Shock as mob kills 11 over witchraft in Kisii
Published on May 22, 2008, 12:00 am
By Standard Team
A village in Kisii woke up to horror as 11 people, most of them elderly women, were murdered in an orgy of violence targeting suspected witches.
It was a night of terror for residents of Matembe and Ngonkoro in Marani Division as an armed gang raided villages, hacking their targets with machetes and setting them ablaze.
It was one of the bloodiest attacks on suspected witches in the region where such killings are common.
Police said eight women and three men aged between 80 and 94 were killed. Police were caught unawares as the gang, said to be villagers led by a local vigilante group, raided homes on Tuesday night.
The gory operation was extended to neighbouring Rachuonyo and Nyamira districts where two people were killed.
Police said the death toll could be higher as villagers who had fled had not been traced.
Police officers from Rioma station found a trail of blood on Wednesday morning, but villagers were not willing to identify the suspected killers.
No arrests yet
A contingent of GSU was later sent to the district. But by the time of going to press, no suspect had been arrested although police said at least 500 people may have taken part in the mayhem.
Some villagers, however, said the killings were linked to land disputes and not witchcraft.
“These are gangs hired to kill old people so that their land can be inherited by neighbours. How come they only target old people?” asked a resident of Matembe who did not want to be named.
“The police must tell us the truth. Those behind the killings should be arrested and interrogated to reveal their masters,” he said.
By Wednesday afternoon, 15 villagers who had escaped from the murderous vigilante gang were holed up at the Nyamira Police Station.
They complained that police did nothing to stop the mayhem although the commotion could be heard from far.
The vigilantes were said to have gone round reading out names of suspects from a list.
Nyanza PPO, Mr Antony Kibuchi, confirmed the killings and said police would arrest the masterminds.
Rioma OCS, Mr Justus Serem, who was among the first security officers to arrive at the scene yesterday morning, said the raiders slashed their victims, doused them with petrol and set them on fire.
More than 120 houses in compounds belonging to the deceased were torched. In some instances, the victims were burnt in their houses.
Among the slain was a retired teacher identified by her husband, the Rev Enock Obiero, as Ebisiba.
Obiero, a pastor with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God Church, said about 20 armed men broke into his house in Ogango in the dead of night.
He said he fled and thought his wife had followed him.
“When I looked back, I saw my house up in smoke. I hoped my wife had escaped. I returned later and stumbled on her burnt body,” said Obiero.
Three years ago, he recounted, the family was threatened with murder over allegations that Obiero’s wife had bewitched a relative. They informed the police, but no action was taken.
Two-hundred metres away from Obiero’s homestead, the killers burnt Peris Kemunto, 86, inside her house.
Kemunto’s son, Mr Robert Mogire, said the killings had nothing to do with witchcraft and asked the police to investigate the motive.
“Hii ni fitina. Hakuna mambo ya uchawi” (This is vendetta, not about witchcraft).
Another victim, Milka Nyang’au, 60, was burnt alive and three houses reduced to ashes as her husband, Mr Michael Nyang’au, watched helplessly.
“They told me to step aside, saying they did not have a problem with me and went on to burn my wife, accusing her of bewitching fellow villagers,” said Nyang’au.
He said his wife had received death threats before the incident.
Kisii DC, Mr Njoroge Ndirangu, and local deputy OCPD, Mr Chemonges Diema, led the district security team to the area and appealed for calm.
Nyamira OCDP, Mr Lawrence Njoroge, in whose division an elderly woman was burnt and two houses flattened, said nothing was stolen from the torched houses, an indication that the raiders’ mission was one — to kill.
Police took the bodies to the Kisii Level Five Hospital mortuary.
Most of the dead were yet to be identified as their next of kin had fled.
“We are still searching for more bodies. The magnitude of this raid is big and given that most homes are deserted, we fear more people might have been killed,” said Serem.
Villagers said a book containing a list of people who were lynched had been found near a school.
Reporting by Robert Nyasato, Winsley Masese, Jane Akinyi and Cyrus Ombati