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Kenya: failures of justice allowed the Shakahola massacre

Kenya: failures of justice allowed the Shakahola massacre
Digged holes are seen after exhuming bodies at the mass-grave site in Shakahola,   -  
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Failures of the Kenyan justice system and police allowed Paul Nthenge Mackenzie to preach extreme fasting, despite several alerts about this self-proclaimed pastor today accused of the deaths of at least 428 people.

Pastor Mackenzie has been in detention since April 14, the day after the discovery of the first victims in the Shakahola forest, where followers of his International Church of Good News gathered, to whom he preached to fast until death for meet Jesus before the end of the world in August 2023. 

Since then, 428 bodies have been dug up in this bush area of ​​southeastern Kenya, where research is still underway. One of the co-defendants also died in custody.

Called _ Shakahola massacre _ this scandal caused astonishment in Kenya, a predominantly Christian country with 4,000 official churches.

Kenya has experienced deaths linked to religious extremism in the past, but the Shakahola tragedy accounts for the highest number of deaths, recalls a senatorial commission of inquiry, stressing that this toll exceeds the worst jihadist attacks on its soil.

Born in 1976, a taxi driver before proclaiming himself a pastor, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie was faced with justice in 2017 for his extreme preaching. But the criminal justice system failed to prevent Paul Mackenzie's atrocious activities at Shakahola, the commission says, citing four cases in 2017 and 2019.

In 2017, he was notably acquitted of charges of radicalization, while he illegally provided school education. He rejected the traditional educational system, which he said was not in conformity with the Bible. In 2019, he was accused of being linked to the deaths of two children who died of hunger and suffocation and were buried in the Shakahola forest. He was released on bail pending trial.


The commission also falls under the responsibility of the local police, who had recorded recurring complaints from religious leaders and the local community against its activities since 2017.

These complaints denounced in particular the pastor's opposition to the educational and medical systems, but also the radicalization of adults so that they resign from their work and join the church or the fact of holding people hostage.

It also highlights the inaction of the Kilifi County Security Committee which, also receiving complaints, summoned Paul Mackenzie and warned him against his radical teachings and subjecting his followers to inhumane conditions.

Faced with inadequate current legislation, the committee calls on parliament to pass the Religious Organizations Bill 2023, to provide a legislative framework for the regulation of religious organizations.

The search for bodies and the investigation are still ongoing in Shakahola.

Once completed, Mackenzie and 29 co-defendants will be formally indicted. The pastor will be prosecuted in particular for terrorism, prosecutors announced in May.

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