By Leo Igwe
The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW) urges the people of Kenya to stop lynching persons suspected to be witches because witchcraft allegations are mistaken assumptions. The call has become necessary following reports of the brutal murder of elderly women accused of witchcraft in the country since August. Kenyan advocates drew the attention of AFAW to a particular video that was circulating on social media. One advocate who shared the video also said: “Very disgusting this is! And the people that do this will not know peace. Witchcraft only exists in people’s minds. I’ve never believed in it. How do you even tell that a person is a witch if you’re not or you’ve never been one yourself?” The video contains revulsive scenes where an alleged witch, a woman in her 70s, was pleading for her life. She had been beaten and had bruises on her face. The mob put a tyre on her neck, covered her with dry leaves, and then set her ablaze while members of the public watched and cheered.
Many Kenyans have been commenting on the incident and pervasiveness of witch persecution and killing in the country. Njeri Wa Migwi-Mwangi posted this comment:”The first time I saw a video on Whatsapp of an elderly woman being burnt, she was in a ditch, she was bleeding and crying and begging them but they beat her anyway and they burnt her. I remember I broke down and cried and cried. They said she had red eyes so she was a witch and deserved to die. No one was arrested. That was 2016. On 28th October, an elderly woman was burnt in and the same allegation was made: she was a witch. That a child had died from flu in the neighborhood. My god, no one had a mask, no one. No one was arrested. I’ve checked and it’s a habitual thing to kill elderly women in Kisiiland under the guise that they’re witches. Most of these women are also widows. Is this a case of land grabbing? Where is the outrage? Is it a crime to be elderly? Why are you killing old women? Why is no one talking about this! Thousands of posters advertising the services of witch doctors are in this city, with their numbers but somehow the ones in Kisii are the effective ones! Stop killing old women”.
In the same vein someone said: “I watched that clip, I couldn’t stand it. A chilling fear ran down my spine. Fear of the young men and women we are raising, who will commit murder in broad daylight, and will be applauded. This has been, will always be, murder. When people want to disinherit widows, they first accuse them of killing their husbands or being a witch’. My heart bleeds for our society”.
Another Facebook user commented: “I hated when I saw one of the guys slapping our old mum, I couldn’t do the whole video when she caught fire, I missed mum who died a natural death(I was there seeing someone’s mum burning away. It’s painful, I wish we could do away with this kind of act”
Usikimye, a local organization that campaigns against gender-based violence said this on its Facebook page: “Gender violence comes in many ways and one of the many ways is the killing of the elderly especially women under the guise of witchcraft. There was a heartbreaking video doing rounds of an old woman being beaten by a mob, and eventually, she was set on fire. On 28th October, the same fate befell another old woman and the mob burnt her, they claimed that she had bewitched a child that died. This is a practice in Kisii and seems like parts of the coastal province are also on it.
We cannot in good conscience continue to be silent when the elderly are burnt. This could be an issue of disinheriting widows or grabbing land. Stop killing elderly women”.
In addition to comments on social media, a report in the Nation summarizes what transpired in Kiisi. A mob attacked the woman after she allegedly dropped “some leaves considered as witchcraft paraphernalia at the home of her stepson”. The stepson had lost three children in ‘mysterious circumstances’. The expression, ‘mysterious circumstances’ usually refers to situations that defy commonsense and everyday explanations. This elderly woman was suspected to be responsible for the death of the children. According to the report, the woman confessed to being behind the death when she was confronted. She claimed to have killed the children along with two other persons. The mob descended on the woman and lynched her. As the report noted, the father of the children wondered what the woman was doing at their house very early in the morning.
When families suffer many deaths within a short period, members become paranoid and sometimes think that some persons might be using harmful magic against them. Elderly women are often suspected and scapegoated. The belief is that elderly persons use magical means to extend their lives, and achieve longevity. Elderly persons kill children and younger persons to exchange their young souls with their elderly ones. Thus the young persons die pre-maturely while the elderly continue to live.
AFAW implores all Kenyans to discard this baseless assumption and superstitious nonsense. The people of Kenya should understand that there is no evidence for witchcraft explanations of death, diseases, and other misfortunes. Kenyans should stop attacking and burning elderly women for witchcraft because these women are innocent and have no hand in deaths and other misfortunes in families. Witchcraft allegations are informed by ignorance, fear, and anxiety over existential challenges and uncertainties. Elderly women need care, love, and protection because in some cases they suffer from dementia and other old age-related ailments that predispose them to make confessions and utterances that could easily be attributed to witchcraft. The people of Kenya should abandon the superstitious belief in witchcraft and embrace science and critical thinking.
In response to the recent development, AFAW has started a local Whatsapp group for advocates in Kenya who are discussing various ways to tackle the problem of witch persecution. Some have proposed to organize public education campaigns in the communities. Others have proposed to set up shelters for victims in the affected regions. It is encouraging to know that there are Kenyans who do not believe in witchcraft and who are willing to take measures to address this menace. For instance, one of the advocates posted the following on the platform:
Leo Igwe is a Public Affairs Analyst.