Revealed: Australian cult link in Shakahola massacre

Exhumed bodies at Shakahola Forest. May 15, 2023. [Nehemiah Okwemba, Standard]

Two Australian preachers, famous for their cultic teachings, influenced controversial preacher Paul Makenzi’s doomsday teachings, a Parliamentary committee has heard.

Dave Mackay and Sherry Mackay, founders of a cult movement named ‘Voice in the Desert’, are believed to have passed on their cultic practices to Makenzi, who was arrested over the deaths of more than 429 Kenyans.

The Senate ad-hoc committee investigating the Shakahola tragedy found that Makenzi established links with the two preachers virtually and on social media, later hosting an associate of the pair, who delivered radical sermons to a Nairobi congregation.

“The teachings of this cult include forsaking all private ownership, surrendering earthly possessions and relocating to an isolated communal place where members serve one master,” the report by the Tana River Senator Danson Mungatana-led committee reads in part.

The cult’s teachings mirror Makenzi’s, whose followers sold personal belongings to relocate to his Good News International Ministries in Malindi.

Many would be influenced to starve to death, with others reportedly forced to do so by militiamen hired by Makenzi, the 11-member committee heard.

“In 2019, Paul Mackenzie hosted an associate of Dave Mackay who gave a sermon in his church at Makongeni within Nairobi City County. The guest speaker delivered sermons echoing anti-government sentiments, specifically Huduma Namba being the mark of the beast. He also urged followers to abandon earthly possessions and follow Paul Mackenzi to the ‘promised land’, which was later located in Malindi,” the report reads.

Mungatana’s team wants foreigners associated with Makenzi and Voice in the Desert expelled from Kenya and recommends that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Immigration Department investigate such foreign links within 30 days of the report’s adoption.

The committee further proposes a legal framework that would facilitate financial audits of religious organisations with foreign funding.

The senators also established a link between Makenzi and preacher Ezekiel Odero of the New Life Ministries, owing to a “business transaction”, in which Odero acquired a TV station, Times TV, from Makenzi.

They want the DCI to investigate the pair’s relationship, “with a view of establishing any criminal culpability of Ezekiel Odero in aiding or abetting the event in the Shakahola tragedy within 30 days.”

The move follows Odero’s admission that he intended to acquire the station, and had paid a Sh500,000 deposit, but shelved the plan as he did not agree with Makenzi’s teachings.

Members of the committee were last week in a spot over a site visit to Makueni, where Odero’s church is located, amid claims that they did not visit the place officially.

Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale wondered why the committee’s members privately sponsored their trip to Mavueni, with Mungatana arguing they were pressed for time, and would claim reimbursements.

Odero had told the committee that he had never preached with Makenzi, and neither had he been to Shakahola, the theatre of the massacre that claimed more than 400 lives.

As the committee noted, the Shakahola tragedy is Kenya’s worst experience of religious extremism by the sheer number of deaths recorded. 

In terms of scale, the 1998 bombing of the United States Embassy follows second with 213 deaths, the 2015 attack on the Garissa University College that claimed 148 lives is third.

Other tragedies highlighted include the Westgate attack of 2013 that killed 67, the 2019 Dusit terror attack that claimed 21 people and the 1980 bombing of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi that claimed 20 lives, as well as the Kikambala Hotel bombing in 2002 that killed 13.

But Kenya has witnessed incidences of mass deaths, including the Wagalla Massacre, which claimed more than 5,000 lives and the post-election violence of 2007/08 that killed more than 1,000.

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