Controversial Kenyan pastor and cult leader Paul Makenzie is under investigation again, this time after authorities found hundreds of dead bodies in shallow graves dug at Shakahola Forest, near the coastal city of Malindi, on April 23rd.
Kenyan cult leader Paul Mackenzie has been accused of ordering his followers to starve themselves to death. @Reuters has pieced together a comprehensive picture of Mackenzie and his cult from court records and interviews https://t.co/HVHVORz8Pj pic.twitter.com/QxFAFsiSna
— Reuters (@Reuters) May 5, 2023
This shocking news came after Makenzie, 50, surrendered to the Kenyan police on April 15th for reportedly urging some of his followers to starve themselves as a path to meet Jesus Christ, where eight of the 15 devotees found at the compound of his church had died as a result.
Aside from those eight people, Kenyan authorities discovered a mass grave in Shakahola Forest near Makenzi’s church and 800-acre farm, which contained hundreds of dead bodies, mostly children.
SHAKAHOLA CULT deaths: CS Kindiki says exhumation of bodies to take longer as there are many graves; detectives zeroing in on conspirators of cult leader Paul Mackenzie across Kenya. https://t.co/hmWEc05NDf pic.twitter.com/E00NtsjnpQ
— Nation Africa (@NationAfrica) May 9, 2023
As of May 9th, the death toll rose to 133 and could increase as authorities continue exhuming the bodies, making it one of the worst cult-related disasters in Africa and the world.
Autopsies conducted on the bodies determined that the cause of death of the victims ranged from starvation to strangulation and suffocation. Some victims even had their organs missing, suggesting they were harvested before being buried in the mass graves.
Autopsies reveal missing organs in Kenya cult deaths: policehttps://t.co/YLk0ryQEjG
— eNCA (@eNCA) May 9, 2023
Many Kenyans were shocked to learn about the incident. Amason Kingi, Speaker of Kenya’s Senate, asked how “such a heinous crime, organized and executed over a period of time, escape the radar of the intelligence system?”
Authorities previously received a tip about a mass grave near Shakahola Forest after Makenzi, leader of the Good News International Church, was arrested after 15 of his followers were rescued from his church’s compound last April. But while this tip led to investigations, initial searches failed to find the mass graves.
Bring these people education, not religion.
— Craig Hollis (@CraigDudeHollis) April 23, 2023
In response to the shocking incident, Kenya’s president, William Ruto, ordered a judicial commission of inquiry into the deaths of hundreds of Makenzi’s followers. Hussein Mohamed, the presidential spokesperson who announced the news of the investigations, said the commission would investigate whether administrative or intelligence lapses contributed to the incidents.
Kenyan President appoints commission of inquiry into the deaths of more than 100 people believed to have been members of a cult whose leader had ordered them to starve themselves to death pic.twitter.com/tLI2cAhwfI
— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) May 5, 2023
Mohamed also stated that Ruto appointed a task force to review Kenya’s religious organization regulations. The African Christian-majority nation is considered one of the continent’s most religious countries, where cults and other unregulated religious organizations are rampant.
The pastor, who had previously been accused concerning the deaths of two children, appeared at a court in Mombasa on May 5th, where prosecutors asked one of the judges to keep him under custody for 90 days as investigations continue. He has not commented publicly on the accusations hurled at him nor entered a plea to any of the charges filed against him.
However, Makenzie told journalists during the hearing that authorities refused to feed him and his supporters while they were in prison, which prosecutors denied. Even his lawyer, George Kariuki, contradicted his claim and said he was healthy and able to eat and drink.
The pastor became controversial not only for his troubles with the law but also for spreading conspiracy theories to his followers. Makenzie was also notorious for his outrageous comments, including one where he described education as “evil” and “Satanic.”