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What To Know About the Kenyan Cult That Led Hundreds of Members to Suicide in the Forest


The story of a religious cult in Kenya hit national headlines in late April to May. Led by self-declared pastor, Paul Mackenzie, the cult followed ideals preached by him that focused on conspiracy theories, an eventual doomsday and mass starvation. Mackenzie told his followers that by starving themselves to death, they would be able to “reach Jesus faster.” Now over 200 bodies have been found buried in his 800 acre compound in the Shakahola forest. As of mid-May, over 600 members were reported to still be missing.

“Pastor” Paul Nthenge Mackenzie is an ex-taxi driver who claimed he experienced a religious revelation 20 years ago that led him to start the Good News International Church in 2003. In this church he preached countless nonsensical beliefs, and gained a pretty large following. Some of these beliefs include the idea that education and schools are satanic and that people should refuse to ever seek medical treatment because doctors “serve a different God.” 

Mackenzie has had several run-ins with authorities in the past due to his radical incitements. He even ran an unregistered school with a curriculum that opposed average school lessons and radicalized children. In 2019, Mackenzie was ordered by authorities to close the Good News International Church and that was when he moved his followers out to his farm in the Shakahola forest. 

BBC News noted that Mackenzie did not start preaching mass suicide until January of 2023. Before then he always spoke of impending doom and satan taking over the world, but his farm land was first offered as a safe space for his followers. In January, Mackenzie told his cult that the doomsday will officially happen in June, then he urged (and even forced) people to starve themselves to death so they could reach heaven before space ran out. 

Children were first to go.

Mackenzie had a death sequence for his followers that determined the order in which people would die. Children were first on the list. Parents were told to withhold all food and water from their babies and had to watch their children weaken and eventually die-which Mackenzie would call “going to sleep.” 

“When the child cries or asks for food or water, we were told to take a cane and beat them so that they could go and eat in heaven,” said survivor Salema Masha-who escaped with her children in the midst of the mass starvation-in an interview with BBC news. “So I thought about it and I said I cannot go on with this situation, I can’t eat while my child is starving. I told myself, if I feel this bad when I fast, how about my child?”

Next women and young men were set to starve themselves to death after the children, then the elderly, then the rest of the male followers. Mackenzie and his close deputies were set to be the last people to die. 

Mackenzie ordered runaways to be attacked.

Titus Katana, a former member who ran away and turned into primary investigator of the cult and Mackenzie, reported that those who tried to escape the cult would be named traitors and were attacked by men the cult leader employed. 

BBC News reported that survivors of the cult recounted that these men would be carrying machetes and “chased, beat, and dragged [escapees] back to the forest.”

Mackenzie was arrested on April 15 and is in police custody awaiting terrorism charges with several other leading members of the cult-including his wife. 

Youtube monetized Mackenzie’s cult propaganda videos

Reporters from the BBC News found that there are still countless of these cult sermons available on Youtube. These videos have ad breaks and show that Youtube was actually making money from these sermons being posted on the platform. 

The aftermath

After news of Mackenzie’s arrest, many locals went to vandalize his compound and express their hatred for the cult leader that indirectly took the lives of so many people. Family members of those who isolated themselves in Mackenzie’s cult are mourning the loss of their loved ones. Kenyan citizens are also upset with the lack of swift action made by authorities-especially since there were so many warning signs of Mackenzie’s radical behavior in the past. This includes human rights organization, Haki Africa, who raised original awareness about the cult according to BBC News. 

“There is no excuse for the authorities not to have noticed this,” said executive director, Hussein Khalid, in an interview. “We are determined and we want to make sure each and every victim gets justice.”

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