NAIROBI—The news of the Shakahola incident, where a total of 109 people have so far been confirmed dead and dozens others rescued, has elicited a conversation in Kenya.
Since the incident was reported late last month, top political figures, the media and the Christian clerics have been trying to disconnect the teachings of the pastor—Paul Mackenzie—from the true doctrine of Christianity.
In what has been dubbed as ‘Shakahola Forest Massacre’—pastor Mackenzie of the New Life Prayer Centre and Church that lies south of the coastal town of Malindi—lured hundreds of his church members into voluntary fasting “in the hope of meeting the Lord.”
Autopsies carried out so far on 40 of the bodies unearthed in the forest inland from Malindi found that while starvation appeared to be the main cause of death, some of the victims were strangled, beaten or suffocated.
President William Ruto condemned the Shakahola incident, terming it an act of terrorism.
“What we have seen in Shakahola is akin to terrorists,” Ruto said while speaking at a graduation ceremony for prison officers in central Kenya.
“Terrorists use religion to promote their heinous acts. People like Mr Mackenzie use religion to do exactly the same thing,” he continued.
Second Lady Pastor Dorcas Rigathi said the controversial preacher Paul Mackenzie is just but a criminal, and not a man of God as he presents himself to be.
“If Paul Mackenzie is a criminal, he should be treated as an individual. Even his family should not be part of his crime. Paul Mackenzie is not the church, in fact, he has said he is not a pastor but he is Mr Paul,“ she said.
“We have a law where when somebody is a criminal the procedure should be followed, but we cannot stand there and say because one Christian has been caught in a compromising situation, the whole body of Christ should be condemned; No, we must stop that, because it is not right.”
The biggest debate in Kenya right now: What if the rogue pastor Mackenzie was a Muslim figure, what would have been the reaction? pic.twitter.com/S1c31ceJ9Q
— Kulan Post (@kulanpost) April 27, 2023
Consequently, Pastor Dorcas cautioned citizens against generalizing crimes with religious groups saying the character of an extremist should not be deemed the overall behaviour of others in the same religious group.
“A criminal is a criminal, a terrorist is a terrorist, a murderer is a murderer. Let them be taken through the law and be prosecuted…if they are guilty, let them be put behind bars,” she noted.
“We cannot generalize acts of criminalism; there are billions of Christians worldwide, we cannot now say that all Christians are killers or terrorists. Likewise, just like you hear a Muslim extremist has come up and he is a terrorist, you cannot generalize and say all Muslims are terrorists.”
While appearing on NTV, Reverend Canon Sammy posed: “What if the rogue pastor Mackenzie was a Muslim figure, what would have been the reaction?”
“This has been what the Muslims have been saying all along: that terrorists groups like Al Shabab and ISIS use the religion of Islam to mislead unsuspecting faithfuls to carry out heinous acts,” said Salim Abdalla in the comment section of NTV YouTube channel.
The Nation newspaper, an outlets that has severally been accused of running stories laced with anti-Islam sentiment, was reprimanded for approaching the “Shakahola Massacre” with a different angle.
“Nation is using a ‘cult’ to refer to Mackenzie, but if he were a Muslim, he would have been labelled “a Muslim extremist or terrorists,” tweeted Muhsin Maalim on Sunday.
Since Al Qaida launched attacked on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, the Muslims have been at the centre of attention as they tried in vain to de-link Islam and the ideology that fuels the extremist groups.