KENYA: Catholic Bishops Call for Stricter Laws Governing Religious Societies to Eliminate Cult Leaders

By Arnold Neliba

KILIFI, APRIL 25, 2023 (CISA)-The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) has called for a review of state laws to identify and strengthen the weak legal links governing the establishment and operation of religious outfits in the country, which cult leaders have been exploiting to brainwash their unsuspecting followers.

This comes after the number of bodies being exhumed from multiple shallow graves in Shakahola Village, Kilifi County, in which followers of Pastor Paul Mackenzie were instructed to fast to death to “meet Jesus,” continue to rise.

The Catholic bishops said “We acknowledge the challenge of self-regulation in an environment where many sects and denominations resist leadership structures and systems. It is our considered opinion that if a strong mechanism of regulating religions was in place, the long arm of the law would have stopped pastor Mackenzie from taking advantage of Kenyans to engage in mass suicide.”

As of Monday, April 24, 73 bodies have been dug out of shallow graves in an area estimated to be about 800 acres of land belonging to the pastor who preached that death by starvation delivers followers to God.

According to the Kenya Red Cross, 29 people have been rescued and 210 are still missing.

“…we believe that asking people to fast and die in order to meet Jesus is not Christian but a heretical teaching that should ordinarily attract corresponding disciplinary measures by the religious family where the church leader belongs,” the bishops commented on teachings of the pastor of Good News International Church.

“We call for a review of the proposed state laws to ensure that such rogue pastors are exposed in good time and denied the opportunity to perpetuate their dangerous acts,” they added.

As questions and blame games continue playing out among government authorities, police records have revealed that the pastor has been questioned before with initial reports indicating that he was first arrested in 2017 and 2018 on charges of radicalization after urging families not to send their children to school on grounds that education was not recognized by the Bible.

“It is shocking that such a sect has been allowed to perpetuate its dangerous doctrine for such a long time leading to the loss of so many lives with the state security machinery completely unaware. Further, even the local security networks comprising wazee wa mtaa, nyumba kumi, chiefs, their assistants and the police, were caught flat-footed,” lamented the bishops.

In 2003, Pastor Mackenzie started the Good News International Church. He moved to Migingo Village, Malindi, in 2015 and two years later acquired a TV station, which the Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB) banned in 2018 based on his doctrines, but was later reopened.

In 2019, the pastor was charged with disobedience of the law, religious incitement and indoctrination of children. In March 2023, he was arrested and charged with urging parents to starve their children to death but later released on a Ksh 10,000 cash bail.

He was later arrested on April 14 following a tip-off to the police that suggested the existence of shallow graves on his land and a day later arraigned at Malindi Law Courts, where the magistrate gave police 14 days to conduct investigations while he remained in their custody.