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Witchcraft & Witch Burning MUST Stop

By Matunda Nyanchama

Toronto, Canada. March 24, 2009

This has been a week of outrage on Kenyan Internet chat rooms; it was indignation borne of a grisly incident caught on video of people killing and burning alleged witches in Nyamataro, near Kisii town in Kenya. The human cruelty captured in the video clip is beyond belief. The callousness and cold-bloodedness of the act is intestine-churning! It is murder at its most atrocious form! It is unfathomable that such a scandalous act can take place in modern society in a region and country where religion is deeply entrenched.

The killings in question are not the first of their kind in the area. The video captures the grisliness in a manner not conveyed in earlier newspaper reports. That graphic, inhumane murder and burning of victims captured on video is unprecedented in the country!

This incident puts our entire country to shame among the community of nations; it further embarrasses those of who come from the region in a case that cannot be defended anywhere in contemporary times.

Law enforcement must move in quickly and apply the full force of the law. Every effort must be made to bring perpetrators of this open-day murder to book and ensure that they pay for their heartless crime. The punishment must be severe enough to deter others that may attempt similar acts in the future.

A comprehensive campaign to win community support in dealing with suspects (alleged witches or suspected killers) must be in place. The basic tenets of law should apply. These include that no one should be condemned unheard and that everyone be treated as innocent until proved guilty in a court of law.

A long term strategy must identify the root cause of such brutal tendencies. Means must be designed to root out the practices (of murder and witchcraft) once and forever. This long-term action requires the entire community to act in unison, hand-in-hand to end this primitive and backward manner of treating fellow human beings. Area leaders must show the way and help the community chart a new path in taking this practice head-on. The entire community must pronounce and seal a death knell to this peril. In a word, a social revolution in thinking and practice is called for!

The plan must emphasize every person’s right to life and the concept of live and let live! Any death of a person is one too many and no one has right to take anyone’s life!

The solution must address the root cause of such savagery. Indeed, there are multiple causes of this, many of which relate to poverty, stress caused by uncertainty and too many idling people “itching” for action.

The poverty rate in Gusii, as in many parts of the country, is unprecedented. Land sizes have shrunk to a degree where holdings cannot support the population based on traditional land use techniques. The fact is that even if one worked the land to the degree one could, there is NOT enough land to support the current and future population without creativity of some sort.

This situation worsened by the post-election clashes of last year in which massive numbers of people of Gusii origin were cleansed and “headed home” to Gusii.

Unmet expectations are also factor! There are hundreds of thousands of youth that have completed school but cannot find jobs. Just drive or walk along any roads in the area and count how many of these youth there are on the roadsides! And this idling runs from dawn to dusk! Human beings were never created to idle; they must have an outlet for their mental and physical worthies, which is not the case in most of Gusii. It is no wonder that crime in the area is at all-time high and groups like Sungu Sungu exist, in some cases for hire for mere pennies.

The foregoing, alongside backward beliefs in witchcraft and therein you have a toxic mix, a tinderbox that ready to ignite at the spark of a match. One’s enemy merely needs to label one a thief or a witch to set of the mob; not unlike the “mob justice” of Kenyan towns!

As part of the long-term strategy there is a need for opportunity mapping and massive investment to create jobs. Examples include value-added industries in agro processing (bananas, potatoes, dairy, etc), diversification of farming (horticulture, mushroom, etc.) that have better land use outcomes and industrialization.

Other possible areas include cultural and eco-tourism, if well-planned and incorporated in a regional tourism circuit. The potential in this area is unexploited and should be a priority for area leaders and government.

To realize meaning job creation, the government would give incentives to investors to make it attractive to locate their investment there. Using tax incentives and clear articulation of the region’s benefits such as the climate, a large pool of qualified people, available market (what with all those numbers of people?) and easy access to the regional markets: Tanzania, Uganda and the rest of COMESA region.

While on this, the president needs to come good on his promise in the last elections: that he would build a banana factory in the area. Community and political leaders need to press to government to make good this pledge!

All the foregoing will come to naught without sustained effort by all: law enforcement, community leaders and professionals from the area. Such sustained campaign could use all available media (radio, TV and print), chiefs’ barazas, churches, public events and schools.

Murder is a crime and must be punished. Witchcraft is borne of ignorance and old beliefs that society must shed. Conditions that lead to such murder as we saw must be done away with. Job creation and general economic development in the area will help to resolve the problem. The community must take this responsibility seriously and leaders need to chart the way. We owe it to the future of our children, our country and the world.

Click here for recent coverage by the Daily Nation of Nairobi, Kenya

NB: drop me (matunda@matunda.org) a note should you wish to assist in any way.

For a treatise of the subject, read Justus Ogembo’s Contemporary Witch-Hunting in Gusii, Southern Kenya, MellenPress.

Here is a link to an NPR Report Witch Burning Haunts Tribe.

Here is the accompanying Audio

© Matunda Nyanchama. March 25, 2009

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Matunda Nyanchama, a computer security consultant, is a past President of the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA). He can be reached at matunda@matunda.org. Visit www.matunda.matunda.org.

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