When a man contacted the police in Nairobi during the early days of April 2023 to inform them about the disappearance of his wife and daughter, a series of unfortunate events and discoveries of dead bodies followed. The man informed the police that his wife and daughter had left for the Good News International Ministries led by Pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, which later turned to be called the Malindi Cult.
The church was known to be a cult brainwashing people in Malindi, Kilifi County. Prior to the incident, Mackenzie had closed his church in Malindi town and relocated with hundreds of his followers to a remote area in Shakahola forest where he had purchased land.
When police entered the community to investigate, they discovered emaciated people and shallow graves. Fifteen members of the group were rescued by police; they stated that they had been ordered to starve themselves to death to “meet Jesus.” The fifteen followers were in poor condition, and four died before they reached a hospital. This is just a small outlook of what Shakahola Massacre is all about, but there are many intricacies and hidden information about the formation of the Malindi Cult and how a little known pastor turned a small group of church members into a huge cult. So what is Shakahola Massacre? How was it discovered? How many bodies have been recovered?
History of the Malindi Cult: How a Small Church Turned into a Cult
The Good News International Ministries established 17th August, 2003 by Paul Mackenzie. The church had branches in various regions around Kenya (Nairobi, Watamu, Malindi, Kitale, Machakos, Naivasha, Mombasa, Mwea, Lunga Lunga, Matano manne) and Headquartered in Malindi Furunzi area. The ministry has been growing in strengths from its early days had a congregation of over 1000 in the Malindi church and more than 3000 in all the branches before its closure in 2017.
Pastor Mackenzie was a taxi driver before forming the church with his wife Joyce Mwikamba as an evangelical center. The Good News International Church was founded on the principle of the gospel of truth. Its mission was to nurture the faithful holistically in all matters of Christian spirituality as we prepare for the second coming of Jesus Christ through teaching and evangelism.
On its website, the Church states that its message is free of deceit and man’s intellect. This message turned into a tool for brainwashing and radicalizing people. Mackenzie was accused of spreading radical religious messages containing incitements through the media and his church in Malindi. Followers started to donate their land and wealth to the church to enable Mackenzie continue with his evangelism.
In 2017, the church expanded its coverage by opening a YouTube Channel. They used the social media as a medium to reach thousands of followers countrywide. After red flags were raised about the radicalization of the public by the Malindi Cult, the church was closed in 2019.
Closure of the Church
In 2017, Pastor Mackenzie and his wife were charged in a Malindi Court for radicalising locals. He was also charged in the same court in 2019 for disobedience of the law, religious incitement, and indoctrination of Children. He denied all charges on both occasions.
Some of the issues that have come forth since the first incident include incitement of Christians against Hindus and Muslims, possession of films inciting children against going to school, and distributing films that have not been authorized by the Kenya Films Classification Board. Following the court case in 2019, Mackenzie announced that he was closing down the church in Malindi town together with the Good News International Church digital TV; but the Malindi Cult did not end there.
Paul Mackenzie’s Teachings
After relocating to the remote area in Shakahola, Paul Mackenzie and his disciples continued to preach several controversial doctrines. One of the key founding goals of the church is to enable its members to see Jesus. The Good News International Church website says that the aim of the church is “to nurture the faithful holistically in all matters of Christian spirituality as we prepare for the second coming of Jesus Christ through teaching and evangelism.” It is based on this theme that Pastor Mackenzie Nthenge asked its members to fast with their children until they die so that they can see Jesus.
Apart from fasting to death, the church has been teaching many controversial topics including women’s menstrual cycle, the Kenyan Constitution, beauty, and technology. For instance, the Good News International Church posted on its social media channels that wearing wig is demonic, and that using mobile money is equally evil.
Pastor Mackenzie’s church also teaches people to avoid going to hospital and attending social events such as watching football. He continuously made his followers believe that all diseases could be cured through prayer and fasting, and not by seeking medication. If these are the daily teachings that his members receive in church, then it is not farfetched to see people fasting until they die under the ordinance of the counterfeit pastor. Some relatives of the cult’s members report that their kin have been acting weirdly, from burning their education certificates to selling all their property.
At one point, Mackenzie denounced the Kenyan constitution, saying it is satanic and urged his followers to oppose it. The preacher seemed to suggest that the constitution is allowing abortion, and told his followers that the drafters of the law are keen on undermining the will of God in the country.
Pastor Mackenzie is charismatic person who uses real events to justify his teachings. For instance, he justified his teachings by sharing clips from the coverage of the Yes and No campaign in 2010. He also uses news clips from Citizen TV to demonstrate the evil that is currently witnessed in the world.
In another subject of his teachings, Mackenzie claimed that the menstrual cycle that women experience is the work of the devil, claiming ‘periods is the devil sucking blood’. He urged his female followers to pray hard during this time so that they could skip the cycle. The gospel spread by Pastor Nthenge Mackenzie and the Good News International Church is one of fear mongering and discarding all forms of modernism.
The Shakahola Cult Massacre
The Shakahola massacre is a series of deaths caused by starvation as a result of the contentious teachings of Pastor Paul Mackenzie and his Malindi Cult about fasting. After he closed his church in Malindi town, Pastor Mackenzie relocated to Shakahola village with is staunch supporters. In Shakahola, he bought an 800-acre piece of land and constructed a big dam. The cult leader strategically located his new church in a remote area far from the police, hospitals and schools. Perhaps he did so to deny his members the opportunity to attend school or seek modern medication.
In early 2023, Mackenzie started teaching his followers about fasting. As always, Paul told his followers that they should avoid things that would prevent them from seeing Jesus Christ. In fact, he suggested that fasting until death a direct ticket to seeing Jesus.
As a result of this dangerous teaching, many of his followers, some coming from as far as Western Kenya, decided to starve themselves and their children to death. The first two people to die were children found in Shakahola village. As of April 25, 89 bodies had been found; some were rescued while hundreds of others are still missing. The number of bodies recovered from the Shakahola incident continues to rise daily. So far more than 425 people have died as a result of starvation under the duress of Pastor Mackenzie and his close supporters.
A team of police officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) together with regular police and human rights agencies are leading operations to rescue people and retrieve the bodies of those who have died.
The Kenyan Red Cross reported on 30 April that 410 individuals, including 227 minors, were missing. As of 19 July, the total number of reported deaths was 425, and the number of those reported missing stood at 613.