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Witchcraft killing dreams in Taita Taveta


Besides its seductive beaches and other top-rated attractions, the Kenyan Coast also takes the prize for having one of the highest numbers of witchcraft practitioners in the country.

The region attracts visitors from upcountry seeking to enjoy its sandy beaches as well as secure all manner of 'cures' from some of the widely-known healers.

Taita Taveta county is no exception. The trend is disconcerting for police and religious leaders alike.

Residents of Mwatate county are known for their deeply-held Christian faith and traditions, some of which have been around for decades. Despite their strong Christian values, many locals still adhere to old, seemingly impious traditions - from witchcraft to consulting sorcerers. This contradiction has become a topic of conversation in the county.

St Mark Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), one of the oldest church buildings in the country, has even been converted into a museum.

"Some of our people have refused to abandon their belief in the powers of darkness despite ascribing to the Christian faith. They are Christians during the day and traditionalists at night," says Mwakio, a resident of Mwatate town.

This peculiar religious behaviour has been an ongoing issue in the area and continues to be a source of curiosity. How the conservative and pious locals are able to both embrace Christianity and cling to their old beliefs and practices is difficult to understand. In the rural county of Mwatate, witchcraft is a common practice, but is fading away as more and more people embrace change.

Supernatural powers

Despite the practice being shrouded in secrecy, traditional medicine men like Mwakishaluwa and Mengo are known to have immense supernatural powers.

During the struggle for independence, some freedom fighters even visited the area to seek protection from seers against colonial forces.

Local leaders blame the archaic beliefs and practices for the slow pace of development and poverty in the county, with elites from the area investing elsewhere for fear of being bewitched.

This has seen some well-to-do individuals refusing, or being discouraged from building residential houses back home. Even some Christian individuals have been found to hold superstitions, with a clergyman recounting a story of a son who called his parents' bluff and built a house despite fear of witches.

Mwatate MP Peter Shake said persistent belief in outdated cultural practices is one of the factors leading to stagnation in development in the county. He urged the faithful to look up to God and shun earthly powers and influences.

Jubilee legislator Shake of the ACK has highlighted the prevalence of fear of witchcraft in Taita Taveta County, noting that it is hindering the area's economic and spiritual development.

Retrogressive beliefs

The county is ranked as the seventh poorest in the country, and Shake suggests that locals should abandon superstitious practices in order to foster meaningful progress. Shake denounced belief in witchcraft as "retrogressive" and said that it should be discarded if the county is to realise its potential.

"Many locals are refusing or are hesitant to participate in development or invest in the county over allegations that they will be bewitched," Shake said, adding that the region cannot prosper without the active and full participation of all citizens.

Although some of the community's cultural practices have faded due to the influence of Western civilisation, many are still obsessed with the desire to dominate and influence others. This, combined with the presence of Tanzanian witchdoctors, has kept belief in witchcraft alive in the area.

Poor villagers, steeped in superstition, are reportedly straining to raise money to hire the services of foreign sorcerers for various rituals.

Additionally, some locals have adopted a reluctance to invest in the county, including elites who fear being bewitched for displaying their wealth. Stories are told of parents shying away from the success of their children for fear of evil spells, and one government officer was so afraid of an evil spell being cast on him that he would lock his office every time he went out, even to the washroom.

The Catholic priest who spoke on the issue condemned such behaviour, urging locals to embrace Christian values and discard practices that have been overtaken by time.

It remains to be seen how Taita Taveta County will respond to the call to abandon superstitious beliefs in order to realise meaningful development.

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