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Kenya: the despair of a sister of a follower of the sect of Paul Mackenzie

Kenya: the despair of a sister of a follower of the sect of Paul Mackenzie
Roseline Asena with other relatives of victims of the 'Shakahola forest...   -  
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SIMON MAINA/AFP or licensors


When Roseline Asena's little brother quit drinking after joining the Kenyan evangelical sect led by Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, she praised the pastor for " saving" him from alcoholism.

Little did she imagine that 20 years later, Kevin Sudi Asena would be accused of helping starve dozens of worshipers, including his wife and children, in what is now called the "Shakahola Forest Massacre".

At least 109 people, the majority of them children, have died in this Kenyan coastal forest, home to followers of the International Church of Good News of self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who advocated fasting until death to "meet Jesus".

The case has plunged this very religious country in East Africa into horror. When Roseline Asena saw her handcuffed brother on television, "my heart sank, I was scared," the 43-year-old mother of three told AFP.

According to investigators, he was part - along with 15 other arrested suspects - of a group of "thugs" responsible for ensuring that no follower broke the fast or escaped from the forest.

Autopsies performed on 100 bodies found at Shakahola revealed that while most of the victims died of starvation, some were strangled, suffocated or beaten. After the revelation of the "massacre" at the end of April, Roseline went to the coast to try to find her five nephews and nieces.

The Asenas began to see the excesses of the Good News Church International when Kevin urged them to pull their children out of school, following Pastor Mackenzie's sermons that the Bible did not endorse schooling.

Other sermons opposed the use of digital payment, care in hospitals, vaccinations, or the wearing of wigs by women.

The family desperately tried to convince the former mechanic to leave this church, for which he had moved from Vihiga county in western Kenya to the coastal city of Mombasa, 800 km away.

Mackenzie's sermons had also drawn the attention of the authorities, who notably arrested him for "radicalization" in 2017. In 2019, when the preacher closed his church and asked his followers to come to the remote village of Shakahola, Kevin didn't hesitate.

"He said he didn't want his land and his house, that he was going to see Jesus" , relates Roseline Asena: "When he left, he was already crazy."

In February, their mother received a phone call from Kevin who told her he was on his way to "meet God" on Golgotha, the hill where Jesus was crucified in the Bible. When the first mass graves were discovered, their worst fears were confirmed.

Kevin Asena and the "thugs" in charge of monitoring, armed with clubs and machetes, the faithful, "appeared to be well fed, unlike the victims suffering from severe malnutrition" , according to court documents consulted by AFP.

His wife, who gave birth in the wild to their youngest child a year ago, a baby boy named Syla, was found alone, her body very thin. She is now receiving psychiatric assistance.

No one knows yet if the children are alive. "I went to the rescue operations center to try to find even one child. I found nothing," sighs Roseline Asena.

It is impossible to know if they are among the bodies found, the operations to identify the remains, some of which were in an advanced state of decomposition, are still in progress.

Some of the rescued cult members advised him to focus his search on the eldest, 15-year-old Sheila, who had a habit of sneaking out of the house and risking drinking from puddles to survive.

Roseline Asena even approached her brother for news. In vain. She didn't recognize the man she saw, she said. "He has no remorse" , she says: "He told me that there was no case and that the authorities had no proof."

He changed his first name to Alfred, she points out, suggesting that some worshipers have been renamed. Her hopes of finding one of the children alive grow dimmer every day. "Our mother is broken. It seems like this whole generation of children has been wiped out."

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