Cults: Why East Africa?

By David Bamford, BBC News, Monday 20 March 2000, 13:07 GMT

[religious icons]
The church has become a focus for disaffection
Over the last decade East Africa has been home to a spate of religous cults led by charismatic figures, telling people the world is about to end, and they must prepare for a new reality.

The social conditions for these groups may have been borne from tragedy. Terrible famines have hit Ethiopia and Somalia; Rwanda has gone through an ethnic genocide of unimaginable proportions.

The population of Uganda, having already suffered mass killings under Idi Amin, were suddenly confronted by a strange and devastating epidemic we now know as Aids.

Confused and traumatised communities turned to charismatic self-styled prophets who blamed authority—the government and the Catholic Church—for bringing the wrath of God upon them.

Two cults raided

A crucifix belonging to the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
The Ugandan Government has dispersed two cults in Uganda over the past year, claiming they posed a threat both to themselves and to the local community.

Police raided a compound of the 1,000-member World Message Last Warning Church in the central town of Luwero last September.

The said they found seven girls who had been sexually assaulted, three boys being held against their will and 18 unidentified shallow graves.

In November about 100 riot police raided and disbanded an illegal camp at Ntusi in Sembabule district, home to a self-styled teenage prophetess who was said to eat nothing but honey.

The authorities regarded the camp as a security threat: rebels were known to have infiltrated the area.

Transition to rebel movement

Some groups, such as the Holy Spirit Movement, have evolved into fully-fledged rebel movements.

Their followers kidnap children and launch suicide attacks in the belief that magic oils will make them immune from government bullets.

Others have sought solace and redemption in the belief that any world capable of heaping such terror on them must be close to its end.

As details emerge about the deaths in Kanungu, it's becoming clear that members of this sect—the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God—had been making preparations for the end of their lives which came in such a horrific manner.