President Ruto goes for rogue churches, religious groups

Paul Mackenzie

Shakahola cult leader Paul Mackenzie. President William Ruto formed a task force to review regulations governing religious organisations in the country.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto has formed a task force to review regulations governing religious organisations and a commission of inquiry into the Shakahola killings.

Dr Ruto picked former National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) Secretary-General Mutava Musyimi to head the 14-member task force that will serve for six months.

The team is expected to propose legal and governance changes to prevent religious extremism.

At the same time, President Ruto formed the Court of Appeal Judge Jessie Lessit-led commission of inquiry into the Shakahola massacre.

At least 110 people are believed to have starved to death or been killed based on the teachings of Mr Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, the leader of Good News International Church.

Rev Musyimi’s task force comes at a time of uproar and demand for accountability among the clergy.

Many also want heavy punishment meted on individuals using religion to advance extremism, cultism and other crimes.

In a gazette notice yesterday, President Ruto tasked the team to formulate proposals on civic education and additions to educational curriculums in a bid to sensitise Kenyans on the dangers of religious extremism.

The team is also expected to formulate methods of identifying avoiding or leaving such organisations.

“The task force will formulate proposals on standards and minimum certification requirements for religious organisations and their leaders for them to be allowed to be registered and to operate in their communities,” the notice reads.

The panel, which brings together leaders of many denominations, will also inform standards used to grant certificates to religious institutions.

Rev Musyimi’s team will engage the public before submitting its report to the President.

The finals report will be adopted to guide the operation of religious institutions.

Other members of the task force are Bishop Mark Kariuki of Deliverance Church International, Bishop Eli Rop of Sayare TV and Radio, Archbishop Maurice Muhatia of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nakuru and family lawyer Judy Thongori.

Also in the team is Rev Alphonse Kanga of the Presbyterian Church of East  Africa, Dr Faridun Abdalla, Mr Musili Wambua, Mr Charles Kanjama, Mr Joseph Wabwire, Ms Mary Awour Kitegi, Ms Leah Kasera, Ms Nancy Murega, Mr Wilson Wanyanga, Mr Martin Ndiwa Talian and Ms Maria Goretti Nyariki.

Dr Ruto said he hopes the review of the current laws and regulations governing religion will help address tame rogues who exploit vulnerable individuals and groups.

“The task force should formulate proposals on the legal, institutional and governance changes required to prevent religious extremist organisations, sects, cults and other similar outfits from committing or fostering actions detrimental to individual health and safety, the public interest or to national values,” the gazette notice says.

The task force will also identify gaps in the legal, institutional and governance systems that allow cults and extremist groups to operate.

It will formulate proposals for a mechanism for the public to report on such cases.

“The task force should formulate proposals on a framework for regulation, annual reporting, compliance, monitoring and enforcement applicable to religious organisations, including public declarations of governance structures, programmes, charitable activities, commercial ventures, and general sources of finances,” it says.

The panel is also expected to recommend actions to be taken against religious leaders caught up in cults, extremism or occultism.

Formation of the task force and the commission of inquiry was triggered by the actions of Mr Mackenzie, who is expected to face terrorism and several other charges.

The government accuses him of urging followers to starve to death “in an effort to meet Jesus Christ”.

Mr Mackenzie appeared in a Shanzu court together with his wife and 16 followers yesterday.

The commission of inquiry will look into claims of torture, killing, inhumane and degrading treatment of Kilifi-based Good News International Church members and individuals linked to Mr Mackenzie.

Other members of the commission are Justice (Rtd) Mary Kasango, Dr Frank Njenga, Mr Eric Gumbo, Bishop Catherine Mutua, Dr Jonathan Lodompui, Mr Wanyama Musiambu and Mr Albert Musasia.

The commission’s joint secretaries will be Mr Kipchumba Oliver Karori and Ms Rachel Maina, with Mr Kioko Kilukumi being the lead counsel.

Mr Kilumumi will be assisted by Ms Vivian Nyambeki and Mr Bahati Mwamuye.

According to the gazette notice, the commission of inquiry shall prepare and submit a report and its recommendation to President Ruto within six months.

The commission has also been tasked with establishing circumstances under which the deaths, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment occurred.

It will also strive to find out if legal, institutional, administrative, security and intelligence lapses contributed to the Shakahola calamity.

The Justice Lessit-led commission of inquiry is expected to identify people and organisations who bear the greatest responsibility for the Shakahola massacre and recommend actions to be taken against them.

The team’s reports could also lead to the prosecution of public officials.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki has already transferred National Police Service and Directorate of Criminal Investigations chiefs who were on duty in Kilifi as the Shakahola killings took place.

“The commission of inquiry shall recommend legal administrative or other forms of accountability action against any public official whose actions or omissions are established to have wilfully or negligently contributed to the Shakahola tragedy,” the notice says.

The commission will look into factors that led to the rise of the Good News International Church and related religious extremist institutions, occults groups and other formations that foster negative religious based activities.

It will recommend legal, administrative, institutional and regulatory reforms aimed at preventing occurrence of deaths or violations of rights and welfare by religious leaders and institutions.

The commission shall receive views from the public and oral or written statements from anyone with relevant information.

It will summon persons concerned to testify on oath.

It is expected to conduct its operations in public but may hold private hearings if necessary.

Presidential inquiry into cultism is not new in Kenya.

In 1994, President Daniel Moi tasked a team chaired by Archbishop Nicodemus Kirima to do similar work.

Its report, tabled in 1999, said cultism was a growing concern in schools and society.