At first it was assumed that the Kanungu massacre was mass suicide by the members of the cult who were convinced about going to heaven through fire but later it was established that it was planned and executed by the cult leadership.
The victims of the inferno included children too young to make independent decisions.
Before dust could settle after the Kanungu tragedy, it was discovered that many more people belonging to the same cult had died and been secretly buried in other camps outside Kanungu including Bushenyi and Buziga near Kampala.
By the end of March the death toll of the cult members had risen to about 1000 people. The Kanungu tragedy and its aftermath invariably generated national and international concern.
Joseph Kibwetere was a primary school teacher by profession and at one time an Assistant Supervisor of Schools in Mbarara Catholic Diocese.
He had about 16 children including 3 he had got outside marriage. He was recruited by Credonia Mwerinde together with two other women, Angelina Mugisha and Ursula Komuhangi.
The cult leader ordained ‘bishop’ of the cult Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in 1991. He was Mwerinde’s right hand man. He separated with his wife in 1992.
Credonia Mwerinde was born in Kanungu at Kateete, Nyabugoto, the place where Kibwetere’s camp was situated. (She donated her father’s land at Kateete as the cult’s base) Mwerinde became a key figure in the cult’s leadership and was put in charge of all programmes.
She was known as the ‘programmer’ among her followers and religiously as ‘Ekyombeko kya Maria’ (the Virgin Mary’s structure). She was believed to represent a message from the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Cult’s Doctrine
The whole cult revolved around a belief that some people were talking with God through visions and had received warnings from the Blessed Virgin Mary about the end of the world by the year 2000 (apocalypse).
The followers were not supposed to go to hell if they strictly followed the cult (The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God).
For the devout Christians the whole concept of ‘okubonekyerwa’ (getting heavenly visions) was very appealing.
The cult talked of the doomsday. According to their former preacher, Martino Nuwagaba, they preached as far back as the Easter of 1992 about how on that "last day" snakes as big as wheels of tractors and big blocks of cement will fall from heaven onto the sinners.
They preached of three days of consecutive darkness that will engulf the whole world and how only their camps were supposed to be safe havens, something reminiscent of the biblical Noah's Ark.
It is said that even sealing the church doors and windows by nail before setting the church on fire was to create that darkness situation that was a prelude to the apocalypse.
They promised their followers that when all this happened, everybody would perish except their followers and that whatever remained on earth would be theirs alone and that they would then start communicating directly with Jesus.
Followers believed in this so much so that they considered themselves the most privileged people on earth.
Leaders warned the cult members about the end of the world and the visions.
The cult and its leaders violated human rights (the right to education, health, property, marriage, freedom, speech, parenthood, childhood, etc.).
The leaders rarely recruited close relatives or neighbours.
They separated families, including children, and took them to different camps in a new environment where they would not socialise easily.
They used to erect fences around their buildings/camps. The fences would be opaque enough to prevent those outside from seeing what was happening inside.
They created total detachment between their followers and the society around them.
Producing children and having sex among followers even between spouses were strictly forbidden.
Leaders instilled too much fear among their followers.
It relied on deception, prophecies and lies through selective readings of the Bible. The Bible was usually read out of context.
Apart from the leaders, other members of the cult were not allowed to talk. They used signs to communicate among themselves and to their cult leaders.
They had a tight day's schedule that kept the followers extremely busy so that there was virtually no time to discuss, not even in signs.
They tried to keep within the law and be close, very friendly and generous to the authorities, which helped them to avoid any suspicions from the state.
They usually travelled at night so they could not easily be noticed even by neighbours.
They did not own their own transport/vehicles. They usually hired vehicles to travel, they were therefore not easy to identify.
They used to command all followers to sell all their property and bring all the proceeds to the cult leaders.
They used to burn property under the pretext that the Blessed Virgin Mary was annoyed with the owners.
They created a property-less and helpless society of followers who became totally dependent on the cult and had nothing to fall back to.
They fully exploited the general view among Ugandans that religious people are always innocent, humble, harmless and peace-loving which helped them plan and carry out mischief and crimes without being detected at all.
Cult members got completely detached from their 'non-believer' relatives. Therefore the latter could not follow, know or detect what was going on in the cult camps.
All cult camps were terminus so that there would be no passers-by.
Kibwetere is Uganda’s most wanted man