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Title Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God - I Narrowly Survived the Kanungu Inferno

Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God - I Narrowly Survived the Kanungu Inferno April 9th, 2007 - EXACTLY seven years ago on March 17, 2000, more than 500 people perished in an inferno in Kanungu, south western Uganda. That fateful Saturday is still fresh in the minds of the residents and Ugandans, especially those whose relatives burnt in the fire. Police investigations after the fire discovered mass graves in different parts of the country, raising the death toll to over 1,000. Those who died included mainly Ugandan and some Congolese believers in a cult called the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God , a breakaway group from the Roman Catholic Church that sprung up in parts of Western Uganda and Buganda in the late 1980s. [...] As the name implies, the group emphasised the 10 Commandments though in a rather lopsided way. Believers were not allowed to talk, mainly out of fear of breaking the commandment about giving false witness. The cult put emphasis on the apocalypse highlighted in their booklet A Timely Message from Heaven: The End of the Present Time. New members were required to study it and be trained in it, reading it as many as six times. The cult also taught that Mother Mary had a special role in the apocalypse and communicated to the leadership. They looked at themselves as though they were in Noah s Ark; a ship of righteousness in a sea of sin. The cult was so secretive. [...] Daily Monitor s Western Bureau Chief FELIX BASIIME, who covered the inferno in 2000, recently met one of the survivors Ponsiano Nuwamanya, 30. Mr Nuwamanya takes us through his days at the Kanungu cult centre up to the day of the inferno and how he narrowly escaped the fire. [...] QN: How did you come to know of Kibwetere s cult and how, when did you join it? Nuwamanya: I joined the cult in December 1999 when my grand mother Sefuroza Kenyangi from Bunyarigye, Kitabi took me with some other relatives to Kanungu. She was already a member of the cult and we had earlier stayed with her at Kitabi so she came back to sell her property and land before she took us. She convinced us that the world would end with 2000. QN: What did you experience on your first day at the Kanungu camp? Nuwamanya: We found a similar doomsday message being preached day in day out at the camp. QN: What was the arrangement and order at the camp? Nuwamanya: Women and men sat separately in church and had different dormitories. The new comers would wear black gowns, old members black, while the leaders had white and green gowns. [...] QN: What was your main source of light at the camp? Nuwamanya: We mainly used tadooba (small wicklamps) and the leaders would provide the paraffin. Inside the church, it was mainly wax candles. QN: Was your worship style different from that of the Catholic Church? Nuwamanya: It was basically the same, only that we would worship throughout the week. The leaders emphasised mainly the last five Commandments in the Bible. QN: What happened in the last week of the cult? Nuwamanya: Towards the final day, worship was intensified. They were telling us the world was ending very soon so we should dedicate ourselves more with fasting. We had never been told to fast before. On Thursday, we feasted on cows and soda, we prayed and sang throughout day and night. QN: Take us through the final day, Friday? Nuwamanya: We started it as usual with breakfast but later we were sprinkled with the blessed water which had a queer smell, different from that which they sprinkled on us daily. Five, 10 and 20 litre jerrycans of the blessed water were placed in the corners of the dormitory we were praying from. The leaders gave each one of us a candle and match box. We kept singing waiting for Mother Mary to come as we had been told but I later moved out to Kanungu trading centre to buy some cakes for the children who were crying. QN: Was the blessed water always brought inside your worship place? Nuwamanya: No, it used to remain in jerrycans in the office. QN: So what did you think when the water was this time brought inside the church and strategically placed in corners? Nuwamanya: I just thought that since it was a special day of prayer, we were to use more of the water than usual, so it was brought nearer. QN: Were you allowed to freely go in and out of the prayer room on that day? Nuwamanya: Yes, there were no restrictions but before I left for the trading centre, I saw three carpenters nailing the windows from outside while those inside were told to bolt the windows. QN: What did you think about the unusual act of locking the windows? Nuwamanya: I thought that may be we were all going to heaven and leaving our building intact and closed. I thought the intention of our leaders was to leave our building locked as we go to heaven. So I hurried to buy the cakes and returned. QN: What did you see on your return? Nuwamanya: I saw the building on fire, with flames spreading outside. I came closer and heard people inside yelling for help. I feared and run away for dear life. I run for about 5kms down Kanungu-Kabale road and later sat in the bushes, confused until dusk. When I regained my senses, I stopped a pick up truck at around 8pm and narrated to the driver everything that had happened at the camp. He took me to his home. I slept there and in the morning, he me gave Shs10,000 to return to my home in Kyeizooba, Bushenyi. QN: When you found the building on fire, why didn t you join the rest in going to heaven? Nuwamanya: No, I did not think people go to heaven in fire, so I ran away to save my life. [...] QN: Did your leaders die in the fire? Nuwamanya: No, Mwerinde and Kasapuri had left the camp during day time and were replaced by two new leaders. They told us that they were going to prepare another branch for similar prayers. Kataribaabo had left in the morning ahead of the others. [...] QN: What advice do you give Christians and the government over such incidents? Nuwamanya: People should not be misled by cults. They should stay in their mother churches. And the government should rescue the citizens from churches it feels may be dangerous. This is a summary extract from the full article as it appeared on The Monitor, March 16 2007