“Are the Kenya Cult Killings Marking a Groundbreaking Chapter in the Battle Against Religious Fanaticism?”


Breaking news from Kenya has revealed a shocking and perplexing situation in which over a hundred people, including children, have been found dead near a small village in the southeast of the country. Reportedly, these individuals were followers of Reverend Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who encouraged his followers to fast unto death. While starvation appeared to be the primary cause of death, some of the victims were strangled, beaten or suffocated, according to pathologists.

The situation has brought attention to the challenges of cults and religious extremism in Kenya, where freedom of religion and belief is protected by the constitution. Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen, an expert on religious extremism, speaks about the rarity of public scrutiny for new religious movements or individual preachers in Kenya. Instead, the focus has been on Islamic extremism and what constitutes “terrorism.”

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This incident may change how Kenyans view religious extremism as a whole, not just Islamic extremism. Preventive measures can therefore be designed to address all forms of religious extremism. The deaths of the Shakahola cult can be viewed in the context of cultism and religiously inspired violent extremism. Both have similar push and pull factors at the individual level and are subjected to mind control by charismatic religious preachers.

The question arises as to how regulations can protect the right to freedom of religion and belief, prevent false religious leaders from abusing it, and prevent similar incidents from happening again. President Ruto has ordered an investigation into the Shakahola deaths, with a team tasked with developing a legal framework for the review and self-regulation of religious institutions. Public participation will be key in designing and implementing effective legal frameworks.

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