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Kenyan teams turning to sorcerers for victory

By unknown | Jun 25, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

MOMBASA - Inside one of a cluster of traditional mud and grass thatched huts in Kenya's coastal region, two elderly men sit in front of a fire with their legs crossed on a mat, hard at work.

MOMBASA - Inside one of a cluster of traditional mud and grass thatched huts in Kenya's coastal region, two elderly men sit in front of a fire with their legs crossed on a mat, hard at work.

One of the men, a sexagenarian, scribbles some words in Arabic on a wooden board covered with white sand.

"Yarabi," he shouts loudly, as a group of young men at one end of the room watch attentively.

The young men are dedicated local supporters of England's Arsenal Football Club. They want Mzee Shaha Viwahi, reputedly a witchdoctor, to foresee the future of their favourite club, which has gone for four seasons without a trophy.

Scenes at Mzee Shaha's are part of daily life in the local football fraternity on the Kenyan coast - an area where sorcery is widespread, with some saying it's nothing other than the use of traditional medicine while others blame it for mysterious deaths or accidents.

But the over-reliance on witchdoctors by teams hoping to win matches or to settle scores with opposing teams has reduced once-vibrant sport here to occultism.

"Coast people are very superstitious. Football cannot go on without witchcraft," said referee Patrick Renson. "Officials consult the witchdoctors to help them 'win' matches and uphold their positions, using the club funds. Even players themselves go to the witchdoctors for charms against each other."

The practice is not confined to Kenya. Mzee Shaha and his partner Mzee Shariff Omar, both born in the Zanzibari island of Tumbatu, have been at the forefront of a booming business now spreading across east and central Africa.

Two of their countrymen have reportedly been on the payrolls of Yanga and Simba, two top Tanzanian club sides involved in a bizarre ritual incident in September 2004.

Before a league decider, Simba players had been sent to sprinkle a strange powder and broke eggs around the goal area while Yanga counteracted by sending two of its players to urinate on the field.

The Football Association of Tanzania fined both clubs about R4000 each for what it termed "unacceptable" conduct involving the match, which ended in a 2-2 draw.

In the past, witchcraft took the form of animal sacrifice, using goats, cows and snakes. The blood of the creatures would be sprinkled around the stadium, or magic wands would be planted and human body parts buried - parts often obtained from mortuaries - in the stadium. But in recent years the sorcerers have moved with the times.

"You don't have to be there in person," said Juma Mohammed Mwanachuwoni, a well-known Kenyan witchdoctor working for some of the top coast provincial league clubs.

"We do it by remote control. You write the names of the star players on a tree trunk, cover them up with a black cloth as to blindfold them, and on the match day they will not see the ball."

Kenyan football officials have not spoken out publicly about the witchcraft allegations.

But privately, local football officials say the spells of "jujumen", as the witchdoctors are called, tend to target good players, scaring some off or making them so disgruntled they leave.

Former national league clubs such as Feisal Football Club, Mombasa Wanderers and Mwenge have all folded in recent years while Bandari and Coast Stars have seen a mass exodus of players to other national teams - with some blaming the "occult" atmosphere on the coast.

Even Kenyan supporters suffer fallout from the witchcraft, some of whom have committed suicide after their favourite teams lost matches. - Sapa-AFP


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