NAIROBI, KENYA: It is the high time economists, the high priests of social sciences, became bolder and looked at some overlooked issues that seem to defy the graphs and equations popular with them and which put off many ordinary Kenyans.
The big equations and graphs raise the awe and prestige of economists but reduce the impact of the subject on the lives of the hoi polloi.
Last week, we tried to be bold and looked at prostitution, and gave it an economic analysis. We can try and be even bolder this week and look at witchcraft…
Why has it persisted into the 21st century? Does it obey the laws of supply and demand?
We have heard of burning witches in some parts of the country.
At times, we think its fiction till the police intervene. We have heard of witches being burnt alive in different parts of the country - from Nyamira to Kilifi.
Curiously, I have not heard of witchcraft among the pastoralists. That might give us a clue on the origins of witchcraft.
The other areas where witchcraft is prevalent are well settled areas like Nyamira or Kitui and Gaturi in Murang’a.
Could knowing each other too much be the source of witchcraft? Familiarity breeds contempt?
It is more than that. I have visited Gaturi on a reconnaissance visit. The area residents told me there used to be witchcraft (urogi). I plan on making a follow-up visit soon for an in-depth analysis by talking to a few elderly men.
I noticed that Gaturi is relatively a marginalised area as you transit from the well water highlands to the lowlands.
Could this dryness and by extension competition for resources be driving witchcraft?
Remember Kitui, relatively dry is famous for this craft.
It is coincidental that witchcraft is associated with dry settled places and by extension scarcity of resources?
Could witchcraft have been invented to deal with competition for scarce resources, the same way today we use guns to kill each other over resources? Nyamira is not dry but competition for resources is high.
Prof. JH Kimura has another hypothesis why witchcraft might be prevalent in some places.
He thinks that places associated with witchcraft have lots of iron, which was important in making weapons like spears and arrows.
Using witchcraft, the owners of these scarce resources could keep off competitors, the same way we use patents to reduce competition. The fear of jail or fine keeps you away from imitating other inventors; witchcraft could have done the same.
To proof these hypotheses, am taking soil samples from Gaturi, Kitui, Nyamira and Kilifi and analysing for content of iron.
If we find the mineral contents are similar, we shall unveil the secret of witchcraft without being witches ourselves. I got samples from Gaturi already and I sent someone to Kitui.
Another great source of witchcraft data would be court trials and the exhibits thereof.
How would one prove he has been bewitched? How can we measure the effectiveness of witchcraft?
This data is available; it could give us great insights into the correlation between witchcraft, weather and other events.
My request for data from national crime research centre is still pending. Surprisingly, even in developed countries, witchcraft is still being studied.
A Harvard University student Emily Oster wrote an interesting paper entitled ”Witchcraft, weather and economic growth in renaissance Europe” published in 2004.
It was highly quoted in a recent article in The Economist that touched on witchcraft. However, my witchcraft project had started earlier.
The paper has startling finds from Tanzania where more witches are killed when there is either too much rain or too little and very much like Kenya involves old women.
Why? The Economist reported that just as in Africa, most witches in medieval Europe were older women.
The main explanation behind this is that witchcraft by its nature is secretive. Few people openly confess to being witches, meaning that the supply of witches is limited, raising their “price” more like the underground economy. We probably pay premiums to hitmen because they are equally few.
The hereditary nature of witchcraft also ensures limited supply. Interestingly as a young boy, some of my neighbours were said to practice witchcraft.
I know two of them, but surprisingly, they are both still alive and no one was successfully bewitched. Both had very young kids, a suggestion that competition for resources could be related to witchcraft.
The affluent are not spared and rumours of witchcraft keep swirling around purportedly to protect their wealth or recover from business losses.
Closely tied with witchcraft is jealousy. It is no wonder behavioural economics has been winning Nobel Prizes.
Why does witchcraft like alcoholism afflict both the poor and the rich? The poor attribute their misfortunes to “others,” as a defence mechanism.
The affluent have the luxury of time to deal with their fears. Witchcraft and its mysteries cut across socio-economic classes.
At the epicentre of witchcraft is competition for resources - tangible and intangible.
The persistence of witchcraft into the 21st Century shows clearly we remain human beings with our fears and emotions despite advances in technology and advent of Western religions.
Can any witch contact me for a chat? I shall not disclose your identity and whatever you share with me will be for academic purposes only…
The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi