KNCHR faults state over Shakahola massacre probe


Some of the victims of the Shakahola Massacre whose bodies were identified through DNA on March 26, 2024. [Marion Kithi, Standard]

The government has been criticized for the slow and opaque manner it has been investigating the Shakahola massacre tragedy.

On Tuesday, families thronged into Malindi Hospital Mortuary to collect the bodies of their loved ones, identified through DNA tests.

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR),  in a report, said it was prohibited from accessing the survivors and suspects at Shimo la Tewa Prisons.

KNCHR said that its engagement in the ongoing exercise was impeded by the security agencies who limited access to the site at the Shakahola forest at will.

It says that the government also withheld crucial information like DNA profiling and turned the decision on when to release the bodies into a security issue.

“The commission has had to rely on well-wishers and development partners to perform this crucial function that forms its mandate,” states the report by KNCHR chairperson, Roseline Odede.

The commission also claims that survivors of the massacre were still under police arrest and detained for presenting suicidal behaviour instead of being rehabilitated or de-radicalized.

On the suspects, the commission says it found credible reports that they were tortured, adding that they were subjected to the longest pre-trial detention in Kenya's history.

“The commission received credible allegations of torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment meted out against suspected perpetrators and survivors of the Shakahola massacre while in police and prison custody,” states the report.

Since March 2023, when reports emerged over horrifying discoveries of scores of people buried in shallow graves in Malindi’s Shakahola forest, Kilifi county the state has been in a tight spot.

The judicial system has been on the receiving end for failure to investigate and successfully prosecute the cult leader, Paul Makenzi despite multiple arrests in the past.

Makenzi, the leader of Good News International Ministries (GNIM) had been arrested five times since March 17, 2017, for alleged radicalisation of his followers.

Government records tabled during the Senate hearings indicated that Makenzi established GNIM in 2003, which he registered as a ministry with the Registrar of Societies in 2010.

Later in 2015, Makenzi, the soft-spoken former taxi driver, registered the Good News Media (K) Limited, which through its Times TV he spewed his message of salvation and preached against modernity.

He also broadcasted his sermons through a YouTube channel that had 677 videos and over 7,000 subscribers at the time it was pulled down by the state.

The KNCHR and Senate report shows that that Makenzi exploited people’s vulnerabilities and recruited hundreds of followers across the country which peaked during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“He manipulated the gullible followers to dispose of their earthly possessions and lured them through promises of a serene life in Shakahola as they prepared for the end of the world in August 2023,” states the report.

Makenzi persuaded his followers to destroy their birth certificates, IDs, passports, title deeds, academic documents, and marriage certificates, it states.

However, on March 25, 2023, the horror of Makenzi’s controversial teaching came to the fore after shallow graves were discovered inside the Shakahola forest.

It is the day Mzee Wanje, a Mombasa-based teacher, reported the missing of his daughter, son-in-law, the son-in-law’s mother, and three grandchildren who had gone to Shakahola.

The daughter was a community worker and his son-in-law, a General Service Unit (GSU) officer, who resigned to join the GNIM. The son-in-law stopped his children from attending school.

On Tuesday, Mzee Wanje received the bodies of one of the three grandsons, his daughter, Emily Wanje and another body of a close relative. The DNA of the other family members had not marched.

At least 429 bodies have been retrieved from the graves in a four-phased exercise. The exercise was suspended after two mobile morgues at the Malindi Sub County Hospital were filled to the brim.

Already, detectives involved in the exercise have identified 40 more fresh graves. Meanwhile, 95 people have also been rescued from the forest and 37 suspects arrested over the killings.

According to state agencies, over 600 people have been reported missing and are believed to have joined the cult where they could have been forced to fast to death to meet Jesus Christ.

“Their lives were taken away in the most egregious and ghastly manner violating their right to life,” says the KNCHR report that also indicts state agencies for their failure to stop Makenzi.

Autopsy reports, whose content was shared with the public by Chief Government Pathologist, Dr Johansen Oduor indicated that the victims died from starvation, asphyxia, head injury, and dehydration.

In the report, KNCHR now demands the arrest of security officers and administrators whose acts of omission and commission abetted and aided the Shakahola massacre.

Ms Odede said that the officers should be charged with criminal negligence and individual responsibility and faulted the then-security team in Malindi for the gross abdication of duty and negligence.

“They not only failed to be proactive in collecting and acting on intelligence to forestall the Shakahola massacre but also unjustifiably failed to act on credible and actionable reports provided by various sources. Numerous reports had been filed at Lango Baya Police Station, Malindi Police Station, and also to the local national government administration officers, from 2017,” says Odede.

She says the issue of radicalisation by Makenzi was featured during the quarterly meeting of the Kilifi County Court User’s Committee (CUC) held on November 15, 2019, but was ignored.

In the report, a former follower of the controversial preacher narrated how she had posted on a social media page in November 2022 in a desperate attempt to draw public attention to the unfolding situation in Shakahola.

KNCH says instead of the security agencies investigating the veracity of the issues raised, they intimidated the lady and accused her of making baseless accusations.