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No longer news: Doesn’t Shakahola deserve investigation?

If you search for information on how many people have been reported dead so far in the so-called Shakahola cult deaths, the figures will vary between 400 and 600. These figures are inconclusive for obvious reasons. First, they depend on the counted exhumed bodies. Second, they are partly based on reported missing. Third, no one knows exactly how many people were buried in Shakahola. Or even how many people were based in Shakahola but left and died elsewhere. In other words, the number of dead and missing people who were associated with Shakahola could be higher.

Now, about 500 people dying and being buried in one place, and more not being accounted for, is a gigantic tragedy in any civilized society. Consider that the dead or missing were spouses, parents, children, siblings, relatives, friends, colleagues or village-mates of one person or another who is still alive. Consider the emotional turmoil that the deaths have caused to families in the country. Think about children without mothers or mothers who lost their children and spouses. Contemplate the sense of hopelessness that shadows some family members and friends of those who died in Shakahola.

How has it happened, then, that the country just ‘moved on?’ Why hasn’t Shakahola led to a moral outrage in this country about the value of human life? What happened after the courts stopped the national commission of inquiry? Why the silence? The occasional court appearance of persons accused of being involved in the deaths doesn’t really do justice to the families, friends, colleagues and others related to or knew the dead. The living are left in limbo. No news about how the dead died and why, except speculation.

However, hold on for a second. Isn’t this the kind of story that would have made investigative journalists excited? Of the tens of questions that have been asked in the past about Shakahola, very few have been answered. And the answers don’t add up. The people who have responded to questions about Shakahola in the past have appeared ignorant about the tragedy. Which is why journalists need to be bold enough to do some sleuth work.

Consider the following scenario. How many Kenyans can establish a church in Kenya without registering it? Where in Kenya can one set up a church without the local government officials knowing about it? How can adherents of a church just ‘disappear’ without any alarm being raised? If we suppose there was no church at Shakahola but a simple village where individuals lived and worshipped their god or gods, then who was the responsible local government administrator? What did the administrator know about the persons living in Shakahola and their daily activities?

In a different vein, what did the local security and intelligence team know about Shakahola? What intelligence did they share with their superiors about goings-on at Shakahola, if at all they did? What did or does the Cabinet Secretary in charge of security know about Shakahola that he hasn’t shared with the public? What does the government know about the Shakahola deaths that the public needs to know?

The government serves the public. The Shakahola story is of serious interest to the public. Kenyans have a right to expect the government to tell them what exactly happened that led to so many deaths of fellow Kenyans. Now that government officials aren’t saying much and are likely to claim that there are court cases concerning Shakahola, shouldn’t investigative journalists get to work and report the details of what happened, why it happened and what this tragedy means for the dead and their living families and friends? Or are we such people of short memory who forget the dead so soon and easily?



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