Boyani Gichana, Yobensia Onguso, Sandimu Mageto, Mary Yusita and Ongubo Ichari

January, 2011

Five lynched over witchcraft claim in Kisii
Published on 28/02/2009
By Robert Nyasato and Paul Gitau

Five elderly people accused of witchcraft were burnt to death in Kisii. The four women and one man were accused of abducting a child and making him dumb through black magic, on Thursday.

Residents of Bomatara village in Mosocho division, Kitutu Chache constituency gathered in the morning following word that witches had abducted the minor. The child, who was abandoned by the roadside, pointed out those who abducted him. They allegedly owned up before being set ablaze.

Area DC Ben Njoroge and the Deputy OCPD Manasseh Musyoka held a baraza and warned wananchi against lynching witchcraft suspects.

Those lynched were identified as Boyani Gichana, Yobensia Onguso, Sandimu Mageto, Mary Yusita and Ongubo Ichari. They were all aged over 80. The DC told residents to report suspects to authorities. Twelve suspected witches were killed in the same area last year. Musyoka said police would patrol the area on 24-hour basis to avert further lynching.

Malindi case:

Meanwhile, Malindi DC Arthur Mugira has accused politicians of frustrating the war against the killers of elderly people suspected of practising witchcraft. He also warned chiefs against colluding with the suspects. Mugira said politicians were frustrating efforts by security agents to crack down on the murderers instead of backing them.

The DC, who was launching the second phase of the Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) for the district's security team at the Malindi County Hall, said the Provincial Administration has been preaching against the vice in public barazas.

"We have done what we are supposed to do but our leaders are not supporting us. We shall continue with our work of ensuring peace and stability prevails in the district," he said.

In an apparent reference to a statement by a top politician that police and administrators were harassing innocent residents, Mugira urged politicians to let the security agents do their work.

The DC said every chief would be allocated five APs to assist them keep law and order. He said there was need for administrators to establish why locals, especially the youth, were obsessed with the killing of elderly suspects.

Malindi OCPD Peter Kattam told the chiefs to ensure that they get proper evidence before suspects are arrested to enable police successfully prosecute them.

Lynching of 'witches' is murder most foul

Recent reports on killings of elderly people that have been going on are horrifying. The images from the media have sent shock waves among Kenyans. It is unthinkable that old men and women are being attacked and burnt to death on allegations and suspicion of practicing witchcraft.

Last week on Friday, six people were killed in Kisii, while 14 were murdered late last year in Malindi. Similar incidents have also been reported in parts of Kwale and Kilifi districts.

The victims are often single, older women and attacks mostly occur where these women lose property rights, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.

Myths about witches:

There are myths about the characteristics of witches that fit those of old women. Red eyes as a result of a lifetime of cooking over a smoky fireplace, or wandering in the night, possibly connected to undiagnosed dementia, are thought to prove the case of engaging in witchcraft.

Accusations are usually connected with unexplained events in local communities such as death or crop failure, and these often lead to suspects being chased away from their homes to live in exile or to lynchings by mobs.

Perpetrators, who comprise mainly the youth, are hardly ever arrested, and when they are, they are usually freed without any charge. This has provided fertile ground for impunity to breed, resulting in more murders.

The Government needs to provide security for its citizens regardless of their age. The elderly have made a great contribution to the country and continue to do so, especially in view that they are taking care of more than 40 per cent of orphans and other vulnerable children.

The State also has to ensure that these individuals, most of whom have no income, are able to support themselves and their dependants through provision of a social pension.

Heinous crimes:

HelpAge Kenya and its partners urge the State to arrest and prosecute all perpetrators of these heinous crimes.

Kenya is a signatory to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, and is obliged to protect the rights of older people from abuse.

Marion Ouma, HelpAge Kenya