The Malindi Cult: A Religious Tragedy

By Daniela Morales, 10th Grade

Religion acts as a unifying force for many people, bringing people together despite their different backgrounds through a common faith. However, for some people, religion takes on a more extreme character, and they begin to use it as a force to unify people not to promote peace, but to destroy. This is the case of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, leader of the Mandili cult in the  Shakahola Forest of Kenya. Paul Nthenge was a taxi driver until 2003 when he got really interested in religion and opened up his own church despite having no qualifications for being a priest. His church, which was evangelical, was called Good News International Church and operated until 2019 when it was shut down by authorities. 

His lectures were reported to contain radical messages such as hate towards other religions like Islam and Catholicism, and he tried to isolate people from a modern lifestyle by telling them to stop going to schools and hospitals. After the church closed down, Nthenge kept spreading his word through videos published online and the settlement his followers and him established in the Shakahola Forest. The forest was divided in areas named after biblical settings, such as Jerusalem, where individuals and even whole families settled. Here, he kept advising his followers to stay away from outside influences like schools and hospitals, saying they were devilish, and told women to maintain their hair short and their face makeup-free. Even when they were sick and/or pregnant, women in the cult still had to abstain from going to hospitals.

In March of this year, however, extremism inside the cult rose to levels that it never had reached before. Nthenge told his followers that the world would end and promoted suicide in disguise of religious devotion. He told his cult members that the world would be ending soon and that they should sacrifice themselves by starving, so that they would die and meet Jesus before the apocalypse. He designed a plan where the children would die first, followed by men and young women, and finally him and some other men with authority within the cult. He also published a video on YouTube saying that this job was done (Miriri, 2023). Some people, concerned for their family members began to report what was happening in the Malindi Cult to the police and Nthenge was briefly arrested and got away practically unscathed after only a $73 fine. 

His arrest did not put a stop to his plan, rather it increased his devotion to making these people die faster. After getting out of jail, he told his followers the world would end on April 15, which prompted his followers to sacrifice before that date. Children, who were the first group in this mass suicide, suffered through immense torture. In an interview with BBC, one of the pastors of the cult revealed children were held captive for days without food and water, and those that died or were near death but still breathing, were wrapped in blankets and buried (BBC, 2023). Nthenge and some of his affiliates were taken to court on May 2, where Nthenge refused to acknowledge the crimes he had committed, and they will be tried again at the end of the month in Mombasa. Some of the charges that will be discussed are terrorism, kidnapping, and child cruelty (Kimeu, 2023). 

Up until May 4th, authorities had reported 400 cult members to be missing and 109 that were found dead. Just 10 days later, the numbers shockingly increased to 600 missing persons and 200 dead, and the investigation hasn’t been closed (Musambi, 2023). Kenya’s president, William Ruto, has come forward saying that the government will take action and investigate how Nthenge’s cult could have gone so much time without being caught by authorities. It is truly lamentable how many lives would have been saved if authorities had paid attention to Nthenge since 2019, where his church was closed down due to radicalist teachings.

Even more incredible is the fact that from 2017 to 2021, he was charged for trying to influence 73 children to adopt his radical views, but the case was dropped. Had this case not been dropped the current predicament would perhaps be different. Overall, there are three main takeaways from this case: some people will manipulate religion until it is unrecognizable, when people are coerced they can do irrational things and put themselves in incredible danger, and neglect from what authorities perceive not to be important can unbind in an irreversible disaster. 


BBC. (2023, May 14). Kenya cult: Children targeted to die first, pastor says. BBC News.

 Person, & Miriri, D. (2023, May 4). Inside a Kenyan starvation cult and its tragic end in a forest of death. Reuters.

Kimeu, C. (2023, May 2). Kenyan cult leader accused of inciting children to starve to death. The Guardian.

Musambi, E. (2023, May 13). Kenya cult death toll hits 200, with more than 600 reported missing. ABC News.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s