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Why miraa thieves in Meru are losing limbs

By DICKSON MWITI and KENNEDY KIMANTHI

A rather brutal way of settling disputes in Meru County has been in existence for a long time.

Panga justice in this part of the country is quick and bloody. It involves the chopping off limbs as punishment, especially to miraa thieves.

As is the norm here, those caught stealing miraa have either their legs or hands cut off, to serve as a warning to others. For the perpetrators, they are not remorseful for their actions.

To these residents in the miraa-rich Igembe South, Igembe North and Igembe Central, collectively known as Nyambene area, reporting the matter to the authorities is a waste of time.

A visit to Laare, Mutuati and Kaelo areas reveals that many people are missing various limbs as a result of attacks using a special machete known as Sealine. Other attacks are as a result of domestic quarrels and land disputes.

In March 2014, 400 cases of machete assaults were reported at the Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital. In a previous interview with the Nation, Kimathi Mungania, a health researcher at the hospital said 90 percent of the cases involved men aged between 20 and 35 years, majority of whom are school dropouts.

Mr Kimathi Munjia, 32, is the latest victim of such an attack.

BRUTALLY ATTACKED

On Sunday, he was brutally attacked by a guard who mistook him for a thief as he passed through his father’s miraa farm in Kaulune village.

Mr Munjia was heading to his brother’s house at around 8pm when the unfortunate incident occurred.

Without a word, the man, who was armed with a Sealine, chopped off his leg and ran towards his employer’s house to inform him of the “good” news.

The elated guard told the victim’s parents that he had punished, the Igembe way, a miraa robber whom he had spotted in the farm.

The victim arrived at the Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital more than 12 hours after he was assaulted.

Mr Peter Kobia, an elder, said Munjia’s mother rushed to the scene and found his son’s bleeding profusely.

“She told us that his right foot was still in the shoe, slightly separated from the rest of the leg. His father, who was informed that it was son that had been punished, did not bother to rush him to the hospital. He said that is the punishment that should be meted out to such robbers.

“It is disheartening because the young man was not found with any miraa on him. He was a just a victim of circumstances,” laments Mr Kobia.

Police have launched a manhunt for the victim’s father and the guard who are on the run.

Although, the panga attacks are on a decrease according to police records, many cases of this bloody form of justice go unreported.

Locals accuse the police of failing to investigate the cases. The Judiciary has also been accused of taking ages to prosecute such cases.

“INSTANT JUSTICE”

“What is the importance of taking such suspects to the court when instant justice can be served right there and then? This kind of punishment should continue,” said Mr David Gichunge.

But Igembe North police boss Peter Kimani blames age-long traditions on the increased cases of panga attacks.

He told the Nation on phone that many cases, some of which go unreported, arise from land disputes and the miraa crop.

“Close to one or two serious cases are reported every month. We have been ensuring that cases reported to us are prosecuted to the very end. We have been advising courts to give harsh judgments in such cases,” Mr Kimani said.

He put local administrators on the spot saying they have failed to educate the locals on the rule of the law.

“They should hold frequent barazas to create awareness of the consequences of treating suspects in a cruel, degrading or inhuman manner. A person is innocent until proven guilty,” the police said.

But the revered Njuri Ncheke condemned the incident and called on the police to arrest the perpetrator.

“It is the highest form of lawlessness. We want the government to take stern action against such suspects whose aim is to kill suspects,” said Igembe North Njuri Ncheke chairman Patrick M’Ciita.