Paul Mackenzie: From hawker to doomsday preacher

Good News International Church Pastor Paul Mackenzie during an interview with the ‘Nation’ in Kilifi County on March 24, 2023. The pastor is under arrest following the deaths of four followers, whom he reportedly told to starve themselves in order to "meet Jesus". PHOTO | NMG

Growing up, besieged evangelist Paul Mackenzie was just a fly on the wall. He never stood out in his family of 10 siblings.

Never attracted attention. He was just another average Kenyan, in school and in life. He was never flashy. To his brother, Pastor Mackenzie was an obedient child, kind and fairly generous with the little he had. He was just Paul. 

But his activities in the Shakahola forest on the Kenyan coast have cast a spotlight on the small village and thrust him into the global limelight. To his friends and family, Mackenzie is the misunderstood villain in the unfolding tragedy in Kilifi, a preacher persecuted for spreading the word. 

But to his victims, he is now the most unpopular man on earth, one who exploited the poor, brainwashed even the learned into burning their documents and instructing them to starve themselves to death.

Born in 1973 in Lunga Lunga, Kwale County, Paul Mackenzie never believed a day would come when his name would hit local and international headlines for all the wrong reasons.

A fifth-born child to Mackenzie Kiseni and Anastacia Mwele, the renowned preacher attended Mwalewa School, where he underwent his primary studies, and later joined Lukore Secondary School.

The man preached “End Time Messages” for nine consecutive years on his former Times TV channel, informing parents that school activities are sinful. His brother now says Mackenzie attained a Grade C mark in his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Exams.

Obedient boy

“He was a quiet and obedient boy when we were young.” “Upon completing secondary school, he moved to Likoni in Mombasa, where he lived with our firstborn brother, Ramisi. He started as a hawker,” says Robert Mbatha, a younger brother to Mackenzie.

The family of 10 was very close, and would often check up on each other.

But, in 2009, their father died, forcing them to start hustling hard to make a living.

“After fourth grade, he travelled to Nairobi, where he enrolled at a driving school. He completed the course and moved back to Mombasa, where he resided with our brother, Ramisi,” says Mr Mbatha.

In the next few years, between 1993 and 1994, Mr Mbatha says that Mackenzie would lack job opportunities, forcing him to push a cart and sell flour.

“For several years, this was his way of generating income. Our sister, Kadogo (the second born of our family), who is now deceased, decided to buy him a car when he moved to Malindi so he could start his taxi business. He was operating around the Palm Gardens area within the tourist city,” explains Mr Mbatha. 

And in the year 1999, he officially became a resident of Malindi.

While here, Mr Mbatha says, Mackenzie started attending church sermons on weekends as he continued with his taxi business during the weekdays.

“One day, he informed us that he had received a calling and was instructed to be a preacher, so he started as a pastor at Mwathi’s church,” recalls Mr Mbatha.

In the year 2003, his preaching career kicked off, and he began getting invites to conduct sermons at the Malindi Fellowship Baptist.

This would become his breakthrough as “a famous preacher.” He later founded his church, Good News International, located in Malindi.

At the end of the same year, Mbatha says his brother, Mackenzie, found his soul mate, popularly referred to as Mama Dan. They got married and settled at Maweni in Malindi. They were blessed with two children, a boy and a girl. 

But their love was short-lived, as his wife died in 2009 of what Mr Mbatha says was asthma.

“The death of his first wife hit him hard because, in the same week, our father had died,” says a tearful Mr Mbatha.

The Nation learnt that it took Mackenzie two years before he remarried. In 2012, he tied the knot with Joyce, his second wife, who originated from Nyahururu.

The couple gave birth to four children, one boy and three girls. But, in 2017, Joyce died too.

“That is the year when my brother Mackenzie got arrested following accusations of radicalisation. He was accused of brainwashing followers and instructing them to not take their children to school.”

“He was held at Malindi Police Station cell together with Joyce, and upon their release, my sister-in-law’s health deteriorated. Three weeks after their release, she died,” explains Mr Mbatha.

According to Mr Mbatha, his brother buried both his wives on the church premises in Furunzi.

Defended teachings

“He bought the land where he built his church and home, although he did not inform me how much he paid for it,” says Mr Mbatha.

The brother says he was and still is a follower of Mackenzie’s church, and defended his teachings.

“I attended all his sermons. My brother taught what he felt was his mission.” He used to tell us, “My sermons are what I am being sent by the Holy Spirit to teach. If you follow through with them, fine, but it was not a must. I took my children to school, and my wife gave birth to all five of them in a hospital, and Mackenzie knew it was a matter of your own decision. He never forced anyone to follow through with his teachings,” says Mr Mbatha.

According to him, from the sermons, he only adopted messages that he felt were important to his life and his family.

He adds that in 2019, his brother called him the same way he did his followers, claiming that the message he was sent to preach had been successfully delivered.

“A few months after he married his third wife, Rhoda, my brother Mackenzie called and said he was moving out of Malindi to another place where his dream was to start farming. He never mentioned where it was. I just recently came to learn it is Shakahola village,” says Mr Mbatha, noting he is not aware of how many acres of land Mackenzie bought.

“The last time we met was when he was arrested and released on a Sh10,000 bond.” “We talked as brothers, and he later went back to Shakahola village,” says Mr Mbatha.

Mr Mbatha now claims his brother closed down his church in 2019 and sold everything off to televangelist Ezekiel Odero of New Life Prayer Center and Church, including his Times TV station.

“He closed down his churches and branches, including the one in Ruiru, Kiambu County. My brother has become poor compared to when he was a preacher. Life has turned out to be hard for him these days,” says Mr Mbatha, noting their mother is the one currently staying on the Furunzi church premises in Malindi.