Shakahola deaths expose State failure to avert mass slaughter

This is unacceptable. I refuse to subscribe to the notion that we are all somehow to blame for this terrible tragedy. We have a state and institutions established, trained and paid to provide security to the nation's citizens.

Telling the public that security starts with you and me is a cop out and no government must be let off the hook when it stood idly by as this doomsday cult planned, recruited and executed its wicked plan over several months, if not years.

Kenyans are taxed to the hilt and a huge percentage of the revenue goes to the security sector, entrusted with the responsibility and powers to protect the lives and property of citizens. In the 2022/23 budget a massive Sh317.8 billion was allocated to the security sector with the police and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) receiving the largest chunk. The NIS alone got Sh46 billion and the police Sh122 billion. The public then has every right to demand a full-blown explanation as to where things fell apart.

Kenya has the most elaborate security and intelligence infrastructure in the region but its failure to get to grips with banditry in the North Rift and now the Kilifi catastrophe raises serious questions about its professionalism, effectiveness and ability to deliver.

From village elders, nyumba kumi, assistant and senior chiefs right up to Regional Commissioners, there is an orderly reporting mechanism on security to State House on a daily basis. As for NIS, some of us are old enough to remember how they loitered in our churches on Sundays to record anything that appeared like a seditious sermon. Nowadays, do they ever sneak into houses of worship to listen to the content of fanatical preachers like Makenzi?

In 2019, civil society organisations raised the alarm about Makenzi in Malindi town when he detained children in his church and denied them access to education. Thanks to our efforts the children were rescued but when Makenzi relocated to Shakahola did the NIS follow him? Clearly not.

What's more, a trend of killings of older people suspected of being witches has similar, macabre, religious, cultic elements but the security team in Kilifi rarely investigates any of these killings either. Since 2014, Haki Yetu has been working with communities in Kilifi and Kwale counties where this affliction has become rampant. Many of the several hundred killings we have investigated have been linked to land and family conflicts. However, on closer examination one discovers that in bizarre, night prayer sessions, self-proclaimed prophets (Manabii) have often disclosed the names of individuals as witches who soon end up in nearby graves.

Our efforts at reporting and engaging the police and administration have only recently begun to bear fruit. For years we met with indifference and arrogance as police did not regard these killings as crimes worthy of investigation and dismissed them as Giriama cultural problems. Anything bordering on religion, witchcraft and revenge killings is enough to keep police in their stations while chiefs are dispatched to solve these matters in a 'local way'. As a result, there are rescue centers for vulnerable elders threatened with death by preachers on accusations of being witches.

CS Kindiki on Wednesday announced that Chakama Ranch is under curfew and the public and the media are denied access. After its failure to protect when in need this move may well be viewed with suspicion.