‘How getting a husband saved me from Shakahola massacre’

Grave diggers

In this picture taken on March 28, 2024, grave diggers at work in preparations for the burial of four members of one family whose bodies were exhumed in Shakahola Forest.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Ms Amanya escaped from the ministry to start living with a man she had met.
  • Paul Mackenzie and 94 other suspects have denied all charges against them.

For Veronica Amanya, 21, a decision to get married after moving to the infamous Shakahola Forest with some of her family members saved her from the jaws of death. 

Ms Amanya had arrived with her father, mother, uncle and six siblings in Malindi, Kilifi County as members of the Good News International Ministries (GNI), which is linked to Paul Mackenzie, before they were later taken to Shakahola Forest alongside other worshipers.

At the forest, she says, they all engaged in the fasting ritual. She eventually escaped, while working at a farm in Chakama Ranch, which is within Shakahola Forest, to start living with a man she had met.

“It wasn’t easy to escape. I thought of going back but the people I was staying with convinced me not to return to the forest,” Ms Amanya says.

Ms Amanya spoke at the Malindi Sub-County Hospital Mortuary on Tuesday, where she had accompanied other family members to collect the remains of three of their relatives for burial.

The three are among six of her siblings who died in the deadly fast that claimed over 430 lives.

The government has so far managed to identify only about 34 of the victims through DNA sampling.
Ms Amanya says she has forgiven her parents for causing the family suffering.

“I am happy now that my siblings are going to be buried. My father brought us to Malindi where we were picked and taken to Shakahola. What saved me was because I got married in Chakama, which is near Shakahola,” she says.

Shakahola victims

Friends and relatives lay flowers on the gravesite of Elizabeth Mwatsuma whose body was retrieved from Shakahola Forest.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

According to her aunt, Debora Amanya, who hails from Luanda, Vihiga County, her (Debora’s) two brothers travelled from Nairobi to Malindi together with their children to join controversial pastor Mackenzie, who had just closed down his church after pressure from the government and a section of local leaders in Malindi.

The two have been members of the ministry's Jogoo Road branch since 2019. When the ministry was shut down in December of the same year, they stayed for a while before selling all their possessions in Nairobi to follow Mackenzie.

“My two brothers came to Malindi and the older one carried along his wife and seven children and of those children, six died in Shakahola, one survived after escaping from the forest,” says Ms Amanya.

She adds that her elder brother, Enos Amanya, and his wife, Ann Anyoso Alukhwe, and her younger brother, David Ambwaya Amanya, were arrested and are facing various charges alongside Mackenzie.

Mackenzie and 94 other suspects have denied all charges against them, ranging from violation of children’s rights to murder.

Shakahola victims

In this picture taken on March 26, 2024, relatives queue at the Malindi Sub-County Mortuary in Kilifi County to identify the bodies of their loved ones who died in Shakahola Forest.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

“We have received three bodies and three others are still missing. We will be grateful when we bury all of them,” says Ms Amanya.

She however says that if her three relatives who are in custody are released, they should be taken somewhere else since the family is unlikely to welcome them.

Three families on Tuesday received a total of seven bodies of victims of the Shakahola massacre.

The government assisted the families in transporting the bodies to their respective homes in Uasin Gishu, Vihiga and Busia counties.

The families did not have the money to transport the bodies of their loved ones as well as conduct the burial rites and thanked the government for supporting them.

At the same time, they asked the government to speed up the identification of the remaining bodies using DNA sampling, to enable families that have not identified their dead relatives to receive and bury them.

The bodies were released by detectives led by the Director of the Homicide Division of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations Martin Nyuguto, who also accompanied the family members to Uasin Gishu, Vihiga and Busia counties.