Every market has its madman, so goes the adage, but Luanda market in Vihiga County is home to one too many. Local lore has linked this unlikely phenomenon to high consumption of marijuana (bhang), locally known as “omusaala”.
Luanda town, where the market is, lies on the busy Kisumu-Luanda-Busia highway. It is a rural business hub of sorts as it has roads linking it to Siaya, Busia and Kakamega counties.
But it is also a place where the line between fact and myth gets blurred.
It remains unclear whether bhang consumption accounts for the high number of people with mental illness.
However, doctors in the county say drug abuse is the cause of mental illness in at least 40 percent of the patients they receive.
Police in Vihiga say consumption of bhang is common in towns, and Luanda in particular, but they are yet to identify where it is grown. However, it is not uncommon to find individuals enjoying a toke, especially at sundown.
Mr Thomas Oluche, a trader who frequents the market, says the number of insane people has gone down in the recent past.
He however adds that on any given day, one can hardly miss a few, and you will know them because some always cause a nuisance.
Others will be begging for food while some will be seeking manual jobs. He confesses that he has never seen any of the men smoking bhang in the market, though he acknowledges that smoking of weed is common.
According to some locals, the weed is not to blame. For them, poverty and a history of illness in some families could be the cause of the problem.
Mr Vincent Oloche is one of those who shares this view. He says the presence of mad people in Luanda should be treated the same way it is in any other market and should not be linked to consumption of bhang.
He adds that most insane people in the area are calm and don’t cause disturbance either at the market or funerals.
“I have seen many going to funeral places to help in fetching water, splitting firewood just to get some pay or food. Once they are satisfied, they leave,” Mr Oloche says.
Efforts by the local administration to fight smoking of bhang have failed to bear fruit. Way back in 2013, Luanda Police Station rolled out an operation dubbed “Operesheni Wazimu Rudi Nyumbani”, a move that appeared to yield some positive results as the number of mad people in the market reduced.
Acting county police commander Justin Nyagah says much of the weed smoked in Luanda is brought in from neighbouring areas like Busia.
“Consumption of bhang is a major concern in all our towns in this county. We mostly arrest consumers and sellers but we have never found a plantation of bhang in this county,” Mr Nyagah.
“Some of the sellers we have been arresting tell us they get the weed from Busia. Luanda has many consumers going by the arrests we have made.”
Recently, Kibra MP Ken Okoth made a proposal for legalisation of bhang smoking.
This is not the first time a legislator is considering this option. Former Emuhaya MP Wilson Mukuna (now deceased) is on record beseeching the government to allow Luanda residents to grow bhang for export.
The latest proposal by Mr Okoth has caused jitters among the police in Vihiga, who now say legalising bhang will roll back the efforts they have made in the fight against the use of the weed.
Mr Nyagah says: “If it becomes law, we will have a lot of trouble managing the youth.”
He recalls that last weekend police arrested one suspect, Mr Christopher Asava, 66, selling bhang to youth, just a few metres from Mbale Police Station.
Mr Asava had 100 rolls of bhang at the time of the arrest. He pleaded guilty to the offence before the Vihiga magistrate’s court and is currently on remand at Kodiaga Prison.
Dr Andrew Ngida, the county mental officer, says bhang and other drugs contribute to 40 percent of patients being treated for mental illness in Vihiga County.
He estimates the number of patients seeking treatment at 2,400 annually.
Every month, Dr Ngida says an average of 11 patients are received from Emuhaya while Luanda brings in only eight.
Vihiga takes an average of 50 mental patients to the mental clinic at Mbale every month, 30 are received from Hamisi while 28 come in from Sabatia.