Society needs to open eyes and get up from its knees

Friday May 05 2023
Police escort cult leader Paul Mackenzie

Police escort cult leader Paul Mackenzie (in pink jacket) and other suspects of the Shakahola massacre to court on May 5, 2023. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG


The death toll from the Shakahola massacre in Kilifi County has exceeded 100. Many of the dead have been confirmed as children. While most of the deaths resulted from starvation, there are indications that some people were asphyxiated.

Last week’s column discussed the context in which such a massacre in the name of religion could occur. I argued that, over the years, a significant section of society has come to believe that their material circumstances are caused by a supernatural force. They see resolution of their situation as being outside their or the government’s power. This, in my view, represents a fundamental shift in the relationship between religion, state and society as conceptualised in the foundational architecture of the Kenyan or any modern state.

In the original conceptualisation of our nationhood, the state provides laws and policies, and physical and other infrastructure to facilitate society’s qualitative advancement. Society checks the state to ensure that it remains committed to its core mandate of development, and is not hijacked to serve the interests of state officials. Religion complements the state in not only lessening antagonisms within society by preaching core tenets of its faith, but also by providing assistance to the needy in society. Organised religion also complements society’s efforts in checking any excesses of the government.

Gone off-kilter

Over the years, that balance of mandates among the state, society and religion has gone off-kilter. Society has been brainwashed to believe that their material wellbeing is outside their will or government power. The church teaches that change of our material circumstances will come through supernatural means, not through government.

The church, except during the struggle for the “Second Liberation,” has become a cheerleader of the state, preaching that political leadership is given by God. With society on its knees praying for divine intervention to end the conditions of underdevelopment, state officials amass fabulous wealth. Accordingly, the poor get poorer. The poorer they get, the more they rely on prayer and faith to rescue them. The more they rely on religion to rescue them, the more power over their lives conmen like Paul Mackenzie have. And the more society is engrossed in prayer, the more state officials neglect their mandate and instead use the state to serve themselves. It is a telling sign of the times that the “industries” that create instant wealth are politics, churches and bars.


To get back to the original balance and complementary mandates of religion, state and society will require a new brave leadership that this generation of church leaders and politicians are incapable of providing. Having profited so much from the status quo, it is not in the interests of their prestige and bank accounts to change it.

Perhaps in future when society gets up from its knees, opens its eyes and sees how it was duped and abused, a new thinking might sprout, and with it, a new religious and political leadership.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator