ARSON ATTACKS

Families feuding over land claim witchcraft to burn rivals homes

Rongo's majority families and clans target those from the minority and newcomers

In Summary

• The recent upsurge of arson attacks on families over witchcraft claims is rooted in land squabbles.

• In the most recent incident, on August 23 the family of a Mzee Ongoma was forced to go into hiding after being accused of killing a 13-year-old boy trough witchcraft.

Crime scene
SHOT: Crime scene
Image: THE STAR

Families in Rongo engaged in land battles have been using witchcraft as a ruse to attack and burn homes of rivals, an activist has said.  

Titus Orwa, the secretary general of Migori Civic Organisation Association said recent upsurge of arson attacks on families over witchcraft claims is rooted in land squabbles.

“We have longstanding land cases and with the slow process of the judicial process most families have resorted to evicting their rivals through arson attacks,” Orwa said.

Orwa said that in Rongo majority families and clans have been targeting those from minority and newcomers to move them out.

“Witchcraft is difficult to quantify, but in the last four years, we have had many cases which police should investigate,” Orwa told the Star on Friday.

In the most recent incident, on August 23 the family of a Mzee Ongoma was forced to go into hiding after being accused of killing a 13-year-old boy trough witchcraft.

“Their two houses at Winyo village were set ablaze. We had several meetings with family to avert the attack,” area assistant chief Erick Odhiambo said.

Odhiambo said the family was forced into hiding. Rongo OCPD Joel Kiptum said the investigation is on.

Kiptum said it was not the first time the incident happened.

On March this year, a child escaped death narrowly after five his family members were burnt to death after being accused of witchcraft at Buoyo Nyangao village.

Several houses were burnt and four family members who escaped with burn injuries have been living in fear.

Between January and February of 2016 Mitweyi villagers torched two houses belonging to the family of Mary Akinyi. 

Akinyi was accused of murdering a Std 8 pupil and was blamed for three other incidents.

“In such incidents, the public always arrives at a suspect's home, set a coffin in the middle of the homestead and torch it,” Peter Gwengi, the CEO of Lake Victoria Initiatives said.

Gwengi said the worst case was in September 2014, at Kambija village where residents torched ten houses in a retaliatory attack over the death of Okinyo Ochola.

Ochola was inspecting a sugarcane plantation at the centre of a land dispute when he was attacked by pangas.

“Ocholla’s death sparked about three other unsolved murders believed to have been caused by witchcraft,” Gwengi said.

Gwengi and Orwa said the government should tackle the problem from the ground as most cases remain unsolved. 

(edited by O. Owino)