At the height of the coffee harvest season in October last year, a small group of coffee farmers was robbed of 40 bags of coffee beans valued at Sh1.1 million. In a desperate attempt to recover their crop, their officials sought out a witch doctor who demanded Sh1.5 million consultation to help them.
Nduma Coffee Factory, which is in the heart of Mukurweini Constituency under Ruthaka Coffee Society, is now on the verge of collapse something that locals are at their wits end over. Farmers who deliver their cash crop to the factory claim that the former chairperson introduced a witch after more than 40 bags were stolen from the factory in October last year.
According to Ann Wambui, a coffee farmer, after thieves broke into the factory on October 12 last year, about 200 farmers visited the factory to witness the damage and find a solution.
“When we heard the news, we rushed to the factory but it was too late as 40 bags of coffee beans had been stolen. We found the watchmen tied together and blindfolded but they were unhurt,” she said.
She added that after reporting the incident to the police and calling insurance agents to assess the damage, a group of farmers suggested that they should seek help from a witch doctor, saying that the police investigation would take too long.
“The damage was worth Sh1.1 million which we were to be compensated by insurance, but some farmers wanted the thieves arrested as soon as possible. Some suggested a quick solution to bring on board a witch doctor instead of relying on police officers but the majority of us never agreed to the idea since we are Christians and don’t practice witchcraft,” she said.
Wambui said they were shocked the following morning to see a half-naked man wearing a sack making rounds in the factory’s compound without talking to anyone.
“The following morning there was a scary-looking man who was making big steps around the factory’s compound for over two hours but never spoke to anyone before he left,” she said.
Wambui stated that farmers were later called for an impromptu meeting that was chaired by the former chairperson Teresa Wachira to agree on the amount of money to pay for the sorcerer’s service.
“On October 25, all farmers who deliver their coffee to the factory were called to discuss remuneration for the witch doctor but most farmers never agreed on paying Sh1.5 million as they did not know who had brought him,” she said.
Another farmer, Julius Karienye said after the meeting, farmers disagreed and split into two groups.
One was supporting the decision to pay the witch doctor and the other was against it since he was demanding a lumpsum amount that was higher than the stolen coffee was worth.
“The meeting did not end well as some farmers wanted the witch doctor paid and others did not support the decision. The two groups started pointing fingers at each other since the former chairperson wanted the witch doctor paid and the group led by the factory’s manager did not want him paid,” he said.
He added that news started spreading among the farmers that Ms Wachira had already withdrawn Sh1.5 million from the factory’s account.
“We wanted to know who brought the witch doctor to the factory and we overheard the chairperson’s claim that when thieves broke into her house, the police did not help at all. She recovered her stolen items after a witch intervened,” he said.
He said that more details came to light after a misunderstanding between Wachira and the manager, Ann Wanjiru.
This was after Ms Wachira tried to transfer the manager from the factory.
Karienye further stated that farmers held an impromptu meeting on April 11 to stop the transfer of the manager to another factory since they had not been compensated by the insurance agents.
“We could not allow the manager to leave at such a time since the compensation plans were still underway and we were afraid that we could lose everything if a new manager was brought on board,” he said.
Karienye added that during the meeting the chairperson had suggested they should add another Sh3.4 million to the witch doctor.
However, Ms Wanjiru ran into Ms Wachira’s office only to return with a one-litre bottle of an unidentified concoction which she claimed was from the witch doctor.
“Farmers had been suspecting the chairperson was working together with the witch doctor but we had no evidence. Her misunderstanding with her manager had made us angry and we poured the concoction and closed her office with two padlocks,” Karienye said.
He added that the board members put a caveat on all the factory’s bank accounts until recently when they held a meeting and elected a new chairperson.
“The factory board members rushed to the bank to raise a red flag on Ms Wachira. Last week, we held a meeting and elected a new chairperson,” he said.
They have now urged the government to formulate policies that will protect farmers from losses.
“We are tired of each chairperson stealing from us and walking scot-free after every three years. The government should make tough laws that will ensure those involved are arrested,” John Muya said.