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The New Vision newspaper has today featured a double-spread ‘special report’ on the increased cases of theft plaguing Kampala, Uganda’s capital city.

The special report includes stories on what kind of new techniques Kampala’s thieves are using, how to prevent theft, and how several Kampala residents have taken to electrifying their fences as a result of increased incidences of theft.

The story that caught my attention in the special report was the one pictured (to the left) titled People resort to witchdoctors to catch rampaging robbers.” Basically, people now prefer consulting witch-doctors in case they’ve been robbed, rather than report the matter to the police.

The hero of the story is none other than Peter Ojwang, the witchdoctor whose exploits we’ve been following lately. From the New VIsion article:

When thieves stole two cows from Sam Mucwa of Kidokolo village, Najja sub-county, Buikwe district, he brought in a witchdoctor, Peter Ojwang (pictured below) from Tororo.

Minutes after applying Ojwang’s concoctions, Mucwa’s villagemates Richard Ndugu and Kalid Twase started walking on their hands and knees and eating grass. “These are the ones who stole the cows,” Ojwang said.

The activities of another witchdoctor by the name of Julius Okoth are also discussed in the story:

A case in point is the death of David Semakula, 28, in Mabuye, Kyampisi sub-county, Mukono district. A man had hired a witchdoctor, Julius Okoth, to arrest thieves who had stolen 20 bunches of his matooke. Villagers gathered in the banana plantation to witness the ‘miracle’. “If anyone of you stole the bananas, please confess before it is too late,” Okoth urged. Everyone kept quiet.

Okoth then crashed cassava leaves and mixed them with other herbs in a mineral water bottle. He then urged all those present to sip the liquid to prove their innocence. “This is the last warning. If you have stolen the matooke and you sip this liquid you might die,” he warned.

The villagers sipped the concoction. Minutes later, three men started crawling like lizards and eating grass. David Semakula, 28, Edward Sseruwagi, 39 and one Kizito were casual labourers in the village.

The witchdoctor then packed his bags and left, saying only the plantation owner had the antidote. The owner asked for sh3.5m to give them the antidote. The men’s families could not raise the money.

At 7:00pm, seven hours after administering the concoction, Semakula died.

Cassava leaves, other herbs, mineral water… pretty much the same pattern as Peter Ojwang. Might they be part of the same racket?

In all these cases:

  • It is the person whose property was stolen is the one who determines who the ‘suspects’ are, and brings them to the witch-doctor
  • All the ‘suspects’ who drink the witch-doctors concoction suffer from adverse side-effects, often described as being ‘possessed’. (The observed symptoms are typically temporary dissociation and disorientation)
  • The people who ‘get possessed’ never end up admitting to have stolen any of the allegedly stolen properties, and continually maintain their innocence long after the excitement surrounding the case has waned
  • It is never clear whether any properties were ever returned to the person who hired the witchdoctor (besides him just saying so)
  • If the person who hired the witch-doctor claims to have gotten his stolen property back, it is never clear from which of the suspects, who had earlier been ‘possessed’, he got it back from, or if at all

The witch-doctors, also, always make their claims non-falsifiable:

The third one, Sseruwagi, regained consciousness after three days and insisted that he did not steal the matooke, so he would not give any money for the antidote. “I have never stolen anything and I am ready to die. The witchdoctor said if you got a coin from the person who stole the bananas, you could also become a victim. This may be the reason I am suffering,” he said.

So basically, even if NOTHING is ever recovered, the community will maintain the belief that the people they saw get ‘possessed’ may have handled the money without ever knowing that they did so. The way they see it, maybe the actual thief had purchased a commodity from someone, or paid someone for a service, using the ill-gotten gains from the theft – and this rendered whoever touched that money equally susceptible to spirit possession. Therefore, it doesn’t matter that the ‘suspects’ are usually never conclusively found to be the perpetrators. As long as the suspects appear to suffer adverse side-effects following the consumption of the witch-doctors’ concoction, according to them, the witchcraft has worked.

In my previous article I mentioned that I had taken a sample of the witchdoctor’s concoction for analysis to the Government Analytical Laboratory. What, exactly, is in that thing? I hope to find out soon, especially since at least one person has died from drinking something similar to it.

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