Witchcraft Practices in Kenyan Football: A reality or myth?

FEATURE Witchcraft Practices in Kenyan Football: A reality or myth?

Festus Chuma 11:09 - 11.02.2023
No one report has emerged describing in glowing detail how the use of spells has won a team a tournament. Yet still, as old as it might be, witchcraft remains highly practiced, bringing us back to whether black magic works in football.

In Kenya, witchcraft has played a role in rebellions, fighting wars, and gaining independence, and it is often seen at election time.

Some people also consult witch doctors to cure diseases or find love and go on to confess to their peers that it has worked for them.

Believe it or not, dependence on dark spiritual practices has been on the rise in recent years in all sections of society, and the beautiful game of football has not been spared by the vice either.

On several occasions, football authorities in the country have refuted claims that witchcraft in the game still exists because no witchcraft cases have been reported to them in recent years.

But ask those who have been longer in the game. In that case, they will tell you that most of the teams in the country still conduct some 'magical abracadabra' using witchdoctor to complement a team's effort to secure a victory.

One may not judge those who believe in it because, in the traditional set-up, ‘Juju’ represents one of the core foundations of our society dating back to as far as one can remember and enshrined in the Kenyan belief system.

The practices by ‘Juju’ men in football include washing the football jerseys in ‘spiritual waters’ and offering prayers to the traditional gods. The same witches also produce unique concoctions for the players to sprinkle on themselves and use on the field of play.

Apart from that, they also make powders that, on the blast of the first whistle from the referee, are ceremoniously thrown into the air by a player or one of the coaches or official of the club.

Objects are provided for the goalkeeper to place within his defending goal, and more noticeably, the players are given turf tapes typically placed around every player's wrist though wearing one may not necessarily mean a player is involved in witchcraft. 

The Juju men always assure the players and coaches club officials that the game will be won if they comply with the instructions. They even go as far as to predict the score!

The most recent witchcraft claims to stalk Kenyan football were documented in February 2021 when Bandari FC officials blamed Gor Mahia for spilling substances during a Football Kenya Federation Premier League game played at Mbaraki Stadium.

A three-minute 41 seconds video went viral, causing a stir nationwide. The footage showed stewards from both teams engaging in a fistfight some hours before the game. Bandari officials were heard in the background accusing Gor Mahia of sprinkling Juju on the pitch, which K’Ogalo denied.

In that match, Gor Mahia defeated the Dockers 3-1, with Jules Ulimwengu scoring a brace, Nicholas Kipkirui getting the third, and Bernard Odhiambo scoring the lone goal for the hosts.

Another amusing incident was witnessed around August 3, 2016; the kickoff of a then Kenyan Premier League match between Posta Rangers and AFC Leopards was delayed for ten minutes as the former insisted Ingwe stewards should vacate the inner perimeter of the pitch.

The incident ignited fans' violence in the match's closing stages when AFC Leopards grabbed a last-gasp equalizer in the extra time of an ill-tempered clash.

Rangers had scored an opener in the sixth minute of the match courtesy of Cavin Odongo, but with ten minutes before the end of the game, hell broke loose. A section of Leopard's fans started throwing objects. After one of the fans nicknamed 'Mula Mula,' who was accused of a bad omen, was whisked out of the stadium, substitute Kepha Aswani scored an equalizer.

A look at explosive encounters in our Premier League, where club rivalries are as common as goals, frustrated coaches, and crazy fans, witchcraft, and superstition are still rife.

On September 20, 2014, Belgian Luc Eymael said his sacking as AFC Leopards coach came because he fought the use of black magic by two key club officials.

Eymael claimed that before Ingwe's league match against Chemelil Sugar, a stranger had taken photos of some players for unknown reasons and without his knowledge as a coach.

"I was informed by a member of my technical bench that on the eve of our match against Chemelil in Mumias, two officials visited the players at night, changed the security staff completely, and gained access to some players, something that has never happened before," Eymael had told a local tabloid The Nairobian.

On May 23, 2015, the then AFC Leopards coach Zradvko Logarusic claimed that Ingwe's 2-0 loss to Western Stima was because of the use of ‘Juju’ in the game.

"We went to the stadium with the organizing secretary Timothy Lilumbi to ask that we be allowed to train even for half an hour. We even offered to pay, but the manager and his assistant were adamant. 

They told us the stadium belongs to Gor Mahia and that they would not allow us to use it because we could 'plant juju on the pitch,'" Loga said after the match, as per The Standard. 

Before Mashemeji Derby in the same year, former Nyayo Stadium manager Maurice Nyaoke admitted that some fans sleep in the stadium to plant Juju.

"We don't understand why people sleep around the stadium before the match. Most of them have the conviction that they must be in the stadium, but we have told both teams that the ‘juju’ aspect can't work in modern football," The Standard quoted Nyaoke.

It's noteworthy that superstitious beliefs aren't confined to these shores. In most parts of Africa, one cannot precisely tell how many snails, slugs, frogs, chameleons, tortoises, and other poor creatures have lost their lives and become 'potent' powder for footballers to sprinkle on their jerseys at the necropolis; this year alone.

Many human thigh bones are also reported to have been illegally exhumed for our superstitious players to run around with at some ungodly hour in the cemeteries on the eve of a match.

But despite all the ‘juju’ man activities, there is no evidence that witchcraft alone can win football games. The practice should be shunned as much as the use of performance-enhancing drugs is.