Return of Kilifi witch killings worries authorities

Women elders in a meeting "Kaya Council of Elders" from Kilifi County  at Kaya Kauma during a past event to discuss the brutal killings of elders purported to be witchcrafts. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

In villages spread across Kilifi County, some locals have been on a killing spree, targeting suspected elderly witches and meting out instant justice – death.

The killings, blamed on land disputes, have resurged lately.

And authorities blame young and learned people, including the sons and daughters of the victims, of being behind the killings.

Last February, a 70-year-old widow had to flee her home fearing for her life after her son threatened to kill her.

Dama Mlonzi moved into her younger brother’s house in Makusheni after some of her children accused her of being a witch.

She reported the matter, which she said was sparked by the sale of land, to Kilifi Police Station under OB 36/10/9/2018.

Statistics from the Kilifi police indicate that over 145 residents aged 50 and above were killed between 2019 and 2022.

Kilifi County police boss Nelson Taliti said the county recorded 43 killings in 2019, 52 in 2020, and 50 in 2021.

“Some of the perpetrators are teachers, police officers, and Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) soldiers, killing their parents because they are said to be witches,” said Mr Taliti.

So serious was the threat to elderly residents that the Kaya Godhoma rescue centre opened in 2008 in Ganze constituency to shelter locals who feared for their lives. 

Dozens of elderly men and women have sought refuge in the sanctuary, which depends on well-wishers for food and clothing.

It has been established that land disputes related to inheritance led to most of the killings.

Initially, many such killings happened in Ganze, Magarini and Rabai constituencies but have spread to Kaloleni.

Leaders have now raised the alarm over the killings.

“Cases of elderly killings are on the rise, arising from land issues where children want to sell land and when their father declines, they brand him a witch and hack him. They would later sell the land and buy motorbikes,” Mr Taliti said.

Kaloleni Deputy County Commissioner Mugo Gichiri warned the community to stop the killings.

He said the best way would be to educate the community about the ills of practising witchcraft.

Speaking at Kithengwani Primary School in Mwanamwinga ward, Mr Gichiri said many perpetrators were men.

“I have issues with men who are eradicating the elderly. Every time the elderly make a little wealth or refuse to give them land, they want to take it away. They claim he is a witch and plan on how to kill him,” he said.

Bishop Rueben Katite of the Malindi diocese of the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) condemned the killings.

He cautioned the public against using false allegations to perpetrate the killings and asked them to report the cases to the relevant authorities.

“The community should not get deceived to embrace these false intercessors who have brewed conflict in many families, leaving them broken,” he said.

Ganze MP Teddy Mwambire called on the government and other entities to support initiatives aimed at reducing the killings.

“Government officials have not taken up the challenge with the seriousness it deserves. That is why we still have many elderly people killed,” he said.

In 2018, Mr Mwambire proposed amendments to the 1967 Witchcraft Act to protect the elderly from being killed on witchcraft allegations.

He said the killings had become a national crisis, adding that the outdated Witchcraft Act was not helping security agencies and the judicial system to prosecute perpetrators.

Kaya Kambe elder Erastus Kubo said elders were living in fear of being killed by their relatives over property.

When Kilifi County Commissioner Kutwsa Olaka assumed office in 2020, he promised to end the killings.

Mr Olaka ordered that when an elderly person was killed, all family members should be arrested.

He also embarked on a public awareness campaign on the importance of protecting the elderly.

This was to be carried out through Nyumba Kumi elders.

Officers from the Ministry of Lands and the county government were also to be involved in resolving property disputes among families.

“Since it is established that the elderly killings are because of land disputes, among other reasons, officers from the land sector would move in to address the problem to prevent these men from being murdered,” he said.