President's two-pronged plan to restore order in the church

Controversial pastor Paul Makenzi and his wife Rhoda Maweu at Shanzu Law Courts in Mombasa on May 5, 2023. They have been accused of mass murder after more than 100 members of their Good News International Church in Shakahola, Malindi, in Kilifi County, died under unclear circumstances. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

President William Ruto has set in motion a two-pronged move to restore order in Kenyan church, kick-starting the process to regulate religious institutions and unveiling a state inquiry to investigate the Shakahola massacre presided over by the disgraced pastor Paul Makenzi.

In the first move, Ruto has tasked a judicial commission of inquiry with the responsibility of unearthing the truth behind the activities of the Makenzi-led Good News International Church, including persons and organizations who bear the greatest responsibility for the massacre of more than 100 people in Shakahola, Kilifi County.

And in the second, but perhaps more significant move, Ruto set up a presidential task force which will, among other things, formulate proposals to regulate religious institutions. The regulations will require the religious institutions to provide annual reporting of their activities, and finances. The regulations will also provide minimum certification for the institutions and their leadership.

Strategically, the President has appointed a retired churchman and former MP Mutava Musyimi to chair the task force. Bishops Maurice Muhatia, Philip Kitoto, Dr Eli Rop, and Rev (Dr) Alphonse Kanga are members.

Also in the team that could change the course of history in Kenya is respected law professor Musili Wambua, Christian lawyer Charles Kanjama, veteran family lawyer Judy Thongori, Dr Faridun Abdalla, Joseph Khalende Wabwire, Mary Awour Kitegi, Leah Kasera, Nancy Murega and Wilson Wanyanga.

"The task force shall formulate proposals on standards and minimum certification requirements for all religious organizations and their leaders for them to be allowed to be registered and to operate in Kenya," Ruto's notice read.

Makenzi, like many religious leaders in the country, does not have any formal training or certification in religious studies. He claimed he received instructions on what to say directly from God himself.

A truck loaded with some of the bodies that were exhumed in Shakahola in Kilifi County on April 26, 2023. The bodies belong to the followers of Pastor Paul Makenzi of the Good News International Church. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

The task force will also identify the legal, institutional, and governance gaps that have allowed religious extremist organizations, sects, and cults, such as Makenzi's, to thrive in Kenya. The team is also expected to formulate proposals to nip them in the bud, in the future.

The team will draft legal changes to various laws so as to enable state agencies such as the police to effectively tackle crimes committed as a result of religious extremism, or cultic and occultist beliefs and practices. This will also include a reporting mechanism for the public to flag these practices.

".... to formulate proposals including public declarations of their governance structures, programmes, ministries, charitable activities, education activities, commercial ventures and general sources of finances," one of the Terms of Reference (TOR) reads.

Finally, they will recommend what actions may be taken against individuals and groups suspected of founding, leading, or taking part in religious extremist organizations, sects, cults, and other similar outfits.

The Shakahola Commission will be chaired by Lady Justice Jessie W. Lesiit and feature Lady Justice (Rtd) Mary Kasango, politician Eric Gumbo, Bishop Catherine Mutua, Jonathan Lodompui, Frank Njenga Dr Wanyama Musiambu and Albert Musasia.

President William Ruto at State House in Nairobi April 2, 2023. He likened Makenzi's activities to acts of terrorism. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Lawyer Kioko Kilukumi will be the lead counsel assisted, by Vivian Janet Nyambeki and Bahati Mwamuye. Joint Secretaries will be Oliver Kipchumba Karori and Rachel Maina.

"The mandate of the Commission of Inquiry shall be to inquire into the matter of the deaths, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment of members and other persons linked to the Good News International Church in Kilifi County," their TOR reads.

They will also inquire into the legal, institutional, administrative, security, and intelligence lapses that may have contributed to the killings and recommend specific actions that should be taken against those responsible including admonition, regulatory actions, reparations, or criminal investigation.

The team will recommend legal, administrative, or other forms of accountability action against any public official whose actions or omissions are established to have willfully or negligently contributed to the occurrence of the massacre.

Also, to inquire into the factors that led to the rise of that particular religious' extremist institution and suggest reforms to prevent the recurrence of the same. Both teams, whose mandates appear to overlap in a way, have six months to complete their tasks.

In setting up the inquiry, Ruto said the scale of the death toll and the depravity of the actions committed against fellow citizens in Shakahola had shaken the consciousness of the nation and brought to the fore the reality of the existence of cults of serious harm to Kenyans.

President Ruto invoked Section 3 (1) of the Commissions of Inquiry Act (Cap. 102) that informed his decision.

Last week, Azimio leadership of Raila Odinga, had claimed the President no longer had the powers to form commissions of inquiry.

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