In the courtroom, doomsday preacher Pastor Paul Makenzi cuts the lonesome image of a rained-on chicken.
Except on Wednesday this week when the Magistrate beguiled his power over his followers, and he glowed, Makenzi has been nothing but a shadow of his former self.
Beneath the façade of his dishevelled frame, however, is a stubborn, sweet-tongued figure who set up a death machine under the noses of sluggish state machinery.
On Friday this week, the number of fatalities from his death machine stood at 336 with 95 rescued and 613 people still missing.
The difference of Makenzi of the dock, and the Makenzi of the pulpit is like day and night. In the pulpit, he gyrates, beguiles and menaces. Evangelism in Kenya is a practically noisy affair, complete with background sound effects to fill in the preacher’s often hoarse rantings.
And Makenzi, with his firm grasp of Swahili, a highly enchanting language, was cut out for it.
Growing up in the southern-most tip of Kenya in Shimba Hills, Kwale county, all Makenzi ever dreamt of was a career in shiting gears of an automobile. The county, bordering Tanzania on its West and the Indian Ocean to the East is one of the poorest in the country.
Back in the 60s, his father Kitivo Makenzi had jumped from the frying pan into the fire, emigrating from a chronically poor hinterland region of Machakos 460 kilometres away, to this equally desolate area.
In the latest poverty rankings, 73 per cent of Kwale’s children are plagued by multidimensional poverty, and an even higher percentage of youth- 76.3 per cent are in a similar situation.
It does not get any better in adulthood (74.9) and in old age (73.4). In this dubious score, Kwale competes at the rock bottom of Kenya’s poverty base with the northern counties of Mandera, Wajir and Turkana, Lower Eastern counties of Marsabit, Kitui and Samburu.
This is the environment Makenzi was born and bred. He did not venture out far for schooling where he could possibly get a different feel. He schooled in the southern-most tip of the county, Vanga, in Mwalewa Primary and Lukore Secondary schools.
Swamped in a sea of multidimensional poverty for the better part of his life, he ventured out briefly in the country’s capital of Nairobi for a driving course in 1995.
He then relocated back to Coast, this time crossing from South Coast to the northern Coastal town of Malindi to hustle as a taxi driver. In a few years after the turn of the millennium, he switched to preaching with zero credentials except the mystical urge, the calling.
Locals say he initially preached in three different churches, but fell out with all of them over his Christian fundamentalism. When he was done switching churches in 2003, Makenzi founded his own, the now infamous Good News International in Furunzi, Malindi, specializing in the apocalypse.
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Modern education is ungodly. Technology is the devil’s handiwork. Governments across the world are Lucifer’s toys. Medicine is evil and family planning, beauty and science are all devil’s enterprises, he preached.
The year 2010, was a turning point for the country, and Makenzi too. Two years before, Kenya had nearly gone up in flames following a senseless post-election violence which led to an internationally forced truce between President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.
The reform path triggered by these events culminated in a proposed new constitution which had the unanimous support of the country’s political class. The church however, with the support of a few political leaders among them current President William Ruto, opposed it for its expansive, generous bill of rights and recognition of Islamic Courts.
Makenzi and his ilk blossomed during this period, crisscrossing the country preaching against the draft constitution, and the government which was sponsoring it.
“Voting… I would rather stay and wait on Jesus Christ to come down,” he preached, predicting a smooth sailing for the draft, and doom thereafter.
Kenyans defied the church and voted in the draft constitution. A vexed Makenzi would spend the next few years training his followers "to face the antiChrist.”
On December 7, 2014, Makenzi shifted gears a little, announcing to his faithful that the holy spirit had formally taken over his body and spirit, and that things would never be the same. It was all in full, public glare.
As the state focused on Islamic fundamentalism, Makenzi’s fundamentalism was growing in leaps and bounds. Westgate Mall, Garissa University, Mpeketoni in Lamu were attacked at various times between 2013 and 2015 with Makenzi claiming it was all contrived by the anti-Christ movement.
“In the proper order of time, it is us who will be called terrorists,” he predicted, at the time.
During this period, President Barack Obama was at the height of his power, winding down a second term. Makenzi had been preaching that Obama was the ultimate anti-Christ depicted in the Biblical book of Revelation.
“Then I saw a beast come out of the sea with ten horns and seven heads, on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads, blasphemous names,” Revelations 13:1 reads, but Makenzi’s Channel claimed Obama’s name was encoded on it, and one needed a computer program to decode it.
To his luck, the height of his apocalyptic preaching coincided with the fruition of the liberalization of the economy, including airwaves, which had started under the leadership of former President Mwai Kibaki.
On September 14, 2015, he had a Free to Air (FTA) television broadcast license which added wind to his infamy sails. Through it, he operated Times TV hosted on PANG DTT platform, churning tens of apocalyptic preachings as authorities.
On October 9, 2016, Makenzi led a visibly tormented 15-year-old faithful in his church to issue a prophecy on anti-Christ’s plan to devour the Kenyan church. This was to be done through the construction of a big temple, a big church by one of the Mombasa-based pastors, and the use of regional Presidents among them the late John Pombe Magufuli.
Much later in 2023 when Pastor Ezekiel Odero’s massive prayer sanctuary in Mavueni, Malindi shot to national fame, Makenzi’s channel would replay this prophecy, claiming Ezekiel was the false prophet predicted.
He included footage of the Pastor in a massive prayer rally in the country’s biggest stadium in Nairobi, featuring Pastor Dorcas Gachagua, the wife of Kenya’s Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.
In a strange twist of fate, Pastor Ezekiel would later be arrested in the wake of the Shakahola massacre, with investigators claiming people had been dying in his church and their bodies disposed off in Shakahola. They also claimed the existence of a business relationship between Makenzi, and the pastor.
In January 2017, Makenzi’s “anti-Christ” retired from the White House and troubles began to rain on the doomsday preacher. On March 14, 2017, police descended on his church for offering basic education in an unregistered facility.
He was released soon thereafter in what the Kenyan Judiciary claimed was a plea bargain with the prosecution. However, the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions says it was the judiciary which gave him a slap on the wrist of a fine when he pleaded guilty.
Later that September, he was arrested on charges of radicalization, failing to take his 13, 5 and 4-year-old children to school, refusing to grant them the right to education and running an illegal education centre. He was granted a cash bail, tried over the next two years and acquitted in October 2021 on a section of the law which discontinues weak cases.
But even before the case was thrown out, Makenzi’s ministry ran into another turbulence in 2019. That year, Kenya was conducting two important national exercises; the population census, and the issuance of all countrymen with a unique identifier card known as “Huduma Namba” or the “Service Number.”
Makenzi opposed both, saying the number was the apocalyptic “666” written in the Bible. He compared the Christian faithful who agreed to the initiative to scared dogs trembling their way into the bowels of a serpent.
There was no way the elect-of-God, his followers, were going to be counted by “Caesar’s people (read government). Some fled their homes on the eve of the census night or refused to cooperate with census officials.
For this, he was reprimanded by President Uhuru Kenyatta. He was arrested yet again in April over incitement to disobedience of the law, producing and distributing unauthorized films, and operating illegal filming studios.
He was released on cash bail and the matter is coming up for defence hearing later this month. Still, Makenzi was unbothered, reminding his faithful that they had nothing to lose by defying the law.
“It’s much better for a parent to run away from their child to save his soul. If your child is enlisting people for Huduma, run away from them,” he told his faithful in Bomu Stadium, Magongo, Mombasa on September 15, 2019.
The Huduma Namba project later stalled for real, despite gobbling billions of Kenyan shillings. No reason was ever issued, even to date. Makenzi was more than elated, claiming Jesus infiltrated the database, and botched it.
“In Nairobi, government officials are quarrelling among themselves daily, asking what happened to their numbers. What they do not know is that the database vomited them out,” Makenzi boasted.
The year 2019 was significant for another reason. It is the year Makenzi ran out of instructions from God. He issued a public notice of closure of his church, and indeed went ahead to close it down. He was engaging the final gear, the Shakahola gear.
On December 22, 2019, few days to Christmas, Makenzi staged a prayer rally in Kyaani Primary School. From the recordings of that day, Makenzi has already moved into the wilderness of Shakahola with a band of followers. He's chastizing men who have moved along with him to the wilderness minus their wives
He claims he has reports of not-so-nice happenings in the "jungle" where the men who left their wives behind were going for the women there. He was not going to allow that:
"Why have you left your wife in Egypt? Go back, and fetch your wife, because we will not allow you," he threatened.
On that day, Makenzi mocked the people he had left behind, saying they had been unchained but had refused to be free. He said all Jesus required of man is a voice, and he will eat and feed. He particularly mocked hawkers and private guards who engaged in the vanity of work.
"Look at him, askari gogo... slaving all day long under the sun, in heavy uniform. He still believes he must work to get food," he said, deliriously laughing them off.
"Kazi ya muhindi sio ya wateule, hizo ni kazi za kimataifa," he preached, while affirming that man's only purpose under the sun is to praise Jesus.
Francis E. A Owakah, a philosophy lecturer at the University of Nairobi says Makenzi made the most of the poverty and hopelessness of the people who listened to him. People without hope, he said, hang on to anything, especially if it comes with the promise of a better future.
“What is doom for you is hope to them, and unfortunately there is nothing you can give them in place of what they are getting from their pastors,” he added.
It was “a form of mental slavery for the poor and the illiterate”. The rich and educated among Makenzi’s flock are outliers, he added, and were usually filling a void of “nothingness in spite of abundance.”
In the interlude between the closure of the church and relocation to Shakahola, Makenzi preached on TV, and ventured as far away as Luanda in Kenya’s Western region- 937 kilometres away, to cast his net wider.
His former faithful, and the new recruits he fished in countryside excursions, followed him to Shakahola where he met them with open arms, to their own end.
“When you look at me, do you see Makenzi or Jesus? Makenzi died a long time ago!” he’d once told his faithful in his characteristic sweet, beguiling Swahili diction.
In his scheme of things, they stood no chance.