How killer ghosts and juju cause accidents

Newly erected road signs along Salgaa Sachang'wan stretch
  • A Kalenjin elder believes a curse cast by ancestors against two chiefs is the cause of accident along the Salgaa/Sachang’wan stretch
  • The two chiefs who betrayed supreme chief Koitalel arap Samoei died on the exact spot where the 2009 oil tanker exploded
  • But police, scholars and the clergy finger corruption, bad roads and reckless driving

Kalenjin elders are scratching their heads in a desperate attempt to explain the accident jinx synonymous with Salgaa and Sachang’wan areas along the Nairobi-Eldoret highway.

Over 40 people recently perished in a horrific road accident at the black spot of Sanchang’wan in a long list of horror deaths, including the 120 people who died scooping fuel from an overturned oil tanker in 2009.

Combing through various superstition theories, elders believe supernatural powers like curses, ghosts or witchcraft could be the cause of deaths along the Salgaa/Sachang’wan stretch, where hundreds of lives have been lost in horrifying accidents.

They are now proposing performance of rituals to appease the gods. Alternatively, repentance prayer must be conducted, according to historian and preacher Peter Chemaswet, Bomet elder Joseph Towett and John Seii, former chair of the Kalenjin Council of Elders.

Chemaswet believes the accidents could be the work of a curse cast by their ancestors who were not happy with the conduct of Chiefs Elijah and Melal, who were accused of eating ‘blood’ money following the murder of Orkoiyot (supreme chief) Koitalel arap Samoei in 1905.

The Orkoiyot was shot dead by a British colonial officer who offered money to appease his family, but the two chiefs ‘ate’ the money and hence the curse on the road, where they too perished in a road accident.

Secondly, he posits that the ghosts of Elijah and Melal still hover around. Thirdly, according to Towett, it is against Kalenjin tradition to have a mass grave within the community.

The two chiefs perished in a grisly road accident at the exact spot where the 2009 oil tanker exploded. Some claim the ghosts of Elijah and Melal, whose sins were never forgiven, still hover along the Salgaa-Sachang’wan stretch, where Rachel Ruto, the wife of Deputy President William Ruto, led prayers to cleanse the black spot.

The mass grave of the 2009 oil tanker victims could be another reason for the accidents, according to Towett who says it was a mistake to bury the victims in a single grave. 

“In Kalenjin culture, it is against tradition to bury people in the same grave. Even husband and wife are not buried in the same grave,” he says. He says that the victims should have been buried in their respective homes instead of being interred by the roadside.

Newly erected road signs along Salgaa Sachang'wan stretch

The mass burial was agreed on because the badly charred bodies could not be identified, unless subjected to a lengthy forensic exercise.

But the superstition angle is being flatly dismissed by police, scholars and the clergy, who blame human error. Kenya Police Spokesman Charles Owino wonders why during the 1970s, 80s and the 90s, the Salgaa-Sachang’wan stretch was not prone to grisly road accidents.

“Superstition is an act of defeatism in the sense that the proponents do not want to look at present factors, which can be attributed to increased accidents. The scientific explanation would be that human error and technology are contributing to accidents,” says Owino.

The police boss cites speeding, indiscipline, alcohol, corruption and impunity as the main causes of accidents. He adds that unlike in the past when vehicles were fewer on the roads, the rise in the number of automatic vehicles with a propensity to easily “lose concentration” since drivers do not engage gears, has made matters worse.

This view is shared by Moses Mutua, a sociology lecturer at Moi University and a regular user of the Nairobi- Eldoret highway. While admitting that sometimes supernatural powers have an influence, he disagrees that superstition could be the invisible hand causing accidents on the cursed stretch of road.

“While I agree that curses, ghosts or witchcraft can be blamed for the accidents in our county, the Sachang’wan case is different. It is about recklessness and indiscipline, with speeding motorists ignorantly using lanes marked for climbing,” observes Mutua, saying remedy lies in either building a dual carriageway or a wall.

After all, he argues, “spirits haunt those they feel have wronged them, not innocent people.”

Rev Timothy Njoya has urged Kenyans to take control of their own destiny and avoid having a “fatalistic escapism” attitude as there is no correlation between accidents and supernatural powers, which he sees as a creation of the mind resulting from despondency.

“People believe in those things (superstition) because of desperation. If the police do their work and engineers build proper roads, we shall have no accidents, and people will not believe in witchcraft or waganga,” explains Njoya, wondering why we did not experience the problem 50 years ago.

“Every unresolved problem comes with certain natural explanations,” says Njoya. “If you provide a solution, superstition ceases to exist,” he adds.