Africa And Witchcraft

A football team qualifies for the Africa Club Championships for the first time in its long history, after trying for more than a decade. One week before the crucial home leg match of this two–leg final, the club’s officials, most of whom are practising Christians, take the entire team and its management to a “juju” man or witch doctor. The juju man anoints the team with some black powder dissolved in shea butter.

He gives them some incantations scribbled on a piece of paper to learn and chant several times a day, to ensure they knew them thoroughly before the day of the match. He then gives them a white powder which he instructs the players to put on their faces in the dressing room before the match. Finally, the juju man assures the players that all was set for a great victory but cautions that the person who scored the first goal in the match would die on the field of play.

On the day of the match, while the visiting team is out on the field warming up, the players of the home team are locked up in the dressing room powdering their faces and chanting their lines. Finally, after threats from the match officials, the players trot on to the field amid thunderous cheers from their fans. Soon the match is on the way, and within minutes, the top scorer of the home team has a golden opportunity with only the goalkeeper to beat. He remembers the juju man’s caution, stumbles awkwardly to the ground and the goalkeeper grabs the ball.

Ten minutes into the match, the home team is awarded a penalty. No one is willing to die on the field. Finally, a defender volunteers to take the spot kick and kicks the ball several metres away from the goal posts. The fans are outraged, but members of the management team are calm because they know what is going on. Half time is up and the match is still goalless. A few minutes into the second half, the visiting team scores a goal. Several minutes later, the goal scorer is still on his feet, threatening to score more gaols. The players of the home team are perplexed. However, they can now strive to score their own goals without any of them dying on the field. The long and short of the story is that the home team manages to clinch a draw, but the visiting team takes away a crucial away goal advantage. Ultimately, the juju man’s team loses the away match, and with it, the coveted trophy.

A young man had been above average during his four years in the village middle school. His teachers and classmates were certain that he was one of the bright stars to make their school proud. A few weeks before the “Hall” or middle school leaving examination, he goes to a juju man who gives him a piece of paper with some strange words to learn and chant repeatedly. He then gives him a white handkerchief and instructs him that when the examination begins, he should simply write his name and serial number on the answer sheet and cover it with the white handkerchief. When the invigilator says “get ready to stop work”, he should remove the handkerchief and all the answers would be right there on his paper.

In the examination room, our man does as he was told by the juju man and continues to chant. Any time the invigilator passed his way, the young man would open the question paper and pretend to be working. Naturally, the answer sheet was blank when he finally removed the handkerchief. With panic written boldly on his face, he is dumb as his mates discuss the tips from their class teacher which had appeared in the paper. He decides to write the English, History and Geography papers, but with a blank answer sheet and obvious zero percent in arithmetic, he had no chance. Back in the village, the juju man assures him that his “dwarfs” would work on the examiners. Of course it was a lie and our man fails miserably when the results are released.

Threeelderly women are attacked, hacked to death and their bodies burnt to ashes because the village witch doctor has accused them of being witches. It did not matter that the three elderly ladies had lived in the village all their lives and had never been summoned before the local chief for anything whatsoever. According to the witch doctor, they had been casting spells on others and they had to die for practising witchcraft.

A vervet monkey wanders into a village looking for food. Local people raise the alarm about a “monkey that looked people in the eye and spoke to them”.It carried a bad omen. The poor monkey is accused of witchcraft.Led by the local police chief, the people capture the monkey, hack it to death and burn its body, lest its ghost came back to haunt them.

These are actual incidents that happened in various parts of Africa. Every once in a while, reports appear in the media about the “doings” of witches and wizards – vampires rampaging villages, tales of men losing their penises, although no one would come forward to demonstrate that he had, in fact, lost his penis. There are stories of albinos being murdered for their supposedly magical body parts.

Men infected with the HIV virusare assured that if they had sex with little children, they would be cleared of their infections, so there are stories of adults committing unimaginable acts on little babies! Naturally, those men died as surely as night follows day, but not without infecting numerous innocent children. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, those so affected take retroviral drugs and lead normal lives for decades.

Witchcraft accusations in Africa usually follow seemingly strange and unexplained misfortunes like sudden deaths, vehicular accidents, a lightning strike or even a village’s source of water drying up during the dry season! Such incidents are usually attributed to witches, particularly elderly women, who must then suffer unnecessary abuse or even death, as mentioned earlier, because some village witch doctor has made a baseless accusation.

The witch hunts that racked Europe from the 15th to the 17th centuries followed the same pattern: Accusations arising from local quarrels and rivalries led to panics that opportunistic religious leaders then capitalised on. Contrary to popular belief, the European Church didnot instigate witch hunts as much as take advantage of them. Five hundred years later, some church leaders are still taking advantage of simple-minded Africans as they fleece members of their congregations (mostly women), for misfortunes that they cannot explain.

Educated West Africans living in Europe and North America would not dream of putting up a decent house in their villages because witch doctors and or “pastors” have told them they would die if they did that. Many of these people would not eat food from their own mothers’ pots because they would die if they did so. Rather than give money for the upkeep of their aged mothers, they would send home several months’ salaries to witch doctors and pastors “for protecting them and their jobs when they went home”.

As I write, there is a new and really stupid story making the rounds on social media. According to the story, some people are sending unsolicited messages on WhatsApp, in particular. If an unsuspecting person responds with their profile picture, the picture is copied or downloaded for use in some rituals that make the finder of the photo immensely rich, while the person whose photograph was captured lives in penury for the rest of his or her life. The rumour is that the phenomenon began in Libya, spread to Nigeria and is now threatening people in Ghana.

Habah, my people, how credulous can we get? If it was possible to take a person’s image and transfer their fortunes, why would they go after poor Africans? The “high and mighty” in the world today appear on the front pages of newspapers and magazines daily. These are people who are worth billions. If it was possible to transfer wealth through images, why would anyone bypass Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Beyoncé Knowles and the filthy rich and come after the profile photos of NaanaEyaaba?

In Exodus 7 verses 8-13, when Aaron threw his staff before Pharaoh and it turned into a serpent, Pharaoh commanded his magicians and sorcerers, and they did the same, but Aaron’s staff swallowed all their staffs. If these witches are really that powerful, why can’t they turn into birds, for instance, and flee from their captors? If the witches and wizards of Africa’s miserable villages and towns possess those incredible powers to perform the feats that are attributed to them, why haven’t they raided the vaults of the world and turned their villages into modern wonders?

If our witches and wizards possess those powers, why do we not hold world records in everything, apart from the Kenyans and Ethiopians? If theyhave such powers, why is the continent still plagued by so many corrupt and incompetent leaders?

In1Timothy 1 verses 6-7, Paul says, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” If we really believe that we were also created in the image of God, of which I have no doubt whatsoever, then what St Paul says to us in that admonition is that we really can have complete faith in God. God has given us the ability to attain an attitude of power, love and clear thinking, which means we have nothing to be afraid of, in any circumstance. In other words, there is no power on earth that should frighten us and lead us to dissipate resources on non-existent “powers of darkness”. It is not farfetched to suggest that in the scheme of affairs, Africa’s fear of the unknown has proved her lasting bane in the quest for development. Are we prepared for a rethink?