Witches rival police in crime war

By Robert Wanyonyi

Witchdoctors and police officers in Western Kenya are on a collision course as residents increasingly shun the law enforcers and report their cases to witches for quick fix.

The craze has hit many parts of the region. Most people with a "thief to catch" are increasingly rushing to witchdoctors, leaving police with little to do.

Interestingly, even some religious people, whose faith doesn’t allow for the practice, are being caught in the rush. And local leaders appear to be encouraging this trend which has led to the lynching of several people said to be thieves.

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James Etabwa, a resident of Busia District, fell victim to thieves who stole his property after killing his watchman.

It works

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He reported to the police but as they were investigating the matter, he rushed to a witchdoctor from a neighbouring district to seek help.

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Paul Odhiambo Okello, a self confessed witch doctor from Teso District performs a healing ritual on suspects who had allegedly stolen a cow after they returned it to the owner.

"Initially I didn’t believe in witchcraft but when thieves stole my property and killed my guard, I decided to try it and to my shock, it worked," says Etabwa.

He says the witchdoctor, Paul Odhiambo Okello, from Kaliwa village, Teso District, managed to recover Sh15, 000, a radio cassette and a wheelbarrow, which were returned by the thieves. The rest had been sold off.

The ‘doctor’, as he is known here, stays in a modern house unlike others who stay in dingy grass-thatched structures with paraphernalia strewn around.

Dozens of people sat outside the house waiting for him to attend to their needs. One by one they presented their cases inside his shrine.

A young couple was among the guests and they were clearly upset, having been attacked by thieves the previous night.

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"They stole the grade cow we had bought from our sugar-cane proceeds," lamented a man who identified himself as Jack.

A while later, Okello called in Jack and his wife. At first, he was uncomfortable with our presence, but after a little persuasion, he allowed us to take pictures.

The couple was made to stand near the door where he had spread some paraphernalia on the ground. After muttering some incantations and sprinkling some dried herbs on their feet, it was time to catch the thief.

We trailed Okello together with the couple as they went to their home in Busia District to perform the final rites to catch the thief.

On arrival, the ‘doctor’ proceeded to the cowshed where he muttered some other incantations and sprinkled some herbs.

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"Sasa hebu tungoje kwa sababu mwizi ameshashikwa. Let us wait now because the thief has already been captured," announced Okello.

For over three hours we waited and almost lost hope. But as we were giving up, Jack received a call from a friend telling him to go and see a spectacle at a nearby sugarcane plantation.
Okello during the interview with CCI. Photo: Robert Wanyonyi/Standard

Two people who had escorted a cow back to the homestead were on their knees eating grass.

The duo, who we were later informed were the thieves, appeared intoxicated and talked incoherently. The couple’s cow grazed nearby.

Success story

Angry residents almost lynched them before Okello ‘forgave’ them for owning up and gave them a concoction to heal them.

"I have been doing this since 2006. I have managed to catch thieves not only in Kenya but Uganda, Nigeria, South-Africa and recently, Zanzibar," boasts Okello, 37, as he shows his passport.

He says the work involves direct communication with his ancestors who advise him on the type of medicine to apply for every crime.

Okello, who is a father of two, however, says his work has not always been smooth since he has on several occasions been arrested by police.

"In order for us (Witchdoctors) to work in peace, Parliament should amend the constitution to bar police from interfering so that we can contribute in the fight against crime," says Okello.

Okello claims he has captured 33 thieves this year. He says 14 of them are currently serving jail terms in different prisons.

Police in Western province, however, denied that Okello possesses any powers to catch thieves. They warned the public against flocking to a man whose only work is to bind them with charms to get money for a network of conmen.

"What this man is doing is the so-called voodoo magic that blocks people from seeing with their eyes what he is doing. Why is he charging so exorbitantly for his services?" questioned a senior officer at Kakamega Provincial Police Headquarters who declined to be named.

Busia District CID boss, Wandera Mwangi, said police will be arresting people who seek services from Okello.

"The public must understand that engaging in witchcraft is against the law and anyone engaging in such a practise risks being jailed," warned Mwangi. He said the police were yet to receive a complaint against Okello for practising witchcraft. He urged residents to make complaints giants him.

Western Provincial Commissioner Abdul Mwasera has on several occasions warned residents against visiting the witchdoctor over crime-related incidents assuring them that the police were capable.

Trust the police

"People must be reminded that engaging in witchcraft is a crime because our constitution doesn’t allow it and neither does it allow someone to possess paraphernalia likely to cause fear and panic among members of the public," warns Mwasera.

The PC says that residents must trust the police to deal with crime as cases emanating from witchdoctors are hard to prove in court.

Mwasera says cases have emerged where some innocent people have been killed by irate mobs on suspicion of being thieves as a result of the work of witchdoctors.

In spite of the warning, most of residents support the witchdoctors because they had managed to scare many thieves.

"We go to them for quick results. We had entrusted this work to the police for years but they were doing nothing. Criminals would come back and boast to us that they bribed their way out of jail. How many criminals walk to their freedom in courts everyday due to lack of evidence?" asks Longinus Makokha, a nominated councillor at the Bungoma Municipal Council.

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