Kenya Begins Releasing Bodies of Victims of Religious Cult

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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What’s Happening

Kenyan authorities have began handing over the first bodies of 429 victims of a Kenyan starvation cult, the ‘Good News International Church’, to family members following a several months long DNA identification process.

The ‘Good News International Church’ was a religious cult headed by self-declared pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, in which he convinced many of his followers to starve themselves to death, after convincing them they would meet Christ in heaven if they did so. Kenyan authorities arrested him in April of 2023 after discovering mass graves on his property in the Shakahola forest. In total, following months long excavations, 429 bodies have been found. While most of those found died of starvation, a number were found to have died of strangulation, suffocation, and beatings. A number of children were found among those exhumed from the forest.

Despite bodies having been found several months ago, the decayed state of the majority of the bodies found made DNA processing and identification incredibly difficult.

The first handover took place on Tuesday, March 26th, in the Kenyan coastal city of Malindi. Many of the families have expressed dismay at the state of the bodies.

“It is a relief that we finally have the bodies but it is also disheartening that they are only skeletons” -William Ponda, who lost his mother, brother, sister-in-law, and nephew from the cult

Kenyan prosecutors have wrought a series of charges against Mackenzie, who is being charged with murder, facilitating the commission of a terrorist act, assault and subjecting a child to torture. 95 other suspects are being charged along with him.

Of the 95 being charged, 64 of them had initially been treated as victims. However, investigators have since opted to bring charges against them after finding that most of them had children which had died, and were buried among those in the forest. A number also provided fake identities to the police, and had failed to account for their children. A number of those being charged assisted Mackenzie in carrying out the plan, some of which acted as enforcers in order to prevent people from leaving, and ensure people were maintaining the fast.

Mackenzie has denied any wrongdoing, stating that since his ‘church’ closed in 2019, he could not be responsible for the deaths.

The trial for Mackenzie and his associates is to begin on April 23rd. He has been in detention since the initial discovery of graves in April of 2023.