Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, a cab driver turned pastor who purportedly preached that starving brought salvation, was under investigation for years before 73 of his presumed disciples were discovered dead in Kenya.
After receiving a tip, police initiated an extensive investigation into the Good News International Church and its controversial pastor earlier this month.
They discovered 15 starved persons, four of whom died, while the rest were transported to the hospital.
According to the church’s website, Nthenge formed the organization in 2003 and established chapters in Nairobi and along Kenya’s coast, attracting over 3,000 followers.
The website stated that it aimed to “nurture the faithful holistically in all matters of Christian spirituality as we prepare for the second coming of Jesus Christ through teaching and evangelism.”
In 2017, Nthenge started a YouTube account, advising followers against “demonic” habits such as wearing wigs and using mobile money in videos posted to the social media platform.
Later that year, the televangelist was arrested on charges of “radicalisation” after urging children not to attend school because education was not recognised by the Bible.
Two years later, he closed the church and moved to the sleepy town of Shakahola, telling The Nation newspaper in an interview last month that he “got a revelation that the time to call it quits had come”.
“I just pray with myself and those who chose to believe,” he said.
He was arrested again in March, according to local media, after two children starved to death in the custody of their parents.
He was released on bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings ($700) and told The Nation he was “shocked about the accusations.”
A police raid in a forest near the coastal town of Malindi led to the exhumation of mass graves less than three weeks later.
As they deal with the aftermath of the “Shakahola Forest Massacre,” Nthenge is back in police prison after surrendering to authorities. He is scheduled to appear in court on May 2.
His reappearance at the center of the crisis has raised questions about how a self-styled pastor with a history of radicalism has managed to elude law authorities despite his high profile.
It has also prompted President William Ruto to speak out on the touchy subject of Kenya’s homegrown religious movements — as well as failed attempts to govern unethical churches and cults that have dabbled in criminality.
“Terrorists use religion to advance their heinous acts. People like Mr Mackenzie are using religion to do exactly the same thing,” Ruto said.
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