Light Wave


Kenyan Pastor Leads 400 Cult Followers to Death by Starvation - Former Member Speaks Out

By Jake Beardslee · July 24, 2023

Image from Kenyan cult leader Paul Mackenzie's International Ministries website.  SchroCat, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

NAIROBI, Kenya - After months of searching, Kenyan authorities have recovered over 400 bodies, many of them children, from a forest where members of a cult starved themselves to death. The cult members were convinced by their pastor, Paul Mackenzie, that fasting would enable them to meet Jesus.

Mckenzie is currently in police custody awaiting trial. Thirty-six other suspects are in custody. One cult member who managed to escape before it was too late is Salama Masha. Masha recounted to DW News how Mckenzie exploited members’ fears about the COVID-19 pandemic and government ID cards to control them.

“During the Corona period, the preacher told us that we needed to go live in the wilderness,” Masha explained. “He said the government ID cards would come and that everyone needed to be careful since the chips were evil.”

Initially, cult members only fasted during the day. But then Masha’s husband, a church official, insisted that their cooking area must stay cold, and that they should not eat again.

“So I asked him how the kids would fast if there was food inside the house,” recalled Masha. “He said the kids needed to fast, and that they would eat once they died and met Jesus.”

When Masha realized her husband was secretly burying people who had starved to death, she knew she had to escape with her children.

Mckenzie maintains his innocence, claiming he never forced anyone to fast against their will. But Hussein Khalid, Executive Eirector of human rights NGO Haki Africa, believes Mckenzie should face murder charges.

“In the minimum, we must have self regulation of the religious sector,” Khalid said to DW News. “Where the religious leaders themselves can watch over each other, can just make sure that the messages that each one of them is sending out there are messages that abide by the religious teachings that are normal to any person.”

Kenya President William Ruto has called the gruesome incident that has shocked his nation “akin to terrorism” and pledged to accountable “those using religion to advance their heinous acts.”

Six hundred and thirteen individuals have been reported missing, and 95 have been rescued, according to the Kenya Red Cross.

Light Wave commentary

This disturbing case highlights the immense power and influence that cult leaders can wield over their followers. Pastor Paul Mackenzie was able to exploit people’s faith and fears to convince them to starve themselves to death. The horrific event underscores the need for some form of oversight of religious groups and leaders, especially cult groups like MacKenzie’s, which draws disturbing parallels to Jim Jones and the infamous Kool-Aid deaths of 918 of his followers in 1978. While freedom of religion is sacred, it must be balanced with protections against manipulation and abuse.