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Shakahola Massacre: Families urge gov't to find living kin instead of exhuming the dead

Number of exhumed bodies continues to rise as CS Kindiki declares Shakahola Forest a crime scene.

Forensic experts and homicide detectives carry the bodies of suspected members of Good News International Church after their remains were exhumed from graves in Shakahola forest Kilifi County on April 22, 2023. [Photo: Reuters]

Shakahola Forest in Malindi, Kilifi County has been declared a crime scene after government forensic experts exhumed 18 bodies of Good News International Church congregants on Sunday, bringing the total number of bodies exhumed to 39.

Interior CS Prof. Kithure Kindiki gave orders to cordon off the area and officially classified the mass deaths as a massacre.

"The unfolding Shakahola Forest Massacre is the clearest abuse of the constitutionally enshrined human right to freedom of worship. Prima facie, large-scale crimes under Kenyan law, as well as international law, have been committed," the CS stated.

With the exhumation exercise still underway and a number of shallow mass graves identified, families who suspect their relatives might have been misled in the cult have emerged to try and find them.

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Speaking to reporters on Sunday, a section of the family members urged the government to make efforts to find those who may still be alive and hiding in the Shakahola forest.

"I'm here to find some of my family members who joined Paul Mackenzie's church two years ago. I've been here for a week already and I still haven't found them," a man told reporters saying that he had travelled from the Western region to the Coast.

He added: "The police are putting a lot of effort to exhume the dead instead of finding those who may still be alive. Those who are still alive are so many and they are still hiding in the forest."

More relatives have camped at the Malindi Police Station where they are working with the authorities to give more details about their relatives, especially those who can still be reached on phone.

Human rights workers have raised alarm over the number of children being discovered among the dead worshipers.

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Church leader Paul Mackenzie Nthenge is the man behind the "starvation cult". In a recent interview with Nation, Mackenzie insisted that he is not a pastor, clarifying that the title is a nickname most people have chosen to use when referring to him.

Some of his controversial teachings include:-

  1. A belief that the Huduma Namba introduced during Uhuru Kenyatta's administration is the "mark of the beast, 666".
  2. After moving his operations from Migingo area in Malindi to the Shakahola Forest in 2019, he claimed that Jesus had spoken to him and told him that his work of end-time prophecy had been fulfilled and he could live a normal life as a farmer. He closed TV operations saying that Jesus had told him it would fail.
  3. Mackenzie teaches that the education system is evil. He has severally condemned the teaching of sex education under the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) claiming that children in Kenyan schools are being taught homosexuality.
  4. Referring to a prophecy he made in December 2019, Mackenzie teaches that an economic downturn is the result of evil in the world and is a punishment from God.
  5. Mackenzie has agreed with the idea that one cannot conduct a religious fast in their own home, insisting that fasters must be gathered in one place for the fast to be successful. He favours the idea of locking up fasters so that they are not tempted to find food.
  6. The church leader believes that the law and faith are at war - that spiritual beliefs will never align with the laws of the land.

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