How is Closing Down 'Witch Camps' in the Interest of Accused Women?

Fri, 22 Jan 2016 Source: Igwe, Leo

By Leo Igwe

This question is meant for Actionaid Ghana particularly the Communications and Public Relations Manager, Benjamin Tawiah. Tawiah released a statement last month dismissing my objection to the planned closure of the so called witch camps in the Northern region. He made it clear that the 'Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, the Northern Regional House of Chiefs' are together in this campaign. However that does not persuade me at all that closing down the 'witch camps' is a laudable undertaking. Anyway, Tawiah noted that Actionaid and other stakeholders are 'following a roadmap towards the reintegration of the women and the closure of the remaining camps'. Well I want to say once again to Actionaid and its partners in this misadventure. "Your roadmap is misleading and mistaken. Your road map would create more problems because it does not address the root of the problem". Now think about this, this so called roadamp only aims to shut down the refugee camp while the war is still going on. Does that make sense? So Actionaid and other stakeholders should revise and revisit this roadmap. Now let me address some of the issues raised by Tawiah in that statement. He acknowledged the 'safety and human rights concerns' which I raised and later dismissed them as unfounded anxieties. Really? Unfounded anxieties? Tawiah is saying that the fears which alleged witches have that they could be killed if they were forced to return to their communities' are unfounded anxieties? This is really difficult to comprehend

While acknowledging the circumstances under which people are accused "they had been made to confess to witchcraft, usually under duress, to pacify community and family anger", Tawiah made it clear that "The witch camps, which are default institutions serve as safe havens for women accused of witchcraft". Now if Actionaid knows that this is the predicament of the alleged witches, why close down the 'safe havens'? How is this a rights-based approach to tackling the issue? Why not focus on rooting out what made these safe havens possible in the first place? The statement noted the challenge of educating hundreds of children in these witch camp. However it fails to mention that parents, who are sons and daughters of the accused women and men sometimes send these children to run errands for them as a way to support the accused women. Going to live in the witch camp is a decision many families take in order to guarantee the safety of their mothers or grandmothers. If staying back at home were safer parents would not send their children to go and live with the alleged witches 'in isolation'. I agree that the living conditions in these places are poor, and "continue to deteriorate, making daily life an unbearable struggle" However, if it were better back home, these women would have gone back, in fact their families would have come to collect them without waiting for anybody to reintegrate them.

So, what is the justification for stating that the closure of the 'witch camps' is in the interest of the accused women? Who said so? Did the accused women tell Actionaid that disbanding the witch camps is in their interest? Is this campaign to shut down the camps informed by what the women think is in their interest? Or what Actionaid think is inits own interest? Because some of the alleged witches would tell you that they prefer to suffer and die in these places to returning home. This is why the campaign to disband the witch camps is a step in the wrong direction. I want to tell Actionaid and other stakeholders- you did not create the witch camps, so do not close them down. Stop investing time and resource in shutting the 'default safe haven for accused women'. You will end up making many of them vulnerable. Instead focus your resources on campaigning to stop witchcraft accusation, the trial and persecution of alleged witches. If witchcraft accusation stops the witch camp would eventually become unnecessary and then disappear. Alleged witches fled their homes and communities because of accusations and if Actionaid and other stakeholders close down witch camps without stopping witchcraft accusations, where do they expect people to flee to when they are accused and banished? Are there alternative effective shelters for them in Ghana? Not one that I know of. Actionaid should focus on reintegration of accused persons where there are necessary assurances from the families otherwise they should allow these sanctuaries to be and to continue to operate as long as necessary. In fact Actionaid and other stakeholders should explore ways of improving the infrastructure in these place. This is what is in the interest of accused women, not disbanding the 'witch camps'.

Columnist: Igwe, Leo