In a chilling discovery that left Kenya shaken, 73 presumed followers of an infamous pastor were found dead in a forest earlier this month. Notorious preacher Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, a former taxi driver who reportedly preached that starvation was the key to salvation, has been under investigation for years. Although already well-known to law enforcement, the recent tragedy has led to more intense scrutiny and raised questions about how he was allowed to continue preaching despite the dangers associated with his teachings.
According to information available on the Good News International Church website, Nthenge founded the organisation in 2003, with branches established in Nairobi and along the Kenyan coast. The church reportedly attracted more than 3,000 devout followers with its goal to holistically nurture them in all aspects of Christian spirituality whilst preparing for the second coming of Jesus Christ through teaching and evangelism.
In 2017, Nthenge began sharing his sermons via YouTube, warning his followers on the platform against what he considered “demonic” practices, such as wearing wigs and using mobile money. Later that year, he was arrested on charges of “radicalisation” following a statement encouraging children not to attend school, claiming that the Bible did not recognise education. He subsequently closed the church in 2019, citing a revelation that it was time to cease operations.
Despite his controversial past, Nthenge was reportedly released on bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings (US$700) after being arrested again in March when two children in the care of their parents, who were said to be followers, starved to death. Stating that he was “shocked about the accusations,” Nthenge’s arrest came less than a month before the grim discovery in the forest.
As authorities struggle to comprehend the magnitude of what has been dubbed the “Shakahola Forest Massacre,” Nthenge has once again surrendered to police custody and is due to appear in court on May 2. His involvement in the current investigations has led many to question how a so-called pastor with known extremist views managed to evade persecution, despite his already prominent profile.
President William Ruto has recently spoken out on the sensitive issue of Kenya’s homegrown religious movements, highlighting the nation’s ongoing struggle to regulate unscrupulous churches and cults dabbling in criminal activities. He likened Nthenge’s actions to those of terrorists who use religion to further their malevolent agendas, stating, “People like Mr Mackenzie are using religion to do exactly the same thing.”
This harrowing situation serves as a stark reminder of the importance of vigilance in regulating and supervising religious organisations in order to protect the lives and well-being of their followers. The global community will undoubtedly be following the outcome of the latest investigation into Nthenge and his church closely, seeking justice for the innocent victims of the Shakahola Forest Massacre.
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