AFRICA/KENYA - After the massacre of the faithful of a sect, the debate on the regulation of religious groups reopens

Wednesday, 3 May 2023 sectaniarism   local churches  

Nairobi (Agenzia Fides) - Among the more than 100 followers of a Kenyan sect found dead in the Shakahola forest, eastern Kenya, on a ranch in Kilifi county, near the city of Malindi, there are not only people who died of hunger, but also some victims of murder.
Since April 21, Nairobi authorities have been recovering the bodies hastily buried in the mass graves. In some they have found entire families, with parents buried with their children. Search teams combing the ranch say the number of bodies recovered is bound to rise.
Most of the victims were persuaded to fast to death "in order to meet Jesus" by "Pastor" Paul Mackenzie Nthenge of the "Good News International Church". Mackenzie is a taxi driver who became a "pastor" and "televangelist" in 2003, whose extreme preaching has earned him several arrests since 2017. Of the 30 autopsies performed on the recovered bodies, most of the people appear to have died of starvation, but in at least two cases children died from asphyxiation, not from lack of food.
Even before the autopsies were carried out, police and prosecutors had claimed that, in addition to those who died of starvation, some members of the cult may have been strangled, suffocated or beaten to death with blunt objects.
Some of the victims had been missing from their families for years. Most are from Kenya, but some come from Tanzania and Nigeria.
"Religion cannot and should not be a reason for people to lose lives. It is also wrong to believe that people have to do exceptional things to get blessings," commented Msgr. Anthony Muheria, Archbishop of Nyeri. "We condemn in the strongest terms possible, the cultic preaching orchestrated by (the) pastor … which induced his followers to fast to death", said Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde of Mombasa, president of the Kenyan bishops' conference in a statement.
There are more than 4,000 registered churches in Kenya and almost 85% of the 53 million people are Christians. More than 11 million are Catholics, distributed in 26 dioceses. Faced with the proliferation of "new churches" often founded by makeshift "preachers", local religious leaders are calling on institutions to resume the debate on the regulation of religious groups and institutions. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 3/5/2023)