Cases of Merus hacking each other with machetes and other crude weapons are becoming a matter of great concern, especially in the Nyambene region, which is the main source of miraa. Disputes over land and miraa are usually the main cause of family squabbles, many of which end up violently.
“If someone steals your miraa crop, they are joking with your main source of livelihood. Personally, I would not hesitate to cut off your hands if I find you in my farm. I would not bother the police. And we know how the wheel of justice turns agonizingly slow in Kenya. I would mete out justice myself,” said a farmer.
You just have to visit the Nyambene Level 4 Hospital which serves Igembe and Tigania and the Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital to realise how chillingly true threats from the farmer is. Most patients there are admitted with serious and deep-cut wounds.
Julius Murithi, a local of Igembe North, says the region with the highest production of miraa, has no single permanent river, and miraa is about the only source of income.
“If we had a major river or enough rain to cultivate food crops, we would have less violence. People with full stomachs don’t fight. The panga fights, the decapitations you hear of, are caused by fights over scarce resources. People who are hungry have a short fuse, and they do not require much provocation to attack if their livelihood is threatened,” said Murithi.
Dr James Kirimi, a surgeon at the referral facility, says he has had to perform corrective facial surgeries on patients from Nyambene.
“The ones from Meru come from mostly the semi-arid Nyambene region, often with injuries to the face as a result of machete cuts,” he said.
But it is at Nyambene hospital where most are rushed because it is nearer.
Dr Michael Kariuki who was until recently the medical officer in charge of the hospital, said the number of such patients is big, and some had even lost their lives after panga attacks.
“We are not talking about one or two victims. It is quite a number. We were receiving patients with multiple and deep cuts in the face and head, and amputation of the limbs. They were extremely gory wounds. We even had decapitations,” Dr Kariuki said.
Kariuki told The Nairobian that many of the patients at the Nyambene hospital had sustained the injuries because of miraa-related disputes.
He said during the dry season when miraa prices shoot up, everybody tends to want a piece of the crop. He said when the demand is high, there are those who are tempted to steal the product, but they pay the ultimate price when they get caught.
“During the dry period when the crop is in demand, assault cases are high. This also happens when people have miraa money and are indulging in alcohol,” Kariuki added.
Locals jealously guard their lucrative miraa farms and other possessions and need little motivation to hack anyone who trespasses. The number of machete attack patients in different hospitals attest to this. Many who trespassed into miraa farms that did not belong to them spot different degrees of facial injuries, sustained after they were found stealing miraa.
Meru County Commissioner Allan Machari said killings, including within families, abound in the region.
“This is the place where one wakes up in the morning and cuts the other up, finishing them (sic). This is where a man who has been living with his wife for many years wakes up one morning and murders her. We cannot make Meru great (in development) when we are butchering ourselves,” Mr Machari said. The commissioner also revealed that the Nyambene region (Igembe and Tigania) account for the biggest number of suicide cases in the county.
“We are experiencing very high cases of suicides. Of all the incidents within the county, over 80 per cent are either in Igembe or Tigania,” he said.