“Fasting in Paradise” .. Mass suicide in Kenya renews the political dispute between the government and the opposition

Nairobi- The consequences of the mass suicide case in what is known as the “Fast of Paradise” still cast a shadow over Kenya, after the number of victims reached about 240 people, after they spent days without food and water in response to the invitation of a Christian cleric.

The case dates back to April 14, when Kenya woke up to the news that the police had discovered the death of 4 people from starvation, after a priest ordered them to fast to death, to save them from “a painful death in the world.”

And it was reported on that day that the four, who were worshipers in a church of Rev. Paul Mackenzie, died after spending days without food and water in the village of Chakhola in Magarini County, but these deaths were only the beginning of the discovery of one of the most heinous mass suicides in the current century.

According to the police report, the policemen acted upon a report and visited the scene for fact-finding, and managed to rescue 15 people, including 4 who were emaciated and were in critical condition, and died before reaching the hospital.

And by interrogating those who were rescued, they reported that the number of those fasting is greater than those who were discovered following the communication, and since that time Kenya has been waking up daily to the news of the discovery of new bodies, victims of the “fasting of heaven”, until the number of deaths reached 239, despite the passage of more than a month since the discovery of the crime, The police are still suspicious of the presence of another 600 bodies.

The police re-arrested Pastor Paul Mackenzie (right) after discovering the horror of the tragedy (Reuters)

Persuasion to commit suicide

Pastor Paul Mackenzie – who is accused of forcing his followers to die – surrendered himself to the Kenyan authorities with 6 of his assistants, claiming that he had not forced anyone to die, and although he was able to obtain bail, the authorities quickly re-arrested him, after discovering the horror of the tragedy, and made a temporary closure. For 20 bank accounts affiliated with him or his church.

And about how to persuade the followers of a sect to commit mass suicide, Rahima Nyambura Gathumbi, a specialist in psychological sciences in Nairobi, stated that the psychology of sects is embodied in 4 stages. In the beginning, the feeling of belonging begins when members of the sect find that their religion is equal to everyone, and thus they find in that sect a sanctuary from injustice. What they feel in the community, the members then unite for the higher purpose of worshiping God.

And Gathumbi continued – in an interview with Al-Jazeera Net – that upon reaching that stage, the collective identity begins to form, where the group has one identity on which it is based, then the community support begins to form as members of the sect provide emotional support to each other, and upon reaching that stage, all of this gathers The basic principles of emotional human needs, so that the conviction to die in order to reach the collective goal becomes easy.

Political tensions

After the incident turned into an issue that shook Kenyan public opinion, President William Ruto apologized to the Kenyan people for the government’s failure to confront the incident, which became known in the media as the “Shakhula” incident, in reference to the forest in which it occurred.

“It is clear that there is laxity in our government that has unfortunately led to the deaths of many Kenyans, and I do not take it lightly,” Ruto said, adding that he will do everything in his power to prevent another Chakhula incident. “We will work with the church and religious organizations to prevent anything like this from happening again in Kenya”.

To investigate the circumstances of this incident, the Kenyan president formed an investigation committee headed by Judge Jessie Lysette. The committee, in addition to its search for the circumstances of the incident, will investigate the circumstances that led to the emergence of extremist religious institutions and others.

This move resonated with the opposition, as the opposition Azimio coalition, led by Raila Odinga, filed a lawsuit to prevent the commission’s sessions from starting, arguing that President William Ruto’s appointment of the 8-member team is illegal and exceeds the powers vested in other state agencies, especially the police, under the constitution. Accordingly, on May 22, the Supreme Court suspended the committee’s work for a period of 7 days, pending a detailed ruling this week regarding the committee’s constitutionality.

Kenya's Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki talks to forensic experts and homicide detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), as they prepare to exhume bodies of suspected followers of a Christian cult named as "Good News International Church"who believed they would go to heaven if they starved themselves to death, in Shakahola forest of Kilifi county, Kenya May 9, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer
Medical teams are looking for new victims in Chakhola Forest (Reuters)

Meanwhile, opposition leader Raila Odinga tried to visit Chakhula Forest, but the authorities prevented him, and President William Ruto defended this ban, saying that he had no role in the ongoing investigation, adding that Odinga’s move was for political purposes and that his visit would not add any value to the ongoing investigations.

The journalist in the Kenyan “Nation” Brian Moshiri believes that this political attraction to the Shakhula tragedy is a new stage in the political struggle in Kenya since the announcement of President Ruto’s victory last August, as Odinga sought to exploit this incident as a new card to increase pressure on President Ruto, especially After the latter accepted the formation of a dialogue committee, which explains the president’s insistence on preventing Odinga from visiting Chakhula village.

Moshiri explains to Al Jazeera Net that the opposition leader fears that the Kenyan president’s formation of a commission of inquiry will be a political maneuver by his opponent, stressing that Odinga’s petition to the court to prevent the work of this commission is nothing but an attempt to block any step that Ruto could exploit for his political advantage in this case.

It is noteworthy that the political tensions on this issue come at a time when the government coalition and the opposition coalition began stalled talks to end the political crisis in the country, after several violent demonstrations organized by opposition leader Raila Odinga, to protest the results of the last elections and the high cost of living, ended with a temporary truce to make way for the talks.

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