Ganze MP Teddy Mwambire recently made a public announcement that he will not contribute to any funeral expenses for a person killed on witchcraft allegations.
The MP argued that such killings are organized by family members or close relatives who later turn to leaders to seek support to give their ‘loved’ one a decent send off.
Welcome to the killing fields of suspected witches in Kilifi County! Any one spotting grey hair and or red eyes is an endangered species here—and chances are that person may be a witch suspect and likely target for attack at night.
The incidents have been many and varied—and they are on the increase.
In remote areas like Mrima wa Ndege location in Ganze Sub county, elderly men and women have been sheltered to avoid attacks by marauding youths who suspect them to be witches and wizards. They are camped at the nearby Kaya Godoma for fear of being eliminated.
Majority of the killers are either close family members or they are paid to do the dirty job.
The practice of which craft is not confined only to the Mijikenda and the Coast; it has become widespread in many parts of the country, including the Central Region, where witchcraft was once unheard of. We cannot smell, touch, feel nor see witchcraft, the magic of the spirits, yet the greater majority of human mankind believes in it.
And the practice is still on and, in the case of Kilifi County, the killings associated with it.
The question is how to reverse or minimize these increasing cases of elderly people being killed on suspicions of being witches? Of course, the answer depends on your understanding and belief in the subject.
Reasons for killing of the elderly
I must say that many of the modern day witchcraft murder cases are rooted to emerging lifestyles—among them family feuds in the homes; jalousies within families, inheritances, and land issues.
Elderly people who have been seen to succeed in life are seemingly the prime victims, and in many murder cases, the prime suspects are sons or closer relatives who commit the murders for want of inheritance in the forms of wealth; marriage, or land acquisition.
In this day and age, a person is accused of being a witch to settle scores within the family or among relatives. And the answer is to kill him or her. In particular, land inheritance has been the problem. Elderly persons who resist pressure from their sons or family members to subdivide or sell land for quick money, have been victims of witchcraft allegations. They either surrender or die.
This is why many of the reported cases of witchcraft murders are family-related and they often go unreported for fear of reprisals. The killers are invariably known but families refuse to report them.
What should be done to deal with the rising cases of witchcraft murders in Kilifi County and to save our senior citizens?
I blame the modern day court process. Court processes take time to decide on cases. I have heard complaints from affected villagers that courts are expensive and they take long to decide on cases, while witchcraft victims keep on suffering in the hands of “these evil people”—meaning the suspected witches.
I suggest an alternative method of dealing with witchcraft cases. Let us go the traditional way. I remember that as I grew up, suspects and victims were subjected to traditional methods of identifying and administering oaths to them to realize the truth. The oath was called “kiraho” and when the suspect was trapped in this, he or she would be guilty of the offence of witchcraft. And the process was long and excruciating.
This traditional process was all-inclusive—it was approved by members of the family, relatives, clan and other members from the community. It was swift and efficient. Those found guilty of the offence of practicing witchcraft had prescribed sanctions like compensation for the victims in the form of payment called “kore.” The suspect would then be made to swear that he or she would never again practice witchcraft.
In those more severe cases, the guilty ones would be forced into exile never to be seen again in the immediate neighborhood. Chiefs would ensure they shared information about the exiled persons to ensure they did not cause further harm to the people they had been exiled to.
These traditional practices worked in the past and they could work today. What is needed is the trust and support from local administrators—chiefs, assistant County commissioners, deputy County commissioners, and elected leaders. We still have trusted medicine men and women in our midst, as well as respected witch hunters and oath administers who can do the job.
What is needed is the formal support from local administrators and the political will from our elected leaders.
Like the Rwandan traditional courts that have reduced the formal court processes after the 1990 genocide, these traditional methods could eliminate the delays in witchcraft cases in our courts and use traditional courts that belong to the people.
I may be faulted for suggesting this; I may even be characterized as the man from the village and the villageness in me, but I believe that cultures die hard. If using our old but tested ways of dealing with witchcraft cases could help reverse or minimize the ongoing killings of our elderly people, we need to go back to our roots.
After all, a community without culture is like a tree without roots, it cannot stand!