Inside the Kilifi cult of death: Authorities say some followers were killed
In Kilifi County, Kenya, the shocking deaths of suspected cult members due to starvation have continued to be uncovered.
Recently, 18 more bodies were exhumed at Shakahola village, bringing the total number of deaths to 39 since the exhumations began last Friday.
As the authorities have acknowledged the scale of the atrocity as a massacre, questions have been raised about possible laxity and negligence by administrators and the local security apparatus.
Police suspect that some of the individuals might not have died due to fasting, but instead could have been killed before being buried.
The discovery of the bodies raises concerns about the government’s handling of the case, with reports that the team deployed to carry out the exhumations and rescue operation complained about the lack of adequate manpower.
Interior and National Administration Cabinet Secretary, Kithure Kindiki, issued a statement on the deaths only yesterday, acknowledging the horrific scale of the atrocity as a massacre. The death toll is expected to rise as police continue to exhume more suspected sites.
During yesterday’s exercise at the 800-acre property associated with Pastor Paul Mackenzie of the Good News International Church, suspicions of murder were raised as one of the bodies found, dressed in a suit and tie, was not as emaciated as the others.
Police officers who spoke to journalists said that the man might not have died of starvation as the body appeared well-nourished.
“After conducting forensic analysis, we shall determine the cause of the man’s death since he looked well-dressed and healthy,” said the source.
Police also found a starving woman at a hideout on the farm who protested while she was being rescued.
Although she looked frail, she protested as police and Red Cross officials helped her into a vehicle to be taken to the hospital.
Inside the church were inscriptions on chairs, suspected to have been written by Pastor Mackenzie’s followers, saying they were ready to live in the jungle.
As the exercise entered the third day, homicide detectives were focused on the seven graves. Detectives have identified 15 grave sites at the farm.
Residents claimed they had relayed information on the suspicious goings-on at the farm, but the government officials had ignored it. Adu MCA Samson Zai said they had reported on the suspicious activities since 2020.
“The pastor [Mackenzie] first built a church in Marereni in Malindi but was chased away due to his doctrines. He moved to Shakahola, and since then, we have been reporting his weird activities with the government taking no action. We were barred from attending security meetings,” claimed Mr. Zai.
Mr. Zai said the pastor operated on the 800-acre property, which is part of the 50,000-acre Chakama Ranch and was several times summoned by the area chief because of his activities.
Mr. Changawa Mangi, a village elder, said they had welcomed Pastor Mackenzie to the area as a farmer and not as a religious leader.
“When he arrived, he told us he is a farmer, but he never plowed the land. He became more and more powerful, and we started seeing strange people in the area whom we were told were his followers,” said Mr. Mangi.
On Sunday, Aprl 23, Prof Kindiki directed the Coast Regional Coordinator together with the regional security team to reinforce the team in Malindi ahead of his visit on Tuesday. Prof Kindiki said enough security officers have been deployed, and the entire land sealed off as a crime scene.
“The unfolding Shakahola forest massacre is the clearest abuse of the constitutionally enshrined human right to freedom of worship. Prima facie, large-scale crimes under Kenyan law as well as international law have been committed.
While the state remains respectful of religious freedom, this horrendous blight on our conscience must lead not only to the most severe punishment of the perpetrator(s) of the atrocity on so many innocent souls, but tighter regulation (including self-regulation) of every church, mosque, temple or synagogue going forward,” said Mr Kindiki.
The Malindi preacher, who has been in the public limelight for allegedly influencing his followers to fast to death, has been in police custody as police continue with investigations.
Pastor Mackenzie appeared before Malindi Chief Magistrate Elizabeth Usui on Monday last week but was not required to plead to any charge, with the prosecution asking for 30 more days to hold him.
Pastor Mackenzi will be held in custody for 14 days alongside six of his followers. Another seven, whom the prosecution described as victims as they had refused to eat even while in police custody, will be held for seven days for counselling. The case will be mentioned on May 2.