Back in 2007, my editor, a quiet but affable fellow, sent me on a strange assignment: To track down and interview a witch doctor. Yes, you read it right: A witch doctor. Apparently, the witch doctor was famous both among the lowly and the mighty. Rumour had it that politicians would queue outside his hut every time elections drew near.
At the time, elections were round the corner. But what made this particular witch doctor even more intriguing was a tale doing the rounds about how he had ‘bewitched’ a magistrate in the middle of a court hearing.
The tale went that the old man had been quietly sitting in the courtroom following a case involving some relative or friend when he got fed up with the magistrate and suddenly began yelling. No amount of orders from the magistrate would quiet him down. Finally, the fed up magistrate ruled: “Old man. I sentence you to jail for a day for contempt of court." To which the old man replied: "And I also sentence you to jail for a day."
Now this is where the story became intriguing. Apparently, as the court orderlies whisked the old man away to the cells, the magistrate suddenly found himself stuck to his chair. Try as he might, he could not rise from the seat. Back at the desk, my editor, for reasons I will one day ask him, gave me only one assignment: Go get this old guy and find out if the tales about the magistrate and politicians queuing are true. So, a cameraman, driver and I set out for Mbeere.
Our journey took us to Siakago - a windswept town sitting on the slopes of the rolling Mbeere Hills. Here, we began asking for directions. And here, things started to get scary. Everyone who heard where we wanted to go and the name of the person we were looking for refused to not only shake our hands but also be seen around us.
It got so bad that the waiter in the rusty kiosk where we went looking for food refused to sell us any as soon as she got wind of our mission. When we finally managed to cajole one villager to take us at least up to the point where we could see the ‘witch's' hut - among a cluster of buildings across the hill - he fled as soon as we drew near.
We did finally track down the old man, who struck terror in our photographer by threatening to bewitch him if he tried to take pictures. And yes, we got our story, for that is the rule of thumb - never come back from an assignment without a story.
But the old man did not manage to convince me that his brand of witchcraft was real. We went on to track several other witches after that; one in Ngara, Nairobi, who diagnosed me with low libido and poor dating skills - never mind I was happily married; and another somewhere in Eastleigh who said I had to go back to the village where I was born, strip naked at midnight and take a bath in the middle of the compound then return for a diagnosis...
None of these incidents convinced me that curses and hexes are real. The real witchcraft began several months after I had written about the old man, the magistrate with a chair stuck to his behind, the crook in Ngara who thought I needed a wife and the clown in Eastleigh who imagined my mother - who bore and bathed me - would faint if she saw me naked.
The real witchcraft began with the December 28 elections of the same year. This time, we were out tracking different kind of witches - fork-tongued politicians whose words resulted in scores of people being hacked to death on the other side of their political and ethnic hills.
Folks who would attend church one moment and the next, address political rallies where they breathed fire into the powder kegs of negative ethnicity. We saw the fires burn and heard the harrowing tales of pain and death conjured up by these witches; tales of how friends turned foes overnight, killing and burning with fiendish zeal.
Two general elections later, if you ask me whether witchcraft is real, I will not hesitate to tell you that it is. I will tell you that you do not have to drive to the rolling hills of Mbeere to find it. Just listen to a politician talk at some rally somewhere, and watch how they convert perfectly intelligent Kenyans into zombie-like followers. Now that brand of witchcraft is real.