The Story of a Kenyan Cult Leader is Pretty Chilling

Moreno Geremetta/ANSA via AP

We don't cover a lot of news out of Kenya on a regular basis but this story is pretty horrible. A former taxi driver named Paul Mackenzie remade himself as a preacher. He has now been charged in the deaths of nearly 200 children whose parents were part of his starvation cult.

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In Kenya, there is an old joke that if you lose your job, start a church or a charity. And sometime in the early 2000s, Mackenzie abandoned his job as a taxi driver and launched the Good News International Ministry.

Mackenzie became known for his fiery sermons. He drew a significant following, says an assistant pastor who worked with him for years until they had a falling out.

At first the sermons, while fiery, were apparently relatively normal. But sometime around 2010, Mackenzie became obsessed with "end time" messages. He began telling people to pull their children out of school and separate themselves from the outside world. At some point in 2018 the authorities arrested him.

They arrested and detained him for his anti-government stance – but never prosecuted him.

“That is when he said that God had told him to close his church and that he was no longer a pastor,” says his former assistant pastor.

But Mackenzie didn't actually close his church. Instead he moved to a more remote location in Shakahola forest. He charged those who followed him there about $80 for land and as many as 300 families, about 1,000 people joined him.

Sometime in 2023, Mackenzie began telling his followers that the path to salvation involved starving themselves to death. Villages in the area began reporting that starving children were found wandering away from the cult. But for some reason, authorities were slow to respond and the result is one of the largest mass suicides in history. Authorities have since exhumed more than 400 bodies from the forest nearly half of whom were children. Earlier this month Mackenzie and other cult leaders were charged with the deaths of 191 children.

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Cult leader and self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie was formally charged with the murders on Tuesday along with 29 other defendants, all of whom appeared carefree as they took the dock to stand trial over what many Kenyans have called one of the largest mass suicides in history.

Mackenzie, who was apprehended in April, preached about a coming doomsday, telling his followers that through starvation, they would be saved and meet Jesus Christ. He and his co-defendants have all denied any responsibility for the deaths of more than 400 followers, all of whom were found in mass graves in Kenya's Shakahola Forest.

In all 429 bodies have been recovered but authorities believe there are still more bodies that haven't been located yet buried somewhere in the forest. Mackenzie has denied knowing anything about starving people but when members of the cult were brought to court many of them were emaciated and barely able to walk. Today, a judge ordered 94 members of the cult receive emergency care.

A Kenyan magistrate Tuesday ordered the main suspect in a doomsday starvation cult and 94 of his followers to receive emergency care after some of the suspects had to be carried into the courtroom to answer manslaughter charges, too frail and weak to “even open their eyes” after an apparent hunger strike

At the law courts in the coastal town of Mombasa, Chief Magistrate Alex Ithuku directed Paul Mackenzie, his wife Rhoda Maweu and others charged with 238 counts of manslaughter to be escorted to hospital for an immediate doctors’ examination.

The visibly emaciated suspects pleaded not guilty on all counts, which were read out over four and half hours.

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It's a horrifying story and it's hard to imagine how it could happen, but of course we've seen plenty of weird cults spring up here as well.


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David Strom 6:40 PM | April 18, 2024
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