Kenyan Starvation Cult: Catholic Bishop Highlights Sects to Avoid

Bishop Willybard Kitogho Lagho of Kenya's Malindi Diocese. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Sects led by people who claim to have supernatural experiences could potentially be dangerous cults that must be avoided, the Catholic Bishop of Kenya’s Malindi Diocese has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Willybard Kitogho Lagho said that one can also tell that they are in a cult if it is led by a dictator “whose word is final”, where the leader instils fear for “end times” in his followers, and where members are asked to isolate themselves from their families.

Bishop Lagho’s caution comes as authorities in Kenya continue to investigate the widely condemned Shakahola starvation cult in the Kenyan coastal town of Malindi which is under the Bishop’s pastoral care.

Good News International Church is led by Paul Mackenzie who is accused of convincing his followers to starve themselves to death in order to meet Jesus. So far, 110 bodies have been exhumed in Makenzie’s 800-acre property located within the expansive Shakahola forest.

“What we are observing is the cultic worship of earthly leaders. Members are blindly following someone after he claimed that he had supernatural experiences such as talking to God,” Bishop Lagho said in the Tuesday, May 2 interview.


In a message to the people under his pastoral care, Bishop Lagho said, “Please be vigilant about mushrooming sects led by people who have no theological training. These sects have no affiliation with umbrella Christian organizations and are acting as they please, taking advantage of innocent people.”

“It is easy to identify these cults,” the Kenyan Catholic Bishop said, and added, “You must raise your eyebrows if someone claiming to be your pastor asks you to isolate yourself from your family.”

He continued, “Also, avoid those leaders who instil fear about end times in their followers to prompt them to sell their belongings and to surrender everything to the so-called churches.”

Bishop Lahgo said that sects that do not belong to any umbrella religious associations should be avoided. 

Kenyan religious entities include the  Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), and the Hindu Council of Kenya (HCK).

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Others are the National Muslim Leaders Forum, Organization of African Instituted Churches, Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM), and the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK).

Bishop Lahgo said that belonging to these umbrella organizations gives credibility to the various faiths in Kenya.

Religious leaders in the Eastern African country have asked authorities in the country to deal with Mackenzie as a criminal.

In their Wednesday, May 3 statement, representatives from KCCB, NCCK and SUPKEM found it concerning that Mackenzie had continued to operate after he had been arrested and charged on several accounts before.

“We have, like all Kenyans, followed with horror the continued unveiling of the reality of the Shakahola Massacre. What is of major concern to us is that the criminal activities carried out in the name of the Good News International Church have been going on for just over 20 years,” the religious leaders said in the statement that was read out by KCCB chairman, Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde.


They added, “Information publicly available shows that ‘Pastor’ Paul Mackenzie has been arrested and treated casually on multiple occasions, but each time released to go and continue.” 

They described the Kenyan government’s move to regulate Churches in the country as diversionary.

“We find that the narrative being driven that churches, and by extension, religion, need to be regulated is a façade meant to divert attention from the real problem, which is that the state has failed to play its role of dealing with crime,” the religious leaders said.

They called on the authorities in Kenya to expedite investigations and prosecute, “not only Pastor Mackenzie and accomplices in his church, but also the state officers who have over the years facilitated him to engage in criminal activity through complicity or being compromised through bribery.”

“On our part, we are continuing with internal consultations to structure self-regulation guidelines that will cater for all religions in the country. We will share these in due course,” they said.

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Four of the 110 bodies exhumed from Makenzie’s property were said to have either been hit by a blunt object or killed by asphyxiation.

Also facing similar charges is Ezekiel Odero of Malindi-based New Life Prayer Centre and Church who has been charged with the "mass killing of his followers". Odero is also suspected to be closely linked with Mackenzie.

On Thursday, May 4, the court in Mombasa released Odero on a Ksh.3m bond (US$30,000.00), with a surety of the same amount, or Ksh.1.5m cash bail, Shanzu Senior Principal Magistrate Joe Omido saying, “The bond or bail terms … shall subsist until the respondent is formally charged and or until the investigations are completed.”

Kenya is predominantly Christian. The year 2019 estimates indicate that approximately 85.5 percent of the 53.5 million Kenyans are Christian.

In the May 2 interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Lagho said that the arrest of Mackenzie could potentially boost Christianity in Kenya.

“With whatever is happening, people can see who has been deceiving them in the name of religion. People will be able to identify and join legitimate Churches,” he said.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.