Parliament clears the Government of accusations of inaction in the fire that burnt 600 people to ashes in Kanungu in 2000.
By Umaru Kashaka & Moses Walubiri
Parliament has cleared the Government of accusations of inaction in the fire that burnt about 600 people to ashes in Kanungu district 14 years ago.
The tragedy has come to be known as the Kanungu inferno.
This was after a lengthy discussion on Tuesday on the report by the defence and internal affairs committee that probed the massacre that happened at the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments Church.
The church was led by Credonia Mwerinde, a former prostitute and Joseph Kibwetere, a former teacher and politician.
On March 17, 2000, the world awoke to the shocking news of a religious mass murder, in Kanungu, then within Rukungiri district in western Uganda.
Initial investigations unearthed hundreds of other cases of cult related deaths. Mass graves were discovered in Bushenyi and Kampala districts, bringing the cumulative death toll to more than 1,000.
Initially, it was thought to a be mass suicide, but later, a commission of inquiry instituted by the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), established that it was a well-planned murder, orchestrated by the cult.
Other cult leaders included Angelina Mugisha, Fr. Joseph Kasapurari and Fr. Dominic Kataribabo. It is not yet established if all the cult leaders died in the inferno.
The committee’s probe followed a petition by people who claimed to be orphans and relatives of the deceased.
They wanted a Government report on the inferno, plus compensation and resettlement, saying they were left homeless after the incident.
The headquarters of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God Church where some 600 people were burnt to death
Curious residents walk through the site of the deadly inferno in 2000
President Yoweri Museveni lays a wreath on the Kanungu mass grave
Legislators rejected the compensation and resettlement demands. They said such a decision can only be made by the Government on compassionate grounds.
Presenting the report, the Mubende Woman MP and defence committee chairperson, Benny Namugwanya, said: “While the state has the responsibility and obligation to ensure security, service delivery, protection of rights and the general welfare of its citizens, it would be foolhardy for citizens to throw caution to the wind, by sacrificing their discretion in making choices for matters innately personal such as religion.”
The House, presided over by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, adopted the committee’s report after hearing that there was no evidence that the deceased persons were coerced into joining Kibwetere’s group.
Internal affairs state minister, James Baba, noted that Uganda is a secular state for which the Constitution prescribes no religion and as such, there is no interference by the Government in affairs of worship and religion.
“Every Ugandan is free to subscribe to whatever faith or religion they want. These people went to the church voluntarily. The Government cannot be held liable for the voluntary worship patterns of its citizens,” he argued.
Baba said if they can establish the genuine survivors of the inferno, then they might consider resettling the bereaved on compassionate grounds.
The Minister for General Duties in the Office of the Prime Minister, Tarsis Kabwegyere, said the Government could not interfere in matters of faith, but urged the public to report any suspicious activity by a cult to the authorities.
“Conditions which produce cults must be avoided so that we live in a decent society,” he said.
However, the committee’s recommendations drew the wrath of some lawmakers across the political aisle.
Lawmakers wanted the Government to provide funds to enable the ‘bereaved’ start a settled and productive life.
“As a person who almost joined the church after being recruited by Fr. Dominic Kataribabo, I find all these recommendations far-fetched and I cannot support them. The Government had a duty to protect these people and their property, but failed. It should, therefore, own up and compensate the bereaved,” Kafuda Boaz, the Busongora South MP, said.
The House unanimously called for stronger monitoring of the work of such groups that may use the banner of faith to mete out catastrophic danger unto unsuspecting members of the public.
A grainy picture showing cult leader Joseph Kibwetere (2ndR) and assistants Ursala Komuhangi, Credonia Mwerinde and Dominic Kataribaabo during a visit to the home of Bwesigye Marcellino Kyamutetera in Bushenyi in 1995. (CREDIT: Bwesigye Marcellino Kyamutetera)
- 1997: The cult was registered as a non-governmental organisation and in 1998 it was incorporated as a company.
- March 17, 2000: About 600 followers of the cult were incinerated in an inferno at Kanungu. Other bodies were discovered in Kampala and Bushenyi districts.
- March 27, 2000: The Government announced that the cult leaders survived the inferno and were in hiding. Their names were put on an international wanted list.
- December 2000: The Government announced a seven-member judicial commission of inquiry, headed by Justice Augustus Kania, to probe the Kanungu massacre.
- September 2013: Parliament started a probe into the Kanungu massacre, following complaints by some Kanungu residents that victims of the inferno had been neglected.
Gov''t cleared of Kanungu massacre claims