Bahai News - Kanungu Cult Deaths: Move On Churches Draws Fury

Kanungu Cult Deaths: Move On Churches Draws Fury

The East African (Nairobi)
April 7, 2000
Kampala - The recent deaths of 930 members of a religious cult in South western Uganda, has sparked off animosity against non-mainstream churches amid allegations that a police crackdown on the churches has been launched.

But fresh allegations that Kanungu cult leader, Joseph Kibwetere may have stayed in a Western Uganda town for several days after the March 17 inferno, are casting serious doubt over the competence of Ugandan intelligence.

The EastAfrican has learnt that the police have resolved to "watch closely the activities of churches and may withdraw licenses from any church suspected to be involved in activities contrary to what it was licensed for.

The decision, which members of various churches say could suppress freedom of worship, allows the police to investigate and if satisfied that there is nothing wrong with the church, return the license. If not, they may close down the church.

Police confirmed an ongoing investigation into emerging claims that Joseph Kibwetere - leader of The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments cult, spent the night after the March 17 killings at Rutooma, 17 km on Ibanda-Mbarara road, where 153 bodies have been discovered buried in a pit. He is suspected to have crossed into Congo or Rwanda.

Police Spokesman Eric Naigambi said the security agencies were constrained by lack of resources. "It took 12 hours for the police to respond because of lack of logistics. So Kibwetere could have stayed at Rutooma without us knowing," he said.

Locals in Rutooma, said Kibwetere's car was seen in the area. The search for the cult leader has since been widened to involve international police, and into neighbouring countries.

Born again Christians have vowed to resist the move saying the government is interfering with religious freedom. They have called upon Christians in other countries to intervene and pray for Uganda.

Uganda has a large membership in the "born again" churches, including the First Lady, Ms Janet Museveni and the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mr. Mayanja Nkangi. Lask week a Member of Parliament asked Mrs. Museveni, a born again Christian, to "return to the mainstream churches."

Citing provisions of the 1995 Constitution, leaders of the Pentecostal Churches have threatened to sue the government for this new move, saying this is reminiscent of dictator Idi Amin's days.

A source told The EastAfrican that a high level security meeting last week, resolved that police stations through out the country move in to watch churches and sects, without consulting the non-governmental organisations registration.

Previously it was the NGO board, that had powers to close down any church whose activities were doubtful.

The directive to the police over churches is suspected to have come out of increased criticisms against the security system of the country over their failure to detect the Kanungu murders.

Pastor Simeon Kayiwa, the chairman of National Fellowship of Born Again Churches in Uganda, said that born again Christians would oppose such moves, because Uganda's constitution provides for freedom of worship.

He said he would sue the Attorney-General should the government close down any of their churches.

More than 80 pastors meeting in Kampala last week, to discuss the Kanungu incident denounced the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments saying it was not part of them.

Pastor Kayiwa said: "God gave us the right of worship. If they close the churches, we will have gone back to the days of dictator Idi Amin."

Uganda became famous during Idi Amin's rule. His presidency between 1971 and 1979 was characterised by excesses and up to more than 200,000 people died.

He banned all religious groupings apart from the mainstream three: the Catholics, Protestants (Anglican) and the Muslim. He went further and butchered the Anglican ArchBishop, Jonan Luwum in 1977.

Other religious groupings, especially the Pentecostals went underground and many of their followers were rounded up, beaten and thrown into prisons.

Born Again Christians and the Bahai Faith, plus several other sects came back after Idi Amin was overthrown.

Pastor Kayiwa says Kibwetere, the self-styled prophet of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God and other leaders of the cult were not born again Christians and therefore his excesses should not be used as an excuse to crackdown on Pentecostal Churches.

Pastor Kayiwa said they were disturbed by increasing public ridicule, linking born again Christians to the Kibwetere cult. Many people in Kampala, following the Kanungu incidence, are ridiculing born again Christians saying they are all the same.

Prof Edward Rugumayo, the Minister of Internal Affairs ordered the closure of all branches of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments.

*Additional reporting by Edward Ojulu and Erich Ogoso Opolot.

©Copyright 2000 The East African.

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