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Kenya: Another church leader accused of 'mass killings'

April 27, 2023

A Kenyan pastor was arrested over the "mass killing of his followers" just days after a cult leader in the same region was detained for allegedly urging members to starve themselves to death.

Polizisten eskortieren Ezekiel Ombok Odero im Polizeipräsidium in Mombasa
Police in Kenya are cracking down on cult leaders after a spate of deadly killings Image: Stringer/REUTERS

Ezekiel Odero, leader of the New Life Prayer Centre and Church, is going to face criminal charges related to the mass killing of his followers, Kenya's interior ministry said on Thursday.

What did Kenyan authorities say? 

"The said church has been shut down. The over 100 people who were holed up at the premises have been evacuated and will be required to record statements," said Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki.

Odero's arrest was related to "allegations of deaths that have been occurring at his premises and reported in various morgues or institutions," according to regional official Rhoda Onyancha.

Detectives escort Ezekiel Ombok Odero, the Head of New Life Prayer Centre/Church in Kilifi County
Odero, dressed in an all-white robe and carrying a Bible, did not respond to questions by reporters as he was being escorted to a police station in Mombasa for questioningImage: Stringer/REUTERS

The arrest comes just after a cult leader, Paul Mackenzie, was accused of brainwashing more than 100 members of his church, resulting in their deaths.  Mass graves of his followers were found last week after Mackenzie allegedly encouraged followers to starve in order to meet Jesus.

Odero's church, south of the Kenyan town of Malindi, can seat 40,000 and draws huge crowds. The church sells "holy" pieces of cloth at rallies and claims they can heal any sickness, including HIV.

Odero's mega-rallies have been attended by senior politicians in the past, including by Dorcas Rigathi, the wife of Kenya's Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

How do radical churches get people to follow their beliefs?

The pastor holds a television channel popular among Kenyan households, with followers travelling across Kenya to visit his church. His YouTube channel has more than 400,000 subscribers and includes testimonials of Kenyans claiming to have been healed by Odero.

Link to starvation cult not yet confirmed

Mackenzie's starvation cult has been labeled as one of the worst cult-related tragedies in recent history. Following the discovery, Kenyan President William Ruto promised a crackdown on extremist religious leaders.

Kenyan authorities have not yet linked the two cases and no further details on the allegations against Odero have been given. 

Kenya counts cost of cult deaths

At least 103 of Mackenzie's cult members have died from starvation and the death toll is expected to rise further. More than 300 people have been reported as missing, according to the Kenyan Red Cross.

Authorities started to exhume mass graves of cult followers last week. More than half of the bodies found were of children. 

Mackenzie is due to appear in court on May 2. He has been refusing food and water following his arrest, Kenyan media have reported.

vh/wd (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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