NAIROBI — She was a high flying airhostess, exposed in every way of the word. Then she suddenly sold all her things including a parcel of land and travelled from the capital Nairobi to Malindi, some 570 kilometres away, in order to join the Good News International Church.
Now the woman, known as Betty, is among the 98 people who fasted to death in the doomsday cult headed by Pastor Paul Mackenzie which has left Kenyans — and the world — shocked. With the Kenya Red Cross reporting more than 100 people still missing, the toll could reach 200 and beyond.
From President William Ruto to church leaders and the public, Kenyans are now calling on the government to tighten laws governing the opening and operation of churches.
With calls for a shake-up of the security agencies, many are left scratching their heads as to how the man and his accomplices could have operated under the radar for this long finally ending in an apocalypse as Mackenzie promised his followers that they were soon going to meet with Jesus — after fasting to death.
A president enraged
A visibly enraged President Ruto, himself a born again Christian who freely talks of his faith, said people who pretend to be religious leaders while engaging in activities that go against the teachings and beliefs of their respective religions, whether Christian, Muslim or any other faith, should be imprisoned. He implied that Mackenzie could face terrorism charges in a court of law.
“What we are seeing in Kilifi in Shakahola (where the church is based) is akin to terrorism. Terrorists use religion to advance their heinous acts. People like him are using religion to do exactly the same thing,” President Ruto said.
Ken Okwara is a Christian entrepreneur owning a prestigious hotel, an educational institution and also a politician. He says there is an evil trinity involving dubious churchmen, the security apparatus and politicians. He told ReligionUnplugged.com that he was once in such a church and that he lost everything and that were it not for the intervention of close friends and family he would have died of depression.
“Some of these cults and churches have political and government protection because they have been used as conduits of corruption or the Prophet/Bishop prays for those in government to provide spiritual cover. Some of those in government use such movements as political vehicles. I have been in politics before and I can tell you that the church is a serious political tool desired by politicians.”
“I will not be surprised that the Shakahola debacle has been known to government only that something went wrong somewhere. Don’t be also surprised that nothing much will happen to this Mackenzie guy save for going to prison. This thing may just fizzle out soon like nothing really happened. That is why we must insist that the government institutes an inquiry not only in this cult but many other unregistered churches.”
Following Rwanda Policy?
Now Kenyans are wondering whether their country should go the way their East African Community neighbour Rwanda did a few years ago when it introduced stringent measures aimed at curbing religious activity in that country.
In 2018, the Rwandan parliament passed a new legislation aimed to regulate faith-based organisations. The law requires pastors to have a theology degree before they can start their own churches. It also requires faith-based organizations to declare grants to the regulator, Rwanda Governance Board. Under the new law, any financial support to a faith-based organization must be channeled through the organization’s account in a bank or a financial institution in Rwanda.
The law, which replaces an older one enacted in 2012, came into force after being approved by the president. It gave a period of five years for those already in service to acquire qualifications or be kicked out. The passing of the new law came months after the government closed thousands of churches across the country which authorities said did not comply with building safety standards. Most of the affected churches belonged to Pentecostal churches.
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