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Plight of witchcraft refugees in Kaya camp

Saturday January 28 2012

By KIPCHUMBA SOME

Spurned by family and community, life can get pretty dangerous and lonely for witchcraft suspects.

They are either worried sick that somebody is planning to kill them or that they have no one to talk to about their fears.

A camp in Kaya Godoma has therefore come as a huge relief for most of them.

The camp was the initiative of Mr Teddy Mwambire, the vice-chairman of Kilifi County Council and whose Vitengeni ward has witnessed some of the most gruesome killings.

Mr Mwambire knows too well the political risk of associating with the suspects, but it is a risk he is ready to take.

“People tell me that I too will become a witch if I associate with them too much.

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“They say to me ‘Mheshimiwa, they will rub their juju on you’. But somebody has to do something for these people. They are the most vulnerable and defenceless,” he said.

The camp’s origins is drawn from the same customs that fuel the superstitions.

A kaya elder, Kinga Charo Midzanze, runs it, presiding over the residents from a shrine. At no fee, he conducts a ritual to determine whether one is guilty or not.

A former truck driver, Mr Midzanze claims to have powers to identify sorcerers and to relieve them of their magic powers.

“I used to go round identifying them but it brought problems so I now wait for them to be brought to me,” he said.

How he identifies witches is his secret, but he let us in on an aspect of it.

“If I go into a homestead and one of the members does not want to meet me or avoids eye contact, then I know he or she is probably a sorcerer.”

His methods may be debatable, but the accused submit to his authority and the community accepts his verdicts.

“This is the only cultural solution to the whole issue,” said Mr Mwambire. Banished from their communities, the suspects are forced to fend for themselves.

The camp is a place of hardship. It has no sanitation, with the bushes acting as toilets, and no water wells.

They depend on well-wishers for food. The women, most of them elderly, have to walk miles to fetch water.

But the matter has attracted little interest from the 150 NGOs operating in the region.

“It is really amazing and frustrating that no one is interested in addressing a problem that is threatening to wreck the communities they are working for,” said Kilifi DC Gachichio.

In the meantime, Mr Mizandze says most of those who have passed through his hands have been successfully integrated into the society after performing rituals to strip them of their powers. But, even then, finding acceptance is hard.

“Once you are labelled a witch no ritual can really cleanse you of the tag.

“You remain a witch in the eyes of the people. And so you just hope for the best but prepare for the consequences,” said Mzee Ngoka.