Kanungu Massacre: The Horrific Tragedy Caused by Religion & the Present-day Rebirth Aided by Humanism

by Robert Magara © Magara Robert 2017 First published 2017

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ISBN:…………………………………………..

CONTENTS

Introduction...........................................................................

Preface……………………………………………………………………………………………

Acknowledgments………………………………………………………………………………

Introduction……………………………………………………………………………………

1. The Kanungu in the last 20 years……………………………………………………….

On-spot findings………………………………………………………………………………

Outstanding assets on the site of Katate/Karenge Hill………………………………..

The site of the burnt bodies…………………………………………………………………

The your of other sites…………………………………………………………………………

The scene of the “last day”……………………………………………………………………

Encounter with the journalists on site……………………………………………………

In-depth interviews……………………………………………………………………………

2. Doctrine………………………………………………………………………………………

Visionaries………………………………………………………………………………………

3. A look at personalities……………………………………………………………………

Mr. Joseph Kibwetere………………………………………………………………………….

Keredonia Mwerinde…………………………………………………………………………...

Fr. Dominic Kataribaabo……………………………………………………………………

Other top leaders and the many leaders of the general category……………………

Did the followers of the Kibwetere know they were going to die?.........................

What has so far been derived from the interviews?.............................................

Other first people to arrive after the inferno, what they saw and their reactions…………………………………………………………………………………………

Personal testimony of encounter with some members of the MRTCG……………

4. Sections of the revealing document left behind and summaries of the sections……………………………………………………………………………………………

Has there ever been such events in the world?...................................................

Can we see similarities in these religious movements?.......................................

Conclusion………………………………………………………………………………………

Appendix…………………………………………………………………………………………

A. Commencement of our visions…………………………………………………………

B. We were to proceed as follows……………………………………………………………

C. The response we got and the problems we faced…………………………………….

D. Some original leaders of the movement………………………………………………

INTRODUCTION

In March 2000, over 1,000 residents in Kanungu were killed in an horrendous Christian cult massacre (similar to Jonestown). According to an article in New Vision,

"about 1000 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God were burnt to death... victims were doused with petrol and paraffin, before being set ablaze, ... six more bodies were discovered in a pit at the residence of the church leaders, [yet] another 494 bodies would be found [in mass graves] under the cult’s buildings... many of the victims were clubbed, strangled or hacked to death [or] poisoned... The cult was headed by self-styled prophet, Joseph Kibwetere and ex-Roman Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Dominic Kataribaho, [plus] Credonia Mwerinde and John Kamagara...."

Kanungu's interest in secular humanism is not surprising; it has suffered so intensely from religion. 

PREFACE

In 1989, a group of people formed a religious movement in Uganda. Joseph Kibwetere, the founder and leader of this group, had previously been a school teacher and an inspector of catholic schools in Mbarara Diocese, South Western Uganda. He was seen by many to be a “good catholic”. He came to claim heavenly visions that instructed him on a course of religious action for the church and all the people who believed in God.

The leadership of the group included two priests who cut themselves off from the Catholic Church. These were Dominic Kataribaabo and Joseph Mary Kasapuraari.  Another priest, Paul Kazire, who had initially been with them, later decided to leave and re-join his diocese, he was happily received back into the priestly ministry.

Among the top leaders were Joseph Kibwetere, Keredonia Mwerinde and Dominic Kataribaabo. The leaders of this religious movement asserted that they had heavenly visions from which they claimed authority to speak and preach in God’s name. Joseph Kibwetere claimed visions from the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus. Keredonia Mwerinde claimed the same, but mainly from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Dominic Kataribaabao was said to have been called by a heavenly voice as St. Paul, the Jewish apostle and to have been commissioned by Jesus.

Men and Women from various parts of the country joined the religious movement. As time went on, parents, especially women, who joined the religious movement, took their children along with them. It would appear that the phenomenon of visions with its claimed heavenly messages attracted the people who joined the movement.

The core of the messages preached was that people should follow the commandments of God more seriously. Also, during that time, the HIV/AIDS disease had just became known and was exerting its impact on society with so many people of all ages, sexes, professions and so others dying all over the country with the highest death rates in the towns and rural areas.

Uganda is a secular state for which the national constitution prescribes no state religion. Every Ugandan is free to subscribe to whatever faith they want.

The philosophy behind freedom of religion has been the rationality of human beings and their ability to be masters of their own destiny. Human beings are believed to be endowed with a special quality to think and reason. It is this conscience that inform how, when, why one relates to the supernatural arena.

In all this the human being is expected to know and be mindful of the boundary of this freedom. Where it begins to violate another person’s rights.

This is about 70kms East of Kanungu Town. This was the cult’s Headquarters but the tragedy in which an estimated 500 people were burnt to death and beyond recognition took place at Nyabugoto.

The victims were incinerated a total of eight bodies were exhumed from a pit in one of the rooms where the cult members used to sleep. The cult Headquarters was only two kilometer away from Robert’s home. At Nyabugoto, the cult had a primary school called “Ishaayuriro Boarding School” P.O. Box 19 Karuhinda, Kanungu Rukungiri” which was benefiting from the Universal Primary Education (UUPE) funds. The fact finding team saw a letter of 1998 on the notice board of that school from Mr. P.K Byamugisha, the District Education Officer, Rukungiri regarding the Primary Leaving Examination (P.L.E) on the same notice board names of the teachers at the school were: Archangel Kiiza, F. Kenyabumba, Jeremian Kabateraine, Nee Kekibiina,  Claudio Makunda, P. Tuhumwire, Baltazer Muhangura. These teachers were cult members and they too lived in the camp. The cult members were their own architects, masons, farmers and carpenters. The carpenter who sealed off the church before the explosion and the fire was part the cult members that perished at Nyabugoto.

Property of the cult in Kanungu

Photo

The cult had a big farm at their Headquarters where they grew food and kept animals mainly cattle and chicken.

See the current photo of the land

Before they sold their animals and burnt people, they had over 60 head of cattle before 17th March 2000 they had sold off all the animals so cheaply to the surprise of most people. They had two shops in the nearby Kanungu trading centre whose merchandise was also cheaply sold off before 17th March 2000. They burnt their property like the sewing machines, hoes, pangas, lumps; this took two weeks before 17th March 2000. The land was not sold. They deposited the title deed of their land and other documents with the police at Kanungu for safe custody.

The land is now owned by one of the biggest tea grower Mr. Benon Byaruhanga, a Kanungu resident from Rugyeyo Sub County.

Facts finding

The team visited Kanungu Local Administration Prison to find out who of the prisoners exhumed bodies. The team established that 15 prisoners were taken to Nyabugoto from Kanungu Prison to help in exhuming six bodies and reburying them and to dig the mass, grave and bury the burnt bodies.

See the photo of a grader

The prisoners helped the fire brigade personnel to do all this for three days from 17th to 19th March 2000 using a grader.

They explained that the fire brigade personnel used to go down in the grave where the bodies lay, tie a rope around a body which to a newly dug grave and reburied them. They were loves but had decomposed beyond recognition after burying the bodies, they went back to prison and bathed with soap.

Prisoners who worked in Nyabugoto-Kanungu;

1. Ambrose Byomuhangi, 22 years old, Robbery

2. Patrick Behakanisa, 34, Theft

3. Suragi Monday, 20, Robbery

4. Keneth Mutegaya, Murder

5. Justus Beingana, 21, Robbery

6. Venancio Besigye, Murder

7. Erasmus Tweheyo, 18, Defilement

Prisoners who exhumed bodies in Kanungu;

1. Milton Muhairwe, 34, Rape on remand

2. Onerius Nuwagaba, 18, Defilement

3. Muhairwe Wilber, 19, Defilement

4. Alex Ngabirano, 18, Defilement

5. Geoffrey Turyasingura, 18, Murder

6. Wilber Kamusiime, 18, Defilement

These did not have the gumboots. They only had gloves. The cults origins and characteristics;

By 1988 more followers were coming in from different corners of the region, as far as Buganda, 1999, 1989 new influential members joined on the persuasion of Credonia Mwerinde, Fr. Joseph Kasapuri Mary and John Kamagara. These individuals provided accommodation in their respective homes. These was therefore, a camp at each of the above individuals’ homes. When a permanent home (Headquarters) was established in Kanungu, some of these areas and others served as transit camps wherein some instances, murders were later committed.

Growth of the cult

As the cult expanded it also became complex to govern and rifts emerged within the leadership. It is well known that at one time there was disagreement between the “founders” and the new converts. At one time one of the followers, Angelina Mugisha, claimed that she had had a vision directing the believers to follow new rules. These were;

Silence

The rule of silence. This according to her, was to safeguard followers from temptation of saying anything sinful. But as will be explained later, the explanation changed with time.

Sale of property

Selling of properties and surrendering proceeds there from to the cult. This was based on the principle of sharing with others. This did not augur well among the influential cult leaders. As a result some of there like Fr. Ikazire, abandoned the cult and went back to the Catholic Church. This left Credonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibwetere essentially in charge. In 1996 the group established its Headquarters on a piece of land offered by Mwerinde Kataate, Kanungu. This land belonged to Kashaku, Mwerinde’s father who had died and was buried in the same place.

Who is Credonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibwetere?

The cult was officially called “The movement for the Restoration of the ten commandments of God”, popularly known as Kibwetere cult implying that Kibwetere was the leader of the cult. Mwerinde was the most powerful personality in the cult and Kibwetere was used as a trade mark because of his historical high profile.

Credonia Mwerinde

Credonia Mwerinde was popularly known as a “programmer” among her followers and religiously known as Ekyombeko kya Maria (the Virgin Mary’s structure). Whenever one would say that “programmer has come” everybody would fall face-down. She represented a message from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

According to Nalongo Rukkanyangira, the childhood friend of the cult leader, Mwerinde was born in Kanungu at Kataate, Nyabugoto the very place where Kibwetere’s cult camp was situated Credonia was almost the same age as Nalongo (48).

According to research, Credonia used to go dancing a lot in and around Kanungu during her childhood days.

Credonia was a prostitute and used to sell tonto (banana wine) in Kanungu. She had been married five times to different men, the last one being my Uncle Eric Mazima. A one Bimbona was the father of her only some called Mujuni while they lived together, Rubale had also fallen in love with Credonia’s sister called perpetual Barigye. When Credonia learnt of it she burnt a lot of Rubale’s property in the house, divorced him and got married to another man before Eric Mazima of Kashojwa Parish, Rugyeyo Sub County Kanungu married her in 1979.

Those who belonged to the cult before she joined in 1988 (I was 8 years) say she separated from her husband Mazima and shifted to the camp in Nyabugoto in Nyakishenyi when the cult was denied land in Nyabugoto, she donated her father’s land at Kataate, Nyabugoto in Kanungu where they shifted and established its Headquarters.

Those who knew her talk of eloquent, dictatorial, extremely cunning and shrewd woman who commanded respect but also instilled fear in her followers. She is the one who recruited Kibwetere into the cult.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Many people deserve thanks for their contribution to this work. First among them is the Brighter Brains Institute, the founders of the Brighter Brain who have facilitated movements to various places in Kanungu for collecting data about the tragedy and encouraged research about it.

I thank the various men and women around Kanungu who were willing to share whatever experience they had gathered with the cult members fore example Mr. Gasheka Nshekanabo, Mr. Beda who is the Local Council I Chairperson of the place of the cult.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Since the Kanungu tragedy of 17th March 2000, many people in Uganda and the world over got deeply horrified. It is very rare, if ever, to here that in a village, 500 people have got burnt in house. The Kanungu event left many people in the community puzzled, down cast and very much shocked.

Kanungu is located in South Western Uganda. It boarders with the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a fully fledged district and is much a rural area.

Sadness over whelmed many family who lost their dear ones in the fire that gutted down the building in which the people had been locked. They reportedly screamed and yelled to no possible assistance until they were consumed by the huge fuelled fires, as was described by some observers who arrived at the site of the inferno. Both adults and children perished in the fire. For several weeks, Katate or Karengye (as the hill was commonly called and also variably Kashayura or Ishayuriro- rya-maria among the movement members), was flooded with people from various places and outside the country. The village of the cult had started to turn from being a location with a multiplicity of buildings and a big residential population of the members of the movement.

Journalists and researchers poured into Katate/Karengye after the tragedy in Kanungu. Some of the former were from Kenya, Germany, England and indeed Uganda itself. And the latter included researchers from Makerere University-Kampala-Uganda, the people’s Republic of Tanzania, the University of Fribourgh (Switzerland) and elsewhere.  During this period when the writer of this narration was Robert Magara who was by then in Secondary form three at San Giovanni School and was a day student every day crossing at the site of the inferno.

This work does claim to be an exhaustive and comprehensive scholarly and academic presentation.  Neither is it a sociological, political or criminal investigation research. Rather, it is a straight forward narration of the findings about the inferno and the related discoveries of dead bodies in mass graves scattered in various locations at the site.

This research was carried out for pastoral and humanitarian purposes.

Why pastoral purposes?