A case of poor journalism

In the crazy Monday section of the Monday standard, Duya Owuor has a full page splash entitled Black Magic: Even urbane Kenyans now believe in witchcraft, a piece one would expect would be accompanied with a history of belief in witchcraft and at the bare minimum an indication as to the time period where Kenyans in specific and Africans in general abandoned their beliefs in witchcraft.

The article starts thus

There is perception that only the poor, the less educated, non believers and villagers consult witch doctors, or at least, believe in witchcraft. But as it turns out, educated, spiritual and urbane Kenyans now embrace too.

which if you ask me is such an outlandish claim. It is ridiculous to claim that a non believer embraces witchcraft unless of course ones non belief is not understood.  The other most outlandish claim with this opening salvo is the one claim about educated Kenyans now embracing witchcraft. And one must ask when did they not? I do understand newspapers must make sales but such an article should be in the gutter press.

Owuor writes in the same piece that there are vegetable sellers who use water from the morgue to wash their wares. This is something that would border on the criminal. Why would any morgue attendant sell water they have used to wash corpses to anyone? Is this not a public health issue that would warrant investigation? Our journalist presents it as a matter of course.

He doesn’t stop there. He tells us people use juju to protect their jobs and gives this as the reason why women will never allow you to peak into their handbags. All along I thought it was about privacy. Those handbags carry their private belongings which they don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry peeping into. I make it a point to leave women’s bags alone same way I don’t want peeping Toms in my wallet. But to Owuor, it is about witchcraft.

And what, if I may ask, are witchcraft paraphernalia? At what point do they differ from totems? Or even a rosary bead? Isn’t the expectation the same? That by wearing the rosary or having holy water (sic), one is protected from evil intentions. Is this not any different from keeping a totem in the hope that someone with intentions that are otherwise not good would not succeed?

In a country where politicians are among some of the highest paid workers, it is expected, if they visit witch doctors, they are likely to pay more. This, I think, should go without saying. Owuor however doesn’t give us any reasons to support his claim that witch doctors reap big from politicians. He tells us an MP who drowned was found with Ksh. 270,000 ($2,700) and witchcraft related paraphernalia. How does one conclude that this money was meant for a witch doctor? If this is not sloppy or sensationalist journalism, I don’t know what is.

Owuor referring to a case pitting former MP Musikari Kombo against IEBC and others where he had been accused and found guilty of administering traditional oaths to bind and instill fear in voters to elect him which while being a very interesting case lacks context. First on oathing (especially in this country both during and post colonial eras) and state formation.

It’s been said (too lazy to get the references) that the African christian has their feet on two sides; one side in Christianity and the other in tradition. In the event the Kenyan African is faced with a dilemma that the christian beliefs are not equipped to address, they turn immediately to tradition and this involves consulting traditional doctors/ witch doctors or diviners- whatever one wants to call them. It is therefore not strange that some urbane individual will consult a witch doctor.

Or maybe, crazy Monday is not meant to have any material of journalist rigor in which case I apologize to Owuor for being very critical of his piece.

For further reading, please look at the following links

Believe it or not: Witchcraft in Kenya

The Impact of Magic and Witchcraft in the Social, Economic, Political and Spiritual Life of African Communities (pdf)



The Witches of Baltimore

In the same Monday Standard, professor Munene in an article entitled Mbiti defended African religion, but was not feted wrote

religion and philosophy were Mbiti’s intellectual war fronts. He distinguished himself by asserting that Africans knew God(he must mean the Christian god) and were Christian before the Europeans. Being notoriously religious, Mbiti declared that Africans did everything religiously, whether in the past, present or future.

which I find rather disappointing. Mbiti, an Anglican priest, bastardized African religion. He made unfounded claims about Africans relationship with time among others things. In his magna opus, African Religion and Philosophy, there is little that is philosophical or tied to African religion. One however understands the context in which he was writing. Works by people like Levi Bruhl(?) had even questioned the humanity of the African. While the claim the Africans were Christians before the coming of the Europeans is true with respect to the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia and Coptics in Egypt, their influence was too narrow to be considered in any debate about the spread of Christianity in Africa.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

16 thoughts on “A case of poor journalism

  1. I would have been a journalist but I abhor journalism because it targets mass emotions – in this way it differs from research. Modern news is almost always designed to dramatize and shock the vulgar and fickle crowd.

    If the journalist means superstition, I think there is some truth in there. Not only Kenyans but most Africans (not all) are superstitious.

    Mbiti at best can be described as either a theologian or a sociologist. He failed to tackle African Philosophy because the priesthood was too much in him. Not only Bruhl but Kant also questioned the humanity of the “primitive” African. At the moment I’m also wondering whether civilization has aided mankind at all apart from making our lives complicated, dangerous, unhappy and short.


  2. Swarn Gill says:

    The only black magic I’ve ever seen, is Eddie Murphy doing stand-up comedy. He’s dynamite!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ron says:

    “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain’t the way.” ~Stevie Wonder


  4. john zande says:

    Still happens around here, and we’re hardly rural.


  5. nannus says:

    It is worth studying the history of the witchcraft idea in Africa. I guess this nonsense was introduced to Africa by Christian missionaries from Europe. I think it is not a traditional set of ideas. Traditional belief systems were demonized, satanized and declared (black) magic.


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