Shakahola cult: Nandi family agonising over four missing members

The missing family members from Nandi county who went to Shakohola forest and remain missing.

The missing family members from Nandi county who went to Shakohola forest and remain missing. From Left, Godwin Maxwell,  Collins Lijodi and Wycliffe Omondi.

Photo credit: Courtesy

A Nandi family is in agony over their four missing relatives believed to have gone to Shakahola in Kilifi county for prayers three years ago. 

Three school-going brothers and their uncle left home after telling their family they were going to ‘Jerusalem to meet Jesus’ — at the infamous Shakahola forest, where dozens of faithful have died in a death cult.

For three years, now, the family of Mr Morris Yimbo from Nandi Central sub-county has spent sleepless nights over the disappearance of his three sons — two who were in primary school and one in high school — who were lured away from home by their paternal uncle.

Mr Yimbo’s family told of the search for his sons and his younger brother after learning that they had joined Paul Mackenzie’s cult in Kilifi. They believe the four are dead.

It all started in 2020 when Mr Yimbo’s brother, Wycliffe Omondi, told the family that he was going to ‘Jerusalem’ to meet Jesus at the now infamous Shakahola forest, where more than a hundred bodies have been exhumed.

“The family was not even bothered when Omondi decided to change his denomination since he was an adult,” Mr Yimbo told Nation.Africa.

“However, months later, he returned home and introduced the cultic beliefs to the children without my knowledge,” Mr Yimbo explained.

Since then, the family has been waiting for the four to return home to Kiptuiya village.

Their silence has left the family in torturous agony, and Mr Yimbo and others now strongly believe they could be among those who died in the Shakahola massacre.

In 2020, when schools in Kenya were shut for nine months after the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Omondi, then 30, disappeared from home in Nandi with one of Yimbo’s sons, Vincent Lianda, 21.

The family reported the matter to the police.

The two would later be found living in Taita Taveta County. They then headed to Mombasa and thereafter, entered the Shakahola forest.

Ms Elizabeth Mboga

Ms Elizabeth Mboga,  the grandmother whose children are still missing after they went to the Shakohola forest for prayers. 

Photo credit: Tom Matoke | Nation Media Group

Hopes for the frustrated family were restored two months later, in 2021, when Omondi and Lianda returned home. Mr Yimbo said they looked weak and emaciated.

Relief short-lived

However, the family’s relief was short-lived, as the two would suddenly disappear again, this time with Yimbo’s other sons, Godwin Maxwell, 17, and Collins Lijodi, 14.

The family tracked and confirmed their location to be Shakahola.

Maxwell and Lijodi were pupils at Bara Ogwal primary school while Lianda was in Form Two at Bara Ogwal Secondary School in Kisumu County.

Mr Yimbo explained how the family got frustrated every time they pleaded with the children to return home and go back to school, pleas that always fell on deaf ears. 

“The family petitioned them to return home and report back to school but they declined, saying they had devoted their lives to their final journey in heaven and education would be of no help in the new world in heaven as per their faith,” Mr Yimbo told Nation.Africa.

Their mobile phones would be switched on and off. They would only call home whenever they needed financial support, and switch off the phones as soon as they received the money.

After the 2022 General Election, Mr Yimbo and other members of the family travelled to Shakahola market centre, where they camped for some weeks looking for his brother and sons.

They reported the missing persons at a police station in Shakahola and were connected to the local administrators to help them locate their family members.

"I produced a picture of the three missing children while at Shakahola and some people recognised them, and claimed they had been killed in the forest by Mackenzie’s men manning the forest,” claimed Mr Yimbo.

However, the family was unable to locate their graves and did not pursue the matter further, fearing for their safety. 
Despite reporting to the police, no help was forthcoming, Mr Yimbo said.

The family strongly believes all four were either killed or starved.

Nation.Africa has established that Yimbo’s family has submitted DNA samples and is waiting for the results that could determine whether their relatives are among the recovered bodies, which so far stand at 133. 

The family blames the police for laxity and taking a long time to arrest Mackenzie and his associates while ignoring reports from families of missing people.