Shakahola massacre: How Paul Mackenzie duped us

 Paul Mackenzie

Suspected Kilifi cult leader Paul Mackenzie (right) and his accomplices at Shanzu Law Court in Mombasa County on July 10, 2024.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

Witnesses in the Shakahola massacre trial of controversial preacher Paul Mackenzie and 93 co-suspects have said the preacher duped them with land deals, only to discover he was building a brutal 'kingdom'.

In testimony that sounded like a script from the popular Tyler Perry series Ruthless, prosecution witnesses painted a picture of a scheming man whose aim was to exterminate his followers after convincing them to leave their normal lives behind and move to the Shakahola wilderness.

The state presented both direct and circumstantial evidence, with around 90 witnesses, to prove the charges of radicalisation against Mackenzie and 93 others.

This will include electronic and other forms of digital evidence, with the state hoping that Shanzu Senior Principal Magistrate Leah Juma will conduct a site visit to the crime scene deep in the Shakahola Forest, or alternatively, virtually, in addition to reconstructing the crime scene from the crime scene reports.

At the terror-related trial, which began on Monday, witnesses whose identities are being protected by the state, told the court that the defendants did not operate as a fringe group, but rather as a well-organised criminal enterprise operating under the guise of a church under Mackenzie's leadership.

It was stated that their specific objective was to violate the right to life, a fundamental and sacred right protected by law.

Shakahola Forest

The court heard that the accused achieved this by maintaining tight control over the group's activities, which took place in the seclusion of the Shakahola Forest.

Prosecutors in the case are Jami Yamina, Victor Owiti, Anthony Musyoka, Persi Ogega and Peter Kiprop.

A witness testified that Mackenzie continued to recruit members for his church even after his Good International Church closed in 2019.

According to the witness, Mackenzie told his followers that the closure of the church was a divine revelation that led him to complete his preaching mission on earth until the end of time.

In order to recruit new members and take them to the forest in preparation for the end times, the court was told that a WhatsApp group called 'Times TV Team' was maintained for communication and coordination between followers.

According to state witnesses, Mackenzie bought land in the Shakahola area and moved there in 2020.

Through the Times TV WhatsApp group and other communication channels, Mackenzie allegedly urged church members and followers to join him and settle in the Shakahola Forest.

Believers were asked to buy plots of land from him at affordable prices, starting at Sh3,000.

Buyers made payments to Mackenzie via M-Pesa or in cash. Two acres of land could be purchased for as little as Sh3,000.

After buying the plots, the sect's followers built structures, mainly mud-walled houses with thatched roofs, consisting of two rooms and a living room.

“I relocated to the forest with my family in 2022 and settled there. [After living there for some time], I began to notice irrational behaviour and unconventional rules,” a witness told the court.

As a significant number of followers from different parts of the country were lured to the forest, the court heard that the WhatsApp group was subsequently dissolved.

Within the forest, known in court as Kwa Mackenzie (Mackenzie's Place), it was alleged that Mackenzie's teachings discouraged material possessions and the accumulation of wealth, while also advocating the rejection of government authority, particularly in matters relating to children's education and health care.

In the forest, Mackenzie enforced his beliefs by prohibiting children from attending school, restricting interactions between neighbours and forbidding the sharing of resources or asking for each other's help.

Followers of the sect who wished to engage in farming and ranching were discouraged by Mackenzie's alleged prohibition of domestic animal husbandry and all attempts at prosperity.

Meetings were organised to address the residents, with announcements made to the followers by key members of the 'cabinet', led by a person known only as Paulo, who was in charge of meeting schedules and oversaw the affairs of a place called Galilea within the forest.

Apart from Galilea, there were other places in the forest with biblical names such as Bethlehem, Judea and others.

“I personally attended two such meetings held in the vicinity bordering Bethlehem and Judea, beneath a Mitora Tree close to James's residence,” a witness recounted.

A prominent position

Women and men were seated separately, with Mackenzie's wife, Rhoda Mumbua Maweu, known as the Pastor's wife, sitting on the women's side and about 10 chairs on the men's side. Mackenzie sat in front of the congregation, surrounded by his close 'cabinet', including Evans Sila, Smart Nderi Mwakalama, Stephen Muye alias Steve, Julius Katana and others.

It was alleged in court that Sila held a prominent position in Mackenzie's administration and usually sat next to him, while Mwakalama served as deputy and was a neighbour of Mackenzie's.

“The order of the meeting was that Stephen Muye alias Steve would address the audience, greet people, lead worship and praise and then usher in Makenzie to address us,” the court heard.

During these meetings, Mackenzie's teachings focused mainly on faith.

"I remember that during one session, he mentioned having knowledge that some individuals were planning to depart for Babel (referring to Malindi town) and proceeded to announce a new regulation restricting people's movements, permitting them only to go to Shakahola and Baolala with his authorisation," a witness recounted.

The court also heard that Mackenzie claimed that his followers who had acquired land had no autonomy or rights over it.

He warned that any unauthorised movement would result in expulsion from the community, and emphasised the need for permission to leave Shakahola.

Mackenzie and his group have denied four terrorism-related charges.

Mombasa Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Peter Kiprop, told the court that the state's evidence would show how the accused's actions were linked to the same events and transactions as other offences they are facing in various courts, including murder, manslaughter and crimes against the surviving children.

“Throughout the presentation of evidence to support the charges, witnesses will recount incidents that establish facts that are either explanatory, introductory, show a common intention or motive, or are caused by other facts, or demonstrate a pattern that may be the subject of a trial in the other courts,” he said.