When Ageing Becomes Sinister

Aging has since time immemorial been likened to gold. In traditional African societies, aging symbolised wisdom, it symbolised long life and skills amassed over the years. In the past, children were being taken to grandparents to learn about culture, to listen to folklores, told while sitting around a fire. From the elders’ children were told of stories of African heroes and heroines, of Lwanda Magere [1] , of the bravery of Mekatilili wa Menza[2]  of Koitalel arap Samoei of the Nandi[3] and of Simbi Nyaima[4] among other great stories. The respect once accorded to the elderly is dwindling fast. As people age so their health conditions also deteriorate, they get attacks such as dementia, arthritis, diabetes, some get problems with eyesight, mobility and so on. Others are aged and lack the much needed care and support because either because of being neglected by family members or because they have an ailment which makes the family members feel burdened taking care of the elderly member. For others they have no one to take care of them either because their children have migrated to the cities and rarely come back home, or because they are widowed or have lost all their children who would have taken care of them. Some elderly end up being taken to elderly homes instead of living the last stretch of their loved ones surrounded by family.

A sinister phenomenon is rearing an ugly head in Kenya and this is related to killing of elderly people .There is a notion in some communities that grey hair symbolises witchcraft and this is leading to aged people  instead of society taking care of them , they get killed accused of bringing a myriad of calamities to community members in form .Many elderly people are frail , often live alone and cannot engage their assailants in a combat when attacked .In Kwale and Kilifi counties , elderly people are living in fear. In 2018 for example about 100 elders were killed in Kilifi and Kwale counties, often accused of being sorcerers, they are killed for the community to have “peace”[5].

Many a times these elderly who get killed live alone, making them vulnerable due to insecurity. In most of the cases the issue bringing about the attack on the elderly is often land but is usually camouflaged that the elderly are witches and wizards. When an elderly widow or widower is murdered, many a times when they do not have children their land remains idle, this land will be grabbed by people not related to this dead elder, after which it is sold off. Many people in rural areas do not have title deed to land or do not have the requisite records to show ownership. These murders under the name of witchcraft and sorcery are leaving families in agony. Imagine having your father or mother hacked to death or your grandparents murdered their crime being ageing. What has society become? Dzuya Kisubi’s husband was hacked to death over accusations of sorcery, furthermore in Buni Kisimani in Kilifi, a number of graves dot the village, some of which have been as a result of gruesome killings over accusations of sorcery[6].

Life is becoming harder and opportunities are getting more minimal. Young people tend to look for others to blame for their misfortunes. The targets are often the weak and the marginalised and that is why elderly people become a ready target. For example, in Ibrahim Chengo from Magarini in Kilifi county struggled to educate his three sons, selling his livestock to raise money to educate his three sons. Failing to get jobs three years later despite their education, Chengo got blamed for the “bad luck “in his son’s failure to secure jobs. When Chengo’s neighbour committed suicide, villagers turned against Chengo accusing him of bewitching the neighbour and also being a cause of his son’s failure to find jobs.[7]He was killed with machetes and his house burnt.[8]When these elders get killed, nobody gets concerned about the mental anguish their family members will be going through, some of the killings are done in public, some attacks are done at night and some are done in the presence of family in some cases children. The elderly also gets murdered, targeted and blamed for persistent drought, crop failure in a family, death of a person or suicide, chronic disease, death of livestock as well as suicides[9].Many get killed by mob justice, accused and a verdict set, without giving the elderly a hearing. As they die, many cry for mercy, to be spared from an irate mob. Sometimes these elderly are burnt to death.[10]It is about time the greed for land and targeting of the elderly stops, elderly people need to be protected at all costs and tougher laws be put in place to protect the elderly. People should work hard and not prey on the land of the elderly, accusing them of witchcraft in order to take away their land. It is important for the young people responsible for killing the elderly accusing them of witchcraft that one cannot be young forever and they too will one day get old.


[1] https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100119780

[2] https://capiremov.org/en/experience/mekatilili-wa-menza-anti-colonial-struggle-in-kenya/

[3] https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/business/business/article/2000007379/freedom-hero-immortalised

[4] http://www.watamukenya.net/en/articles/territory/national-parks/simbi-nyaima-the-healing-lake-and-its-legend.html

[5]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329070523_HOW_YOUNG_KENYANS_ARE_MURDERING_ELDERLY_RELATIVES_CLAIMING_THEY_ARE_WITCHES_BUT_IT_IS_BECAUSE_OF_WEALTH

[6] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-55399488

[7] https://archive.voice-online.co.uk/article/why-elderly-are-being-killed-kenya

[8] ibid

[9] ibid

[10] https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/nyanza/article/2001426890/widows-killings-linked-to-appetite-for-land-not-witchcraft-say-groups

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