In the villages of Nyang’iti, Ritembu, Itibo, and Mogenda in Kisii County, less than two kilometres a part, lies five freshly dug graves covered with a little flora. Ruins of torched houses and deserted homes are what has remained of these villages following the lynching of suspected witches.
Many villagers are in panic following the mystery surrounding the death of their loved ones. The five graves belong to elderly people who on different occasions were tortured and burnt to death, a horrific practice that appears to be on the increase in Gusii land.
Two months ago, Alice Moraa was beaten and burnt to death in broad daylight at Nyangiti village of Bobasi constituency, Kisii County. Moraa had just delivered tea to a nearby buying centre and on her way home, her friend informed her of a gang that was looking for her for allegedly being part of a group of five women involved in witchcraft.
The women had allegedly used charms to take a nine-year-old boy for a “walk” at night and later dumped him on the roadside where he was found the following morning dumb.
Village youths who took part in the lynching decided that the five victims had to die because they had bewitched a young boy. Moraa was unlucky and was the first to undergo the horrific killing in the full glare of her son, Meshack Mokua, 20.
Mokua, an only child, will forever remember the horrific death of his dear mother. His father died a few years ago under mysterious circumstances.
It is his mother’s video clip that has been doing rounds on the Internet for months now. “I have remained disillusioned for the past three months. I have watched the video of my mother being burnt and I pray that God forgives those who were involved in the act,” said Mokua.
He is, however, optimistic that one day the authorities will arrest and prosecute those who continue to practice such crimes.
“I loved my mum as the breadwinner of our family. It is too painful to lose a mother. I don’t know how they came to the conclusion that my mother was a witch,” he said amid sobs.
The soft-spoken Mokua who completed his secondary education last year now stays alone and says he is determined to go to college. To achieve this, he has planted vegetables and keeps over 30 hens he bought recently, including three cows left behind by his mother. A church member who went pleading with the gang to spare Moraa’s life was also lynched on allegation that she was a sympathiser of her fellow witch.
Fighting back tears, Mokua blames the security agents for not responding to the killings quick enough, saying the chief and his assistant allegedly switched off their phones after being alerted. The villagers are still living in fear, since they don’t know when another witch-hunt will strike.
Two children of another victim, Anne Nyamoita, have been forced to drop out of school due to lack of fees. The other five are in school. Her husband, John Makori, was butchered in January by his brother Peter Machigwa on allegation that he had bewitched his mentally ill son.
The late Makori had been tending to his farm on the fateful day oblivious of a plan to kill him. Ms Nyamoita says she had been married to Makori for 25 years and all this time, her husband worked as a mason.
“I don’t believe my husband was a witch. He was killed due to land issues within the family,” said the widow.
Senior Chief Nelson Kibogoto from Ritembu location says it is unfortunate that villagers retaliate after claims of people being kidnapped mysteriously through what residents believe to be witchcraft.
“Land issues and poverty has taken a different twist where even a 20-year-old person can be accused of being a witch and get killed as long as he owns land,” Mr Kobogoto said.
Long-standing personal vendetta among villagers has greatly contributed to the execution of the elderly when they decline to subdivide land to their children. In most cases, a book listing the suspected witches and those targeted by the said witches or supposed to have died as a result of being bewitched is always found at dawn by the youth.
It is such books that villagers use in passing verdict upon which the victims are lynched. One villager, Wycliffe Mokoro, said a suspect cannot escape because even if the affected person cannot speak, a ritual is performed where villagers are usually lined up and the elderly are forced to spit on the victims and woe unto the villager whose saliva wakes up an unconscious victim.
The villagers believe that the ancestral spirits have a stake in this nerve-racking process that might eventually make an innocent person loose his life within minutes.
“The lynch mob always threatens anyone trying to rescue a suspect with dire consequences if they intervene, including the family members. They have no option but to watch helplessly as one of their own dies a very painful and tormenting death,” said Mokoro.
Pastor Lawrence Omambia of the New Beginning Apostolic Ministry says his church hosts a number of suspected witches but still, they are not safe.
“Those who have undergone spiritual cleansing fear to come out and speak openly due to possible discrimination from the society. We will continue to preach and urge more people to join the church,” said Omambia.
Nyamache Administration Police Commander William Ojwang said the main challenge in containing the “instant justice” to the alleged witches is the failure by witnesses to appear in court or many of the villagers do not want to collaborate with the police for fear of reprisal.
However, critics argue that the Government needs to urgently consolidate and amend the law relating to witchcraft, adding that the Act is too lenient.
The Witchcraft Act commenced in November 12, 1925 and its Cap 25 of 1948 was last revised in 1962.