In parts of Kenya where crime is rampant, locals frustrated with long police investigations have begun turning in droves to witchdoctors for the service of catching thieves. Victims of crime say the method is faster than bothering with the authorities and provides a future deterrent from criminal activity once word of a curse gets out. They have no doubt that witchcraft works.
Tabitha Muthike, a witchdoctor from the village of Kwa Muthike (a village actually named after the old woman), “treats” property, so that in the event that it is stolen, the thief will descend into some form of madness until the property is returned. It’s a tactic that appears to be working.
“Last month, a driver stole a sack of charcoal from the roadside. But it caught fire after travelling for a short distance. He had to return the charcoal to get the spell broken by Muthike and be set free,” said Mary Nduku, one of Tabitha’s clients. She went on to say that no one dares touch the mango fruit growing in the area for fear of remaining stuck in place until the property owner arrives to spit on them, the only way such a curse can be broken.
In Migori, one landlord even uses witchcraft as a selling point for his building, telling prospective tenants that since the building has been treated, they could leave their doors open for days and nothing would go missing thanks to the spiritual protection provided.
James Etabwa, a resident of Bungoma, told The Standard that he didn’t believe in witchcraft until he sought it in an act of desperation, after his watchman was killed and property stolen from him. To his surprise, the witchdoctor was able to recover his stolen wheelbarrow, cassette player, and 15,000 in local currency.
Police, on the other hand, are not so keen on the phenomenon, and have issued a statement to the public warning against the use of witchdoctors, who they say seek only quick cash with their “well woven network of conmen”.
One alleged conman is the witchdoctor Paul Odhiambo Okello, famous for cursing suspected thieves who are later found grazing in fields as if they were cattle. Earlier this month, Okello’s house was raided by authorities and he was whisked away to face charges of swindling Sh700,000 from a business in Nairobi.
“He will be arraigned in court with the crime of falsely obtaining money and we are appealing to any members of the public who have fallen victim to similar fraud to come forward and press charges. We had already received many complaints regarding the same person,” the police chief told WestFM.
Authorities are fearful that the surge in witchdoctors’ popularity could wind up inciting waves of violence not only directed at innocent people singled out as thieves, but at those accused of witchcraft. Frenzied lynch mobs are not uncommon in Kenya; just three years ago, 15 women were burned to death by an angry crowd as the result of a witch hunt.
Duncan Mandwa Omoding, a “doctor” who claims to have captured 33 criminals in the past year, admits that of that number, 8 people were lynched before police were able to get involved. Omoding wishes authorities were more willing to cooperate with witchdoctors in the fight against crime.
“Engaging in witchcraft is a crime because our Constitution doesn’t allow it and neither does it allow someone to possess paraphernalia likely to cause fear and panic,” warned police commissioner Samuel Kilele.