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Monday, 20 March, 2000, 13:07 GMT
Cults: Why East Africa?
religious icons
The church has become a focus for disaffection
By East Africa analyst David Bamford

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.

Suicide cults around the world
914 poison themselves in Jonestown, Guyana, 1978
53 slash themsleves to death in Ta He, Vietnam, 1993
48 die in blaze in Switzerland, 1994
39 poison themselves in Santa Fe, California, 1997
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

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.

A crucifix belonging to the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
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

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.

Some groups,l 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.

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Uganda's death cults
Click on the stories below for more on Uganda's doomsday cult.
Key stories:
Cult's quiet life
Priest who murdered his flock
The preacher and the prostitute
Story in pictures
Why East Africa?
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When devotion means death
'Why I joined a cult'
Should cults be banned?
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See also:

18 Mar 00 | Africa
When devotion means death
20 Sep 99 | Africa
Police swoop on Ugandan cult
23 Nov 99 | Africa
Ugandan millennium cult smashed
13 Jul 99 | e-cyclopedia
Cult or religion: What's the difference?
05 Jan 99 | World
Cults: Worry ye not
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