Kilifi cult leader Paul Mackenzie, 29 others to know their fate today

Paul Mackenzie

Pastor Paul Mackenzie appears before Shanzu Law Courts on June 2, 2023. 

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

Kilifi cult leader Paul Mackenzie and his 29 co-accused are expected to know the charges against them today (Monday) after nearly five months in custody.

The suspects are charged with murder after hundreds of bodies were exhumed from shallow graves in Shakahola Forest, where Mackenzie is accused of leading a cult. By August, the death toll had risen to 429.

Mackenzie has been in custody since April, while the other suspects were arrested in May and June this year in connection with the deaths of members of the Good Life International Church, which is linked to the preacher. 

A Mombasa court granted the suspects extended remand pending investigations into the unfortunate events in Shakahola Forest.

In addition to those expected in court today, 65 survivors, some of whom have become suspects in the Shakahola massacre, have been in detention for almost two months. This was after they were moved from the Sajahanad Rescue Centre in Mtwapa, where they were initially held.

The government has said that some of the survivors will face criminal charges for failing to disclose the whereabouts of their children and families who accompanied them into the forest but have never been found.

The state has already revealed that it suspects the defendants of crimes such as murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, assisting suicide, causing harm to children, extremism, violence and child neglect, which are likely to be brought against them once the investigation is complete. 

The prosecution has also announced that the defendants will face additional charges, including neglecting the needs of their children, failing to send them to school, failing to report deaths and burying bodies without burial permits.

The extended detention was also granted to allow the police to complete their investigation, which included analysing and comparing DNA samples from the accused and the deceased to establish family relationships.

Two months ago, Mackenzie and his alleged associates protested against being remanded in custody without being formally charged.

They disrupted court proceedings by chanting 'haki yetu' when they heard that the government intended to apply for a further 47 days' detention. For more than five minutes, Mackenzie and his supporters held up the court session in a significant protest to demand their rights. 

The prosecution has denounced the extreme indoctrination of the minds of Mackenzie's followers, described as beyond the control of the investigating team.

"It is better to invest more time in completing the investigation. This is not possible when the trial process is triggered by the premature commencement of proceedings that have the effect of short-circuiting the investigation," Raphael Wanjohi, an investigator in the case, told the court.

The state has also expressed fears that the accused, who are 'disciples' of Mackenzie, may continue to spread the gospel of 'Mtumishi Makenzi' in at least 10 districts, amounting to mass radicalisation.

The court also agreed with the government that the Shakahola massacre had tarnished the country's reputation and caused significant public outcry.

The court was informed that some of those interviewed, including survivors, had provided false information to investigators, including false names of their relatives, making it difficult for investigators to establish links between the suspects and the deceased or missing.

All the missing children are between one and 14 years old.

The government has told the court that the children who survived the deadly Shakahola fast have helped investigators gather sufficient evidence against all the accused.