The absurdity of Medieval mania in 21st century Kenya

Saturday March 18 2023
Mr Peter Mwangi Kibaara from Murang’a

Mr Peter Mwangi Kibaara from Murang’a County in Kenya whose wife was lynched by a mob on suspicion that she was a witch. These killings happen in areas of low education and great poverty. PHOTO | MWANGI MUIRURI | NMG


Murang’a County , witch, lynching, mob justice, HelpAge International,

Last week’s Sunday Nation carried a horrific story, hidden among acres of reports, on the shenanigans of the political class.

A 76-year-old man narrated to a reporter how his 75-year-old wife was lynched by a mob in Murang’a County because she was a “witch”.

The mob burst into the poverty-stricken elderly couple’s mud house and accused his wife of being responsible for several deaths in the village. They dragged the old woman outside, put car tyres on her, and doused her with petrol. Before they set her aflame, they allowed the old man, suffering from severe arthritis, to say goodbye to his wife. He was in tears from sheer helplessness.

The wife, though facing imminent death, told him to be strong and to take care of himself.

The old man watched as his wife, his partner and friend since their marriage in 1972, and with whom he had five children, was consumed by the flames.


Elderly people lynched

Some years ago, a horrific video, before it was pulled down by YouTube after protests by HelpAge International and other human rights organisations, showed elderly people being set ablaze in Kisii County on account of being witches. An elderly woman tried to flee the flames but a young thug kicked her back into the fire. One old man sat without flinching as the flames engulfed him. A few years ago, the Nation newspaper carried a story about elderly people in Kilifi, where lynching of the elderly is a frequent crime, lamenting that to be an older person in the county was a death sentence.

How is it possible that this medieval practice is alive in 21st century Kenya? In medieval Europe, burning of witches was a common practice.

The dawn of the Age of Enlightenment and the spread of education would eventually end the barbarity in Europe.

In Kenya, education, no matter its quality, has reached most corners. People know that death is caused by disease or accidents. They are also Christian or Muslim, and know that their religions do not condone belief in dark forces.

Research done by HelpAge International on lynching in Africa came up with several findings.

First, these killings happen in areas of low education and great poverty.

Second, killing of “witches” is a pretext for disinheriting the elderly of their land.

Third, lynch thugs target elderly women rather than men, showing a gender dimension to the crime.

Fourth, there is little political will to confront the practice as local and national politicians are afraid of losing support by going against the cultural grain.

Fifth, police fail to apprehend the murderers, thus giving thugs a licence to kill.

Society finds it easier to endlessly try to figure out actions of politicians without ideology or principle, rather than address urgent issues such as murder of elderly citizens. We must mercilessly punish these murderers and put a quick end to the medieval barbarism of witch lynching.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator