Brutal mob killing exposes plight of suspected witches in Vihiga

Sunday January 20 2019

Tafroza Adisa

Mrs Tafroza Adisa (centre) with her son Jack Mudiri (right) in a picture taken last year. She was beaten to death by villagers in Bukulunya, Vihiga, on September 5, 2018. PHOTO | COURTESY  

BENSON AMADALA
By BENSON AMADALA
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A family in Vihiga is struggling to find answers after a relative was beaten to death in a vicious attack by a mob on suspicion of being a witch.

Mrs Tafroza Adisa, 74, from Bukulunya village, and a woman accompanying her were attacked by a mob as they headed to Chavakali market. Armed with sticks and other crude weapons, the villagers descended on the elderly women on a dirt road and beat them senselessly. A video of the graphic scene was captured by cell phone and obtained by the Nation.

The villagers accused Mrs Adisa and her visitor of meeting to plan more deaths in the village by bewitching their victims. “You witches, where are you going? What are you doing out here?” a woman captured in the footage is heard asking. None of the attackers bother to hide their faces. Within minutes the two women lay bloodied and nearly lifeless.

Mrs Adisa was rushed to hospital but succumbed to injuries, her son Pastor John Mudiri told the Nation in an interview. 

The fate of the woman she was with is yet to be established. Records at the Vihiga County Referral Hospital indicate that the woman identified as Leah Kadechi, 45, was admitted at the hospital after the September 5, 2018 attack.

But the patient was transferred to an undisclosed hospital by relatives the next day after services were paralysed at the facility following a strike by health workers.  It is unclear whether she survived the attack.

NO ARRESTS

Despite wide sharing of the video clips on social media, no arrests were made.

Police in Vihiga earlier indicated they were investigating the incident and that they would follow up with the arrest of the suspects captured in the videos.

Vihiga County Police Commander Beatrice Gachago promised to ensure those involved are arrested after learning of the incident.

“Ok, I will follow up on the matter. Some people must be arrested,” the police boss said in a text message.

The assistant chief for Bukulunya sub-location, Henry Mudachi, who went to the scene shortly after the attack, said he found the women lying on the ground surrounded by a crowd.

“They were badly injured and were bleeding profusely. I contacted police who rushed them to Vihiga County Referral Hospital,” said Mr Mudachi.

COMMOTION

The administrator said one of the women was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital while the other was admitted in critical condition.

Mr Mudiri said the chief reached the scene early enough to save his mother but did not do anything.

Mr Mudachi said, “The crowd was uncontrollable so there was nothing I could do to save the lives of the women except call police."

“After police officers came, I let them handle the matter. There had been confusion during the commotion after the villagers became unruly and attacked the women."

The administrator said the women were attacked after they found with items including a list of the names of people from the village. He said she could not explain why they had prepared the list.

He said, however, that he did not collect the items including the piece of paper and the herbal concoctions that he said were found on the women. But they were safely kept for use as evidence during investigations, he said.

Mzee Bernard Chahilu, chairman of the Maragoli

Mzee Bernard Chahilu, chairman of the Maragoli elders (left), and retired Chief Japheth Muzembi from Wodanga location in Vihiga County. The elders said the community does not support attacks on people suspected of engaging in witchcraft although the practice is frowned upon. PHOTO | BENSON AMADALA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Mr Mudiri explained that his mother was carrying herbal concoctions that she had been using to manage her high blood pressure.

“There must have been another motive for the attack. Those claiming she practised witchcraft are liars. Why didn’t they provide any evidence to back their allegations?"

The two women were targeted after a woman from the village perished in a road accident. The matatu she had been traveling in veered off the road and crashed at the Lunyerere Bridge, on Chavakali-Kisumu road, killing five people and injuring 25 passengers.

Relatives started speculating and then arose the claim that the death was the work a witch operating in the village. When rumours started swirling, a section of villagers alleged Mama Adisa had a hand in the death of her neighbour.

But previous reporting of the accident by the Nation pointed to human error.

The Nation established that the 14-seater matatu was being driven by a ‘rookie driver’ at the time of the accident.

TRADITIONAL SEERS

In Bukulunya village, death and other misfortunes that befall families are attributed to witches living in the community. This is because although many families are Christians and attend church services, they consult Abasali (traditional seers) to unravel the causes of their misfortunes at a fee.

The Abasali are usually considered to derive their powers through prayer and are able to foretell future events and offer prayers to protect those who seek their services.

The traditional seers hold sway in the community and villagers usually visit them secretly to seek their intervention whenever misfortunes strike and those affected need divine intervention to ward off bad luck.

The hostility towards those suspected to practise witchcraft spread fear in the usually quiet rural village after villagers started hunting families linked to sorcery.

In December 2018, two women fled their homes after they were accused of being witches.

Retired chief Japheth Muzembi and Bernard Chahilu, the chairman of the Maragoli elders caucus, condemned the attacks on suspected witches noting they are fuelled by mistrust and baseless suspicions.