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How Makenzi's deceptive tactics lured followers

 Paul Makenzi at Shanzu Law Courts on August 4, 2023. Hundreds of his gullible followers died of starvation while defiant ones were killed. [Robert Menza, Standard]

A Senate report has accused controversial preacher Paul Makenzi of being the mastermind of the Shakahola massacre and recommended he be charged with the death of at least 429 people.

The report by the Tana River Senator Danson Mungatana-led ad hoc committee has revealed how Makenzi lured hundreds of gullible followers to their deaths, including killing those who defied his starvation orders.

The team established that Makenzi intensified his recruitment during the uncertainty and anxiety occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He recruited hundreds of vulnerable people through agents in different parts of Kilifi Country, where his Good News International Ministries was based. These agents, according to the committee report, systematically lured followers to their deaths through deceptive recruitment tactics.

The report released on Friday claims Makenzi manipulated his followers by promising them land in Shakahola. Firstly, it says, he financially exploited them by requiring them to sell their assets and hand over the proceeds to him.

The committee established that Makenzi systematically concealed properties and money that he fraudulently and unlawfully acquired from his victims.

Other than using the agents, the report states that Makenzi also lured people to the forest through preaching, using a variety of media channels to disseminate his harmful doctrines, including social media platforms such as YouTube.

“He used virtual links and social media to foster foreign links with “Voice in The Desert”, an Australian cult founded by Dave and Sherry Mackay. He is also said to have hosted their associate in Makongeni, Nairobi County, who delivered summons echoing anti-government sentiments, particularly stating that Huduma Namba was “the mark of the beast, It states.

“He intentionally isolated his followers by moving into Shakahola forest, a remote and inaccessible area with no access to social services, and caused his followers to cut links with family members, thus leaving them dependent and without protection," the report says, adding: "He strategically and systematically targeted and isolated extended families, and as a result of his atrocious actions, entire families perished, leaving relatives devastated. In some instances, entire lineages were wiped out.”

Inside the over 800-acre Shakahola forest, Makenzi established an armed gang that violently enforced his starvation doctrine by attacking and killing followers who changed their minds about willingly starving themselves to death.

But the “deserters”, according to the report, were first arraigned before a makeshift court where mock trials were conducted and were sentenced.

“He set up a makeshift court where he held mock trials of followers who had refused to comply with starvation orders. The orders from this makeshift court would be enforced by the armed gang,” states the report.

The Mungatana-led committee established that Makenzi exploited their vulnerability and subjected children to painful and slow death, by way of starvation.

The children were denied access to health care, basic education, basic nutrition, shelter, and the right to be protected from abuse and neglect in a clear violation of Article 53 of the Constitution of Kenya, the Children’s Act, 2022, and the Basic Education Act, 2013, states the report.

“While his followers faced a slow and painful death through starvation, Makenzi and his gang of violent enforcers enjoyed elaborate meals as evidenced by menus and cooking apparatus found at his house in Shakahola Forest,” it says.


Bodies exhumed at the Shakahola forest on May 15, 2023. Controversial preacher Paul Makenzi is accused of subjecting his followers to a fasting ritual that led hundreds to death. [Nehemiah Okwembah, Standard].

Makenzi was first linked to the death of his followers in March this year after he was arrested on allegations of the murder of two children who had succumbed to starvation and suffocation.

Following arraignment in court, Makenzi was granted bail of Sh10,000 by a Malindi magistrate's court.

But the Mungatana committee reports that after he left protective custody, Makenzi intensified the starvation orders that caused the deaths and concealment of hundreds of bodies of his deceased followers.

“As part of concealing the mass graves where his followers had been buried, Makenzi planted vegetables on the graves,” states the findings of the report.

It adds: “After his arrest without any iota of remorse and in full knowledge of the impact of his heinous acts, he further intimidated the public in his now infamous brazen remark, “kitawaramba” loosely translated to mean “it will catch up with you”.

During the rescue mission by security agencies, some of the survivors were found locked in their houses emaciated and frail, naked and their legs and hands tied with either turbans or ropes.

But the committee now claims that Makenzi also buried victims who were still living but near death as a result of starvation to terminate their lives.

“Acting in concert with his goons, savagely and sadistically forced starvation of his followers. He radicalized and indoctrinated his followers, causing them long-term psychological, physical, and emotional harm which will require long-term care and rehabilitation,” said the report. 

It concludes that Makenzi’s gruesome actions caused a long-term negative social, cultural, ecological, and environmental impact on the local community in the Shakahola area.

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