Empower the registrar of societies to weed out religious cultists 

Exhumation exercise at Shakahola Forest in Kilifi County

Exhumation exercise at Shakahola Forest in Kilifi County on May 18,  2023. 

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

Recently, I watched on TV a group of Christian evangelicals, Pentecostals and 'Charismatics' fielding a press conference castigating the appointment of a commission of inquiry and a task force to probe rogue preachers. They were hysterical and illogical in a manner that confirmed the necessity of pruning wayward religious groups. 

What immediately struck me was that these Christian jihadists don’t want to understand there’s a big difference between a church, a sect and a cult. There are about 40,000 registered ‘churches’ in Kenya — a frighteningly large number which even much bigger countries don’t have.

A majority of Kenyans who describe themselves as Christian subscribe to five or six mainline denominations. The minority is crowded into numerous sects whose doctrines are shifty. Then in the mix are the cults: dark, sinister and sometimes criminal. These are one-man shows whose theological grounding is a blur. 

To argue that in this morass official regulation must have no role is to make a proposition that is outlandish. Let’s be clear on one thing. Paul Mackenzie is not a flash in the pan. There are others like him in Kenya’s untidy religious terrain. Like Osama bin Laden, who took cover under Islam, hiding behind Christianity is a favourite tactic of many psychopaths. 

Granted, not all of these oddballs believe in driving their brainwashed followers into committing mass suicide, and killing them when they refuse. Many will come posing quite innocuously. Yet you'll sense something is terribly wrong with them when they suddenly start styling themselves as Prophets or reincarnations of Jesus Christ, or even God himself. Their hypnotised followers believe them instantly. 

In dealing with these deviants, the constitutionally mandated freedom to worship should not be treated as open-ended. We have certain misfits who use the name of God, but there's nothing holy about them. The authorities must not feel inhibited in cracking down hard.

Tighten the registration rules for religious groups. Make them stringent. Don’t fall to the demand for self-regulation. With these extreme outfits, that will never work. Let’s strengthen the office of the Registrar of Societies to regulate denominations and weed out the rogue ones. Insist that each preacher has proper training in theology. Deregister the fraudsters who peddle bogus miracles and those who preach the fake “prosperity gospel”. 

I can’t leave out the political connection. Politicians have contributed immensely to the glorification of preachers who are well-known scoundrels. They lavish them with money and cars. In return, they get their support and that of their followers in their election campaigns. We have seen the pulpit being misused brazenly by politicians as the clergy clap approvingly. 

Prayer meetings

Indeed the frequent “prayer meetings” where politicians and clergymen mingle have become indistinguishable from political rallies. This political nexus is not just unpleasant but dangerous. It feeds a narrative that unless one is “born again” he can't make a good leader. Yet as we see every day, morality and ethics know no religious persuasion. 

I recognise the politicians who are sincere persons of faith, but they certainly are out of order when they seek to conflate the Church with those cultic monsters posing as Christians.

Cults revolve around a charismatic leader (usually self-appointed) who exercises excessive control over members, requiring unwavering devotion to a set of practices that are unorthodox or twisted.

Many sociologists note that these cult leaders exercise some toxic form of mind control on their followers, which leads them to behave abnormally. New religions are sometimes described as cults until they gain mainstream status. Many are generally benign, unlike the dangerous ones which cause havoc in society. 

Eliud Wekesa, popularly known as 'Yesu wa Tongaren’, comes across as a fairly harmless mystic. I was not surprised when after he was arrested a court released him for lack of evidence. He had been accused of “endangering public safety” by giving himself the name Jesus. However, it was going to be tricky convicting him on that. What exactly is the crime in calling yourself Jesus? He is just a confused charlatan.

Kenya doesn't have a specific law on blasphemy. But there's an archaic offence in our Penal Code against "insulting religion" or something like that. However, unless they pin something more tangible on him like, say, stopping his followers from going to hospital when they fall sick, or prohibiting their children from attending school, calling himself Jesus or Buddha or Prophet Muhammad is just bizarre hot air on his part. I doubt it’s a crime. 

From the same Bungoma County where 'Yesu wa Tongaren' hails from, there was another cultist who called himself 'Jehovah' Wanyonyi. When he died, wags commented that he had gone to heaven "to be with himself".

Well, well, well. I don't know if 'Yesu wa Tongaren' considers himself as 'Jehovah' Wanyonyi's heavenly son. When Good Friday approached, some fellows looking for some fun announced they would go for him and crucify him. They reasoned that if he was the real Jesus, he would resurrect anyway. The poor guy went into hiding. 

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I must commend the government for acting resolutely after details of the Kemsa scam and the contaminated sugar scandal emerged. The government acted swiftly in firing or suspending those who acted with laxity in allowing those scams to happen. Corruption must be fought relentlessly without pause.

I have issues with this government on matters of vindictiveness, taxation policy and ethnicised hiring practices, but in its handling of these two rackets it has set a good standard it should adhere to going forward. The next step is to prosecute the culprits, starting with the two Central Kenya MPs and two “top government officials” reportedly implicated in the sugar scandal. 

[email protected]; @GitauWarigi


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