Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (MRTCG)

MRTCG Timeline

Founder: Credonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibwetere

Date of Birth: 1932 (Kibweteere). [Both Mwerinde and Kibwetere are believed to have died on March 17, 2000] .

Birth Place: Uganda (Kanungu)

Year Founded: circa 1989

Size of Group: Estimates range from 1,000 to 4,000 members

Sacred or Revered Texts: Since the movement has Roman Catholic roots, the Bible was the group’s sacred text. However, it must also be noted that much of the governance of the movement relied on a book titled A Timely Message from Heaven: The End of the Present Time . New members of the group were required to read this booklet many times (sometimes for days at a time) before becoming full members.



On March 17, 2000 an estimated 338 members of The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (MRTCG) died near the village of Kanungu, Uganda in what appeared to be a mass suicide. Within a few days additional bodies were recovered beyond the site were the explosion occurred bring bringing the count to nearly eight hundred persons. It was clearly evident that at least some of these bodies had been murdered.

The task of developing reliable information about this tragedy in the remote southeast corner of Uganda has been difficult for several reasons. First, little was known about the group prior to the tragedy. Second, as of this writing there is no evidence that any of the principal participants survived. Third, the magnitude of the tragedy simply overwhelmed the resources of the Ugandan officials to conduct a thorough investigation of either the scene or the corpses of those who perished. Fourth, with so little factual information to draw upon, media coverage, both in Africa and beyond, drew upon popular cultural presuppositions about the mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana in 1989.

While it is clear that many of the particulars about what happened to this sectarian movement, and why, will never be known with certainty, a few scholars have begun to piece together information that provides helpful perspective for understanding the tragedy. Jean-Francois Mayer of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Fribourg, who has investigated and published on other incidences of religious violence, traveled to South-western Uganda in the summer of 2000 to gather first hand information.1

When studying the emergence of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, it is essential that one grasp the environment in which it was rooted. Uganda is predominately Christian (about 66%) and about a third Roman Catholic.2 This strong Roman Catholic background, along with the tradition of Marian visionaries (apparitions of the virgin Mary), plays an important role in the roots of the MRTCG. It may also be important to note that the people of Uganda also live in the midst of “corruption, forced slavery, ethnic wars, guerilla bands, religious propaganda, brutality and politically-motivated torture and assasinations.” 3 These factors may well contribute to the appeal of the hopeful message of a new world that the MRTCG espoused.

Origins of the Movement

The movement is claimed to go back back to Paulo Kashaku (father of founder Credonia Mwerinde), who, in 1960, saw a vision of his deceased daughter, Evangelista. She told him that he would be visited by apparitions from heaven. According to documents of the movement, the prediction came to pass in 1988, when he was visited by Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph. Their messages were a blessing on his family and a call to use his land, near the city of Kanungu, as a gathering place for believers.4

Kashaku’s children and grandchildren were also said to see apparitions, most importantly, his daughter, Credonia Mwerinde, who was a driving force behind the movement. In June 1989, Credonia Mwerinde, with her daughter, Ursula Komuhangi, “were instructed by Kashaku, upon instructions of the Blessed Virgin, to take the message to other parts of the country.” They met Joseph Kibwetere in June of that year, and described to him their communication with the Virgin Mary.5

Joseph Kibwetere was, as reported by Henri Cauvin of The New York Times , “a Roman Catholic known among many Ugandans for his piety, prayer and good works.” Kibwetere founded a Catholic school and become supervisor of other schools in the region. He was also apparently a person of some means as he donated land upon which two other Catholic schools were built. 6

Kibwetere also is reported to have had encounters with the Virgin Mary from as early as 1984. He received Credonia Mwerinde into his home with open arms. This, she said, was what the Virgin Mary had instructed to occur.6 In time, many believers sold their belongings and joined them in the Kibweteres’ home. This created considerable stress between the members of Kibwetere’s family and the newcomers. 17

The Movement Grows

In 1992 Kibwetere and the members moved to Kanungu in the district of Rukunginri. There, the group grew and flourished. Several hundred lived in a communal setting and practiced an austere life-style. They built homes, a church, an office, and a school. 7 Members also lived in surrounding areas, and they “established centers for evangelization in the districts of Kabale, Rukungiri, Bushenyi and Mbarara, spreading later to various parts of the country.”7 The membership grew to over 1,000 people. In 1998, the group encountered some problems when authorities took away its license for operating the school because it was found to be breaching public health regulations and there were rumors of possible mistreatment of the children.8

The movement remained virtually unknown to the world until March 17, 2000, when an estimated 338 people were reported to have died in flames in the boarded up old church on the headquarters compound in Kanungu. Four days after the fire, investigators found six bodies in the bottom of the latrine behind the church, covered in concrete. The six had been brutally murdered, half undressed, and placed almost haphazardly in the hole.9

Soon two other mass graves were discovered. On March 24, 153 bodies were found in mass graves in Rutoma about 30 miles south of Kanungu. Two more mass graves were discovered on March 26 at the home of Dominic Kataribabo, an excommunicated Roman Catholic priest and group leader. Authorities exhumed 74 bodies from a mass grave in Kataribabo’s yard and an additional 28 bodies were found beneath a concrete floor in Katarirbado’s home.10

As new discoveries were being made, the international press reported that estimates rose to as high as 1000, thus exceeding the number of deaths in Jonestown. The actually number of deaths was later revised downward to about 780 persons. Further investigation also revealed that the graves were dug over some time — perhaps a year or more. And in all the mass graves, there was evidence of murder by multiple methods. All except the first were very orderly, the bodies reportedly had been completely undressed and stacked like sardines.11

Preparing For the End

The church fire itself seemed just as planned and orderly. In the days preceeding March 17th, the members had engaged in activities that seemed to have been preparation for the end. “The group at Kanungu began to prepare for their deliverance…they slaughtered cattle [and] purchased a large supply of Coca-Cola,” noted J. Gordon Melton. Members traveled across the country to invite both current members and previous members to come back to the compound by the 17th, urging the importance of coming despite all costs. 12 One nun was reported to have told people of the surrounding area that on March 17 the Virgin Mary was to appear.13 The community sold products at nearby markets for little or no profit, and settled debts in the community. Members also delivered copies of the movement’s literature to the local police.14 A shop owner by the name of John Musoke claimed that two days before the fire Father Dominic bought 13 gallons of sulfuric acid from him, claiming to need it to replenish power batteries at a seminary.15

The night of March 15th, the members consumed the beef and coke they had purchased and celebrated the building of their new church.16 The next night, the 16th, they spent most of the night praying and then met in the new church early the next morning. A little before 10 a.m., they were seen leaving the new church to enter the old church which was now being used as a dining hall. The windows were boarded up from the outside and the doors were locked. Authorities told Mayer that it was impossible to tell whether the windows were boarded from the inside or outside, but contrary to media reports, the door had not been nailed shut. At ten thirty a.m., an explosion was heard by nearby villagers, and a fire quickly consumed the building and all those inside.


The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God published a book entitled “A Timely Message From Heaven: The End of the Present Time” detailing the beliefs of the movement. Each member was required to read this document (or have it read to them) many times before being allowed to join the group. This orientation could last up to 4-6 days. The members then joined the first of three groups: the novices, comprised of the newest members, and wore black. The next group was those who promised to follow the commandments and wore green. The fully professed members were “those who were willing to die in the ark,” and they wore green and white.18

Though the title for the full members apparently did not contain a message of violence but rather referred to their place of burial on the compound, the titles may have played an important role in the later deaths (see issues and controversies). The organization of the community centered on the twelve apostles, called Entumwa (meaning messenger). Seen as the second generation from those apostles that followed Jesus, these 12 were to prepare for the second coming. Since the movement believed that at the second coming both Jesus and the Virgin Mary would return, six women were chosen, joining six men to make up the chosen group. They were led by Kibwetere, who filled the position of head apostle on Kashaku’s death.19

Apostle Dominic Kataribaabo claimed that the group did not consider itself a new religious movement at all, but rather affiliated themselves with the Roman Catholics.20 Therefore many of the rituals were similar to any other Roman Catholic church in Uganda. The Pope was recognized as head of the Church, communion was taken, and services held in the vernacular (not in Latin). The defining difference was the movement’s emphasis on moral standards dictated by the Ten Commandments and the apocalyptic beliefs espoused by the group.

The emphasis on the Ten Commandments led to communication between the members through sign language, so that no commandments would be broken. And the members also participated in rituals similar to those practiced in monasteries: nightly prayer, a bare lifestyle, etc.

The compound in Kanungu was seen as Noah’s Ark, where the Second Coming of Christ was to occur, allowing for those within to pass to the new world. It is clear that the group expected the Second Coming to arrive shortly and bring a new world with it, but there is still some dispute as to when this was to occur.23

Issues and Controversies

One critical question that remains is when the group believed the new world was to come. Though he agrees that the group held apocalyptic beliefs, scholar Jean-Francois Mayer disputes the widely-held belief that the group met its end after a failed prophecy that the end of the world was to come on December 31st, 1999. The documents of the group (namely, A Timely Message from Heaven , clearly states that the new earth “will begin with year one, after the year 2000.” Another document, from the founders themselves to local officials, states, “The year 2000 will not be followed by year 2001 but it will be followed by YEAR ONE in a new generation.”24 In addition, Father Dominick spoke to a Catholic priest on December 18th, 1999 in an attempt to convince him that the world would end in December 2000.25 Mayer’s provisional conclusion is that the violent end should not necessarily and too hastily be explained as a mere response to failed prophecy.

This important observation, however, does not explain the death toll on March 17th nor the mystery of the mass graves that dated back perhaps a year, or even longer, before the fire that consumed more than three hundred persons. One possible conclusion could be that the mass graves have to do with the strictly defined categories of members. And, it is possible that those bodies found piled in the graves were in fact those members who had not yet joined the ranks of “those who were ready to die in the ark.”26

The location of the leaders will perhaps never be known because the bodies were so badly burned there were no means of identification. However, it seems very unlikely that they would have escaped unnoticed.27

There was also some question as to whether the events could have been avoided if officials had taken action earlier. An article in The East African suggested that the Uganda Human Rights Commission had been contacted a couple of years previously about human rights violations and had not taken action. The NGO Board of the Ministry of Internal Affairs had also received previous warning of disaster in the form of a letter which stated, “When the year 2000 comes to an end, the present times or generation will be changed and there will follow a new generation and a new earth.”28 However, the Kanungu group had remained separate from the village and the officials claim they had no reason for suspicion before March 17th. The group had pretty much kept to themselves and led a secluded existence.29 It is hard to say whether anyone could have avoided the March 17th disaster.

Media Coverage

The mysterious nature of the church fire in Kanungu led to many varied reports immediately following the event. The initial response in the mass media was that the group had planned an apocalyptic mass suicide. The fire was assumed to have been a mass suicide and was compared to the mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Comparisons were also made to the mass suicide of the Solar Temple group in Switzerland. Then, as more graves were discovered, a new theory of mass murder developed. It was suggested that after a failed prophecy of the apocalypse, the leaders had killed their discontented followers and then escaped.30

While rumors spread about the cause of the tragedy, the details themselves were greatly exploited in early coverage of the event. This is most likely due to the severe lack of concrete evidence and confusion among the Ugandan officials and the community of Kanungu about what transpired, but it also shows how eager the media was for another story like that of Jonestown. News stories reported up to 1000 dead even though the deaths never surpassed 800. Some reports included witness accounts that Kibwetere escaped, but there has been no definite evidence found to support this, and Mayer suggests that this is highly unlikely.33

The lack of concrete information about the group itself inevitably led to a number of rumors about the leaders’ past lives in the months preceding the deaths. One African paper, New Vision, declared that Joseph Kibwetere had faked his death in 1990, when he bought a coffin and “told his followers to fill it with stones and dig a grave.”31 The plan was stopped when his wife became suspicious and refused to let the coffin be buried.32 An article by the BBC branded Kibwetere and Mwerinde “the Preacher and the Prostitute,” and gave an account of Kibwetere as a manic depressive who had stopped treatment at a mental hospital. These stories remain unsubstantiated but clearly add to the characterization of the group as ‘evil.’

While dedicated scholars like Jean Francois Mayer continue to uncover information, some questions may never be answered as to what actually transpired in Kanungu on March 17, 2000, or why those events occurred. Those who look for easy answers may find them in proclaiming the leaders of this group to be the personification of evil or in denouncing the members as crazy. We caution against such explanations, for they explain nothing at all.


Kabazzi-Kisirinya, S., R.K. Nkurunziza, and Gerald Banura. (eds). The Kanungu Cult-Saga: Suicide,Murder or Salvation . forthcoming

Cauvin, Henri. 2000. “Mystery of the Pious Man Who Led a Cult to Death,” New York Times . (March 28). [Accessible in NYT archives or Lexus/Nexus]

Hammer, Joshua. 2000. ” Uganda: An Apocalyptic Mystery- The End of the World Was Delayed, So a Cult Leader Took Matters Into His Own Hands,” Newsweek . (April 3). (last updated: April 5).

Hexham, Irving. 2000. “What Really Happened in Uganda?” Religion in the News . 3:2 (Summer 2000). 7-9 ,24. Back issues of Religion in the News are available on line. Click here to access the archives index.

Introvigne, Massimo. 2000. “Tragedy in Uganda: the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, a Post-Catholic Movement,” Cesnur (April 5).

Matshikiza, John. 2000 ” Uganda Deaths Recall Early Martyrs,” Mail and Guardian . (March 31). Available from .

Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. “The Movement For the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God Between Facts and Fiction.” Unpublished paper presented at the University of Virginia. (Sept 19).

Mayer asks that we advise readers that this paper is not available for circulation at this time. He anticipates that his research report will be published in an academic journal in late 200l.

Melton, J. Gordon. 2000. “Was It Mass Murder Or Suicide ,” . (March 21)

Melton, J. Gordon. 2000. “Tragedy in Uganda: the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, a Post-Catholic Movement,” Cesnur Web Page.

Melton, J. Gordon. 2000. ” Similar Endings, Different Dynamics,” . (April 4)

Opolot, Erich, Michael Wakabi, and Abbey Mutumba Lule. 2000. “Government Could be Held Liable for Deaths,” The East African (March 27).

Robinson, Simon. 2000. “An African Armageddon.” Tim e April 3).

Sullivan, Tim. 2000. “Christian Groups Proliferate in Africa.” . (April, 5)

Thawite, John B. 2000. “Kibwetere Faked Death In 1990,” Africa News Online . Kampala: New Vision. (April 3).

Vick, Karl. 2000. ” Uganda Cult Orchestrated Doomsday,””Masada,” The Washington Post . (April 1). [Accessible in W Post archives or Lexis/Nexus]

Vick, Karl. 2000. “Ugandan Horror Grows” , Washington Post . (March 29). [Accessible in W Post archives or Lexis/Nexus]


This profile page draws heavily on reports presented by Professor Mayer at an International Conference of CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) Riga, Latvia on August 30, 2000, a lecture presented to the New Religious Movements course at the University of Virginia on September 19, and a seminar sponsored by the UVa School of Continuing Education on the same date. Mr. Mayer’s remarks for these three presentations have been summarized as a preliminary unpublished report entitled “The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God: Between Facts and Fiction.” Information and quotes drawn from this report appear with the permission of Professor Mayer. I am grateful to him for information, insights, and permission to draw upon his unpublished work. Obviously he is not responsible for any factual errors or misinterpretation that I might have introduced into this report.

Professor Mayer asks that we advise readers that this paper is not available for circulation at this time. He anticipates that his research report will be published in an academic journal in late 200l.

  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 4
  • Sullivan, Tim. “Christian Groups Proliferating in Africa.” Associated Press.
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 6
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 7
  • Cauvin, Henri. 2000. “Mystery of the Pious Man Who Led A Cult to Death,” New York Times . (March 28).
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 7
  • Borzello, Anna. “A Party, Prayers, then Mass Suicide,” The Observer . page 3
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 10
  • Vick, Karl. “Ugandan Horror Grows.” The Washington Post . 3/29/00.
    Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pps. 14-15
  • Melton, J. Gordon. “Was It Mass Murder Or Suicide?”
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss.
  • Melton, J. Gordon. “Was It Mass Murder Or Suicide?”
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg.
  • Vick, Karl. ” Uganda Cult Orchestrated Doomsday,” The Washington Post 4/1/00
  • Melton, J. Gordon. “Was It Mass Murder Or Suicide?”
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 1
  • Kabazzi-Kisirinya, S., R.K. Nkurunziza, and Gerald Banura. (eds). The Kanungu Cult-Saga: Suicide,Murder or Salvation . forthcoming book cited in unpublished Mayer report.
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 9
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 4
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 10
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 4
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 11
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg.12
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 12
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 15
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss. pg. 15
  • Opolot, Erich, Michael Wakabi, and Abbey Mutumba Lule. “Government Could Be Held Liable for Deaths,” The East African 3/27/00
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss.
  • Hammer, Joshua. ” Uganda: An Apocalyptic Mystery,” Newsweek . 4/3/00
  • Thawite, John B. “Kibwetere Faked Death In 1990,” Africa News Online 4/3/00
  • Thawite, John B. “Kibwetere Faked Death In 1990,” Africa News Online 4/3/00
  • Mayer, Jean Francois. 2000. unpublished mss.

Created by Elizabeth Auten
For: Soc 257: New Religious MOvements
Fall term, 2000
University of Virginia
Last modified: 07/20/01