Juju Clouds African Way of Thinking

Published on 29th May 2007

In Africa’s cultural and development context, it is not strange that Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo should accuse his deputy, Mr. Atiku Abubakar, of craving to kill him through the dreaded juju spell. Obasanjo’s claims that Atiku has been “consulting Islamic holy men on the date of his demise,” reflects the unrefined elements within the African culture that wait to be polished for progress.

"Don't worry, the president will be dead soon," a juju medium is said to have told Atiku. More expression of the deeper under-currents of the troubles of the African development process, Atiku responded that Obasanjo's mind was full of “the cobwebs of juju or occult.”

Developmentally, and in an era of the on-going African Renaissance, it is culturally healthy that such incidents are coming from the top ruling elites, who have been linked to dabbling in juju to the injury of Africa’s progress. Such practices have been part of the African culture for thousands of years, especially in West Africa, the most juju and witchcraft infested region of Africa.

African elites are yet to realize that juju practices are counterproductive to progress. Dabbling in juju weakens the rulers’ ability to totally rationalize developmental problems on the ground. As the Obasanjo and Atiku row demonstrates, juju and other such practices not only weaken trust, a key ingredient in national development, but  also undermine "national morality, because they are based on irrational spirit power," as Robert Kaplan reports in “The Coming Anarchy.”

African experiences show that developmental problems are not solved by dabbling in juju. Nigeria's Gen. Sani Abacha's juju-directed murdering spree to transform himself into a civilian President and solve his mounting problems is case in point.

Africa’s development history shows that leaders, both military and civilians, who dabble heavily in juju either paralyze their country, blow it into pieces or are blinded from reasoning properly to solve problems. From Liberia's Gen. Samuel Doe to Uganda's Gen. Idi Amin to Central Africa Republic's Jean-Bedel Bokassa (who ate human flesh as part of his juju rituals), dabbling in juju weakens the rational abilities of the ruling elites to handle the problems of the people. The leader becomes unrealistic, depending on illiterate, irrational, unscientific and impractical juju mediums that, in all measure, are immoral and destructive. The juju- dabbling Africa leader sees critics as enemies and lives in paranoia to the detriment of Africa’s progress. Such leaders become the manipulative robots of the juju and spiritual mediums as we saw in Gen. Idi Amin’s Uganda, perhaps one of the most rabid juju dabblers Africa has seen. Amin listened to these mediums to the extent of deporting Ugandan-Asians, consequently destroying Uganda’s economy.

In Sierra Leone, Foday Sankoh’s revolution was derailed partly because of the juju mediums. And so was the collapse of Gen. Samuel Doe’s Liberia and mounting troubles of Guinea Bissau till recently. In Ghana, Gen. Kutu Acheampong regime not only revealed a throwback to the ancient times mired in irrational native spiritual mediums but rule by forces of irrationality. The era shows a Head of State confused and shifting from one juju medium to another. They made Gen. Acheampong not only terribly gullible but also infantile, believing in everything the spiritual mediums told him.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Gen. Acheampong was swimming every mid-night in one of the rivers in Accra, as advised by his spiritual mediums, ostensibly to ward off being overthrown. He was overthrown all the same and executed because he failed to rationalize the problems on the ground. In Nigeria, the juju mediums had so much grip on Gen. Abacha that his every move was juju directed: he conducted important affairs of state overnight by the advise of the mediums; looted the Nigerian treasury in the same fashion; killed and jailed in the same vein (He jailed and nearly killed President Olusegun Obasanjo upon the advise of his mediums, some of whom come as far as Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and India). Nigeria was ruled by so much irrationality that the country not only became 'dark' but also was on the edge of another civil war after the Biafran one of the 1960s

Dirk Kohnert, of Germany's Institute for African Affairs, argues that the belief in juju and other such practices are still "deeply rooted in many African societies, regardless of education, religion, and social class of the people concerned." Like any other culture, this aspect of the African culture is irrational and blinds one from realistic assessment of problems. As Atiku spoke of Obasanjo, most African elites use religion as smokescreen to hide their deep-seated juju dabbling, a practice that emanates from the African culture. “Unlike Obasanjo who uses Christianity as a smokescreen while engaged in occultism and diabolical acts, I am a devout Muslim who has always striven to live in accordance with the teachings of Islam… The next occupant of the State House (presidential villa) will need to spiritually cleanse the presidential lodge to make it habitable for normal people,” said Atiku.

Such counter-productive thoughts by African elites show how the irrational African cultural values appear to outweigh the rational parts, and how such patterns persist in Africa’s development process. While the scientific side of the African mind demands objective evidence as to why juju should influence them, their brains’ mythopoeic, irrational juju-thinking side entices them to irrational marvels – to evil spirits, juju, or demons. 

Can these matters be addressed with a whole mind? Can the two instincts of the African brain, the rational and the irrational, be made to fit together? For the sustainable development of Africa, it is healthy that African elites re-think the relationship between their culture and progress, especially how to refine the inhibitions within their culture to facilitate progress, as the Europeans did during their Enlightenment struggles in their development process. That’s partly what Nigeria’s Nobel Prize-winning laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, was saying when he told an Accra audience recently that “trokyosi,” a cultural practice among West Africa’s Ewe ethnic group, where teenage girls are enslaved to shrines for sins committed by their parents, be abolished for the larger progress of African women. It is in the same vein that today the Ghana Police Service and the South African Police Force (it has an Occult Unit) now implicate juju and spiritual mediums in crimes if they are proven to be linked as facilitators using their craft to help criminals. Despite these positive attempts, African elites are yet to tackle these aspects of their culture in their development process.

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