Shakahola death camps: Puzzling clues from Paul Mackenzie churchgoers’ notes

A photograph shows an abandoned house in the forest that buried bodies have been exhumed in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi, on April 23, 2023. | AFP PHOTO

Shakahola is a remote scrubland some 100 kilometres west of the Kenyan coastal town of Malindi. This is the scene of the biggest single investigation carried out by Kenya’s homicide and forensic detectives in recent times.

It all revolves around the man Paul Nthenge Mackenzie who is currently in police custody. He is the leader of a doomsday cult named Good News International and is suspected to have radicalized his followers to starve themselves and their families to death, ostensibly to help them meet their maker.

This, after making his followers sell their property and join him in Shakahola in the belief the world is coming to an end

Homicide detectives and their support teams have been making endless trips in and out of what now seems to be bottomless mass graves teeming across the vast 800-acre Shakahola cultic ranch. on this day, we witnessed the exhumation of 29 bodies.

But as the bodies continued to sprout out of the mounds of red soil, questions abound: just how did we get here?

We traversed the vast bushland in search of clues, and clues we encountered.

From the deplorable conditions his followers lived in, there was no doubting preacher Paul Mackenzie’s power and control over his flock.

It is through such structures known as dying grounds that detectives have been able to identify mass graves here in Shakahola, once a faithful hands over all their worldly possession, they are ushered into one of these and handed a mat, it is here that they stay without food or medication until such a time that they die.

These are the deplorable living conditions that the survivors of the forced starvation were found in… the camps of death from where bodies of starved faithful were collected by Mackenzie’s staff for mass burial not far from each of these structures.

A look around this structure speaks to the possibility of there being more than six people who lay here waiting for their deaths after consuming Mackenzie’s doomsday doctrine… the believers were persuaded by Mackenzie that the end of the world is nigh and that through starving to death, they would meet their creator.

Pieces of literature littered the sprawling death camp and provided clues to the core teachings of the doomsday cult. This book had particular sections underlined… First Maccabees Chapter 2 from verse 29 reading in part:

“At that time many who sought righteousness and justice went out into the wilderness* to settle there, they and their children, their wives and their animals, because misfortunes pressed so hard on them.”

The very teaching that most of Mackenzie’s sermons gave. It goes on to read:

“The pursuers said to them, “Enough of this! come out and obey the king’s command, and you will live. but they replied, “We will not come out, nor will we obey the king’s command to profane the Sabbath. then the enemy attacked them at once.”

But they did not retaliate; they neither threw stones nor blocked up their secret refuges. they said, “Let us all die in innocence; heaven and earth are our witnesses that you destroy us unjustly.”

Investigators believe that the worshipers from all walks of life, some of whom flew here if this baggage tag is anything to go by, were victims of radical teachings.

Not far from here is another copy of the bible, teachings underlined on this one are mostly on the Revelations chapter… handwritten notes on this reveal the teachings Mackenzie gave, for instance, this book was written, “Adui wa wateule ni serikali za dunia… translating to the enemy of the chosen ones are the world’s governments.”

This copy that had names on the front page suggested that the bible may have belonged to a Mr and Mrs Nelson Kimbichi Mwabela.

He or they probably lived in this structure, a house that looked better than the rest of the death camps in this bush… suggesting that he could have been a senior-ranking member of the Good News International cult.

Clothes scattered all over belonging to different age sets meaning that a whole family lived here…. on this day detectives carrying out exhumation retrieved seven bodies from a mass grave next to this house five of them belonging to children.

Another copy found belonged to Anthony Emanuel Busere and could be from Busende in Busia County…whether or not he is alive remains unknown. Inside this copy of the holy bible, handwritten notes spoke to what Mackenzie taught…. that his flock should not be attached to any worldly possessions, that women should not keep long hair, nails or makeup on.

Every structure in this death camp had on one edge such remains of charred documentation… detectives believe they were instructed to burn all state-issued documents, from birth certificates, national identity care, academic papers passports and even banking slips. They did so in readiness to starve to death to meet their maker.

Sources privy to the investigations reveal that in this bush there were fasting supervisors, men employed by Mackenzie to ensure no one changes their mind or leaves the forest. These supervisors are believed to have walked around with shovels and dug holes to bury anyone they found dead, at times according to detectives they are suspected to have murdered the frail perhaps to save their own time.

This explains why the autopsies conducted revealed that some died by blunt force trauma to the head and others especially children were either suffocated or strangled to death.

As the followers struggled and starved to death, this was Mackenzie’s residence whenever he came to visit the bush, a look at his kitchen area speaks to activity, meaning meals were prepared for Mackenzie as his followers starved to death… he even had a meals time table as found by Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki in his visit here.

On this timetable, not a single day went without meals… outside his home was a pool of water perhaps to keep the cult leader well hydrated.

Mackenzie’s radical teachings and manner mirrored other infamous cult killings elsewhere around the world.

Forty-five years ago, on November 18, 1978, 918 Americans died in a remote jungle in Guyana, South America. Some 914 of them were followers of doomsday cult leader James Warren Jones, better known as Jim Jones, who led the People’s Temple cult, in what he called "revolutionary suicide".

He moved with his cult members from America to a remote forest clearing in Guyana, Jim Jones instructed his followers to drink poison in their secluded Guyana jungle settlement, and they died in hundreds.

In Kenya, Mackenzie was captured alive and is currently in police custody and under tight GSU surveillance whenever on transit faces among other charges mass murders, genocide and radicalization.


Citizen TV Kilifi Citizen Digital Paul Mackenzie Nthenge Cult Shakahola

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