Nairobi — President William Ruto issued a public apology Sunday over cult deaths in Kilifi’s Shakahola forest blaming the massacre by the Paul Mackenzie-led starvation sect to laxity by government agencies.
“There was laxity from our part as government and I must ask for forgiveness from Kenyans because 210 (bodies) so far have been found in graves,” Ruto said during a joint media interview televised from State House Nairobi.
President explained that government cannot run away from being apportioned blame for the religious massacre.
“We have all the relevant agencies and therefore this was a mistake. We can’t run away from being blamed.”
Mackenzie, a taxi driver-turned-preacher, is accused of inciting followers of his sect to starve to death “to meet Jesus”.
As a recourse measure, the Head of State stated that he had formed a commission of inquiry to ensure that relevant agencies which slept on their job leaving Kenyans exposed to the religious cult are held to account.
“The Judicial Commission of Inquiry will tells us who slept on their job for these things to happen. They will tells us who Mackenzie was working with and how we arrived to these graves,” the President said.
Cracking the whip
“I am not taking this issues lightly and definitely some people who are responsible for failure from the part of government will have to give an account. It shouldn’t have happened when he have all the agencies,” he added.
He further noted that the presidential taskforce will recommend legal and regulatory changes on religion, which will ensure that Kenyans are not to exposed to rogue men of the cloth who brainwash and extort Kenyans on the pretext of religion.
The President asked Kenyans to give the relevant investigative agencies ample time to get to the bottom of those behind the heinous religious indoctrination.
“The taskforce will involve religious leaders because we respect religion as country. It’s where we go to seek solace and help, we are Christians and believe in God. We’ll ensure that people like Mackenzie don’t use religion to hoodwink Kenyans,” Ruto said.
The President spoke even as police continued to detain Mackenzie who has not yet been required to enter a plea.
He appeared before an anti-terrorism court in Mombasa on Wednesday which ordered his continued detention for three more weeks pending further investigations over what has been dubbed the “Shakahola Forest Massacre”.
The 50-year-old founder of the Good News International Church turned himself in on April 14 after police acting on a tip-off first entered Shakahola forest.
While starvation appears to be the main cause of death, some of the victims — including children — were strangled, beaten or suffocated, according to chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor.
Court documents filed on Monday said some of the corpses had their organs removed, with police alleging the suspects were engaged in forced harvesting of body parts.
But Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki urged caution, telling reporters on Tuesday that “it is a theory we are investigating”.
Over 600 people have been reported missing, including from villages around the forest.
Questions have been raised about how Mackenzie, a father of seven, managed to evade law enforcement despite a history of extremism and previous legal cases.
Another pastor accused of links to the Shakahola cult and to the bodies found in the forest was released on bail at a court hearing preceding Mackenzie’s.
Ezekiel Odero, a high-profile and wealthy televangelist, is being investigated on a raft of charges including murder, aiding suicide, abduction, radicalization, crimes against humanity, child cruelty, fraud and money laundering.
Prosecutors said they have credible information linking the corpses exhumed at Shakahola to the deaths of several “innocent and vulnerable followers” from Odero’s New Life Prayer Centre and Church.