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Kenya: Body count rises to 47 in starvation cult case

April 23, 2023

Paul Makenzie Nthenge reportedly told his followers to starve themselves in order to meet Jesus. On Sunday, police found 26 more bodies. Exhumations continue.

Forensic experts and homicide detectives carry the bodies of suspected members of a Christian suicide cult in Kenya
Authorities say they expect to find more bodies still as their investigation continuesImage: Stringer/REUTERS

Police investigating a Christian suicide cult whose members are believed to have starved themselves to death, exhumed another 26 bodies in Malindi, Kenya, on Sunday. The grim discovery, brings the total number of bodies found so far up to 47.

"In total, 47 people have died at the Shakahola Forest," detective Charles Kamau told Reuters news agency Sunday.

The deceased are thought to have been followers of Christian cult leader Paul Makenzie Nthenge, who reportedly told them to starve themselves in order to "meet Jesus."

Detctive Kamau said the exhumations remained ongoing.

On Saturday police sources had said, "We have not even scratched the surface which gives a clear indication that we are likely to get more bodies by the end of this exercise."

Kenyan Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki told reporters that 800 acres of coastal Malindi's Shakahola Forest had been declared a crime scene.  

Speaking of the situation he said, "This horrendous blight on our conscience must lead not only
to the most severe punishment of the perpetrator(s) of the atrocity on so many innocent souls, but tighter regulation (including self-regulation) of every church, mosque, temple or synagogue [in the country] going forward." 

Cult leader arrested

Nthenge is the leader of the Good News International Church, which police allege "brainwashed" citizens into starving themselves to death.

The cult leader turned himself in to police and was charged last month after two children starved to death while in the custody of their parents, local media reported. He was released on bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings ($750 or €670).

Following a recent tip, police were able to rescue 15 followers of the cult on April 14. Four of them died before they could be taken to the hospital.

Of the 11 who made it to the hospital, three were in critical condition.

The tip had also pointed to the existence of at least 31 more shallow graves in the Shakahola Forest.

"This pastor will have to face all these charges even though he has gone on a hunger strike saying that he is praying and fasting in custody," a police source said.

js, zc/sms (AFP, Reuters)