BY BEATRICE WAMUYU
In 2009, a macabre video that showed five elderly people suspected of witchcraft being burned alive emerged online. In the video, villagers kick and taunt the five before setting them ablaze. They are seen piling dry twigs on the grandparents, who are eventually too weak to protest. Some sit up in a daze and just let the fire burn.
Children stand on the village paths and watch the horrid scene.
For many decades, villagers in parts of Kenya have killed witchcraft “suspects” in a similar gory fashion.
Some of these killings, committed in broad daylight, are top among Kenya’s most horrible crimes since independence. But since they occur in remote hamlets, they rarely evoke much outrage. The kangaroo courts that try these suspects are often biased and presided over by partisan people.
In many reported incidents, the mobs descend on victims with machetes, rocks, clubs and fire. Many are sprinkled with petrol and set alight.
There have also been reports that some of these killings are arranged by jealous relatives eyeing land. In Kilifi, a local leader, Teddy Mwambire, said relatives arranged the killings so they could inherit land.
Mwambire, who led an investigation into the matter, said relatives can “arrange a killing for the equivalent of only Sh2,550,” according to a Daily Mail report.
It has not been proved scientifically that witchcraft exists. Bizarre as the killings and claims are, the irony is that Kenya is a country that has embraced Christianity and Islam, with churches and mosques dotting villages and remote places.
According a newspaper article in 1995, residents in Kisii claimed to know how to identify witches and roll back their actions.
They said they perform rituals by holding a village meeting where everybody is supposed to attend. One by one, they spit on the ground. When the person who caused a misfortune spits, the misfortune is reversed immediately, they claimed. Here is a look at some of the bizarre incidents.
On Sptember 23, 1995, a mob in Boyek village, Kisii, burned a woman, accusing her of bewitching a little girl. It was alleged that the girl became deaf and dumb after meeting with the woman identified as Maria Kemunto Nyamao one night. A village meeting was allegedly called and when it was Kemunto’s turn to spit, the little girl was instantly healed.
In 2000, a Kisii court heard a macabre tale where witchdoctors forced a man to eat human flesh. Samuel Muchomba, a butcher, testified that the six invaded his home and mysteriously whisked him away without his family members noticing. He said that they made him ride on the back of several animals and went round several compounds.
They then burnt a corpse and forced him to eat the arms and legs of the decomposed body, he told the court. He later discovered that he could not talk and his only way of communication was through writing. Doctors confirmed that he had consumed human flesh but the court did not find evidence to incriminate the suspects. The six were in court for being in possession of witchcraft charms.
On September 21, 1995, more than 100 men held a meeting in Gichunguri village, Tharaka Nithi. They decided to burn anyone in the village suspected of witchcraft. Two men, Mwinja Muchei and Nltorochio M’Ambari, were said to be witchdoctors. They were beaten up and burnt to death.
The sports scene has not been spared. On December 30, 1995, it was reported that an angry mob in Kilifi attacked a 45-year-old man who they claimed was bewitching their football players. His relatives said he was a wizard. He was suspected to have killed three people. Two of them were football players.
Mnazi Gonzi was sleeping when villagers stormed into his house and stoned him to death.