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Cults on the Rise in Africa — Once Again February 29, 2008

Posted by Reginald Johnson in Africa, Crime, Culture, Mental Health, News, Religion.
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Once again cults in Africa are on the increase. Since the latter half of the 20th Century more and more Africans have turned to cults.

Cults come in different forms. There are therapy cults that target the wealthy, business-types, whereas another form known as a communal group wants younger members, those who are in a time of transition. Usually the communal cults look for younger more impressionable people; someone willing to break away from their parents or the workplace. Above all, they value the ability of the would-be recruit to live by the groups’ standards, to obey, to accept and to conform.

People, in general, never think of becoming involved in a cult – and even when it happens, they are surprised that they were involved. By then, in many cases, it is too late. Organised cults that actively recruit use devious methods in recruitment. An overwhelming number of them sell themselves as religious organisations attempting to bring like-minded God-fearing people together. This has been the case for years in Africa.

These ‘religious groups’ have extensive knowledge on religion and try to give its potential members that the organisation has a strong sense of purpose. So strong, in fact, it becomes infectious. The leaders are very selective and cunning. If you are not the right sort of person, they will not look twice at you. If you tend to ask too many questions, the chance of you being a part of their group is fairly small.

In the past thousands of years, there have been an infinite number of cults throughout history. Some have survived to become legitimate groups; while others have fallen to the wayside. Some have reached a ‘cult-like’ status, and others have simply faded away.

On the African continent, cults have become a literal breeding ground in practicing alternative religious teachings. Laws and regulations in many of the African countries are so laxed that these organisations sprout up quickly and can literally go years undetected.

There is no accurate number of how many cults exist in Africa, due to it’s secretively attitude and inclusiveness. Many government agencies and NGOs believe the numbers were in the hundreds – and possibly thousands.

There is one group in particular that could be known as the most infamous of the modern-day cults in Africa. It once had members that expanded into the hundreds; but now defunct. The group was called The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (The Movement or MRTC). Like mostly all cults, The Movement started out by focusing on the dropouts of society.

The Movement was a breakaway group of the Roman Catholic Church. It took life in the southwestern Ugandan district of Kanungu in the late 1980s (officials are unaware of an exact date). The MRTC was led by Joseph Kibwetere, a former Roman Catholic Church teacher. Other high-ranking leaders were: Credonia Mwerinde, Angelina Mugisha, Fr Joseph Kasapurari and Fr Dominic Kataribabo. These people were referred to as ‘The Leadership’ and were once respected members of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Movement had a strong emphasis on the apocalypse, highlighted by 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 group tended to be secretive, yet through word of mouth, membership continued to flourish. It was silent as far as talking in general terms to others, but spoke extensively to those whom they felt they could convert. The group was relatively unknown to the outside world until 2000. In 1998 the school they ran was sanctioned by the government due to unsanitary conditions and violation of child labor statutes – but little was done because government officials still saw the organisation as a religious group.

The group became infamous not because it was a cult, but because on 17th March 2000, over 300 followers died in a fire in what is considered a cult suicide (some sources say as many as 500 were burned alive). Not only that, but during an investigation conducted after the fire discovered mass graves, raising the death toll to over 1,000 (this may mean it was larger than the Jonestown suicide in 1978, in South America, where over 900 lost their lives). Many Ugandans speculate the death toll was around 800. Shockingly enough there are also allegations that the event was more of a mass murder carried out by the leadership.

As the name implies the group strongly emphasized the Ten Commandments. This emphasis meant those non-believers of the group were discouraged by publicly talking about the group for fear of breaking the commandment about giving false witness. They also believed that their strict adherence to the Ten Commandments would be advantageous after the apocalypse.

Members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments had been promised that they would go to heaven come the year 2000. The Leadership told its followers that this information was given to them by the Mother Mary. Mother Mary, according to the leadership, is believed to often communicate to only members of the leadership.

As the year approached, the leadership asked the all the followers to sell all their property and belongings and give the money to the leadership. And as the days of 2000 passed, one by one the believers began to feel something was wrong. They did not depart for heaven. They were promised that the Lord would soon come and take them with Him. Daily the Leadership tired to fill their members with hope of some kind. Some believers of the cult started asking questions. It is agreed by many sources that the leadership then decided to lock their flock in their prayer palace and set it on fire.

It was only later that it dawned on the world that worse had happened before the fire. What actually shocked the world more than the fire was the discovery of mass graves of more believers of this cult in different parts of the Ugandan countryside. There were bodies buried in the Kanungu district, but also as far as the capital city of Kampala. Eric Naigambi, a police officer who at the scene in the Kanungu district recounted the days and weeks in questions by saying, “We were treating the deaths in Kanungu as an accident. That is until we began to find bodies under the floor of the prayer palace. It was then looked at as a mass murder.” He added, “We also began to think the administrative members had also perished by dying in the fire – or they committed suicide before the fire because they knew what was going to happen.”

Shortly after the Kanungu massacre, 6 bodies were discovered in a pit latrine. The bodies had been mutilated and doused in battery acid. All of this was done practically next from where the leadership had their residence.

Mr. Naigambi said that security officials had not suspected the sect’s followers of planning anything untoward because the group had invited the district commissioner to a party on 18th March 2000, to inaugurate its new church.

“These cult members, although planning for prayers to elevate them to heaven on the 17th, duped the public into thinking they had another day on earth by saying they were having a party on the 18th to welcome the new resident district commissioner,” he said.

As Ugandans and the world were coming to terms with how easily the cult had fooled everybody, 153 bodies were found under the floor of the cult’s building at Buhinga, Rutoma, and Rukungiri on 25th March 2000. The bodies “had been there about one or more months”, said a police spokesman, Asuman Mugenyi in a phone interview. “Some had been suffocated using their clothes, and others had been cut with sharp objects. There were 94 adults and 59 children.” 155 more bodies were discovered in Rugazi, Bunyaruguru-Bushenyi on 27th March 2000 under Fr. Kataribabo’s house. Mr. Mugenyi said the bodies were discovered after police noticed a depression in the ground that did not match other areas in the house. “That prompted them to dig.”

On 30th March 2000, another group of 81 bodies was found in Rushojwa, and on 27th April 2000, 55 bodies were discovered in a mass grave at Buziga in Makindye division, Kampala. No one can say with certainty that all related mass graves were discovered. At first, it was believed that the members of MRTC had willingly burnt to death in their Kanungu church, but pathologist reports indicated that many of the victims were clubbed, strangled or hacked to death and some were believed to have been poisoned prior to burning. Most of the dead were women and children.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said reports about the activities of a religious cult responsible for at least 660 deaths had been suppressed by members of his own administration. He said intelligence officers had filed reports about the potential dangers of the Movement, but these were “sat on” by regional administrators. In speaking with his Media Relations team, they said President Museveni had ordered the National Security Council to investigate into why the reports were suppressed. Presently, five years later, there is still no official response.

The Government of Uganda did promise to swiftly apprehend all the perpetrators of the stabbings, stranglings and burnings of members of the cult. “No members of the leadership appear to have survived the major fire…” is the government’s official response. But local police did hint that some of the leaders, including Kibwetere and Mwerinde, are suspected not to have died in the inferno at Kanungu. Officials in Buganda Road Court, Kampala, on 6th April 2000 issued a warrant of arrest for the leadership. This included warrants for Joseph Kibwetere; his deputy, Rev. Sr. Credonia Mwerinde, Secretary Rev. Fr. Dominic Kataribabo; Publicity Secretary Rev. Fr. Joseph Mary Kasapurari; the treasurer of the movement Fr. John Kamagara; and an assistant to the above mentioned leaders, Rev. Sr. Ursula Kamuhangi. Police put a bounty of 2 million Uganda shillings on each of the six.

There have been speculations on whether the leadership is still at large. Eight years on, the investigators have only been able to confirm ex-communicated Father Dominic Kataribaabo did die in the fire. The remaining cult leadership has continued to elude authorities, if they are still alive. The investigators cannot confirm if those persons are alive or dead. Neither has anyone else dug up more telling evidence. The spokesman for the Uganda Police Force, Edward Ochom says no new pointers towards the fate of the leaders of the cult have emerged since 2000. “But the International arrest warrants issued for the leaders are still on,” he says in a phone interview and via secured emails.

The Commissioner of Police in Charge of Crime, Edison Mbiringi told admitted to me that although investigations were extensively carried out on the infamous cult, no person alive has been found liable and fit for prosecution over the cult’s activities. “No body has been apprehended but the case is still open,” he says. To many, the two police officers named above seemed to have lost touch with the facts surrounding the incident. Some suspect it is long gone from Police’s list of urgent matters to investigate.

The apparent resignation exhibited by the Ugandan police regarding the case is also evident among local leaders in Kanungu who also contends that all the leaders of the cult must have died in the fire. “Kibwetere and other leaders must have died in the fire at Kanungu. Locals knew these people well, but we haven’t had any reports of the leaders being seen alive,” says Hajji Barii Ayub, the LC III Chairman for Kambuga, Kanungu.

Barri says the incident is regrettable because it has given Kanungu a bad name and left many young victims without parents and guardians. He says the local leaders together with the Ugandan government have put in place mechanisms to ensure such incidents do occur again. “We monitor all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and religious organisations. We even attend the services and analyze what is preached in all new churches to ensure the wrong people do not take advantage of local populations to kill or rob them of their belongings,” Barri says. .

The main question that many people want answered is: “How could a cult as large as that go so unnoticed?” President Museveni said that such cults “really exploit the miserable conditions of the population – unemployment, things like that”. He further added that they derive for man’s desire of wanting worldly things and greed. But a representative of the opposition Uganda People’s Congress in London, Joseph Ochienno, told CanadaNews International that President Museveni himself was to blame for the popularity of cults in Uganda.

Mr. Ochienno said, “The government ban on political organisations left people disenfranchised and pushed some into the arms of groups like the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments.”

Rather than looking at the symptoms and ways to cure them; countries should look at where the problems have originated. Countries responsibilities lie in its people. If you take care of your citizens, they will take care of its government. There should be stronger laws established to make sure that situations like the Movement and other cults don’t have a chance to flourish and destroy peoples’ lives.

The National Postal Forum Heading for Anaheim February 28, 2008

Posted by Reginald Johnson in Business, Government.
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The United States Postal Service will be meeting in Anaheim, California this year for their national conference, the National Postal Forum.  Last year the conference was held here in Washington, D.C. at the Washington Convention Centre.  Also last year the two main areas I was interested in were:  international changes within the postal service and the [then] upcoming U.S. rate hike on postal stamps. About 2500 people attended the conference.  Just as many are expected to be in attendance this year. 

I recall John (Jack) Potter, postmaster general of the United States of America since June 2001, attended and gave a speech as the keynote on Opening Day.  His words were of innovative changes the Postal Service has made under his tenure.  “The United States Postal Service, as of last year, marked an unprecedented seventh straight year of productive growth and a fourth consecutive year of positive net income,” he said. 

With respect to the first part of my mission, I had the opportunity to attend a media event with Paul Vogel, Managing Director and senior vice-president of the Postal Service’s new Global Business organisation.  He’s held this position since July 2006.  His primary task is to manage the Postal Service’s worldwide trade with a focus on international business management. 

Vogel stated by saying the forum is always a great venue to meet the international needs of the world.  “The Postal Service has had a history of concentrating on domestic issues, for obvious reasons; but during this forum, specifically, we are looking at putting more of an interest at the international side of things,” he said.   During this forum alone, he mentioned, there were about 150 different organisations that have some sort of international connection.  Many of those connections are linked to Canada and Great Britain. 

Also, it was mentioned that numerous postal entities in other countries are extremely pleased with the performance and set up of the U.S. Postal Service.  Not only that, but even delivery competitors such as FEDEX and UPS have shown support for it’s attempt at expanding and organizing it’s international program. 

Vogel said, “The reason for the change is simple:  we presently have priority mail that is used domestically, and six different versions of international mail.  We want to consolidate these into one fixed system.” 

Consolidation is harder than you would assume; but not entirely.  The industry could reconfigure their technology since 85 percent of all the international mail the United States ships/receives, is with countries that have similar machines.  Companies that make these machines, like Pitney Bowes, sell internationally.  And a lot of the countries use the same lead heads.

Also the Postal Service wants to set all this up by reestablishing the extended postal mail code.  To do anything, the Postal Service first has to get the approval of the Universal Postal Union (UPU).  The UPU meets every four years, the next meeting will be in a year and a half. 

What is also interesting is:  85 percent of the mail traffic goes to 15 particular countries.  The possibilities with the extended postal mail code will either be a four number code or a two number code 

To get the message out to the citizens the United States Postal Service will continue to promote their new international changes via videos, commercials for TV and radio, stand up talks, signs and other media outlets. 

On the commercial/retail side of things, small and medium businesses, Vogel promoted developing partnerships.  He strongly supported rather than opening U.S. postal stations internationally, you establish a partnership with companies already in a particular country.  He also supports giving discounts to these small and medium if they have a presort work share created. 

Potter is looking to expand the USPS internationally and believes there will be an increase in revenue.  Potter has encouraged innovation throughout the organisation.  His tenure has resulted in new products and services – Click-N-Ship, Free Package Pickup, Negociative Service Agreement, Automated Postal Services, Flute Rate and Pre-Paid Priority Mail Packages. 

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