President Museveni orders cult probe

Kampala, Uganda - President Yoweri Museveni has set up a commission of inquiry into the activities of a Rakai-based religious organisation, Sserulanda Spiritual Foundation, which some critics call a cult. The group, which has senior government officials as members, plans to build a multi-million dollar Lake Victoria Free Trade Zone in Rakai district, dubbed the “Universal Spiritual City”.

The proposal had already been endorsed by the Government in a memorandum that was signed by state minister for investments Ssemakula Kiwanuka.

But Museveni in a document of December 1, 2007, set up a commission, chaired by the dean of Makerere University Medical School, Prof. Nelson Ssewankambo, to investigate the organisation’s activities, leadership and membership.

In addition, the commission has to inquire into “allegations of divine healing energy and capacity to cure incurable diseases”.

The commission, which also comprises the directors of the Joint Clinical Research Centre, Dr. Peter Mugyenyi and of the health ministry, Dr. Grace Nambatya, has to submit its findings by June 1.

The secretary of the commission, state attorney Harriet Tukamushaba, said yesterday they would soon start public hearings in Kampala and Rakai. She called on people with information on the group to submit it.

She said there were fears about alleged covert activities of the group, like trucks ferrying unknown items at night, claims that they deal in body parts since they do not bury their dead, money laundering and sexual exploitation. “They also claim to be manufacturing ARVs and have made demands to the Government for an airstrip, a free trade zone and tax waivers,” she said.

Sunday Vision in 2006 published a series of reports about the group. Their spiritual leader, Bambi Baaba, who wields immense power among his followers as a “god in human form”, lives in Fairfax, Virginia, US.

The lead developers of the project in Rakai, State House director on land matters Gertrude Njuba and Eyenunula Nunumisa, who are both directors of Kagera Eco-cities, had requested the Government to give them permission to turn 200 square miles of land in Rakai, adjacent to Lake Victoria, into an autonomous territory.

Their charter proposes a separate government structure with powers to enact their own laws, ordinances, by-laws and procedures, as well as provide and maintain a security force for the protection of the inhabitants of the city.

Their judicial system will be led by a “High Chancellor” and only permanent residents of the zone would be eligible to hold the office of a “Governing Chancellor”.

Among the stated objectives of the Sserulanda Development Association are the pooling of material, economic, financial and human resources for the purpose of fostering material, financial, social and spiritual growth and development of its members.

The commission of inquiry might have been prompted by concerns from other churches. The New Vision has seen a letter by a senior Kampala pastor advising the President not to allow the group operate in the country.

“As a leader involved in counter-cult programmes, it would be inappropriate to keep silent as ground is being established for what can some day cause many to regret when a repeat of Kanungu takes place of higher magnitude.”

It was referring to the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, headed by Joseph Kibweetere and Credonia Mwerinde, which forced its members to live in an isolated community in the hills of Kanungu, western Uganda. Thousands of them were burned alive in the church on March 17, 2000.

The letter also cited the Latter Day Saints of Joseph Smith who wanted to establish religious communes in which all members would be prosperous.

Through a legal charter granted by the State of Illinois similar to the memorandum Kagera Eco Cities received from the Government, Smith formed the Nauvoo Legion, a militia which he commanded.

“His anti-social rhetoric and actions as mayor, that included ordering the burning of the critic Nauvoo Expositor newspaper and destruction of its presses, led to government intervention and his arrest and death in a shoot-out with a mob while in jail in 1844.”