KAMPALA, 8 May, 2000 (Newsroom) -- Police in western Uganda are investigating the popular leader of a cult whose membership numbers about 10,000 and who is building the largest house of worship in this East African nation.
Frustrated by criticism that they failed to act before more than 1,000 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments cult died earlier this year, authorities have launched an investigation into Desteo Bisaka and his Association for the Healing Place of God of All Armies.
An officer at police headquarters in Kampala said Bisaka is being investigated over allegations that he has been collecting money aggressively from followers to buy an airplane for himself. "It is true we have heard that he has been soliciting money from followers," said the officer, who asked not to be named. "This is one of the issues, but we are also interested in his other activities."
The government banned the cult briefly in 1992 when followers were prevented from seeking medical treatment. President Yoweri Museveni lifted the ban after cult leaders said they would no longer stop followers from seeking medical care.
Last month, a legislator from the Kibaale district, Beatrice Kirasso, labeled the Association for the Healing Place of God of All Armies a cult and asked authorities to investigate.
The cult is building a 100-by-160-foot facility in Kapyemi village in Uganda's western district of Kibaale, about 200 kilometers from the capital, that will seat between 1,000 and 1,500 people, making it the largest place of worship in Uganda. Construction began two years ago.
Omukwenda Rukanswaza Birungi, one of the elders in the Association for the Healing Place of God of All Armies, said that people who want to ban the sect do not know "the truth," but will one day.
The cult's guiding principle is the belief that when the world comes to an end, all those who have accepted Bisaka as their savior, including followers who have died, will inherit the kingdom of the God of the Army. On the other hand, Bisaka will deny before God all those who have denied him on earth. Prospective members must master the 23 points contained in the 82-page holy book Bisaka wrote, "The Book of God of The Age of Oneness," which was published in 1987.
Cult members believe that Bisaka, a former Catholic who wrote popular hymns still sung in Ugandan churches, is a messenger from God and is as powerful as Jesus Christ and the prophet Muhammad. Bisaka possesses healing powers, they believe, and is the only person with accessibility to God based on Bisakaâ€™s claim that he saw God on December 23, 1983. His believers say that Bisaka was sent by God to unite people.
Members do not follow the Bible, baptize, pray for the dead, or believe in the end of the world. They pray only on the second, 12th and 22nd days of every month and celebrate Bisakaâ€™s birthday June 11, but do not observe holidays on the Christian calendar, including Christmas. Bisakaâ€™s followers call him Owobusobozi, or the one who can manage. "Disunity has ended," they say when they greet each other.
Bisakaâ€™s followers blame the Bible for the Kanungu incident, where 530 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments perished in an inferno, and say that the holy book is the source of problems in the country today.
Marriage between cult members does not encourage the traditional practice of a bride price or expensive ceremonies, which often occur in Christian marriages in Uganda. Polygamy is permitted as long as a man can financially care for the women and can persuade cult leaders that his sexual needs cannot be satisfied by one woman. The 69-year-old Bisaka has one wife.
Bisaka was born on June, 11, 1930, at Kitoma, Kiboizi, in the parish of Bujuni, where his father, a former Roman Catholic catechist, had been posted. Bisaka sang in the church choir and as an adult composed several hymns, including the popular "We are one in Jesus Christ" which is still sung in the Catholic Church.
He was a primary school teacher in a remote area of Uganda for 35 years. His teaching career ended on February 22, 1980, when Bisaka touched a person and healed him. Three months earlier Bisaka claimed to have heard God's voice saying to him, "You shall heal people by touching them."
He is so well known that drivers in Kampalaâ€™s taxi-park know his home, where the cult is headquartered. "We cannot really tell why this man is so popular, but people come here asking for the direction to his camp," said a commuter taxi driver.
Some Europeans have sought Bisaka out, and he has become a symbol of unity among rural people from Mubende in central Uganda to his base at Muhorro, to Kampala, and to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Hundreds of people flock to Bisaka for healing. "The man has power," said a woman who would give only her first name, Grace. "I have a friend whose mother was mad and now she is OK."
Copyright Â© 2000 Newsroom.
Used with permission.