As Kenyan police continue their search for both bodies and missing people in a forest in the east of the country, the deaths of over 100 followers of a Christian cult leader have been described as ‘a massacre’ that is ‘worse than a terrorist attack’.
Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, a former taxi driver, and six others were brought before a court in Malindi on charges of murder, radicalisation and threatening public safety. He is accused of encouraging his followers to starve themselves to death. He denies any wrongdoing.
Despite being released by order of a judge, all were immediately re-arrested. They are expected to be tried in another court on charges that include terrorism.
“It has been a very difficult week for us in Kenya”, commented Dr Mary Kihuha, lecturer at the Pan African Christian university. Speaking to Premier Christian Radio from Kenya's capital, Nairobi, she said “It was unexpected to receive such bad news from a church that is called Good News International Church.”
“As of today in the morning, 110 bodies had been exhumed from the mass graves, and 350 are still missing. We're very shocked”, she added.
“We have had people being exploited in other ways, maybe financially, economically, but these were people paying the ultimate price, people dying. And in large numbers. This has been a massacre worse than terrorist attacks”, she continued.
The bodies were found in a mass grave near Shakahola. Post-mortems show some died of starvation others by suffocation and strangulation.
Dr Mary Kihuha said: “People are asking very difficult questions, what is going on here? What led people to believe in one man so much so that they were willing to give up their lives? Did he have supernatural powers? Or what kind of power did he have on people?”
“It's a moment of questioning in our country,” she continued.
“Because Kenyans believe in church, Kenyans believe in priests, Kenyan believe in the Bible. So it's a moment of questioning. It's a moment of doubt. It's a moment of faith and doubt”, she concluded.