AFRICA/KENYA - Investigation into Shakahola forest massacre widens as calls for greater control of sects continue

Thursday, 4 May 2023 sectaniarism   local churches  

Nairobi (Agenzia Fides) - Another "telepreacher" has also been put under investigation for the massacre of more than 100 followers of the Kenyan sect "Good News International Church", found dead in the Shakahola forest (see Fides, 3/5/2023).
Ezekiel Odero, a wealthy telepromoter with a large following at his "New Life Prayer Center and Church," is under investigation on various charges including murder, complicity in suicide, kidnapping, radicalization, crimes against humanity, child cruelty, fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors accuse Odero of having ties to the leader of the "Good News International Church" sect, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who is in custody on terrorism charges for the death of more than 100 people, many of them children, whom he convinced to fasting until death from starvation "in order to meet Jesus" (although some victims, according to the first autopsies, were murdered). Prosecutors filed court documents on which they believe Odero and Mackenzie share a "history of business investments," including a television network used to deliver "radicalized messages" to worshipers. According to the Kenyan authorities, among those found dead in the Shakahola forest were some followers of Odero.
In a court deposition earlier this week, Odero stated that he wanted to "firmly disassociate himself" from Mackenzie and that he did not agree with his teachings.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church, together with other religious groups, asks public institutions to strengthen controls over "new religious phenomena", which can be a source of fraud or worse to the detriment of the population. Monsignor James Maria Wainaina Kungu, Bishop of Muranga, has asked the government to be vigilant: "In the Old Testament, whenever the people went astray, the kings took responsibility for their actions. A good shepherd will not lead the sheep astray; instead, he lays down his life for the sheep who knows him by his voice as he also knows them by name", he stated at the Mass for the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker (May 1st).
The Bishop underlined Jesus’ love for his followers and his willingness to guide and protect them. "Likewise, today we are asking, where was the President and the security agents when the Shakahola massacre was taking place? Mass extermination of people is unacceptable and is not in line with the will of God", Wainaina added.
The Bishop of Muranga has questioned how these religious organizations are registered and has warned against the distorted use of religious sentiment to promote extravagant and unacceptable ideologies.
President William Ruto has pledged to take action against unscrupulous "churches" and cults that give rise to criminal phenomena. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 4/5/2023)