A Kenyan cult leader told his followers the world would end on April 15 and instructed them to starve themselves to be the first to go to heaven, a relative of cult members and hospital staff told on Wednesday. Eighty-nine members of the Good News International Church, which had its headquarters in the Shakahola forest in eastern Kenya, are known to have died, and 26 bodies have been exhumed since Friday.
The gruesome saga began last week when police raided an 800-acre (328-hectare) ranch run by Paul Makenzi Nthenge, also known as Mackenzie Nthenge. Investigator Charles Kamau said they found 15 emaciated people — mostly children — and later discovered mass graves.
He is believed to have been telling his followers that the world would end on April 15, according to Stephen Mwiti, who was one of the cult’s first converts. Mr. Mwiti, feared dead, told that Nthenge had the plan to kill children, youths, and adults in the name of God before they were forced to fast until the world ended.
Nthenge is a self-proclaimed Christian preacher who urged followers not to send their children to school and to burn academic certificates. He also tasked his followers with caring for their families and living on his ranch, which he said was the place to find Jesus.
After being arrested on March 14, Nthenge and six followers remain in custody. They have been refusing food and water, a local report said on Saturday.
The gruesome revelations about Nthenge and his group have prompted calls for a crackdown on rogue religious leaders in the East African nation, which is mainly Christian but has had its share of problems with unregulated churches and cults in the past. Amason Kingi, the speaker of the Kenyan senate, has called the case “a wake-up call to the nation” and called on President William Samoei Ruto to take action against rogue pastors.”
As well as advising his followers not to attend school or work, Nthenge was reported by his fellow cult members to have banned women from shaving their hair and sick people from seeking treatment in hospitals. He also banned the use of soap and other personal hygiene products.
Human rights activist Hussein Khalid, who told police about the cult’s practices, said the group required children to starve before women and then men. He said the bodies were wrapped in cotton shrouds and found in shallow pits.
A number of the graves had been dug by Nthenge, who was rescued by police earlier this month after a tip-off. He told investigators that the cult had been operating out of his farm for several years and was planning to move it to another location.
He said he had a list of followers he had recruited, most of whom were ill or disabled. He had been encouraging them to fast in the name of Jesus.