Who Cares About Kanungu?

–If there must be freedom of worship, let the legislature ensure that it does not get anybody’s right to life

Today March 17, marks five years since over 1,000 people were killed in the Kanungu inferno in a church belonging to The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God

A mockery of hope lies with the 12-year-old John Otushabira and company. He must have been about seven years old when the infamous Kanungu tragedy struck. Otushabira and his friends will be quick at sighting any visitor and coming to provide information about everything that happened on that fateful day.

Given their age, the accuracy with which they narrate things ought to be commended; in collaboration with what has been reported and verified.

The interest these children show (in exchange for a voluntary token to buy exercise books for school) should serve as a challenge to those in the positions supposed to lay out the facts of what happened to the public.

The Government could as well swallow their pride and show the minimum interest in clarifying what happened – at least Ugandans deserve to know. Otherwise, an apparent attitude of indifference raises suspicion.

The official stand on Kanungu leaves a lot to be desired. We can comfortably talk of two camps, namely, the Kanungu district administration and the Kampala-based ministry of internal affairs with the associated Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The Clerk to Council of Kanungu district, Jackson Byamukama (August, 2004) mentions of the district authorities’ intention to erect a monument and some unclear tourist attraction. However, the ministry in Kampala insists that the place is still of investigative value, while the CID would vaguely refer any inquiries to Kanungu.

One, therefore, wonders what the ministry’s suggestions lead to as the CID does not appear to have answers and the promised commission of inquiry five years ago appears to be five years dead. In addition, the Police officers at Kanungu Police Post (August 2004) seem to be frank when they say that they have had nothing whatsoever to do with investigating the case since after the incident.

The interest shown by researchers is also miserably low. In a normal setting, an incident of such magnitude and more so the manner in which it was carried out, should have attracted a substantial amount of research interest.

It is surprising, therefore, that five years on and as the possible evidence erodes away less than a handful of works have been published, namely, The Kanungu Cult Saga by the Department of Religious Studies of Makerere University, The Kanungu Tragedy by the Uganda Human Rights Commission and of recent, The Uganda Cult Tragedy: A Private Investigation. These and the doctoral research still underway by Chris Tuhiriirwe of Makerere University ought to be commended, but this is far too short of the research the whole cult phenomenon in the region is worth.

The church, especially the Catholic church disowned the followers of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. They denied them prayers (if they would serve any purpose) and they were buried as heretics.

With the church aside, this attitude seems to be confirmed by the current state of the mass graves at Kanungu, Rugazi and Rushojwa; without any sign to show that hundreds of innocent human beings were buried there and turned into cattle grazing fields with a few self-appointed individuals taking on the guiding job. It could as well be said that government authorities, the church and society have denied the victims of the cult deaths the minimum dignity worth of a human being.

One would think that after the Kanungu bang, there would be a slow-down in cult/sect growth. On the contrary, the trend seems to have gained momentum and continues so at an alarming rate.

One would easily remember Kanungu after observing some religious movements in the region whose possible links with some key figures in the Kanungu cult may not be questionable. Like the Kanungu cult, they ask money from their followers. They believe in the supernatural powers of their leader and the communion with God. One wonders where we are headed to on seeing how many groups that have come up; many in makeshift churches not worth that label. What is worrying more is the societal acceptance of these groups and the laissez-faire attitude from the Government.

Cult FAQ

CultFAQ.org: Frequently Asked Questions About Cults, Sects, and Related Issues

Includes definitions of terms (e.g. cult, sect, anticult, countercult, new religious movement, cult apologist, etcetera)

Plus research resources, and a listing of recommended cult experts
– CultFAQ is provided by Apologetics Index

There is apparently a cult practice for the wealthy class termed under-water in an effort to amass riches. Whatever amount the interested parties pay is a matter between them.

The scars left behind by the cults cannot be ignored. There is evidence that the former members of the Kanungu cult suffer from a syndrome.

By talking to them, one realises that some of the information is deliberately held back and an interviewer has to be really good to access it. In some cases they resort to prayer in search of the permission to reveal some information. The feeling that they might be betraying their cult beliefs is ever-present.

Another detectable feature among former believers is the element of isolation from society. One feels that they do not feel secure. This is a clear indication that there has been lack of counselling to the victims.

The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments was partly fuelled by the prevalence of the AIDS scourge in the region. Omushomesa (a movement leader) and Scholastika Kamagara once (1994) highlighted how numerous followers had joined the group with AIDS and got cured by restoring the commandments and taking a prescribed herbal drug (by the Virgin Mary). This kind of information was used by the recruiting agents to capture new members, who suspected they had AIDS. This nightmare still exists. One only needs to visit a homestead especially in the countryside. Tombs have become part of the concept of a home, in the proximity to the house. This does not imply that tombs did not exist before the onset of AIDS, but the numbers now are showy.

Can the Kanungu tragedy happen again? Unfortunately, the answer to this question seems to be a potential YES. The movement’s practices appear to have undergone a process of mutation and the tragic end may reproduce. Groups contemporary to the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God and those groups born thereafter show a high level of parallelisms – financial drains on the followers, supreme leadership, obscure practices at odd hours and places and so forth are examples of symptoms that may set situations choking. If there must be freedom of worship and creed, let the legislative and enforcement machinery ensure that it does not get in the way of anybody’s right to life – and a decent one!

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New Vision, Uganda
Mar. 17, 2005 Opinion
Bernard Atuhaire

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday March 18, 2005.
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