Kilifi cult: Lawmakers call for public inquiry into security loopholes

shakahola mass graves

Detectives and residents load bodies onto a police vehicle after digging them out of mass graves on land owned by cult leader Paul Mackenzie at Shakahola village in Kilifi County on April 23, 2023.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

Azimio leaders in Parliament has accused the government, its intelligence and security apparatus of doing little to contain the mass deaths in Shakahola forest, Kilifi County, even as it called for a public inquiry with consequences for those who “slept on the job".

They also wondered why Inspector-General of Police Japhet Koome, who visited the area on Monday following “our statement,” was still in office noting that “what happened in Kilifi is callous, painful and wrong".

Senate minority leader Stewart Madzayo (Kilifi), his National Assembly colleague Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja) and Malindi MP Amina Mnyazi, speaking within Parliament buildings, also did not have kind words for the country’s criminal justice system.

They said it was unimaginable that so many people could walk away from their homes, stay away for so long, starve and die in the name of religion without the authorities noticing.

The three MPs spoke as the number of exhumed bodies in Shakahola hit 58, with about 60 rescued.

“An inquiry into this massacre is a must. We must know who did or should have done what. We must audit the criminal justice system and its interactions with the main suspect and members of this cult. We believe it could have been prevented. We believe God allowed it to unravel in order to expose our hypocrisy as a nation,” said Mr Wandayi.

“This is a colossal failure of the State. It is an unforgivable failure of security intelligence that, in theory, extends from Nairobi all the way to the Shakahola forest and every village in Kenya, ending with the chiefs, assistant chiefs, village elders and Nyumba Kumi heads. This system failed and Kenyans deserve to know why."

Mr Wandayi, who read the joint statement, said Mr Koome’s visit to Shakahola after “our statement is too little too late".

“He should have resigned 'like yesterday', together with his bosses. In fact, his visit is an insult to the people of Kilifi and Kenya in general," he said.

The people who starved to death in the name of finding eternal life in heaven are members of Good News International Church that is associated with cult leader Paul Mackenzie, who has since been arrested and charged in court.

Curiously, while Mr Mackenzie encouraged his followers to starve to death, he never skipped a meal.

So cultic is the church that some of those rescued weak for lack of food and taken to hospital are not ready to abandon their faith by accepting medical procedures to save their lives.

Politically and geographically, Shakahola is within Magarini Constituency but in Malindi administratively.

The immediate former Kilifi County Governor Amason Kingi, now Senate Speaker, was once MP for Magarini Constituency.

Details have it that the deaths and the queer behaviours of the church members may have started during Mr Kingi’s time as the county governor. How he wasn’t aware of these secret happenings in the church continues to raise eyebrows.

In his statement on Monday, since the mass deaths were first reported a week ago, Mr Kingi accused the National Intelligence Service (NIS) for sleeping on the job.

He wrote, “How did such a heinous crime, organised and executed over a considerable period of time escape the radar of our intelligence system? How did evil of such an astounding magnitude take place without being detected?” 

According to Mr Wandayi, “this massacre requires that we evaluate our security and intelligence systems".

“We must re-evaluate our intelligence system and redefine what it considers to constitute national security and threats to it,” he said.

Mr Madzayo wondered why the government would keenly trail "harmless" Azimio politicians going about their peaceful demonstrations on the high cost of leaving while allowing innocent Kenyans to die in the name of “that rogue pastor Mackenzie.”

“I can tell you for free that were Azimio to organise a rally in any part of this country, you would see the excitement of the government and its intelligence and security agencies, ready to hit innocent Kenyans with bullets and teargas,” said Mr Madzayo.

“Sometimes you wonder whether they take the lives of Kenyans for granted - that people have to die to pave the way for their reactionary behaviour,” the Senator said. 

Ms Mnyazi noted that if the dead and the dying had been in Shakahola, brewing or taking chang’aa or smoking bhang, arrests would have been made.

“If the dead and the dying had been in Shakahola village waiting for some non-establishment political leader, an alarm would have been raised, police would have taken notice, tear-gas canisters would have been lobbed and they would have been dispersed,” said Ms Mnyazi.

Mr Wandayi noted that the mass deaths could have been avoided if “our criminal justice system worked".

“This tragedy had been brewing for years but the criminal justice system has been too weak, too archaic and too compromised to prevent it,” said Mr Wandayi on the strength that Mr Mackenzie, the main suspect behind “this massacre” has been in and out of court with “his accomplices on several occasions".

“But the criminal justice system set them loose to go and commit more atrocities. The criminal justice system failed the people of Kilifi in the same way it has failed the country countless times.” 

Although the leaders took note of the order by Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki for the Coast Regional Commissioner and security chiefs to reinforce the team currently carrying out exhumation at the forest land, they did not understand what the reinforcement was for.

The legislators said they do not understand why the regional commissioner “must wait for instructions so that he can do his work".

This even as they said they were baffled that the exhumation exercise was moving at a snail’s pace in spite of the “awesome machinery at the disposal of the State".

“Officials' lethargy and cavalier attitude towards serious national issues have reached unprecedented levels under this administration.”

The MPs also supported calls for “tighter” regulation of religious organisations including churches, mosques, temples and synagogues.

“We must take a fresh look at faith and religion, and those who would kill in the name of faith. We must come up with ways to stop deranged and criminal characters from destroying humanity in the name of religion,” said Mr Wandayi.

The lawmakers said, however, that this regulation should not be “an excuse for the State, or elements within it, to start imposing unnecessary restrictions on genuine religious activities".