Shakahola is an accident in our mad rush to self-destruction

Homicide detectives carrying some of the bodies that were exhumed from Shakahola forest in Kilifi County. [Marioon Kithi, Standard]

As the country comes to grips with the horrors of the cult killings and deaths at Shakahola associated with controversial pastor Paul Mackenzie, it's worthwhile looking at the many factors that brought us here.

As is customary in a country where politics takes the centre-stage, different formations have used the massacre to apportion blame to their rivals. However, the rot that brought us to this situation is perhaps deeper than the cosmetics that is our politics. In any case, this being a religious matter, it is naive to imagine that our politicians could have managed or prevented it.

It is a key feature of our politics that leaders follow religion. As a consequence, religious leaders tend to have undue influence over political leaders. It is almost taboo for politicians to clash with religious leaders be they mainstream or fringe. Even our big confrontation with extremist Islamist organisations like Al Shabaab only gained traction with input from the Americans with many unintended consequences.

Pastor Mackenzie is no stranger to the criminal justice system. He has had many run-ins with law before. However, not once was he convicted of an offence. Either the man of the cloth is too smart, or we are deploying blunt tools against him. As the fight against terrorism showed during its infancy, deploying common policing tactics against highly secretive and manipulative criminals is ineffective. Organised crime is like a virus that blends into the host community while wreaking havoc surreptitiously. It employs both fear and manipulation to force communities to surrender becoming the new normal.

Questions abound on just how otherwise normal people from different backgrounds could succumb to the death cult. There are many back stories to every one of the adult cult members. However, the fact that a top businessman with a million dollars in assets, an air hostess with a high-flying career and housewives struggling to make it, could surrender their fate in the hands of a former taxi driver turned preacher, points to a deep malaise in our society.

In 1 Corinthians 13 verse 13, the good book posits: "Three things will last forever - faith, hope and love - and the greatest of these is love".

It is possible that a common thread runs through the minds of all those adults who voluntarily surrendered to the cult. These good men and women submitted to the evil will of the cult in search of something. They are not very different from the thousands of Kenyans regularly duped into get-rich-quick schemes, or the millions of us jumping into political party bandwagons designed to cater for the interests of cartels.

We live in times of hopelessness and despair when even the well-to-do face mounting uncertainties. The poor are staring at desperation with a job loss or illness pushing them to certain death or breakdown of families and support systems. It is not a surprise that whole forests and rangelands have been decimated without a thought for the future in a mad rush for wealth or survival. Both the rich and the poor are culprits, the rich out of greed and the poor out of desperation.

Economic stagnation, family decay, cut-throat competition where those without connections are left to adapt or perish, are among the hallmarks of our times. Millions of both highly skilled or low-skilled workers are migrating en mass searching for opportunities abroad. For many, the big break is no longer a bumper harvest or graduating with honours but winning a sports bet or making a kill in a dubious deal. For millions of youth oscillating between despair and illusions of hope, drugs and alcohol abuse is a lifeline.

A cabal of now-or-never opportunists are pushing the system to breaking point using corruption and fraud to stay ahead of the crowd. We are cruising in a vessel listing dangerously.

In come the preachers promising heaven on earth, the wizards with get-rich-quick solutions or even politicians promising to deliver the nation to Canaan. It is not an accident that Shakahola happened. It is but an accident in our mad race towards self-destruction. Shakahola is a sign of decay. Our institutions, our politics and our society are all rotting away. We have become numb to pain and suffering.

It is time to rejuvenate our society by infusing faith and hope in our socio-economic system. The winner-takes-all mentality that only shines the focus on the brightest, strongest, and richest must be broken down to build a society that says no one should be left behind. GDP growth without jobs or markets that the vast majority cannot afford are not how to build a nation.

We should focus on liveable communities with amenities not just foxhole homes where we ferret to and from work. We should strive not towards wealth accumulation but a kinder, caring society that lives and let's live. The me-first mentality will be our undoing.

In fighting to limit the influence of cults, we must also limit the power of individuals or corporations to remake the country in their own image. No single entity should be more important or powerful than the State. In Shakahola, state institutions were powerless even as children were deliberately starved to death.

No single right overrides the other rights. Freedom of worship or any other right for that matter does not make anyone immune to State oversight. As for entities operating courtesy of registration like churches, it is only natural that a mechanism of State oversight be established.

Dr Kingi is a former Deputy Governor Mombasa County