|Tagwa villagers are afraid, indeed very afraid. Their Ngonde forest neighbourhood in Nyeri North District has become the dumping ground of bodies by as yet unidentified killers.
|Jane Wangari of Tagwa village in Nyeri near Ngonde forest points at the spot where bodies are often dumped. Photo/PAUL WANJIRU
Although the forest is of huge benefit to the neighbouring communities, the villagers rarely venture into it these days due to the frequent dumping of bodies.
They regard dumping spots in forest as “fields of death”.
The residents say they have been avoiding the forest like a plague ever since the charred remains of a man were found, about five metres from the edge of the forest, in November last year.
Since then, 11 other male bodies have been found at various spots in the forest, having been burnt beyond recognition.
The villagers blame the Government for failing to get to the bottom of the deaths.
The police, they say, have made it a routine to collect the bodies and not investigate the killings.
“We are living in fear because we neither know where the bodies come from nor who the victims are,” says Ms Jane Wangari.
Tagwa village borders the forest and is separated by a tarmac road that leads to Sagana State Lodge.
The residents want the Government to launch and expedite investigations and bring the culprits to book. It’s the only way to end their fear, they say.
According to 58-year-old Wangari, the bodies are burnt using a highly flammable liquid and a tyre.
“Last week, we found three bodies. This is the highest number so far discovered in a single week. We are terrified of venturing into the forest despite the fact that it is of huge economic importance to us,” she states.
She said it appears the victims’ hands and legs are tied with ropes before they are burnt. A jerrican used to carry petrol and tyre remains are normally found at the scenes.
Ms Wangari, who is a farmer, told the Nation that every time the residents find a body, a report is usually made to the nearby Kiganjo Police Station and the officers respond by picking up the body.
The residents say the police initially were hesitant to collect the bodies but were now responding promptly.
“The first time we made a report, it took up to four days by which the body had decomposed,” says Mugambi Kiama.
People avoid venturing into the forest because they fear that the killers may be residing in the forest.
Mr Kiama says that even though no one from the area had been reported missing, there was apprehension among the residents that one of them could be next on the executioners’ list.
Ms Wangari says women who usually fetch firewood in the forest are the most traumatised by the killings.
“Everyone is fearful of being accosted by the ghosts (of the dead) seeking to avenge,” she says.
The mother of six, whose 30 cows graze in the forest on a daily basis, says she at times is too scared to fetch and the animals spend the night in the forest. This happens whenever the men in her household are late in driving them home.
“About 300 head of cattle graze in the forest but not beyond 4pm because it is believed that is when the enemy could be laying in wait for victims,” says Ms Wangari, her sentiments clearly informed by fear.
Her long-time friend and neighbour, Ms Mercy Njeri, says the most horrifying moment for her was when she found a body still burning in the morning as she went to fetch fire wood.
The 60-year-old grandmother’s experience of the last three months have filled her mind with horror.
She urges the provincial administration and the police to carry out thorough investigations to end the killings.
Ms Njeri is optimistic that with the coming closer of the provincial administration, measures will be put in place to apprehend the culprits.
The area is under the newly-created Nyeri North District which was hived off the larger Nyeri District. The headquarters is Chaka Town.
The district was created in January last year alongside Nyeri South District as President Kibaki implemented the split of several expansive districts in Central Kenya.
District commissioner Francis Komen, says he has organised security meetings with area residents to map out strategies of dealing with the situation since the police cannot be on the ground all the time to monitor the area.
According to Mr Komen the residents are expected to keep an eye on suspicious vehicles plying the route at odd hours and furnish authorities with such information.
“With the necessary induction, the residents will be able to monitor any suspicious activities and report the matter immediately to the authorities,” he says.
The concept of community policing, DC says, will be handy in dealing with the situation. It is the best strategy of getting to the bottom of what looks like a well coordinated murder syndicate, he states.
The bodies, he says, are usually dumped at two-week intervals but is shocked after the discovery of three bodies in a week.
Identities of victims
Nyeri head of police Sebastian Kirunya says his office has been unable to establish the identities of the victims since their fingerprints are usually destroyed by fire.
Carrying out DNA tests on the bodies, he says, could help in identification but this option is expensive as it is usually undertaken in South Africa when the state is under intense pressure to reveal the identity of a dead person.
“We have no choice but to pick up the bodies which are eventually disposed of as there are usually no claims to compel the State to pursue other options,” he says.
Police patrols, Mr Kirunya says, have been increased in the area to crack the murder syndicate.
He says initial investigations indicate that the individuals are killed elsewhere and their bodies dumped in the forest at night.