People found with human fingers or severed heads attract a morbid curiosity all around, and sometimes become the target of a vile form of violence.
When Robinson Mkwama, a 20-year-old Kenyan living with albinism, was kidnapped by a friend and transported to Tanzania, his captors had only one motive — to kill him and sell his body parts to people who believe the possession of human organs opens the door to riches and power.
Mr Mkwama managed to escape and returned home to tell his story. But it was the thought of being dismembered and his body parts sold that haunted him long after his escape.
Human body parts hold a deep fascination in African societies and religious groups with cultic leanings. Not surprisingly, people found with human fingers or severed heads attract a morbid curiosity all around, and sometimes become the target of the kind of violence normally reserved for witches and evil priests.
If police are to be believed, former pathologist Moses Njue had none of these motivations when he cut out the heart and kidney of two dead people taken to him for postmortems. Prosecutors said he removed the organs in order to destroy evidence — presumably to make it impossible for investigators to trace the cause of death.
If this is eventually proved, then Dr Njue’s will be a white-collar involvement with body parts. The heart and kidney, the two organs he is accused of illegally taking away, have a special place in medical forensics. They are key to tracing poisoning or establishing whether a person died of natural causes.
On March 10, in a village well tucked away in Kisii County, residents woke up to a rude shock. A human head and hand had been dumped on the road. The parts were wrapped in a black polythene bag and stuffed in a brand new green bucket.
The parts were suspected to belong to a man, at least going by the head. Police, however, could not tell where they had originated, who the deceased was or how his body parts ended up on the road.
In February, an 18-year-old Form Four student of Tinderet High School was found dead, with his heart, tongue and genitals missing. Residents believed his was a ritual killing.
Eights months ago, the body of Noah Kipchumba, a Standard Four pupil at Simbi Primary School in Nandi County was found dumped in a maize plantation near his father’s homestead. His left hand had been cut off with a suspected sharp object, his front teeth pulled out and his face perforated several times with a blunt object. Another suspected ritual killing.
In 2014, Evans Owese was arrested and human private parts were found buried deep in the middle of his house in South Uyoma. He was also found with a bucket of human bones by angry villagers. In 2009, he had been arrested after he was found exhuming a body in his village.
While some body parts might be used for medical research, others are used in black magic. Kidneys, hearts and private parts are the most sought after for black magic.
Today, body parts are sold in the black market like your everyday retail business. In Nigeria, the BBC reported that a 17-year-old girl had been hacked to death and dismembered by a contracted killer with instructions from a witch doctor.
Both the killer and the witchdoctor were arrested and confessed to the killing. Some parts were sold to the witch doctor at Sh2,500. The parts were to make medicine to protect his clients from impending misfortunes.
People living with albinism in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and beyond have been victims of body parts trade that specially targets them - with promises of healing and riches depending on which part one gets for the witch doctors to make their concoctions.
The bodies are usually dismembered, with instructions from witch doctors to harvest their private parts, bones, limbs and hair, which are then dried and ground to make charms that are used to ‘bless’ people’s homes and businesses.
The latest one is a case in Mali, where a five-year-old girl was kidnapped from her home and beheaded on Sunday. Police believe the case is witchcraft driven.
The lucrative body parts business is not strange to Kenyans.
Elkana Chepkwony, 25, last month offered to sell one of his kidneys to secure money to treat his mother, who had a fractured leg that needed an operation. The hospital wanted a Sh50,000 deposit.
While his kidney could fetch up to Sh12 million in the black market with the right connections, the most he can expect, if at all he manages to sell, is Sh1 million. This is due to the many brokers involved.
In September 2017, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned Kenyans against trading with a United States-based company that specialises in the kidney trade.
Global Kidney Exchange programme had expressed an interest in securing donors from Kenya, which WHO noted was a move to exploit poor nations.
“We are opposing the proposed Global Kidney Exchange plan to solicit living donors from poor countries such as Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, India and Ethiopia,” said WHO official in charge of organ transplantation, Dr Francis Delmonico.
The US is no stranger to the body parts business. In fact, there are companies that broker body parts to sell or either lease overseas.
According to Reuters, one such company, MedCure, sells or leases up to 10,000 body parts from the US, where some are shipped overseas.
In November 2017, the company was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigations following a long investigation into the black market trade in body parts.
Records then showed that the company had, between 2011 and 2015, received more than 11,000 bodies and distributed over 51,000 body parts.