State should set up commission of inquiry into cults

Detectives exhume bodies in shallow graves at the farm of controversial pastor Paul Mackenzie in Shakahola, Kilifi County on April 25, 2023. [Kevin Macharia, Interior]

With the country still coming to grips with the mass killings in Shakahola in Malindi, more questions continue to be raised but with little or no answers at all.

For instance, the pregnant question that remains unanswered is why Pastor Paul Makenzi undertook the activities of his cult-like church, Good News International, for so long with the security and intelligence community knowing or if they knew, failed to take action.

In fact, it has emerged that numerous Occurrence Book reports were documented at local police stations which clearly means that there was massive failure on the part of the government to prevent the deaths of gullible Kenyans who starved to death or were killed by Makenzi and his ilk.

What is more disturbing is the seemingly ensuing blame game between the Judiciary and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions regarding actions taken to stop the preacher's activities, including denying children the right to education and radicalisation.

Indeed, it took children who fled from the forested farm after being denied food and failure by the church's members to buy foodstuff from the nearby market for the local administration to start realising that something was not right.

It is important to note that this is not the first time Kenyans are dying after being influenced by religious cults and other radical groups in the country.

Of concern is that the authorities are always reactionary but given our short memories as a nation such tragedies are forgotten and we move on.

This time, the deaths linked to pastors Makenzi and Ezekiel Odero provide an opportunity to find a lasting solution regarding the evolution and activities of religious cults in the country.

We do not think that given the widespread nature of similar religious organisations, a police probe will be enough to their operations to an end.

While the Senate has already formed an 11-member committee to probe the Shakahola massacre and the number and activities of religious leaders in the country including their registration and compliance status, we agree with the senators that the government should institute a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive probe and provide permanent solutions.

Kenya can borrow a leave from Uganda which instituted a similar inquiry in 2000 after more than 600 people were burned to ashes in Kanungu district after being duped by a sect known as the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments Church to believe that the Virgin Mary was coming to take them to heaven on March 17.

More bodies were later found in mass graves bringing the death toll to nearly 1,000.