The Shakahola Forest Massacre: How a Former Taxi Driver Convinced Hundreds to Starve to Death
Paul MacKenzie Nthenge (Photo: Twitter)
On April 21, 2023, Kenyan police began investigating a 325-hectare area of the Shakahola forest in Malindi, Kenya, known as Chakama Ranch. The area includes the Good News International Church and its leader, Paul MacKenzie Nthenge, a controversial pastor previously arrested and released in connection with the starvation deaths of two children.
Over the following days, authorities uncovered mass graves, exhuming 21 bodies on April 23 and a total of 212 victims by April 25. The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) reports that the victims include 99 males and 113 females.
The incident, now dubbed the "Shakahola Forest Massacre," has shocked Kenya and the world. The Shakahola forest has been sealed and declared a crime scene by Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki.
MacKenzie is currently under arrest and will remain in custody during the investigation.
Why are some people drawn to cults, and what do we know about Paul MacKenzie?
Cults are typically authoritarian in nature and led by individuals who exert near-complete control over their followers. Their influence disrupts a person's authentic identity, replacing it with a new one. Cult leaders are often malignant narcissists who manipulate followers through systematic social influence processes, deception, and undue influence.
In Kenya, cults have managed to evade the law despite attracting police attention. Some attribute the persistence of cults to poverty, poor education, and the accessibility of online sermons.
Religion plays an important part in the lives of many Kenyans, with 82.1% identifying as Christian.
In 2017, MacKenzie Nthenge launched a YouTube channel called "End Times Breaking-MacKenzie", warning followers against "demonic" practices like wearing wigs and using mobile money.
Paul MacKenzie Nthenge, a former taxi driver turned pastor, was already known to authorities. His congregation grew to around 3,000 members as he preached extreme ideas.
MacKenzie founded the Good News International Church in Malindi in 2003 and was frequently viewed with suspicion due to allegations that he encouraged children to abandon formal education.
In 2019, he closed the church and relocated to Shakahola with some of his members.
The Good News International Church's doctrine centered around eschatology, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind." Eschatology is often associated with the Book of Revelation and the end times.
Homicide detectives involved in the case assert that MacKenzie brainwashed his followers using William Branham's End of Days Theology, persuading them that starvation could expedite their transition from this life to be with Jesus.
As reported by TheCitizen.co.tz, MacKenzie required six things from his followers:
Stop children from going to school.
Burn all school certificates.
Women were not to shave.
Sick people were not to be taken to the hospital for treatment.
Live within his land, now famously known as Shakahola.
Fast to death, as it is one way to see God.
This tragedy has incensed Kenyan leadership and citizens. President William Ruto, himself an evangelical Christian, has vowed to crack down on "unacceptable" religious movements, stating, "What we are seeing in Kilifi in Shakahola is keen to terrorism, there is no difference. Mackenzie pretends and postures as a pastor when he is a dangerous criminal."