Joy as Kenyan Catholic Outstation Resumes Mass after Suspected Al Shabaab Attack

Members of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Kenya's Malindi Diocese at Mass on Sunday, February 26. It was the first Mass after the Church remained closed for two months following suspected militant attacks in December last year. Credit: Fr. Alex Kimbi

Inside a mud-walled church in Kenya’s Catholic Diocese of Malindi, Christians of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Kakathe, under St. Joseph Freinademetz Witu-Kipini Parish dance happily during Holy Mass.

It is the first Holy Mass they are celebrating in two months following the Christmas eve attack on Taa area in Kakathe village last year that left the village empty as residents fled to Witu town where they sought refuge.

When Fr. Alex Kimbi, the Parish Priest of Witu-Kipini visited the church in Kakathe early this year, only one little girl showed up for the Eucharistic celebration. 

“I found only one little girl in church that day. When attacks happen in Kakathe village, people run away but you will find one or two families who don't have anywhere else to go hanging around. This was the case for the little girl’s family. They had nowhere else to go, and she never stopped showing up in church,” Fr. Kimbi says in a Tuesday, March 7 interview with ACI Africa.

On February 26, however, the small church was filled with men, women, and children who had moved back to Kakathe, eager to resume their daily activities.


Holy Mass was animated by members of the Parish Catholic Men Association (CMA) who also engaged in other social activities with Christians of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church Kakathe to bring life back to the village that had fallen under militant attack in December last year.

Credit: Fr. Alex Kimbi

Two people were killed, and scores injured in three separate attacks between December 24 and 28 last year when gunmen descended on villages inside and surrounding Boni Forest on Kenya’s border with Somalia. Boni Forest has, for decades, provided a safe haven for members of the Islamist group, Alshabaab, who launch attacks on Kenyan, Somali, and Tanzanian communities.

“Unknown people came burning down houses last year on Christmas eve. People were driven out of their farms and had to seek refuge in Witu town,” Fr. Kimbi said, adding that in Pandanguo area, which is located within Boni Forest, two people would later be killed by the suspected Al Shabaab militants who were disguised as members of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF).

The member of the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM) who first arrived in Witu in 2014 as a Seminarian, and later in 2018 as a Priest, said that the three attacks in December last year were not the first for the villagers who are accustomed to witnessing violence against the region's farming communities.

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Fr. Kimbi first arrived in Witu as residents of Lamu, on the Kenyan coast, were nursing injuries from the Mpeketoni attack that happened between June 15 to June 17, 2014. The Al Shabaab militant group claimed responsibility for the globally condemned attack that left more than 60 people dead in the region which is just about 30 kilometers from Witu.

“There have been a series of attacks here since 2012. In 2017, the son of our Catechist was one of the people that were killed by suspected Al Shabaab militants,” the Cameroonian Priest said.

Credit: Fr. Alex Kimbi

Attacks on the Kenyan Coast, especially in farming communities of Pandanguo, Kakathe, and Taa villages are, according to Fr. Kimbi, economically instigated.

“People who settle in villages around are mostly those coming from the interior parts of the country and they come here to engage in farming. They often talk about facing a lot of animosity from locals. I’ve spoken to many victims of attacks and they say that the attacks are meant to scare them. The attackers are hiding under the widely known Al Shabaab narrative,” Fr. Kimbi says.


Apart from the constant attacks, farming communities live in abject poverty as they are always affected by prolonged drought spells.

“For nearly three years since 2020, there was no rain and so, people couldn't grow anything on their farms. People here are so poor and not many of them can afford to take their children to school,” Fr. Kimbi says.

He says that many children in the villages fail to proceed with their education after completing primary school, and explains, “There is not a single secondary school in Kakathe and children from the village have to go all the way to Witu to join high school. This is very expensive for parents who can barely afford meals for their families.”

“Most school-going children from villages are forced to live in rented houses for them to attend the public school in Witu town. Not every parent can afford this. Additionally, some parents are not comfortable letting their under-age children stay by themselves in rented houses. That is why many children end up dropping out of school after primary school,” Fr. Kimbi says.

At the moment, St. Joseph Freinademetz Witu-Kipini Parish is providing accommodation to some 80 girls from the village who came to attend a day school in town.

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Asked to share his fears from working in a region that is prone to attacks, Fr. Kimbi says, “I don't fear for my own life. What concerns me most is the well-being of the people.” 

Credit: Fr. Alex Kimbi

“As a missionary, I was prepared to work anywhere. Here, you leave the house not knowing what you will run to on your way. But I know I have to be there for the people no matter the risks involved,” the MHM priest says.

Witu is heavily militarised owing to its proximity to Boni Forest, Fr. Kimbi told ACI Africa March 7, and added, “There are soldiers stationed inside the forest and they face lots of dangers every day. It is my duty to offer them psychosocial support because they sometimes lose their colleagues in attacks. I often reach to them to offer them counseling.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.