‘I wanted to save my six grandchildren from Mackenzie’s deadly cult. Their parents refused’

Constance Sidi, the Mother of Smart Mwakalama, the Deputy Leader of Suspected Cult Pastor Paul Mackenzie

Constance Sidi, the Mother of Smart Mwakalama, the deputy of cult leader Paul Mackenzie, in Malindi Kilifi County on May 11, 2023.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

"Had my son Smart Mwakalama listened to me, today, he would be enjoying his freedom and dining with his children and grandchildren. But when people do not listen, adversity teaches them."

These are the piercing words of Ms Constance Sidi, the mother of Mwakalama, who is the second-in-command at cult leader Paul Mackenzie’s Good News International Church.

Mwakalama is among the 16 people who were arrested together with Mackenzie. The group is currently in police custody.

Records at the registrar indicate that Good News International Ministries was registered on September 22, 2010, and issued with certificate of registration No 32918 and file number 58868.

Smart Deri Mwakalama is listed as the secretary-general.

Mackenzie and his group are being investigated over the offences of counselling persons to kill themselves, aiding suicide, murder, abduction, radicalisation, genocide, crimes against humanity, child cruelty, fraud and money laundering, and for being accessories before or after the fact.

They were arrested following the discovery of several mass graves and the subsequent exhumation of more than 140 bodies on part of 800 acres said to belong to Mackenzie in Shakahola village, Kilifi County.

Detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations are still carrying out exhumations at the vast land, which is mostly forested.

Sidi recalls warning her sixth-born child not to associate with Mackenzie.

The young Mwakalama was a disciplined and obedient boy, says Sidi. In school, he had an outstanding academic performance, hence the name Smart.

"As a family, we used to attend sermons at the Anglican Church of Kenya in Takaye, Malindi. This is where Mwakalama did his wedding too," says Sidi.

The mother of seven says Mwakalama, who was born in 1974, was brought up in Malindi.

He attended Takaye primary school and proceeded to Malindi High, before writing the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams at Gede Secondary School.

Thereafter, he got a job as a receptionist in Malindi town.

For a man who never missed a day of school, it still puzzles his mother why he stopped his children from going to school.

"When my son got married, he moved churches and started attending the Good News International Church of Mackenzie, together with his wife Mary," recalls Sidi.

Bodies exhumation in Shakahola Forest

Bodies exhumation in Shakahola Forest in Kilifi County on May 11, 2023. Five Bodies were exhumed on Thursday bringing the total number to 150 bodies.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

However, things took an ugly turn in 2019 when Mwakalama took his children out of school.

"Mwakalama's first child came back home for mid-term break. The daughter was attending a secondary school in Nairobi at the time and she was in Form Three. On the day of going back to school, her father decided it was time for her to stop her studies. We got angry. This is the same week that Mackenzie's teachings touched on education, claiming it was not biblical," says Sidi.

Mwakalama's other child was to sit the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams a week later, but it never happened. She says the children were in private schools.

"My grandchildren were bright students. The one in high school had a dream to join university and become a pilot. I tried pleading with my son, Mwakalama, to allow them to go back to school, but my pleas fell on deaf ears.

"That is when, together with other families, we reported the matter to the police and Mackenzie was arrested. This happened several times. Each time he was arrested, they ended up releasing him," says Sidi.

A stitch in time saves nine, says Sidi, and if police had taken matters seriously, a lot could have been avoided.

"They thought those battles were ours against Mackenzie. Look what is happening now. My son is in custody, (and) I cannot find my daughter-in-law, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren," says a tearful Sidi.

She recalls that in February this year, she visited Shakahola to see where her son lived.

"When we arrived, the area was full of thorny bushes. It is like a forest and the roads were impassable. Villages had biblical names like Jerusalem. Minutes later, my son appeared and we headed to his home.

"It was a well-built mud house and that day all my grandchildren were present. I was served ugali and omena. When I asked the children to join me, their parents said they were being taught how to fast.

"This did not sit well with me, so I pleaded with them to let me go back to Malindi with my grandchildren, but their parents said they would bring them. That never happened. I regret everything. I wish my son would have listened to me. At the moment I have no idea if the children are alive or dead.

"My son who is in police custody is tightlipped, he has refused to say a word to us. I was called once and asked to greet him over the phone," says Sidi.

She blames the government, noting that if the police had handled the complaints against Mackenzie with seriousness, the deaths of dozens of his followers would have been avoided.

"Until now, we do not understand what this person (Mackenzie) gave or did to our children. Before they quit their jobs, they used to take their salaries to him," recalls Sidi.

She hopes Mackenzie will be found guilty, locked up in prison, and the key thrown away.