By Hellen Nanzia and George Ojema
“Jehovah Wanyonyi”, who claimed to be god of several souls in Bungoma, Kakamega, Uasin Gishu and Bungoma counties died either this month or last month depending on who you ask. Of course, gods live in mysterious ways so why not die in an undetermined and similarly mysterious way. It is the ways of such gods.
And the way of Jehovah Wanyonyi is mysterious indeed. It is said he was born like any other man would be born in 1924. And like any man he married a woman…and then another…and another…then another just to be sure. In fact, Mikaili Jehovah Wanyonyi married 25 wives and with them multiplied and gave to the world 95 children. However, that was no achievement considering men the likes of Akuku ‘danger’ were roaming the face of the earth. But remember, this Wanyonyi man was a god…or so they say.
And they said he lived near a mountain he called Mount Zion (but everyone calls Mount Elgon, semantics really) and he could treat all diseases. Some say people from all over trooped to his Chemororoch village home to seek his help in many things. But Wanyonyi was ill and it seems this mysterious disease had to be dealt with mysteriously.
According to Eliab Masinde, the spokesperson for the Lost Israelites, Wanyonyi is receiving treatment in Nairobi as he suffered from back pain. “All that we know is that our god is alive and nobody should ever claim that he is dead”, he said. “We will tell you the day when our god will have his last breath, but for now, let us not keep on speculating.”
But someone in the city decided to upstage the mysterious healing process by leaking a copy of the burial certificate for one “jehovah Wanyonyi”. Is he dead? Is he resting? No one knows. If you see him, inform him the government has promoted him into a ghost worker.
Behind the laughter and jibes the controversial prophet/god has attracted on social media and social circles, Kenya needs to wake up to some disturbing reality. Cults.
His sect, the religion of “Lost Israelites” was formed in 1956. Later in the early 60s, he started believing he had the power to cure diseases, thought he was immortal and declared himself the true “god”. His religious symbols included a red garb of a robe, a cloth, either black or gold, tied around his waist and a red hat with artificial hair attached to it.
He often told his followers that the color red meant the world would end soon and so he used to sit on a red chair and carried a sword whose sheath was also red. His followers believed he possessed healing powers and would donate land and other property to the group. Those who had nothing offered to toil and donate their earnings to the “god”, who would then divide it among his followers. Was it a cult or simple religious fervor? Answer, classic cult.
What is a cult?
A cult is any group (religious, political, psychological, or otherwise) which exercises significant control over the thoughts, feelings, and actions of its members by use of deception and manipulation, without the knowledge or consent of its members. Hence, what makes a particular group a cult is not so much its beliefs, but what it practices.
There have been several cults in this country, some more infamous than others.
The Mungiki for example, an infamous movement in Kenya originating from central Kenya, advocates for indigenous African Tradition and reject westernization. In fact, the group sees any form of westernization as neo-colonization (including Christianity which is seen as immoral corruption). The group has been credited with several heinous crimes including murder and for a time was the top most fear of parents as more and more youth seemed to be under recruitment. The Kenyan government and police forces waged an unrelenting battle against the group and they have failed to make headlines in the more recent past. However, there is a nagging fear that the group is quiet but not dead.
Uganda has also had some interaction with cults one of the more prominent being the Restoration of the Ten Commandments Movement. The movement began in the late 1980s after a former prostitute Credonia Mwerinde reported seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary. She failed to convince the Vatican, but Joseph Kibwetere, a fledgling politician, believed enthusiastically and the cult was born. At least 924 members of the movement are believed to have died in a mass suicide event. Reports claim that the members applied gasoline and paraffin to their skin before setting themselves on fire. Police believe they began murdering their followers, after their predictions about the end of the world failed to come true.
And on a global scale, there seem to be more dangerous cults. The Mansons, the Branch Davidians, The Order of the Solar Temple and the house of Yahweh. All with a similar pattern of isolation, psychological enslavement, loyalty to a person who thinks him/herself a god and in most cases death by suicide. But why and how? Some members of these organizations are later identified as sharp minds, not easily manipulated riff raff. What could convince a lawyer, or a judge, a doctor to give all his earnings to someone barely their academic equal and follow them blindly even to death?
Cults are very manipulative, you might not even realize you are being pulled into one or by the time you realize it, it’s too late. With the young naïve generation and social media influence present now you are more likely to be recruited into a cult than when “Jehovah Wanyonyi” was born.
The good news is you can identify a cult from a mile away.
• Obey Leaders: Cult member are totally submissive to their leaders, perceived tradition, values and beliefs. The goal is to OBEY, OBEY, OBEY without question. Questioning leaders can attract severe punishments. But rarely will you be asked to leave the group, the leader wants you there to control you.
• Discipleship: In this practice every member is given their own disciple. This person takes responsibility for the Spiritual well being of the disciple. Such responsibility often goes far beyond the spiritual sphere. The leader will make decisions in almost every area on one’s life: where one should live, what job one should do, whom one should marry, how much money to give to the church, how to spend one’s leave, what to read or not to read.
• Group Pressure: Cults capitalize on people’s basics nature as communal animals and the need to make a good impression, to fit in and to get along with others. Much work is done in groups, and often the individual is allowed little time on their own to think or analyze.
• Good old rewards and punishments system: Cults have a highly effective system of behavior modification. The goal of this system is to change a member’s old beliefs and patterns of behavior and to replace them with new ones as defined by the group. Old beliefs and patterns of behavior are defined as irrelevant or evil and must be eliminated or suppressed. Members get positive feedback for conforming to the group’s beliefs and behaviors and negative feedback for old beliefs and behavior. The leaders so terrorize the members that they believe they have failed God when they fail to measure up to the leader’s expectations.
• Sacrifice and ritual: These are a norm for most cults and sects. Sacrifices are seen as ways of appeasing the leaders, or god. Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader.
Other Characteristics include:
• Any form of questioning, disagreement, dissent or doubt is discouraged.
• If you are discouraged from ever reading the Bible, only read the cult’s own “doctored” versions of the Bible.
• The group is preoccupied with making money and bringing in new members. The life of the group is seen as supreme and to be shared with the lost souls of the world at all costs.
• Member are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members
• The leader is the supreme head and may interchangeably be seen as a god, or pass him/herself as a messenger of heaven. The followers are indoctrinated to sacrifice everything, including their lives, for the comfort and survival of the leader.
Most likely suspects
• Lonely and miserable individuals who have a desire to belong somewhere.
• Un-assertive people who find it hard to say no or gullible individuals with impaired capacity to question critically what one is told, observes, thinks, and so forth.
• People with low tolerance for ambiguity, they need absolute answers, impatience to obtain answers
• Cultural disillusionment or people who feel alienated, dissatisfied with their status quo in the society. It could range from a teenager to a politician.
• The Idealist
• A lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem issues
• A desire for spiritual meaning
• Ignorance of how groups can manipulate individuals
So when someone tells you they have a new secret to happiness, or heath , financial freedom or religious satisfaction, or someone tells you of a new way of life tread that ground carefully.
Most young people who have joined the Al-Shabaab, or indeed Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups will probably tell you that they did it to feel like they had a cause in this world. That is why they decided to join a cause. The need for purpose and acceptance is a major reason why people join cults, for others its money and material possessions.
Being involved in a cult can be very traumatizing to the family members and relatives of the individual. Being scared for their lives and the shame they have to endure after they have been exposed is traumatizing.
Counseling Ex-Cult Members
Someone who has left a cult needs care, attention and some form of counseling. This guidance is either from friends and family members who have adopted a Do It Yourself approach or an Exit Counselor, who specializes in counseling current cult members to help them to leave.
The one thing you can do for an ex-cult member is not ask, “What made you join the cult in the first place?” Former cult members are frequently asked this question. It probably always hurts because the blame should be directed at the cult and not the former member. The individual needs support and that question sets an environment of anxiety and self-doubt.