The main tourism attractions in Kanungu are the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP). Bwindi harbors half the world’s population (~300) of highly endangered Mountain Gorillas. The Bwindi chimpanzee population size is unknown but roughly estimated at 350-400, making Bwindi the only forest in Africa in which these two apes occur together.
Though there are other attractions such as mountaineering, great views, caves, local markets, other apes, 46 birds, and butterflies, they have not been fully exploited for tourism. This has led to a short stay by tourists in the area since choices are limited. The need to develop these resources for tourism is therefore very important to ensure longer stays in the protected areas by tourists and therefore yielding more revenue. The Ishasha sector of QENP is known for its remote character, isolation, and difficult access. Those who take the time and effort to travel to Ishasha are richly rewarded. The rive line woodlands along the Ishasha River have high scenic appeal and harbor an abundance of wildlife, including primates. The extensive woody grasslands support the Queen Elizabeth National Park’s largest population of topi and the tree-climbing lions that are the sector’s most popular tourist attraction. The northern border of this sector adjoins Lake Edward, where the shoreline is characterized by a large wetland plain, harboring a variety and abundance of wildlife, including elephant, buffalo, warthog and diverse wetland avian species
It is now exactly 20 years since 17 March, 2000 when over 1000 people perished in an intentionally set fire at the group’s church (Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God) in Kanungu district by Kibwetere where people were locked inside the church, with the doors and windows nailed shut from the outside and only a 17 year-old Peter Ahimbisibwe who had left earlier to buy food, survived.
The people who were burnt belonged to a religious cult calling itself the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, popularly known as Kibwetere cult, led by Joseph Kibwetere, Credonia Mwerinde, Angelina Mugisha, Fr. Joseph Kasapurari and Fr. Dominic Kataribabo.
Before dust could settle after the Kanungu tragedy, it was discovered that many more people belonging to the same cult had died and been secretly buried in other camps outside Kanungu including Bushenyi and Buziga near Kampala.
The tragedy and its aftermath invariably generated national and international concern.
The whole cult revolved around a belief that some people were talking with God through visions and had received warnings from the Blessed Virgin Mary about the end of the world by the year 2000.
The followers were not supposed to go to hell if they strictly followed the cult (The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God).
For the devout Christians the whole concept of ‘okubonekyerwa’ (getting heavenly visions) was very appealing.
The cult talked of the doomsday. According to their former preacher, Martino Nuwagaba, they preached as far back as the Easter of 1992 about how on that “last day” snakes as big as wheels of tractors and big blocks of cement will fall from heaven onto the sinners.
Remains of the victims being sorted by Mortuary workers in 2000
They preached of three days of consecutive darkness that will engulf the whole world and how only their camps were supposed to be safe havens, something reminiscent of the biblical Noah’s Ark.
It is said that even sealing the church doors and windows by nail before setting the church on fire was to create that darkness situation that was a prelude to the apocalypse.
They promised their followers that when all this happened, everybody would perish except their followers and that whatever remained on earth would be theirs alone and that they would then start communicating directly with Jesus.
Followers believed in this so much so that they considered themselves the most privileged people on earth.
The leaders used the following mechanisms and characters that made their followers believe in their teachings and ended up doing what they did.
- The cult and its leaders violated human rights (the right to education, health, property, marriage, freedom, speech, parenthood, childhood, etc.),
- They separated families, including children, and took them to different camps in a new environment where they would not socialise easily,
- They used to erect fences around their buildings/camps. The fences would be opaque enough to prevent those outside from seeing what was happening inside,
- They created total detachment between their followers and the society around them,
- Producing children and having sex among followers even between spouses were strictly forbidden,
- Leaders instilled too much fear among their followers,
- They relied on deception, prophecies and lies through selective readings of the Bible. The Bible was usually read out of context.
- Apart from the leaders, other members of the cult were not allowed to talk. They used signs to communicate among themselves and to their cult leaders.
- They had a tight day’s schedule that kept the followers extremely busy so that there was virtually no time to discuss, not even in signs.
- They tried to keep within the law and be close, very friendly and generous to the authorities, which helped them to avoid any suspicions from the state.
- They usually travelled at night so they could not easily be noticed even by neighbours.
- They did not own their own transport/vehicles. They usually hired vehicles to travel, they were therefore not easy to identify.
- They used to command all followers to sell all their property and bring all the proceeds to the cult leaders.
- They used to burn property under the pretext that the Blessed Virgin Mary was annoyed with the owners.
- They created a property-less and helpless society of followers who became totally dependent on the cult and had nothing to fall back to.
- They fully exploited the general view among Ugandans that religious people are always innocent, humble, and harmless and peace-loving which helped them plan and carry out mischief and crimes without being detected at all.
- Cult members got completely detached from their ‘non-believer’ relatives. Therefore, the latter could not follow, know or detect what was going on in the cult camps.
- All cult camps were terminus so that there would be no passers