Pretenders to the throne: Behind the flashy titles ‘waganga’ hold

Of great mystery is their insistence on the titles [Photo: Shutterstock]

Travel anywhere across the country and you will be bombarded with campaign-style posters bearing details of ‘Dr so-and-so’ or ‘Professor so-and-so’. But doctors and professors, by virtue of their top-tier academic qualities don’t advertise haphazardly. And not with the clumsiness of a stoat.

The names plastered on those posters are of witchdoctors, herbalists, traditional healers; crystal gazers who offer remedies for all afflictions known and unknown to man. Of great mystery is their insistence on the titles.

Take for instance ‘Dr Kiti’, whose poster we spotted on Parliament Road in Nairobi. At 24, Kiti has been a ‘doctor’ since age seven. A 24-year-old doctor in real life is a rare gem. A 24-year-old PhD graduate is even harder to come by in Kenya.

“This is a craft that runs in the family. It was passed down to my father then to me by my grandfather,” he says.

“I am a doctor because I heal. This work is ordained. Try it if you think I stole someone’s title.”

Unlike medical doctors and academic professors who are bestowed with doctorates at a graduation, Kiti says he undergoes regular ordination; rituals that connect his abilities to the spirit world, “just like a real doctor goes through coursework and internship before he qualifies for the title.”

Rituals that connect his abilities to the spirit world [Photo: Shutterstock]

But Kiti also admits to something everyone suspects: marketing. He says: “I use the title Dr because Kenyans easily connect to beholders of big names.”

For one to be called a doctor, it would mean one of two things: either you are a graduate of medicine and surgery, dentistry or pharmacy. Or you are a PhD graduate in a speciality field.

In Busia, Kenya and extending through the border to Busia, Uganda, there are countless posters of Prof Ndumba. He is dodgy throughout our phone conversation, but eventually, Iddi, the Tanzanian national behind the title, respond to the key question. What makes you a professor?

“Lawyers come to me to win cases, university lecturers also visit over a raft of issues, including to get promotions, not forgetting your MPs, MCAs and pastors who are regulars,” he reveals.  “What other prefix should I use before my name?”

He declines to disclose his level of education but in Swahili he says: “Masomo haisaidii, ni talanta kama hii niliyorithi kwa babu (Education is nothing compared to talent like this that I inherited from my grandfather).”

He then begs to disconnect the phone to “attend to serious clients”, maybe after realising I was not giving him any business.

His work is within the earshot of conventional medicine [Photo: Shutterstock]

In Machakos County’s Mlolongo, along Mombasa Road, there is yet another weather-beaten poster. On the poster ‘Dr Bwayo’ claims to offer solutions for kukosa kazi (unemployment), kukosa mke (lacking a wife) to kukumbana na nuksi (dealing with general bad luck).

Bwayo admits that the motivation behind the title ‘doctor’ was mainly because his services are meant “to offer a remedy, just like our brothers in conventional medicine do”.

He adds that his work is within the earshot of conventional medicine as he also offers treatment for illnesses such as stomach ulcers and arthritis.

“My medicine works within weeks,” he says. “And even your (conventional) doctors refer serious conditions to us (herbalists) after failing to treat them.” Bwayo, a Form Four drop out, attends to approximately 15 clients on a weekday, he says. On Sundays, he registers the highest number of ‘patients’ at an average of 20.

“I charge Sh3,000 for every session. But the value of my work is way higher. A patient may add more if they feel my medicine is working well,” he says.

When asked if it is appropriate for him to use the title ‘Dr’, Bwayo says he does not mind changing it to herbalist.

This writer then contacted another service provider: ‘Dr Zuma’. Posing as a client in need of help to solve a land tussle between himself and his big brother, this writer was able to get a feel of the inner workings of the doctor.

“You have come to the right place,” his voice, coy and deceptive, said. “I have the ability to solve all your problems.”

After a brief chat, with him mostly asking questions about my actual location, he issued a prescription.

A Herbalist [Photo: Shutterstock]

“Buy a white handkerchief. Then go with it to the piece of land and scoop some soil into it. Tie the soil in the white handkerchief tightly. Then … do you have Sh10,000?”

“I only have Sh3,000, but I can ask friends for more,” I answered.

“Do that. Once you have the Sh10, 000 and the soil in a white handkerchief, call me. I will give you further directions.”

Is Zuma’s ‘doctor’ title university acquired, has he ever been published in academic journals?  Ever heard of a thesis or dissertation?

“What are those? Is thesis a disease?” he asked. “But I treat everything: all kinds of diseases.”

I wish him well and disconnect.

But self-styled titles like ‘Dr’ have not been a preserve of the men and women offering ‘uganga’ services alone. Preachers, too, have been known to play this game.

Who can forget the theatrics of ‘Dr’ Victor Kanyari, he who grabbed women’s bosoms to rid them of demons? An exposé on KTN a few years back outed Kanyari as a Form Two dropout.

It turned out Kanyari was running a con empire in the guise of conducting worship services.

According to University of Nairobi sociologist, Dr Karatu Kiemo, actual doctors do not peddle the title.

“Doctors, even in hospitals, introduce themselves by their name. They don’t insist on the title,” he says.

Kiemo adds that actual doctors do not provide treatment (or solutions) for social issues, such as a lack of wealth or ‘kutibu nuksi’.

Clients who visit the impersonators, he says, are often in despair. He argues that anyone in their right mind would not pay a witch to gain riches – the same riches the witch is extorting from him.

Clients who visit the impersonators, he says, are often in despair [Photo: Shutterstock]

Back in 2013, ‘Dr’ Margaret Wanjiru, the founder of Jesus Is Alive Ministries, was denied the chance to run for the position of Nairobi governor because her academic papers were found to be fake. The Commission for Higher Education rejected her purported academic achievements. She did not have a valid undergraduate degree.

Pastor Antony Bones of Good Shepherd Church along Ngong Road in Nairobi says fake ‘doctor’ titles are conmanship.

“Jesus never had any fancy titles,” he says, “yet he spread the gospel.”

Calling oneself ‘Dr’, the pastor says, is selfish and meant to draw trust where none should be apportioned. Kenyans with sober minds can see fake ‘Dr’ titles for what they are: fraud, he says.

Joseph Kamau, an engineer in Nairobi, says only the gullible go to ‘doctors’ who treat the untreatable.

“Who can treat the lack of a girlfriend? How is that even a condition?” he asks.

Tom Kamau, a hawker, says he understands that fake doctors are conmen, but they should go on with their trade.

“Stupid people don’t deserve to retain their wealth,” he says.