Kenya: Ruto Seeks Dialogue With Clergy for Self-Regulation Framework to Weed Out Rogue Preachers

Nairobi — President William Ruto now says that he will form a task team in conjunction with the clergy to help formulate a self-regulation mechanism to root out fraudulent religious leaders seeking to "abuse religion" for personal gain.

Speaking on Sunday during a prayer service in Makutano, West Pokot County, President Ruto said the move will provide a mechanism for compliant church leaders to report rogue elements.

"We will come up with a taskforce, so that we can weed out the characters who want to abuse religion, to run businesses and things that are anti-religion in Kenya," Ruto said.

He noted that the envisaged framework will provide the religious leaders and institutions with the necessary mechanisms to identify those who are operating against the law.

"We want to provide a framework agreed with our religious leaders, a framework that will provide for self-regulation."

Shakahola cult

Ruto made the remarks in response to the recent discovery of over 100 bodies in Kilifi's Shakahola forest most of which were disposed in mass graves.

Victims have been linked to a cult led by controversial televangelist Paul Mackenzie of Good News International Church.

Mackenzie, who is currently in custody, is accused of driving his followers to starve to death arguing that it is the only path to God.

In his previous remarks, Ruto likened Mackenzie to a terrorist who uses religion to advance what he described as "weird and unacceptable ideologies" after radicalising thousands.

President Ruto expressed deep concern over the revelations in Kilifi's Shakahola forest which shocked the nation with some groups calling for stringent measures to regulate religion.

"What we are seeing in Kilifi, in Shakahola, is akin to terrorists. There is no difference between Mackenzie who pretends and postures as a pastor when in fact he is a terrible criminal," Ruto said

He called on Kenyans and different agencies in the country to be on the lookout for those who want to abuse religion and those masquerading as religious leaders.

"Terrorists use religion to advance their heinous acts. People like Mackenzie are using religion to do the same thing," he said.

Ongoing probe

A full-scale investigation has been launched into the Good News International Church and its leader since police stormed the forest at Shakahola.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki revealed that he is under immense pressure to ease of his push to review the existing regulations aimed at shielding Kenyans from falling prey to exploitative religious leaders.

He singled out some religious leaders whom he says are trying to "insinuate that perhaps what the government is doing is interfering with right of the freedom of worship."

Kindiki made the revelation Friday during his second visit to Shakahola forest where over 100 bodies of victims linked to the starvation cult were unearthed.

The Interior CS however maintained that he will not back down as he explained that governments all over the world are mandated to ensure the laws around the freedom of worship are adhered to.

"I want to tell them, it doesn't matter whom you know, here in Kenya, out there in the world or even in the spiritual realm. We don't care who you know, we will come for you. You are a murderer. We will come for you heavy and hard," he said.

Kindiki stressed that no amount threats or distractions will stop him from protecting Kenyans "from the merchants of death from whatever faith."

He warned that all those found culpable will be dealt with regardless of their status in society.

"It doesn't matter whom they are associated with, who they know, the influence they have, the money they have, we will treat them the way we treat other murderers," he said.

Police are also holding New Life Prayer Centre preacher Ezekiel Odero in connection with the series of deaths at his church.

The government has since shut down his prayer center located in Kilifi's Mavueni area.

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