Shakahola forest massacre: Kenya's doomsday cult

Shakahola forest massacre: Kenya's doomsday cult

(FILES) An aerial view shows the mass-grave site in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi, on April 25, 2023. (Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP)

Kenya marks one year this week since the grisly discovery of hundreds of bodies of victims of a doomsday starvation cult, in a case that provoked horror across the world.

Here are some details about what has been dubbed the "Shakahola forest massacre": one of the world's worst cult-related tragedies in recent decades.

- What happened? -

Self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie is alleged to have incited his acolytes to starve to death in order to "meet Jesus".

An "enforcer gang" was tasked with ensuring that no one broke their fast or left the forest hideout alive.

Autopsies have revealed the majority of the victims died of hunger. But others, including children, appear to have been strangled, beaten or suffocated.

- Who is Paul Mackenzie? -

A former taxi driver turned preacher, Mackenzie founded his Good News International Church in 2003, setting up branches in Nairobi and along Kenya's coast.

In 2017, he launched his YouTube channel, broadcasting videos that warned followers against "demonic" practices like wearing wigs and using mobile money.

After running afoul of the law for his apocalyptic preaching, he said he closed his church in 2019 and moved to Shakahola, inland from the Indian Ocean town of Malindi.

A father of seven, he was also the "co-director of a media house that was used to deliver apocalyptic or end time sermons constituting the subject of the investigations," court documents seen by AFP said.

His year of birth is contested, with the national registration bureau telling parliament he has two records indicating he was born in 1973 and 1976.

- How many bodies have been found? -

To date, 429 bodies have been found in shallow mass graves in the forest with a new phase of exhumations planned this year.

Of those, 34 victims have been identified through DNA profiling and 25 bodies handed over to families.

Sixty-seven adults and 25 children, aged between one and 17 years, were rescued. A year on, the children remain at rescue centres and are yet to be reunited with their families .

- What charges are they facing? -

Mackenzie is being held alongside 94 other suspects. They have been charged with murder, manslaughter, terrorism and child abuse, and have pleaded not guilty.

They were held for nine months without charge, the longest pre-trial detention in Kenya's history since the promulgation of Kenya's revised 2010 constitution.

- What next? -

Reports by a senate committee and a state-backed Kenyan human rights watchdog have found that government officials ignored warnings that could have prevented the deaths.

All security officers who were working in the coastal region have been transferred but none has faced criminal charges.

President William Ruto set up a commission of inquiry to review regulations governing religious bodies. Their work is still ongoing.

The interior ministry, which has described the cult deaths as the worst security breach in Kenya's history, has said it will convert 325 hectares (800 acres) of land in Shakahola into a memorial for the victims.


Shakahola Paul Mackenzie

Want to send us a story? SMS to 25170 or WhatsApp 0743570000 or Submit on Citizen Digital or email

Leave a Comment


No comments yet.

latest stories