Witchcraft fuels killings in Kayunga

A traditional healer at his burnt shrine in Kayunga. The healers accuse police of failing to prosecute people they arrest masquerading as healers on pretext that there is no law under which they can charge them. PHOTO BY FRED MUZAALE.

What you need to know:

Norm. According to the police, there are frequent murders, with body parts missing for witchcraft.


Yakobo Kayizi, 75, had lived in Bulyankuyege village, Kayunga Sub-county, Kayunga District for more than 40 years until June this year when he was attacked by assailants at night. They beheaded him and cut off his private parts, before fleeing with the body parts.
Fellow residents described Kayizi as a kind, honest, social and caring old man.

Since he was staying alone in his mud and wattle house, his murder was only discovered the following afternoon after a neighbour noticed something strange. “That day Kayizi did not come to greet me as he usually did every morning, which indicated that he could have fallen sick,” Mr Dan Kasibante says.

Mr Kasibante then proceeded to Kayizi’s home only to find a trail of blood from his house to a nearby sugarcane plantation. Following the trail, the neighbour could not believe his eyes when he saw a torso of Kayizi’s body lying in a pool of blood. His head was missing and his naked body had no private parts.

After a month of police relentless investigations and hunt for his killers, the police arrested one suspect, a resident of the same village, who confessed that he had killed Kayizi. He took police to Nalweweta swamp where he had hidden the head. The decomposing body parts were recovered and were taken to Kayunga Police Station.

“A witch doctor told me to take to him a human head and a buffalo horn to make me a traditional healer. I had got the head and I was still looking for a buffalo horn,” the suspect told police upon his arrest.

Kayiizi’s murder is part of the bigger crimes in Kayunga, but for many residents and local leaders, such cases have almost become a common phenomenon. “A week cannot pass without hearing that a person has been murdered in this area. It is quite disturbing, but many of us have now become used to it,” Ms Harriet Nakalema, a resident of Mansa village in Kitimbwa Sub-county, says.

According to the district police commander, Mr Bob Kagarura, 37 murder cases were registered in the area last year. “This is quite a high number of lives lost compared to other districts that are larger than this one,” Mr Kagarura said, adding that most cases are connected to witchcraft. Others are caused by land disputes.

Mr Gally Turyatunga, the district criminal investigations chief, says none of the murders has been mysterious. “In most murder cases we receive, the killers are known and are apprehended,” Mr Turyatunga says.

“People here believe so much in witchcraft that some kill their colleagues to use their blood or body parts to make medicine concoctions that can enable them join traditional healing businesses,” Mr Kagarura says. “Others are perceived to have brought witchcraft, which they fail to tame and instead make people in the area sick or kill others. As a result, those affected revenge,” he adds.

According to the DPC, wealth is also a major influence in murders. “When you prosper here, especially in the villages, people believe that you applied witchcraft to become wealthy, so they attack your home and kill you,” Mr Kagarura says. Almost every home in the district has a shrine.

Known as the “United Nations of Uganda” because of its multiple tribes, Kayunga has almost all the tribes in the country, an issue Mr Joseph Ouma, the LC5 vice chairperson, says could be one of the causes of the high number of murder cases. “If you have people of different tribes living together, you are likely to have conflicts that result into deaths,” Mr Ouma says, adding that many murders involve lynching suspected witches or thieves. The police, however, finds it difficult to successfully prosecute the suspects.

Mr Kagarura says none of the 37 suspects arrested last year have been convicted although many have been apprehended. “Murder cases are not like chicken theft cases. Apart from taking long to investigate, the suspects have to be committed to the High Court. Their trail only takes place when the High Court sessions convene. These sessions are not there every time,” Mr Kagarura says.

But the DPC is quick to add that residents are being sensitised to become more vigilant to reduce crime. “We urge all residents to do neighbourhood watch. Security should be a concern of all of us,” Mr Kagarura says.

However, the chairperson of the district Traditional Healer’s Association, Mr Idi Sebulime, says although people believe that such murders are carried out by healers, none of his colleagues has been arrested in connection with them. “Those are masqueraders who want to tarnish our business. We (healers) use animal blood and heads and not human heads for our trade,” Mr Sebulime says.

Seven years ago, 53 graves in the district were excavated in one night and human remains stolen. Police blamed the act on traditional healers.

Flashback to Kayizi’s death

A week after unknown thugs beheaded and cut private parts of a 75-year-old man in Bulyankuyege Village, Kayunga Sub-county in Kayunga District, the police are yet to discover the body parts believed to have been cut off by witch doctors.

The body parts of the late Yakobo Kayizzi, who was attacked by thugs at night and killed, in what police say is the most “gruesome murder “ in the district in two years. According to the district criminal investigations officer, Mr Gally Turyatunga, Kayizi’s body was found in a sugarcane plantation about 200 metres from his home. “We have combed all shrines in the vicinity to discover the parts, but we have failed to discover the body parts. We are also hunting for the assailants so that they are severely punished by the long arm of the law,” Mr Turyatunga said, adding that police sniffer dogs had also been brought to help in the search.

Kayizi’s body was buried without the head and private parts.
The spokesperson of Kayunga Traditional Healer’s Association, Mr Godfery Naggya, said he would work with police to hunt down the suspects but said added that the act was carried out by fake healers disguising themselves as healers. “No genuine healer can cut off a human’s head because it has no use in our work,” Mr Naggya said.

The Resident District Commissioner, Mr Nahori Oyaa, said registration of healers would be carried out to weed out fake ones. “We shall give them name tags which they have to display whenever at work,” he said.