NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, the self–proclaimed Kenyan pastor who is accused of orchestrating the deaths of more than 400 members of his congregation by starvation, was ruled mentally fit to stand trial by the High Court at Malindi on Tuesday (Feb. 6).
The taxi driver-turned-charismatic preacher faces multiple charges, including murder and terrorism, after being accused of convincing members of his church — some say “cult” — to pray and fast until death, with the goal of meeting Jesus. Authorities allege that when the congregants died, the pastor and his alleged accomplices buried the bodies in shallow graves in the nearby Shakahola forest, in southeastern Kenya.
Nthenge never adopted the flamboyant designer suits and footwear of the most prominent African televangelists, but according to the Kenyan authorities he managed to convince dozens of men and women that the world would end on April 15, 2023.
“He should be held accountable for the deaths of many innocent people, who believed in him as one that God has send to give them hope … but ended up killing them,” Anglican Bishop Alphonce Mwaro Baya of Mombasa told Religion News Service. “He took advantage of the many challenges that the people were going through. There are many challenges — health, social and economic — and anyone who emerges to give hope, people flock to him.”
Baya also called for “mandatory theological formation for clerics so that they can interpret the word of God in the right way. The churches should be vetted and the registered ones monitoring to see if they are doing the right thing.”
Murder in Kenya carries a life sentence.
Born in 1973, in Lunga Lunga in Kwale County in the coastal region south of Mombasa, Nthenge was the fifth child of Mackenzie Kiseni and Annastacia Mwele’s 10 children. Nthenge’s parents were practicing Baptists in the town near the Tanzania border.
After high school, he trained as a driver and moved to Mombasa City in the early 1990s. He worked as a hawker, selling flour and one time pushing a mkokoteni — a handcart used to carry merchandise.