After the Shakahola forest massacre, the rise of false churches and shady pastors causes alarm in Kenya

Forensic experts and homicide detectives exhume the bodies of suspected members of a Christian cult called Good News International Church, who believed they would go to heaven if they starved, in the Shakahola forest in Kilifi county (REUTERS / Stringer) ( STRINGER/)

“Jesus told me that the work he had entrusted to me is over,” the pastor explained. Paul Mackenzie Nthenge closing in 2019 the International Church of Good News near the Kenyan coastal town of Malindi.

In reality, the famous televangelist led his followers into the depths of the Shakahola forest, in the south of the country, and allegedly convinced his devotees to fast until death to know God.

The discovery last week of mass tombs crowned with crucifixes, many of them with the remains of children whose parents starved them to death, shocked this largely Christian country.

Kenya is no stranger to well-known pastors who preach fiery sermons and predict the end of the world. And attempts to regulate religion are met with fierce opposition.

There are more than 4,000 registered churches in this East African country of some 50 million people, according to government figures.

Some preach the theory of prosperity, encouraging their members to donate large sums to the church to improve their own financial situation.

Members of the Kenyan Red Cross attend to an emaciated man from the Christian cult called Good News International Church, (REUTERS / Stringer)
Members of the Kenyan Red Cross attend to an emaciated man from the Christian cult called Good News International Church, (REUTERS / Stringer) (STRINGER /)

But others promote darkest beliefs.

All of them are usually dominated by leaders who exercise virtually unlimited control over the lives of their followers, misrepresenting the Bible to promote its authority.

Pastor Nthenge’s YouTube channel, with more than 6,000 subscribers, contains eye-catching videos of “diabolical” practices such as wearing a wig or using mobile money.

“Most of these alleged pastors have never set foot in a theological school,” he tells the news agency. AFP Stephen Akarangaprofessor of religion at the University of Nairobi.

This matters little to his herd, he acknowledges. In recent years, such churches have flourished in rural Kenya.

toxic impact

A toxic mix of poverty, little education and easy access to entertaining sermons online have allowed these cults to thrive in Kenya, with fatal effects.

In 2018, news broke of a family who lost seven children over four years because their organization Kanitha wa Ngai (Church of God) did not believe in hospitals and modern medicine.

The same year, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DIC) warned citizens about a cult called Young Blud Saints that focused on college students.

Paul Mackenzie Nthenge
Paul Mackenzie Nthenge

“Members must sacrifice what they love most to prove their loyalty to the organization,” the DIC said in a statement, urging “parents to keep an eye on their children to prevent them from being recruited to such malign organizations.”

But these cults have managed to evade the law, despite repeatedly attracting the attention of the police.

Nthenge himself faced the law in 2017 after being accused of urging children to miss school, claiming the Bible did not recognize education.

He was arrested again last month after the starvation of two children in the custody of their parents. He denied the accusations and was released on bail.

But the macabre findings of the “Shakahola Forest Massacre” and the growing number of victims (currently 95) multiplied calls to regulate religion in Kenya.

“The horror we have seen in the last four days is traumatizing,” said Hussein Khalid, executive director of rights group Haki Africa, which warned police of the alleged pastor’s actions.

“Cannot be tolerated”

Survivors eat in a hospital after not eating food for a long time (REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi)
Survivors eat in a hospital after not eating food for a long time (REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi) (MONICAH MWANGI/)

President william ruto He called for action against these religious movements and compared their leaders to terrorists.

“What happened here in Shakahola is the turning point in how Kenya handles serious security threats from religious extremists,” the Home Secretary agreed Tuesday. Kithure Kindiki.

Even the clergy stressed the need for regulation.

“These people have misinterpreted and abused the scriptures, instead of using them in the correct way,” said Calisto Odede, president of the Pentecostal confession of Christ is the Answer Ministry.

“We need to be able to review the messages we hear from some preachers,” he defended.

Regulatory efforts face a tough resistance.

Odede said Monday that independent churches have previously rejected suggestions of self-control by the Kenyan National Council of Churches.

The academic Akaranga also doubts that this dark episode will lead to a stronger action against the cults.

for now, 15 people are under arrest for the Shakahola deaths. Among them is the shepherd Nthengewhom the government threatens to charge with terrorism.

(With information from AFP)

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