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Kenyan president says leader of starvation cult 'criminal'

April 24, 2023

The cult leader has been arrested for encouraging people to starve to death in order to meet Jesus. At least 70 people believed to be cult followers have died, with the toll likely to rise.

Forensic experts and homicide detectives carry the bodies of suspected members of a Christian cult named as Good News International Church on April 22, 2023.
Police have exhumed the bodies of at least 50 cult followers believed to have starved themselves to deathImage: Stringer/REUTERS

Kenyan President William Ruto has vowed to take action against the leader of a cult whose members have been starving themselves to death, saying he instructed relevant authorities to dig into the root cause of the issue.

Speaking at an unrelated public event outside Nairobi on Monday, Ruto described the cult leader, Paul Makenzie Nthenge, as a "terrible criminal" who "pretends and postures as a pastor."

The police discovered dozens of bodies buried in shallow graves over the weekend. They are believed to have died after starving themselves, as Makenzie promised them they would meet Jesus after.

Police sources confirmed on Monday that 73 people have thus far died from the cult. The number is likely to rise as the police continues to look for more followers. On Sunday, the Kenyan Red Cross reported 112 disappearances.

President Ruto said said the cult leader was no different than terrorists who "use religion to advance their heinous acts."

He instructed the relevant authorities to tackle "people who want to use religion to advance a weird, unacceptable ideology in the Republic of Kenya that is causing unnecessary loss of life."

What do we know about the starvation cult?

Cult members were following the self-proclaimed Good News International Church. They had been living in a number of isolated settlements in an area within the Shakahola forest near the coastal town of Malindi in south-east Kenya.

Police Chief Koome said at least 50 people were found in mass graves in the area, stretching some 800 acres of land. Eight more were found alive but very frail, only to later die.

One of those rescued categorically refused any food despite suffering significant physical distress, a member of the rights group which tipped off the police told the French AFP news agency.

Some cult members are believed to be still hiding in the bush around Shakahola, as the authorities continue their search.

Twenty-one bodies exhumed in Kenya cult probe

Questioning the delayed action

Some Kenyans have questioned the authorities' delay in taking action against the cult leader, who has been arrested twice before in relation to crimes against infants. The second time he was arrested, last month, followed the starvation of two children to death while in their parents' custody.

"The unfolding horror that is the Shakahola cult deaths should and must be a wake up call to the nation, more particularly the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and our community policing programme," Amason Jeffah Kingi, the speaker of the senate, said in a statement.

"How did such a heinous crime, organized and executed over a considerable period of time, escape the radar of our intelligence system?"

Police has also arrested 14 other people in relation to what is now being dubbed as the "Shakahola massacre."

rmt/jcg (AFP, AP, Reuters)