Sometimes the headlines of the day for Accra catch my attention and bring the reality of the clash of worlds and cultures to a resounding crescendo.
Today’s headline did the trick: ‘Mother Goes To Jail For Whipping Daughter With Wire’. The story goes on to explain that a mother in Accra had beat her 5 year old daughter to the point where she was bleeding profusely all over her body – and the reason given was that the little girl was a witch. Seriously.
We're not talking the pointed hat, long black haired, wart on chin witch of Halloween fame, no - we're talking the unwarranted, unfettered prosecution of unassuming, poor, innocent people.
Modern Ghana is a place that witchcraft, or certainly the belief in witchcraft, is rampant. The belief forms a strong part of the cultural milieu in Ghana. Despite the work of missionaries over the centuries, despite the global village where such ideas are exposed as being ignorant and backward… witches are alive and well and apparently all over Ghana in the form of small children and poor elderly women.
Just Google the words ‘Ghana’ and ‘witch’ to see what is really going on.
Northern Ghana is home to over 10 massive witch camps – each housing up to 1000 people – the majority of these are young children. Soak that in. THERE ARE STILL WITCHES CAMPS IN GHANA IN 2010. All of these people have been banished from their villages for all sorts of crimes, including allegedly killing people who died from ‘mysterious illnesses’.
Some estimate that there are over 10,000 identified witches in the country.
Abuse and denial of basic human rights is the norm in these camps. As pariahs of society, none of these people can depend on the social catchments that the poor majority depend on – no one wants to help. And there is no recourse for these people either, since none of their crimes can be proven or disproved. An accusation is all it takes.
I found an interesting article written last week by Ghanaian journalist Caesar Abagali, where he compares the witchhunting in Ghana 2010 to the Salem witchhunts in the USA in the 1690’s. Ghana, there is a long way to progress if this is where we are at.
The bottom line is that in both cases, the fear of the masses is/was able to run rampant, and people accused and convicted without legal trials, as long as the accused were poor and powerless.
In both cases, the culture of the time, allowed for ignorance to prevail over science and reason, and many opportunists with charisma jumped on the wagon to stir up the fear and public sentiment. The result is that innocent and vulnerable people are victimized – and to a tragic extent.
Education and empowerment on a massive scale are the only solution. But sadly, it’s not only in the impoverished Northern villages where the ignorance exists – today’s story of that poor little girl in Accra attests.
When I lost my son to a mysterious 3 day illness some years ago in Accra, in our grief and disbelief, some of his Ghanaian relatives insisted that a curse had been raised, by way of finding a reason… And I’m sure that many a witchdoctor made his share of money off that fear, in claiming to exert revenge on the person, the witch, who caused this horrific event.
As usual – none of this ever helps the children. Not those we’ve lost, nor those who live under the wrath of adult ignorance. Ghana, what does this say about us?
To borrow the lyrics from Barry Manilow:
I am your child
Whatever I know, I learn from you
Whatever I do, you taught me to do
I am your child
And I am your chance
Whatever will come, will come from me
Tomorrow is won, by winning me
Whatever I am, you taught me to be
I am your hope,
I am your chance,
I am your child