A few years ago, when this writer was young and reckless, he decided to drive from Mombasa to Nairobi at night.
Highway A109 is intimidating, even during the day. The 500 kilometre-long road littered with long-haul trucks and madcap drivers is an endurance challenge. More so at night.
I set off from Mombasa at 9:30pm. I told myself that I would be in Nairobi by 3am, with ample time to prepare for an important meeting with some NGO honchos that morning. The purr of the small Mazda engine as I munched tarmac along the A109 kept me company.
I reached Mtito-Andei [halfway] around 1am. It was drizzling, and save for the occasional lorry, the road was dark, empty and lonely. Suddenly, I saw her.
She was about 16, thin and tall, dressed in a chalk-stripe blouse that resembled a Kamiti prisoner’s uniform. Face turned sideways, she flashed past the vehicle’s A-Pillar like an entitled pedestrian. I was at about 100kph, and expected to hear a thud followed by a scream. Nothing.
I glanced back through the rear view mirror and it was all pitch dark. No homesteads around, no vehicle stalled on the side of the road, no amilas. Who was she and where was she going?
Heavily dosed with Redbull, I was as alert as an orchestra conductor. Exhaustion had nothing on me, and heart racing, I stopped at the next road block near Kinyambu. “Tunaskia story kama hio kila wakati,” a cop told me. “Ukiona kitu kama hiyo usisimame.”
Suffice to say that I arrived in Nairobi shaken like Shaggy and Scooby, and vowed never to drive along A109 at night again.
But did night have anything to do with it?
Old Driver, Young Driver?
Winfred Nguyo and husband Joe Muturi’s encounter suggests not. One day in February 2019, they boarded a Kilifi-bound matatu at Mombasa town. It was early afternoon and the city was beaming under coastal humidity. The Nairobi couple was sequestered behind straw hats and sun glasses. They rode shotgun.
“The driver was a pale, old man in a blue trousers and an ochre jacket typically worn by touts,” recalls Nguyo. “I remember whispering to my husband that we were being driven by a tout.”
Lo and behold! The couple says when they were disembarking at the ‘Tuskys’ stage, Mtwapa, about half an hour later, the man behind the wheel was in civilian clothing, youthful and speaking in a gruff voice.
“And the matatu did not stop anywhere along the route. [This would explain a driver interchange] We were the first passengers to disembark,” claims Joe. “We went back to our hotel room totally fazed. Was that a ghost?”
Such stories of these strange sightings and occurrences especially in the coastal areas of Kenya have been told by many.
“Those who travel to Coast frequently by bus will tell you this. All the drivers (mostly buses) tell you ‘ahhhh Hilo ni jini mambo ya kawaida gonga na usiangalie ama kufunga break. Gonga ukiendaga ukiendaga if it appears again gonga tena the trick is DO NOT STOP. Those are free roaming spirits ziko hata kwa Bible they cause confusion so just move like nothing happened yes I REPEAT NEVER STOP,” writes Bebe Martha on Facebook group ‘African Motorcycle Diaries‘.
In a different group called Sikika Road Safety, Kenyans recounted their spooky sightings.
“Actually it’s true,” writes Dannie Mwish. “My friend gave a woman a lift at night, on reaching the destination he was alone. He couldn’t speak for two days. He later replaced the back seat and burnt the one that lady sat on.”
“A few months ago while traveling to Kapsabet at around 4am, a few metre to the Sachang’wan mass grave, I saw a fireball bouncing in the middle of the road and can’t understand where it came from since the road was very clear at that time of the morning. I just swerved past it iendelee kudance yori yori. These things exist my people,” writes Felloh Yule Msanii.
What Does Science Say?
But what does science says about these apocryphal encounters?
Christopher French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, University of London writes: “The idea that some kind of consciousness could survive bodily death is completely at odds with modern neuroscience. For another, if spirits of the dead really did survive in some form, we might expect their appearance and behaviour to reflect some kind of eternal unchanging afterlife.”
He adds that our fear of our own mortality plays an important role in belief in ghosts. “Most of us desperately want to believe in life after death – and the idea of ghosts, however scary, seems to offer support for such a notion.”