American Embassy Should Tackle Witchcraft Accusations

Sat, 21 Jun 2014 Source: Igwe, Leo

American Embassy Should Tackle Witchcraft Accusations, not the Witch Camps

Leo Igwe

I must commend the Embassy of the United States in Ghana for its decision to engage Ghana's Ministry for Chieftaincy and Culture in addressing the human rights abuses in the name of witchcraft. This project is long overdue. The American Embassy is sponsoring a research program on the violations that lead to the banishment of alleged witches to camps in the region. Such a program is a clear example of how the international community can help Africans tackle this cultural scourge, and help make witch hunts history in the region and beyond.

Partnering with Ghana's Ministry for Chieftaincy and Culture is a strategic initiative in the campaign against witchcraft related abuses. Chiefs are the main actors in the field of accusation in Ghana. Chiefs are the custodians of culture and traditions. Witchcraft is a cultural belief. The banishment of witches is a traditional practice in the communities. Chiefs play a major role in the production, processing and negotiation of accusations. So, any move to address this cultural problem must include the chiefs. It must involve the chieftaincy institutions. Many Ghanaians who suspect their neighbours of witchcraft go to the chiefs, not to the police to report the matter. They consult the chiefs and seek their approval before going to a soothsayer(Bagha), a shrine priest(Buiglana) or an earth priest (Tingdana) for divination or confirmation of their suspicion. Members of the witch finding movement cannot operate in a village without the permission of the chief.

Chiefs authorize the banishment of alleged witches, sometimes without consulting the Bagha, the Buiglana or the Tingdana. So we cannot win the fight against witch hunts in Ghana without winning over the chiefs. We cannot stop the human rights abuses in the name of witchcraft unless we get the chieftaincy institution to join the fight. The research project should not focus exclusively on the chiefs or on the chieftaincy institutions. It should include other traditional actors and institutions like the Bagha, the Jinwaraba, the Buiglana and the Tingdana. They all cooperate with the chiefs in processing accusations. Chiefs rely on their verdict when adjudicating cases of accusations.

But this program should aim at stopping witchcraft accusations in Ghana and not closing down the witch camps as has been reported.

Witch camps are not the problem but the consequence of a problem- the allegations of sorcery in communities. The existence of the witch camps is not a human rights abuse. These camps are indeed a mechanism- though an imperfect one- to contain these abuses. At best, witch camps are a symptom but witchcraft accusation is the disease. The research project should aim to address the disease not the symptom.

Persons who are accused of witchcraft are treated as social outcast. Alleged witches who are banished from their communities must leave or risk being murdered in cold blood. But most often people banished because of witchcraft have not other place to go. Family members usually do not want to accommodate them. Witch camps are the only safe places they can go to live without fear. Witch camps are the only safe places they can go to find refuge. So, without the witch camps, most of the alleged witches in these places would be dead by now.

The research project should be properly framed so that it can yield effective results. The program should focus on identifying the factors responsible for witchcraft allegations in the region. It should investigate how these accusations are managed and who are the managers. It is allegations of witchcraft that drive the accused to witch camps. It is the way witchcraft imputation is managed that led to the formation of these witch camps. And whenever these allegations stop, the witch camps will naturally cease to exist.

So, stopping witchcraft accusations should be the goal of the research project, not 'the disbandment of the alleged witch camps'.

Columnist: Igwe, Leo