The Witches of Africa

The Witches of Africa

Amongst Africa’s numerous internal disputes lies the widespread belief in the witches of Africa and its gory consequences, for the western world, witch hunting is a thing of the past, with the last trail taking place centuries ago in Europe. However, in Africa, every year hundreds of men, women and children accused of witchcraft and sorcery are socially ostracized or exiled.  But these are the lucky ones. The majority especially infants, are brutally tortured to death, made to drink poisonous ‘magic potions’ or have their limbs cut. Witchcraft deaths have plagued Central African Republic, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Congo, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Gambia. In these countries, the power and fear of sorcery has gripped everyone right from the villagers to governments. A person’s misfortunes, health issues or financial ills are usually attributed to witches in the vicinity. Even the slightest suspicion is enough to mobilize a mob or an entire village against the suspect. Such fears create anger, hatred, vengeance and violent attitudes leaving the victim at the mercy of brutal tribalism. The alleged are usually women, elderly people, orphans and children who are accused by their parents of witchcraft.

Bengin, a former French colony sandwiched between Nigeria and Togo, records high rates of child infanticide. Unless a baby is born head first and face upwards, communities believe the child is a witch or a sorcerer. The infant is killed immediately sometimes by dashing its brains out against a tree trunk or leaving the baby to die in the bushes. Also, if the mother dies in childbirth, or if the child fails to grow the first tooth before the age of eight months, or if the first tooth appears in the upper jaw, the consequences are similar.

Another case of high child infanticide is northern Ghana, where ‘spirit children’ are murdered every year.  Physically disabled children and babies born at the same time as their family’s misfortune are often accused of being possessed by evil spirits and are killed before the ‘ evil spirit’ could harm further.

Whereas in Tanzania prevails a sinister trade of Albino organs and body parts. Albinos are murdered and mutilated for their body parts which are used for making paranormal wares believed to be effective in witchcraft rituals. Since 2008, at least 62 albinos have been killed in Tanzania, 16 have been violently assaulted and had their limbs amputated and the bodies of 12 albinos have been exhumed from graves and dismembered.

Simultaneously, Ghana harbors ‘witch camps’ in which hundreds of women, mostly elderly, accused of being witches are given refuge. Currently up to 1,000 women live in huts with no electricity or running water.  Although the witch camps are unique to northern Ghana, the country shares the same rampant belief as other African countries with famine, illness and other natural disasters blamed on witches.

Causes of Witchcraft Beliefs

Such endemic dogmas have social and religious influences. People are traditionally raised to associate evil acts and misfortunes with myths. Poverty, misery and frustration have further driven many Africans to look for scape goats to hold responsibility for personal or society’s ills. Also, contemporary influences of African movies and film genres reinforce these tribal outlooks.

Many diviners and spiritual heads have capitalized on the African mentality and their desperate conditions.  Majority Africans are more accessible to spiritual healers than health services or police. Churches, shrines and houses of faiths practicing lucrative businesses of divinations and exorcism endorse sorcery accusations and killings. They believe a witch should be tortured and suffered to die as written in the religious scriptures.

Need for International Assistance

Laws of countries like Cameroun, CAR and Zimbabwe recognize witchcraft as an offence. But despite international outrage and repeated attempts by African governments  and NGO’s to stamp out these practices, the sinister body part trade, infanticide, and witch killings continue. Education and removal of tribal ignorance are the main ingredients which are likely to bring changes in attitudes.