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Family vows of silence stymie investigations

Saturday January 28 2012

By KIPCHUMBA SOME [email protected]

The fact that the killing of suspected sorcerers in Coast Province is usually committed by close family members has made it doubly difficult for the police to successfully investigate and prosecute perpetrators.

“There is a vow of silence amongst family members and neighbours that makes our investigations very difficult,” said Malindi OCPD Kiprono Langat.

He said they are holding four suspects in connection with recent killings of suspected witches in Malindi.

Such is the frustration in the security forces in arresting perpetrators that Kilifi District Commissioner Benjamin Gachichio proposes that laws be introduced to permit the arrest and trial of all members of a family in which a death has occurred but who decline to cooperate with security forces.

Primitive and evil

“It will be unpopular, but it is one of the ways to deal with the crimes,” he said.

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“This criminal silence on the part of the families of the victims is unacceptable, and the whole practice is generally primitive and evil,” he said.

By law, witchcraft is illegal. The Witchcraft Act under the previous constitution provided for a maximum five-year prison sentence for those found guilty of the practice. The new Constitution is silent on the matter.

But the laws of the land cannot suffice however stringent they may be.

“You cannot effectively legislate against a belief rooted in a people’s culture. You need to change the people’s attitude first,” said Mzee Karisa Ngoa Mwaringa, a village elder in Kaguguta village, Magarini constituency.

Due to the high number of cases, the local administration has been forced to form a “witchcraft committee” to deliberate on cases of alleged sorcery.

Its members are drawn from the local community and the local administration, and they meet every Thursday.

He reckons that many potential deaths have been averted as a result of the committee’s work.

“We logically follow the accusations levelled against someone, and in most cases they are unfounded,” said Mr Paul Mwambire, a chief in Marafa location.

“This culture of self-decimation, says Mr Gachichio, is bound to destroy societies in a region.

“This culture that permits the mistreatment of the elderly is primitive. I wonder who will be left alive at the end of it all.”