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Over a hundred individuals, including children, have been discovered dead near a small village in southeastern Kenya. The majority of the deceased were believed to be followers of Pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie. While starvation appears to be the primary cause of death, the chief government pathologist reported that some victims were subjected to strangulation, physical assault, or suffocation. Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen, an expert on religious extremism in the East African region, discusses the challenges of cults and religious extremism in Kenya, a country where the constitution protects freedom of religion and belief.

What we currently know about the cult-related deaths in Kenya is that at least 109 men, women, and children lost their lives after being encouraged by a Kenyan charismatic church pastor to fast until death in order to “meet Jesus” in the afterlife. The bodies of the deceased were discovered in multiple mass graves on a farm located in Shakahola, a village along Kenya’s southeastern coast, where Pastor Paul Mackenzie operated his Good News International Church. Postmortem examinations indicated that most deaths were due to starvation, although a small number of individuals, including children, had been strangled or suffocated. Mackenzie is now facing charges in connection with these deaths. The victims hailed from various parts of the country and were attracted to a man whose contentious teachings had drawn government scrutiny as early as 2017.

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