Home Christian News Suspected Leader in Kenyan Starvation Cult Dies in Custody Following Hunger Strike

Suspected Leader in Kenyan Starvation Cult Dies in Custody Following Hunger Strike

Joseph Buyuka
Kenya's Inspector General of Police, Japhet Koome, right, speaks at the scene where dozens of bodies have been found in shallow graves in the village of Shakahola, near the coastal city of Malindi, in southern Kenya Monday, April 24, 2023. (AP Photo)

Joseph Buyuka, a suspected leader in a Kenyan starvation cult that has claimed hundreds of lives, died while in police custody earlier this week, the result of a 10-day hunger strike.

The cult’s visionary is pastor Paul Makenzie Nthenge of Good News International Church, who allegedly instructed his followers to stop eating in order to “meet Jesus.” 

Nthenge was arrested in April after four victims died and 11 others were found emaciated. He had previously been arrested in connection with the deaths of two toddlers who had starved. While Nthenge had been released on bond pending his trial in that previous arrest, bail was denied under his new charges.

Later that same month, Ezekiel Ombok Odero, leader of New Life Prayer Centre and Church was also arrested in connection with Nthengthe’s cult. Odero claims to be a healer, though authorities say that he indoctrinated followers with terminally ill loved ones, many of whom died while waiting for Odero to heal them.

Following Nthenge’s April arrest, authorities were advised that Nthenge had used his vast property in the Kilifi County of Kenya as the resting place for many more victims. (Nthenge had reportedly purchased the land under the guise of learning how to farm.)

The death toll continues to rise as authorities have scoured Nthenge’s expansive property. Earlier this month, the number of bodies exhumed surpassed 300. As of this writing the number is 336. Approximately 600 people are still reportedly missing. 

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Buyuka was one of 30 suspected leaders arrested shortly after authorities began searching Nthenge’s property. Authorities believe that Buyuka and other leaders “played significant roles in the offences leading to the deaths and illegal disposal of bodies in Shakahola (forest),” according to court papers. 

Jami Yamina, senior prosecution counsel, said Buyuka died from “complications from hunger strike and starvation, but we will await [a] postmortem report.” According to Yamina, two other suspects in custody have also taken ill as a result of the hunger strike. 

Kenyan authorities are concerned that Nthenge’s surviving victims, many of whom have been refusing food in accordance with Nthenge’s teaching that they must starve themselves to enter heaven before the end of the world, remain a danger to themselves. 

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At least one victim has perished after being rescued, according to Interior Minister Kindiki Kithure.