Malindi (Caasimada Online) – The horrifying discovery of mass graves in Shakahola forest, near Malindi, Kenya, has shaken the country as the death toll rises to 90, with children making up a significant portion of the victims.
Suspected starvation cult leader Paul Mackenzie Nthenge stands accused of leading his followers to their deaths, claiming that the only way to reach God was through self-imposed starvation.
With 17 bodies recovered on Tuesday, investigators remain apprehensive about the possibility of more corpses waiting to be found.
Three sources involved in the investigation disclosed that most of the victims were children, illustrating the cult’s unsettling practices, which included persuading parents to withhold food from their children.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a forensic investigator informed AFP that most of the exhumed bodies were those of children.
Hussein Khalid, Executive Director of the rights group Haki Africa, told AFP that the cult seemingly demanded children be starved first, followed by women, and finally men.
He stated that children made up 50 to 60 percent of the victims, found wrapped in cotton shrouds.
“The horror we have seen over the last four days is traumatizing. Nothing prepares you for shallow mass graves of children,” Khalid lamented.
Search operations halted
Investigators have reported finding bodies crammed into shallow pits, some graves containing as many as six people, while others were left exposed to the elements.
An officer from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) confirmed that most victims were children, followed by women.
Due to the overwhelming number of bodies, search operations have been temporarily suspended until autopsies are performed, as the morgue at Malindi Sub-County Hospital is already beyond capacity.
After this tragedy, the Kenyan government vowed to take action against extremist religious groups in the predominantly Christian nation.
Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki stated that the crimes committed by the cult warranted terrorism charges against leader Nthenge.
He remarked, “Those who urged others to fast and die were eating and drinking, purporting that they were preparing them to meet their creator.”
Cult mastermind faces prosecution
Kenya’s President, William Ruto, has promised to confront rogue religious leaders like Nthenge, who exploit religion to promote bizarre and unacceptable ideologies, comparing them to terrorists.
As the investigation progresses, questions have arisen about how Nthenge’s cult managed to escape detection, despite the leader’s previous run-ins with the police.
The televangelist was arrested in 2017 on “radicalization” charges after discouraging families from sending their children to school, arguing that the Bible did not endorse education.
Nthenge was arrested again last month when two children died of starvation under their parents’ care.
As scrutiny of fringe religious denominations intensifies in a country with a troubled past of self-proclaimed pastors and cults engaging in criminal activities, Nthenge is scheduled to appear in court on May 2.