Senate team meets relatives of Shakahola victims in Western

Some of the controversial Pastor Paul Mackezie's followers after their arrival at Shanzu Court over the week. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The Senate ad hoc committee, tasked with investigating the tragic loss of over 300 lives in the Shakahola religious cult, conducted a fact-finding mission in Western Kenya yesterday.

The committee's visit focused on Vihiga County, where they met with affected families, local leaders, and the county security team.

The delegation was led by senators Shakila Mohammad (nominated), Veronica Maina (nominated), Senator David Wakoli (Bungoma), Abdul Haji (Garissa), and the host senator, Godfrey Osotsi.

They commenced their activities by holding a meeting with Governor Wilber Ottichilo and the county intelligence committee. Later, they engaged in discussions with religious leaders and the families of the victims associated with the Shakahola cult.

The day before, the committee had visited Kisumu county, pursuing their objective of investigating the role played by the controversial Pastor Paul Makenzi and his Good Life International Church in the tragic deaths of faithful individuals from various parts of the country.

Western Kenya has been identified as one of the regions where Pastor Makenzi's followers primarily originate from.

It came as no surprise when news broke about the events unfolding at Shakahola in Kilifi, revealing that the majority of the followers of the controversial clergyman and his Good Life International Church hailed from Nyanza, Western, and parts of the Coast region.

The last recorded visit of Makenzi was to Luanda in Vihiga county on February 15, 2020. Over the years, Western Kenya has gained a reputation as a religiously inclined region, making its residents susceptible to religious extremism and radicalisation.

Pastor Kennedy Naika, the chairperson of the Vihiga Chapter of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, suggested to the committee the need for a forum where individuals seeking to establish a religious organization would undergo thorough scrutiny before being granted permission to operate.

"We should have a mechanism in place to scrutinize anyone seeking to register a new church," said Naika.

Several religious leaders recommended that churches be closely monitored before obtaining registration. In Vihiga, where Makenzi preached three years ago, some families have reported cases of missing loved ones who are believed to be members of the controversial preacher's congregation.

A family from Madzu village shared their ordeal, revealing that their 41-year-old son, Kevin Asena, along with his wife and five children, had expressed fears of succumbing to death due to starvation.

Fortunately, their apprehension led to their arrest by the police, a move that the family believes ultimately saved their loved ones' lives.

The committee received feedback from the locals, who said poverty and an excessive focus on spirituality were contributing factors to the problem.