Deadly fast in Kenya | The first bodies returned to the families

(Malindi) The first bodies of followers of an evangelical sect in Kenya, whose pastor preached fasting until death, were returned to the families on Tuesday, almost a year after the discovery of the first victims.

A total of 429 bodies have been found since excavations began in April 2023 in the Shakahola forest (southeast), near the town of Malindi, where self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie advocated fasting until death for “meet Jesus” before the end of the world which he announced for August 2023.


Paul Nthenge Mackenzie

It took almost a year to identify the bodies using DNA.

A crying family received four bodies, which were loaded into a hearse in Malindi, noted an AFP journalist.

A taxi driver before proclaiming himself a pastor, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie has been in detention since April 14, the day after the discovery of the first victims in the Shakahola forest where his “International Church of Good News” met.

Research carried out in this vast area of ​​“bush” on the Kenyan coast has since discovered 429 bodies in graves or mass graves, deaths which took place over several years.


Shakahola, April 25, 2023

Autopsies revealed that the majority of victims died of starvation. But some victims, including children, were strangled, beaten or suffocated.

The families of the victims had to wait almost a year, notably due to delays in DNA profiling due to lack of reagents and equipment.

At least 35 other mass graves have been identified and new exhumations which should begin soon could increase the toll.


The Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR), an official but independent body, last week deplored the slow process of identifying the bodies.

“This not only delays justice, but also violates their cultural rights under Article 44 of the Constitution to bury their loved ones in a culturally acceptable and dignified manner,” the KNCHR said in a report. “People (…) need to put an end to this.”

But the head of forensic operations, Johansen Oduor, said last week that most families have not come forward to claim the bodies, making it more difficult to obtain DNA samples.

Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, in detention since April 14, 2023, is being prosecuted in particular for “terrorism”, “torture” and “cruelty” against children.

The revelation of this scandal, called the “Shakahola massacre”, placed the Kenyan authorities under fire for not having prevented the actions of the pastor, who was nevertheless arrested on several occasions for his extreme preaching.

In a report published in October, a Senate commission pointed to “failings” in the justice system and the police, alerted in 2017 and 2019.

In July, Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said that “the Shakahola massacre (was) the worst security breach in the history” of Kenya, promising to “press relentlessly for legal reforms to tame the rogue preachers.”

The affair has revived the debate on the supervision of religions in Kenya.

President William Ruto, himself a devout Protestant supported by evangelical circles during his election in August 2022, created a working group responsible for “examining the legal and regulatory framework governing religious organizations”.

But previous attempts at regulation have encountered strong opposition, particularly in the name of freedom of worship.

The government announced that the Shakahola forest would be transformed into a “place of memory”, “so that Kenyans and the world do not forget what happened”.


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