02-05-2023 by Freddie del Curatolo
Rain falls almost incessantly on Malindi. It is a blessed rain, long overdue for months for those who have been watching their land dry out in the sun for at least four years, undermined by the great drought that has hit East Africa because of climate change and, as far as the Kenyan coast is concerned, also because of the savage deforestation that is gradually modifying the microclimate that has always marked the seasons, with the big and small rains every six months.
The rain has also suspended the search for missing persons in the Shakaola forest, sixty kilometres inside Malindi, where a tragedy with increasingly dark and disturbing contours is unfolding. They have called it 'the Shakaola massacre', what began with the semblance of an absurd extremism of faith, led by a self-styled pastor who invited his followers to fast in order to purify themselves so that they could 'see Jesus Christ'.
Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, this is the name of the preacher, a former taxi driver, who proselytised through an evangelical television channel on YouTube, founded his own church, the 'Good News International Church' in Malindi and gathered a number of believers, said to be more than five hundred, many of whom followed him after the closure of the shed in the coastal town, to a ranch he owned near the village of Shakaola. It was there that the first bodies were found, which, thanks to the reports of witnesses and relatives searching for their loved ones, led to the terrible discovery of mass graves. The bodies exhumed, before the mud and water of recent days put a stop to the search, number 110. The Kenyan Red Cross believes there are at least another 360 missing persons, while around 30 have been admitted in serious condition to Malindi hospital.
Yesterday, the Minister of Home Affairs, Kithure Kindiki, went to the morgue on Casuarina Road, where autopsies began on the bodies of the victims, starting with the children. In fact, in some mass graves, in addition to adults, their children were also found. Almost all of them died of starvation, and it is in this 'almost' that the blackest conjectures open up, which hopefully do not correspond to reality.
It is feared not only that some of the followers of the 'fasting sect' died of asphyxiation, i.e. were buried still alive, although exhausted by starvation, but that some victims were killed or instigated to commit suicide elsewhere and then transported to Shakaola. In this direction one should read the arrest of another 'man of the cloth', far more famous than Mackenzie, Pastor Ezekiel Odero, who in Mavueni, near Kilifi, built a religious mega-complex, thanks to donations from believers from all over the world. Like Mackenzie, who has been under arrest for a fortnight, Odero is also in detention and will have to answer to the most serious charges, up to and including that, hypothesised by President William Ruto, of genocide and crimes against humanity. The two will appear today for the first time before the judicial authorities in Malindi and Mombasa, respectively.
The autopsies on the 110 bodies will give an important response for the continuation of the investigation, the minister has also speculated that the organs of some of the victims may have been removed, and the contours could go well beyond the extreme fanaticism of a hyper-Catholic cult and bring Kenya back to the never completely dormant memory of ancestral rites very close to black magic.
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