Kenyan pastors accused of causing over 100 deaths in Shakahola forest massacre

Image courtesy of Bangkok Post

Two pastors are set to appear before Kenyan courts in separate towns tomorrow, suspected of instigating the shocking events that led to the deaths of at least 109 individuals found buried in what has come to be known as the “Shakahola forest massacre.” The deeply religious and predominantly Christian nation of Kenya, with over 4,000 registered churches, has been shaken by the revelations of seeking God through starvation.

The two men currently in detention stand accused of numerous crimes related to the massacre. Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, who established the Good News International Church in 2003, will appear in court in Malindi, a coastal town. Nthenge is accused of encouraging followers to starve themselves to death in order to “meet Jesus” at the quiet Shakahola outpost.

Ezekiel Odero, a wealthy and renowned tele-evangelist, is expected to appear in court in Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city, following his arrest last week in Malindi. Odero is suspected of various crimes, including murder, aiding suicide, abduction, radicalisation, crimes against humanity, child cruelty, fraud, and money laundering.

Prosecutors are seeking to detain Odero for an additional 30 days, as they have credible information linking the corpses unearthed in Shakahola to the deaths of several “innocent and vulnerable followers” from Odero’s New Life Prayer Central and Church.

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Nthenge assembled his followers in the forest, where around 30 mass graves containing over 100 bodies, mostly children, have been discovered. Nthenge, who turned himself in on April 14 after police first entered the forest based on a tip-off, is accused alongside 13 other individuals of murder, kidnapping, cruelty towards children, and other crimes, according to court documents seen by reporters.

Court documents reveal that Odero and Nthenge share a “history of business investments,” including a television station used to transmit “radicalised messages” to followers.

Yesterday, the first post-mortems from Shakahola were conducted on nine children and one woman. These confirmed that death by starvation was the cause, although some of the victims were also asphyxiated, as stated by the authorities.

There have been mounting questions about how a self-proclaimed pastor with a history of extremism has managed to elude law enforcement despite his high profile. This has prompted President William Ruto’s intervention in Kenya’s homegrown religious movements and led to failed attempts to regulate unscrupulous churches and cults associated with criminal activities.

This week, Ruto plans to establish a task force “to deal with how we govern religious activities in our country and how we make sure we don’t infringe on the sacred right of the freedom of worship, opinion, and belief,” Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said. “But at the same time, we don’t allow criminals to misuse that right to hurt, kill, torture, and starve people to death”, reports Bangkok Post.

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With a Bachelor's Degree in English, Jenn has plenty of experience writing and editing on different topics. After spending many years teaching English in Thailand, Jenn has come to love writing about Thai culture and the experience of being an ex-pat in Thailand. During long holidays, she travels to North of Thailand just to have Khao Soi!

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