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Opinions Sat, 24 Sep 2005

When Superstition And Journalism Collide

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong argues that Ghanaian journalists should open up their journalistic inquiry on the growing activities of prophets and other spiritualists

In a society mired in massive superstition, more so helped by its culture where belief in witchcraft, juju-marabou mediums, spiritualist of all brands and the interpretation of many events by unseen and omnipresent forces, the power of prophets and other spiritual mediums to influence the gullible and influence even state affairs is troubling. The other day a prophet said the Ghanaian presidency should have an Office of Prophecy to intervene in unsual affairs such the sharp increases in vehicular accidents. Another one said all Ghanaians will die if they don't repent and that the spate vehicular accidents occuring are the work of evil forces. For the spiritualists, and there are plenty of them and growing, there are gravity of evil, unseen forces pulling Ghanaians into dark orbits, hence the increases in vehicular accidents and other misfortunes Ghana-wide.

While the Ghanaian/African is very religious and spiritual, which emanates from within the Ghanaian/African culture, no one seems to question desirability of such unseen forces pulling Ghana down, especially the journalists, who are supposed to be the frontline elites in scanning through unbalanced/unobjective revelations by the growing prophets. All intellectual laziness aside, what worries me, and I have a lot of worries as a Ghanaian/African development journalist, is a lack of a questioning, critical response to such supernatual interpretation of events that affects practically all that matters in Ghana/Africa. This is the bad visions that democratic, free societies fear and should avoid. For the unseen forces that impel Ghanaians in their daily lives are supposed to be visible. In this sense, Ghanaian/African journalists are supoposed to assist not only expose the uncritical statements by the prophets but also educate Ghanaians, most of whom are entrapped in the prophetic haze of their culture, so they can be weighed, debated, and directed.

In Ghana's real world, where the ever increasing prophets, juju-marabou mediums and other spiritualists hold sway over an increasingly supertstitious and gullible people, reality bites, creating a nightmare of huge, unquestioned influence over Ghanaians activities. A critical manifestation is the Ghanaian journalists simply ignoring - aware or deliberate - their pervasive force on Ghanaian public life while seeming to be preoccupied otherwise in the face of growing superstition spinned by the prophets and other spiritualists. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the case of the prophets, spiritualists, and juju-marabou mediums, the grand gravitational force of minds and morals. When coup makers and armed robbers dabble in juju-marabou and other spiritualists in their operations, they are being pulled by the gravitational force of juju-marabou and other spiritual mediums mired in the Ghanaian culture; demonstrating the consequences of such irrational beliefs in the development process since beliefs in all of these supernatual realms have effect on quality of Ghanaian lives. So, importantly, Ghanaian journalists examining the implications of the prophets and the development process is necessary to care where Ghana's progress is going. Is Ghana moving back to the ancient era, where superstition rule supreme, or moving forward with the rest of the world into modernization, where reason, rationality rule supreme?

Ghanaian newspapers are abuzzed with coverage of wild talks and scandals of prophets and other spiritual mediums. "Everybody in Ghana will die, If ...'Prophet' warns unrepentant Ghanaians," "Pastor whips woman," "Worshippers abandon service to beat up thief," "Pastor in court for fondling breast," "I am national chief executioner" - Wizard confesses," "Fetish Priest in court for fraud," "Man says he killed woman on suspicion she bewitched him." Almost all of these headlines and many more from Ghanaian newspapers and other media outlets avoid serious discussion of vital cognitive core of superstitious beliefs which emanate from within the Ghanaian culture. While most Ghanaians accept journalistic inquiry into various wrong doings or oversights or the implications of petroluem prices on the average Ghanaian, journalists have failed in asking about the implications of the rain of prophetic and other spiritual activities in Ghana's development process. In Ghana, which brand itself as the light, ideal and hope of Africa, the sea of belief in supernaturals and their implications on the gullible society still washes heavily, unlike the Western world where such waters have long since receded, probing questions about prophets, juju-marabou mediums, spiritualists and even religious activities are way below the radar of most journalists and the Ghanaians they serve.

As the Ghanaian journalists work to open up the development process from within Ghanaian values first and other values second, they have not done so by analysing, with the help of the best thinking by the best scholars on every important religious, prophetic and other spiritual propositions grounded in journalistic objectivity and fairness. Like good enviromental/science/business writers, Ghanaian journalists who write about the prophets, religion, juju-marabou mediums and other spiritual activities should not only report the news but also should offer an assessment of what the experts know and don't know given the evidence at hand. Aware of a society deeply superstitious, this approach could enlighten the Ghanaian society and help Ghanaians think better, in part because of agreement or disagreement among theologians, philosophers, and other scholars on many religious, prophetic, juju-marabou and other spiritual activities. This, in the atmosphere that religion and other spirtual activities are subjective, personal and experiential; and contention among theologians and philosophers whether reason (or rationality) can reveal the truth about things prophetic, religious or spiritual, especially in Ghana's on-going development process.

One would think that after years of the prophets, juju-marabou mediums and other spiritualists having helped stifle Ghana's development via coup detats, armed robberies, corruption, Pull-Him/Her-Down-for-me syndrome and other destructive activities, Ghanaians would deal less with such unhelpful spiritual activities, and let rational thinking and reasoning drive their development activities. As directors of morality and the carriers of the general public good, Ghanaian journalist should develop a new critical journalism that is epistemologically suspect in the context of Ghana's history, culture, tradition, and experiences; taking on the prophets, juju-marabou mediums and other spirituialists as they will do for politicians and other figures or values in the development process as they did against the "trokosi" practice, where teenage girls are enslaved to shrines for sins committed by their parents. By campaigning with other non-governmental organizations against "trokosi," Ghanaian journalist took journalistic inquiry into its logical conclusion, exposing the moral outrages of "trokosi" including its human rights violations of the young enslaved girls.

By throwing journalistic inquiry on prophetic, juju-marabou mediums, religion and other spiritual activities that are inhibiting the Ghanaian development process, Ghanaian journalists will help open up the dark recesses of the paranoids and conspiracy theorists who feed on Ghanaians deep-seated beliefs in the superstitions such as witchcraft and prophetic revelations that block people from finding rational, reasonable solutions to their problems. For the Ghanaian society, ever superstitious, is permeated by powerful forces that pull Ghanaians into different path but is never called into account, and then impact unprogressively on the Ghanaian society. And so publicly criticising, driven by the journalists, of the juju-marbou mediums, prophets, certain religious and spiritual activities is honest scholarship, public debate, informed experience, and informed disagreement. They are all indispensable to Ghana's growing democracy and moral progress.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.
Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi