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What Century Is It?

With all of the other problems associated with a dodgy election and the tribal turmoil that followed, the BBC reports that Kenyans burn alive 11 ‘witches’

Eleven women accused of being witches have been burned to death by a mob in the west of Kenya, police say.

A security operation has been launched to hunt down villagers suspected of killing the women in Kisii District.

The area has witnessed similar attacks in the past when people suspected of engaging in witchcraft have been killed or ostracised.

Where do they think they are, Massachusetts?

I’m sure the security people will be just as diligent as those officers investigating “honor” killings in Iraq and India. It makes you wonder why we bother with relief agencies when too much of the world think it is perfectly rational and right to kill others over mythology.


1 Jim Bales { 05.22.08 at 10:01 am }

Hey — as a 23-year-long-resident of Massachusetts (although not a native), I must protest! During the great witch-hunt of 1692, the good people of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not burn a single witch!

Ok, so 19 were hanged and 1 pressed to death. And maybe 5 — or more — died in prison. But not one was burned!

As to why we bother … in the long haul, the only way to end this crap is getting people fed, sheltered, employed, and educated. It is far from clear that these relief efforts will succeed, but I believe it beats the alternative of doing nothing.

2 Bryan { 05.22.08 at 11:29 am }

I know, the burning was almost always posthumous even in Europe to “prevent burial in sanctified ground” or the use of the bodies in “obscene and unspeakable rituals” which were usually described in great detail by “witch hunters”.

The US model, supplying food from the US, actually makes the situation worse by driving farmers who manage to grow a crop out of the market with prices so low they can’t make a living. Local purchase would provide a better solution, but agribusiness wouldn’t profit, and farm state legislators wouldn’t support the aid programs.

More and more I think we’re hurting more than helping the situation.

3 Jim Bales { 05.23.08 at 12:24 pm }

Bryan, your point is well taken on the “drop in at erratic intervals and throw food at them” model of aid.

I have colleagues who are trying a different model.

One project (as an example) is trying to create micro business in a small fishing village in Haiti (a village that is poor by Hatian standards).

The technology is to turn the agricultural waste from the sugar cane fields (called bagasse) into charcoal briquettes for cooking. The only other input is a small quantity of paste made from cassava, to act as a binder.

If successful, the project can simultaneously address multiple problems:
– New, self-sustaining, economic activity in a very poor community
– Cheaper cooking fuel for families
– Fewer trees cut down to make charcoal (critical in heavily-deforested Haiti)
– Less smoke in dwellings, reducing respiratory diseases (particularly in children)

The problem statement is at:

A brief summary by one of the technical leads is at

A recent description of progress is at:

Work up to 2005 is described at:

4 Bryan { 05.23.08 at 1:09 pm }

The deforestation is one of the major reasons for the high casualty rates whenever a tropical storm comes near Haiti. Flash flooding and landslides are almost a given any time there is a significant rain.

The briquettes sound like an excellent solution. We used coal dust briquettes in Germany for heating when my Dad was stationed there in the late 1950s. The process is simple and well known. It works as a “cottage industry”, even though industrialization would be more efficient. The 55-gallon drum is ubiquitous in the area and a local blacksmith could make anything else. Sounds like a winner on many levels.

If corn stalks work out, they might shift this to Central America as well. There is still a lot of open fire cooking and baking that goes on in that area, and corn is the major crop.

Supplying what people don’t have and can’t get is understandable, but the US aid system, as currently configured, is wasteful and counter-productive. We know how things should be done, but we don’t do it.