Locals urged to shun witchcraft if they want Taita Taveta to develop

Scores of people have been killed in the Coast region on suspicion that they were practicing witchcraft, with Taita Taveta and Kilifi counties the most affected. [File, Standard]

The community’s beliefs in outdated cultural practices has been sited as one of the factors leading to underdevelopment in the county.

Mwatate MP Peter Shake has claimed that widespread fear about witches being in the area has prevented some elites from even investing in the county.

The Jubilee legislator described the belief in witchcraft as retrogressive and detrimental saying it should be discarded if the county is to realise meaningful development.

“Many people are refusing to participate in development or invest in the county over allegations that they will be bewitched,” said Shake. 

“The county will not prosper without the full participation of the elites. The elites should come back home without any fear and join hands with elected leaders to develop the county which is lagging behind in development. “We should do away with belief in witchcraft that is detrimental to development and investment of the county,” stated Shake who is also the ACK Canon.

The opposition legislator was addressing mourners at Wundanyi Dawson Mwanyumba stadium yesterday during the funeral service of a former teacher Claris Mwashighadi.

Among those who condoled with the bereaved family included MPs Danson Mwashako (Wundanyi) and Abdi Chome (Voi), Assembly Speaker Meshack Maghanga and Health Executive Gifton Mkaya.

According to a report from a past research conducted by Ipsos, Taita Taveta County was leading in terms of witchcraft at the Coast region with 11 per cent of the residents believing in it.

According to the research, ‘Kenya Coast Survey Development, Marginalization, Security and Participating’, some eight per cent of residents from Kilifi County believe in witchcraft, while Kwale comes third with seven per cent and Mombasa with one per cent belief.

It has emerged that some local leaders who should be fighting the vice, are actually engaged in it and have been accused of seeking protection from sorcerers.

James Howard Smith, in his book Bewitching Development, presents a close ethnographic account of how people in the Taita Hills of Kenya have appropriated and made sense of development thought and practice, focusing on the complex ways that development connects with changing understandings of witchcraft.

“Similar to magic, development’s promise of a better world elicits both hope and suspicion from Wataita,” notes Smith.

In his chronicles, Smith shows that the unforeseen changes wrought by development - greater wealth for some, dashed hopes for many more - foster moral debates that Taita people express in occult terms. 

Some religious leaders interviewed said that indeed the region is rife with bizarre stories revolving around the incredulous exploits of witches, sorcerers and evil diviners.

Yesterday, Shake challenged religious leaders to embark on an intensive awareness campaign to educate residents on the need to abandon the outdated cultural practices.

“The notions of malicious spiritual forces being dangerous threats to peace and public prosperity should be done away with. Widespread fear of outdated cultural practices has badly affected development in the region,” noted the opposition legislator.

Scores of people have been killed in the Coast region on suspicion that they were practicing witchcraft, with Taita Taveta and Kilifi counties the most affected.

On his part, Mwashako noted that widespread belief in witchcraft and practices among residents, sale and consumption of illicit brews and drugs, persistent famine and water shortages, persistent human wildlife conflicts as some of the major development obstacles in the region.

Residents interviewed noted suspicions that particular people secretly practice witchcraft frequently arise around instances of misfortune or social inequalities, focusing on objects, people, or behaviour that are considered extraordinary or anti-social.

They alleged that such suspicions may crystalise in witchcraft accusations, which link instances of misfortune and the alleged anti-social behaviour of the accused together by treating them as part of an underlying deeper evil.

At the same time Shake has expressed optimism that awareness campaigns against the notions of witchcraft will fade away.

In addition Mwashako urged local elected leaders to work together, failing to which they will be voted out in 2027. “We have decided as local leaders not to fight each other again,” stated Mwashako, who is also the Deputy Secretary General, Wiper party.

He said local leaders have resolved to work with Governor Andrew Mwadime for the sake of the county that has been lagging behind in development due to divisive and detrimental politics.

The Standard
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