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[VIDEO] Shelter where suspected witches feel like hunted animals in Kilifi



They are old, haggard and warty, some with tattered clothes and scraggly hair. The eldest in the group of 10 is 86 years old and the youngest, 60. These are suspected witches in Kilifi county who escaped lynching by a whisker.

They live in Kaya Godhoma Rescue Centre, a six-acre compound with 10 thatched huts surrounded by a hedge. The shelter is in Mrima wa Ndege deep into Ganze constituency, 59km from Kilifi town.

They ended up here because they are feared and reviled by the community. Religious leaders claim they are Satan’s agents on Earth. They are associated with mysterious deaths and misfortunes. Thus, anyone accused of witchcraft will most likely be killed.

Police said more than 100 elderly people were killed in 2014 in Kilifi alone. It is estimated that 72 more elders were eliminated in 2017, some torched to death. The murders reduced last year.

Interior CS Fred Matiang’i toured the region earlier this month and condemned the killings. “There is a unique problem here at the Coast: the killing of the elderly. It has become chronic and happens only here,” he said.

“There are those who give cultural reasons. That is an absolute lie. Anyone who kills another person is a murderer and action should be taken against them.”



The rescue centre has saved so many suspected elderly people from lynching on suspicion of sorcery. It is run by a seven-member committee (four men, three women) chaired by Emmanuel Katana.

From as many as 22 in August last year, the elderly suspected witches taking refuge at the centre are now down to seven men and three women.

The hut at the centre, called Kigojo, serves as a court, where those accusing the elders can present their claims for adjudication.

Inside the Kigojo are 14 pieces of timber slightly buried. These represent the departed elders, who ‘help’ the court’s judge (Vaya) in decision-making.

A shrine is on the east side of the shelter. Two traditional healers (waganga) from both genders perform spells round the clock.

The sanctum, filled with skeletons, jack-o-lanterns and a pot, is for the oath-taking and ‘healing’ the sick. Seashells and oil are among the healing portions the magicians rely on for their rituals. Other paraphernalia are hidden in a hut that is forever kept dark. They possess ‘powers’.

The shelter is ‘holy’ and only the barefooted are allowed in. There is a belief among occupiers and locals that ancestral spirits hover here. To appease them, the place must be kept clean throughout.

There are two famous kinds of oaths among the Kayas: an axe oath and a pineapple oath. They are administered at the Rescue Centre’s shrine to uncover the truth.

For the axe oath, the metal is placed on a raging fire until it turns red-hot. A plate (Mvure) is filled with water that has been mixed with a substance prescribed by a traditional healer.

A suspect or complainant loudly tables allegations or counter-accusations, while facing the plate. He washes his hands using the water mixed with a concoction. The axe is then placed on the hands. If he doesn’t get burnt, he is not lying, and vice versa.

For the pineapple oath, the fruit is sliced twice and immersed into a liquid mixed with a concoction, which has been prescribed by a traditional healer. The accused or complainant will chew one slice each. Whoever fails because of the fruit’s bitterness is lying.

For the oaths to be administered at the shrine, one must enter the place bare-chested and shoe-less. After the swearing, the head is shaved clean, irrespective of gender. The healer then goes around the patient several times chanting incantations.



The motives behind their persecution have emerged. The killings are not only linked to land inheritance, as publicly known, but also to incest. The targeted men are often polygamous. Conflict arises when their sons get interested in their wives.

The sons have an affair with their stepmothers, then accuse the father of witchcraft to get rid of him. The incestuous relationships continue after they are forced out of the homes.

“To provide a perfect cover for their consensual incestuous relationships with their stepmothers, these sons accuse their fathers of being witches,” centre chairman Katana said.

Nyiro Samuel Katana, 68, a refugee at the centre, was hacked while asleep in 2013.

“These two attackers slashed me all over. My wife escaped but did not scream immediately. She waited for the attackers to leave then alerted neighbours. She was an accomplice,” he said.

Nyiro accused his 35-year-old eldest son of sleeping with his mother. He left behind a 12-acre land and 50 palm trees. Katana cannot return home because he is a target.

Another fugitive Kahindi Muvumba, 76, was accused of plotting to offer his son as a sacrifice to the gods. “My wife spread the rumours and told the son I was a witch,” he said.

The son took the pineapple oath but he could not chew it. “He was asked to pay me Sh150,000 because he lied I was a witch. He didn’t pay,” Muvumba said.

Instead, the allegations of witchcraft persisted and Muvumba had to run for his safety.

Jumwa Musinye, 70, came to the centre in 2014 after her home was torched. She was blamed for the death of her grandson.

Family members said she used black magic to kill him. She still denies the accusations and said the target was a quarry land that her late husband owned.

“They were complaining of not getting proceeds from the quarry. They poured petrol on my leg and wanted to burn me,” Musinye said. Her 10-acre land that grows cashew nuts was grabbed.

Pola Kirao, 70, has resigned to her fate, claiming she considers herself a witch because relatives see her as such.

“My grandson died and word spread that I was the murderer. They said I’m a witch, so I’m a witch,” she said sarcastically

Kazungu Ponda, 79, received a letter in 2013 claiming he would be killed before the week ends because of sorcery. He has 12 acres of land. He still visits the area he used to live but cannot get close to his house.

“I’m like a hunted animal. I can’t even dare enter the house,” he said.

At the time of this interview, the eldest in the centre was sick. All the elderly people in the camp denied they are witch doctors, but locals insist they are evil. Those who we spoke to said they will continue ‘dealing’ with them.



Human rights groups have termed “alarming” the number of people getting killed on suspicion of witchcraft.

Muslims for Human Rights chairman Khelef Khalifa and executive director Hassan Abdille called for an end to the killing of the elderly. They said life must be protected no matter what.

Khalif said police and politicians ‘have blood in their hands’ for failing to protect the elderly. “Why has the government not put proper mechanisms to identify and take legal action against the killers?” he said.

“Human life has becomes so worthless. It is sad that the killings can persist up to know. The CS warning is not enough. He must take action.”

Ganze MP Teddy Mwambire wants to end the killings and persecution by ignorant, fearful residents. He plans to amend the 1925 Witchcraft Act to punish killers. The Act only states punishment against those practising witchcraft but is silent on killers.

Katana, the rescue centre’s chairman, said they have been running the facility through donations from well-wishers. He said since its inception in 2008, cases of lynching have reduced.

“These old men and women are not witch doctors, they are just suspects,” he said.

“We have been key in protecting them, promoting peace and conserving the environment.”

The centre has set up cattle rearing and gotten the elderly involved in farming. Secretary Josphat Nguma said their policy dictates that any person who shelters at Kaya Godhoma should not stay past 90 days.

“But it has been difficult to implement this because the complainants from the family are not coming to court for the hearings. So no cases have commenced,” he said.

He asked the government to fund them as they are pivotal in protecting lives.

“There is a misconception that we are harbouring and protecting witches. This is not true,” he said.

It is unclear if indeed the elders were practising black magic or just carrying on the folk magic, earth-based spirituality and herbalism that their ancestors had passed down for centuries.

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