A break-away sect from the Roman Catholic Church, this religious Movement preached the word of Jesus Christ, and of damnation for those who did not follow his word. The Ten Commandments resided heavily in their doctrine, as did the belief that the apocalypse was coming at the turn of the millennium. As the year 2000 passed without the end of the world, the group began to unravel, eventually leading to their controversial end and a death toll of 778 members.
History of The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
During the course of 1960- 1988, Ugandan Paulo Kashakun reported seeing a series of visions. The first was of his deceased daughter Evangelista, who allegedly told him that he would soon have visions of Heaven. Whilst he never did report a vision of Heaven, in 1988 he reported another vision, this time of Jesus Christ, The Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph.
Kashakun’s surviving daughter, Credonia also claimed to have similar visions, and in 1989 he instructed her to spread their word across the country on the orders of the Virgin Mary. The same year, Credonia Mwerinde met Joseph Kibweteere and together they formed the religious group known as The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. Joseph had also reported visions of his own of the Virgin Mary and the pair vowed to spread the Virgin Mary’s message of the apocalypse as far as they could.
As the Ugandan faith in Catholicism wavered due to repetitive scandals, The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God became increasingly popular. Former priests, such as Paul Ikazire and Domonic Kataribabo, fled to the already expanding group, and rationalised their leaders’ theories. Ikazire explains: “We joined the Movement as a protest against the Catholic Church. We had good intentions. The church was backsliding, the priests were covered in scandals and the AIDS scourge was taking its toll on the faithful. The world seemed poised to end.”
The arrival of Dominic Kataribabo brought about an influx of new recruits. His reputation as a respected priest, combined with his PhD from a US university helped to validate the group’s message. By the early 90’s, the Movement had developed into a prosperous community. The members sold their properties – including Kibweteere, who was reported selling houses and milling machines – to buy a pineapple and banana plantation. They lived communally on their land until 1992 when they were ordered to leave by village elders, forcing them to move to the Kanungu District. It was here where the group flourished, building homes, a church and a primary school.
As the Movement was a break-away sect from Catholicism, their main religious text was the Bible. They taught followers that the only way to avoid eternal damnation via the impending apocalypse was to strictly adhere to the Ten Commandments.
Each Commandment was taken literally, and incredibly seriously. For example, the group members were discouraged from speaking, in fear that they may break the Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” Many days were spent in complete silence, and the only form of communication permitted was sign language. Sex and soap were forbidden for all members of the sect, and fasts were a continual chore.
The Movement published a book named A Timely Message From Heaven: The End of the Present Time which detailed the main beliefs of the group. It focused heavily on the apocalyptic ‘end times’ and was ingrained into the sect’s religious practices. Upon recruitment, new members were required to study the book for numerous days, after which they would be placed into the first of three groups within the sect:
- First: The Novices: Set in place for the new recruits, this group wore black.
- Second: Members vowed to follow the Ten Commandments and were suited in green.
- Third: For the fully professed members of the sect, this group wore both green and white.
The Movement for the Restoration for the Ten Commandments of God saw themselves as affiliates of the Roman Catholic Church, and many of their practices held roots in Catholicism. The belief structures are very similar, including the reorganisation of the Pope as the church leader, the strict adherence to the Ten Commandments, and the taking of communion. The compound in Kanungu was thought of by the group as the modern-day Noah’s Ark, where they believed the Second Coming was to occur, whilst allowing those present to move on to the next world.
The leaders taught that the apocalypse would come after the year 2000, stating: “The year 2000 will not be followed by year 2001 but it will be followed by YEAR ONE in a new generation.”
In 1997, the group reported almost 5,000 members in their group, despite the departure of Paul Ikazire in 1994. As time grew closer towards the year 2000, the group leaders urged their followers to repent their sins in preparation for the end times. All work activity ceased, and members sold their belongings cheaply, including their clothes and live-stock.
The turn of the millennium came and went without any apocalyptic signs, and the group began to fold. Members questioned their leaders, and ceased making payments to the church. Many members demanded their money back from Mwerinde and Kibweteere, claiming they were forced to sell their possessions and give the pair the money.
Mwerinde and Kibweteere predicted a new date for doomsday, 17 March 2000. The remaining group members planned for a huge celebration on the 17th and prepared for the end coming with “ceremony and finality.”
The Church Inferno
17 March 2000 was marked as the new date for the apocalypse by group leaders Mwerinde and Kibweteere. On the night of the 15th, the sect members held a party in celebration of the build of their new church, and were reported to have consumed three bulls and copious amounts of Coca-Cola. The group members gathered the next night and prayed until the early morning, and met in the newly built church.
At 10.30am, an explosion was heard by local villagers, and a fire soon encompassed the church and everyone in it. The Ugandan police confirmed that the interior of the church was decimated, killing everyone inside. This left a death toll of 530, including dozens of children and allegedly all sect leaders: Joseph Kibweteere, Joseph Kasapurari, John Kamagara, Dominic Kataribabo, and Credonia Mwerinde. All of the windows and doors to the building had been sealed, causing the authorities to question whether this was a cult- suicide or a mass-murder.
The church fire prompted the Ugandan police to search the properties belonging to the Movement, and four days later the searches took place. The police were horrified to find six bodies sealed in concrete in the latrine at the back of the Kanungu compound. Each victim had been brutally murdered and were half naked. On 24tMarch, a further 153 bodies were discovered in mass graves at the compound in Buhunage, and two days later another 155 bodies were found between two mass graves at Dominic Kataribabo’s estate at Rugazi. A total of 94 bodies were found at Kataribabo’s property, including a mass grave in his yard and bodies buried beneath a concrete floor in his home. The forensics investigations found that most of the victims had been poisoned and/or stabbed, and their deaths had occurred just weeks before the church fire.
Weeks later, the police ruled out the possibility of it being a cult suicide, and determined it to be mass-murder carried out by the group leaders. Authorities believe that when the doomsday prophecy failed to come true, the group began to unravel, leading to a revolt in the hierarchical ranks. The leaders then set a new date for the apocalypse, with the ulterior motive of murdering their followers. Vice president Dr. Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe claimed, “These were callously, well-orchestrated mass murders perpetrated by a network of diabolic, malevolent criminals masquerading as religious people.”
It was initially believed that all five group leaders perished in the church fire on 17 March 2000, the Ugandan police now believe that both Joseph Kibweteere and Credonia Mwerinde could still be alive. It is believed that the pair departed the compound in the early hours of the morning before the fire, and an international warrant for their arrest has been issued.