The dusty villages of Bi Nzaro and Bofu tucked 10 kilometres from the Malindi-Sala Gate highway have gained fame and exposure since embattled preacher Paul Makenzi’s alleged cult activities erupted.
It is in the two villages that stand two kilometres apart, where Makenzi first attempted to settle in early 2019. This was after closing his Good News International Church at Furunzi in Malindi town located more than 78 kilometers away.
The two villages where Makenzi was rejected by residents lie about 16 kilometres from Shakahola where he settled. He came with goodies for the people, and would at some point distribute relief food as he set foot in the three villages.
He started a church at Shakahola village near the Galana River and opened another branch at Bi Nzaro village, according to villagers. His stay was short-lived when he was chased away for preaching against formal education and medication.
However, there are many theories in the Makenzi cult, with claims that a dry marathon fasting ritual until death will make one meet Jesus Christ. Some quarters allege trade in human organs while other claims include offering human sacrifices and many more.
The government has since dispelled fears that body organs were being harvested before the victims died. However, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) in the latest court filing says some reports show an organ harvesting syndicate.
As for Makenzi, through his end-times radical preaching, he relied heavily on that book where he demonised formal education, the Huduma number, modern medicine, and many other things.
His teaching could eventually attract the ire of the State leading to his arrest twice in 2017 and in 2019. He was charged and freed on bond. He relayed to them fears of a fast-approaching apocalypse.
But Makenzi was smart not to involve the locals at Shakahola in the fasting-to-death rituals. He knew well that his dirty activities would be unravelled if anyone from the locality died.
Mr Kahindi Charo from Bi Nzaro village says Makenzi took advantage of Shakahola’s Chakama phase three settlement scheme that is yet to be adjudicated to get land, with the help of some locals.
A walk on sections of the farm reveals fresh beacons dated February 19, 2023, indicating that people were allocating themselves land in the area. According to Charo, the former preacher first settled at Shakahola village near the Galana River where he practised farming.
He would later open a makeshift church but only a handful of villagers attended before they evicted him because of his type of sermons.
He then arrived at Bofu village where he opened another church but was again evicted for his teachings.
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“Makenzi came here through people who allocated him the land after producing ‘kajama’ (four bottles of mnazi (coconut juice) or a small appreciation to the elders but he never bought it and there’ s no title deed even among us. Many people come here and are literally allocated plots,” he said.
“He started inviting people in droves to the piece of land and he expanded it to the current 800 acres. The people started living well with us but it reached a point where those people started denying us access to the thickets. There is a huge water pan that was constructed by Makenzi but we could not use it.”
The father of two noted that the Makenzi followers started appearing frail and weak and efforts to convince them to seek food aid from the government were futile.
It was at this point, he says, that the villagers decided to forcefully invade the farm to know what was going on there.
A meeting was convened. The three villages of Shakahola, Bofu, and Bi Nzaro share one village elder who resides in Shakahola, 16km from Bi Nzaro village.
“There came a time when some children escaped and revealed that they were being forced to fast and that information angered us so much,” he observes.
“We mobilised the three villages and as we tried to enter the farm which is 12km from Bi Nzaro, violence erupted. We had to flee since those guys were armed with machetes and other crude weapons,” he said.
He added that General Service Unit (GSU) officers from Danisa, inside the Galana Kulalu food project responded to distress calls and quelled the situation.
“I ran from that place all the way to Shakahola and they burnt two motorbikes. I could not wait for the GSU officers,” he added.
Mr Daniel Karisa Mzimba said Makenzi followers were secretive, but information started coming out when children started escaping and seeking help from nearby villages.
“It was difficult to understand them despite their ‘suffering’ and when pressed further, they could respond that they were fasting to see Jesus Christ. Our efforts to investigate the issue were met with violence until when the government responded,” Mzimba.
“It was after the operation started that we got to know about the deaths inside that 840 acres where we discovered graves scattered all over. The graves are also flattened to conceal them,” he said.
Mzimba is however against the government’s plan to take over the 50,000-acre Chakama ranch.
Ms Joan Umazi said the deaths came to the fore when a Makenzi follower married a local girl, who revealed the happenings at the farm, but the villagers dismissed her. “Makenzi should not be released because he may wipe us out. He has money and can influence everyone around here,” she said.
She said her Bofu village at times receives people allegedly from the Makenzi cult and they hand them over to authorities. “Those people, while running away from the security operation, come to this village and we give them water and food and then call the police. We have rescued at least five people who came to hide here,” she said.
Mr Adam Kaluwa, nyumba kumi elder at Bofu village says the dusk-to-dawn curfew has affected the livelihood of the locals who ply the charcoal trade. Mr Katana Thoya from Bofa village said he survived the Makenzi attack adding that the suspect has a militia to protect the farm.