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Buying a better witch doctor: Witch-finding, neoliberalism, and the development imagination in the Taita Hills, Kenya



In this article, I examine the efforts of a Kenyan community to make sense of, and to act on, structural transformations associated with economic and political liberalization and globalization. To locate the sources of its conjoined moral and economic decline, the community employed the witch finder Maji Marefu to expose the real circuits of power and abuse underlying the false appearances of everyday life and to make the institutions and practices long associated with “development” real again through the ritualized public exposure of new forms of witchcraft. Maji Marefu's “movement” sought to revitalize institutions that were iconic of an earlier model of development, coming to life in the vacuum that a retreating, downsized state left behind. Yet Maji Marefu ultimately came to epitomize the foreign vices he was hired to rid the community of, and the state and church were revitalized to intervene on the citizenry's behalf so as to control this “criminal” menace.

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