A pastor of a Kenyan church, Ezekiel Odero, has been arrested in Malindi over suspicions of deaths at his church. This comes as police widen their investigations following dozens of deaths linked to a cult leader, Paul Mackenzie Nthenge.
The head of the New Life Prayer Centre and Church was arrested for allegations of the deaths occurring at his premises. The government commissioner for the region, Rhoda Onyancha, announced that the prayer center has been closed without giving more details on the allegations against Odero.
Odero is a wealthy televangelist who draws huge crowds to his church, which can seat 40,000 people. He claims that holy scraps of cloth sold at his mega-rallies can heal sickness. Police have not connected him to Nthenge or the deaths of 98 people linked to his church, also based in the coastal region.
Efforts to regulate Kenya’s dizzying array of churches and ministries have failed in the past, despite high-profile incidents of cults and rogue pastors being involved in crime.
The government has promised a crackdown on fringe denominations following the discovery of dozens of bodies in the last week on a property near Malindi belonging to Nthenge. Most of those found in mass graves have been children, and police fear the death toll could rise as their search widens. At least 22 people have been arrested over the gruesome saga so far.
Questions have emerged about how Nthenge was able to preach despite attracting police attention six years ago. He was arrested in 2017 on charges of “radicalisation” after urging families not to send their children to school, saying education was not recognised by the Bible.
Nthenge was arrested again last month after two children starved to death in the custody of their parents. He was released on bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings ($700) but surrendered to police after a raid on his property uncovered bodies. Nthenge is due to appear in court on May 2.