Back to Africa Check

No, photo doesn’t show suspected cult leader attending religious ceremony at Kenyan president’s residence

IN SHORT: In April 2023 Kenya was gripped by horrifying developments in the coastal county of Kilifi, where dozens of bodies have been exhumed, apparently members of a Christian death cult. But a photo claiming to show the church leader allegedly responsible for these crimes at the presidency months before has been doctored.

The horrific story of dozens of church members starving to death in Kenya, still unfolding at time of publication, has shocked the country.

As of 26 April 2023, ninety bodies had been exhumed from shallow graves in the Shakahola forest in coastal Kilifi County, and the number was expected to rise.

According to media reports, members of the Good News International Church believed that by starving themselves, they would “meet Jesus” in heaven.

Paul Mackenzie, pastor of the church, has been in police custody since 15 April and has refused to eat anything.

In connection with this story, an image claiming to show Mackenzie attending a religious service at Kenya's State House has been making the rounds on Facebook.

Shortly after William Ruto was sworn in as Kenya's fifth president in September 2022, he asked the clergy to “cleanse” the presidential residence during a thanksgiving ceremony.

Following the horrific news out of Shakahola in April 2023, Ruto has said that those who pose as religious, while behaving in ways that go against religious teachings and beliefs, will be prosecuted.

So it would be embarrassing for Ruto if Mackenzie was previously at the president's official residence.

The text at the top of the circulating image reads: “MACKENZIE AT STATE HOUSE’S PURIFICATION SERVICE??”

The image with the same claim was also published here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

But does it really show Mackenzie at State House? We checked.


Doctored image

A Google reverse image search shows that the photo was taken on 25 September 2022.

Photos of the event show evangelical leaders at the thanksgiving service at State House. But the man said to be Mackenzie in the version circulating on social media is clearly different.  

The image was doctored and there is no evidence the suspected cult leader attended an event hosted by Ruto.

Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.