UK Punishes Africa's Superstition

Published on 19th March 2012

A witchdoctor                      Photo courtesy
The conviction for life of Eric Bikubi and Magalie Bamu in London, UK for murdering Bamu's 15-year-old brother Kristy, accused of using witchcraft reveals how Africa’s inhibitive rites are crossing international borders and how the international community is responding. It is important to note that the international community isn’t only the Western world but also Africans in the diaspora and those who work in international organizations.

Much of the information received by the international community about Africa’s inhibitive cultural values is supplied by Africans themselves. Whether it is Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI asking Africans  to “fight against dangerous beliefs and superstitions”; UNICEF studying the implications of witchcraft in Africa’s progress or the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) investigating human sacrifices in Uganda, their information is supplied by distressed Africans.

Eric Bikubi and Magalie Bamu are immigrants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). As much as everyone knows, DRC has huge witchcraft troubles that have partly asphyxiated its progress. A disturbingly good number of human events are interpreted in witchcraft terms in the DRC, to the extent that even when a refrigerator breaks down, some families blame their children of using witchcraft for the breakdown. This has knotted the Congolese capacity to rationalise developmental issues clearly. Here human agency is weakened; evil forces powerfully control the human mind and have heavy hold over human responsibility. Here the African, a mere puppet, is brutally at the mercy of witchcraft and other evil forces.

In DRC, where there hasn’t been any open enlightenment campaigns against certain inhibitive traditional values like Ghana, the international community, mostly through their non-governmental organizations, become the key face to tackle such destructive cultural practices. Britain’s Judge David Paget, sentencing the Congolese couple to life, said, "The belief in witchcraft, however genuine, cannot excuse an assault to another person, let alone the killing of another human being."

Witchcraft isn’t genuine, because it impinges on the dignity of the individual. Since witchcraft is culturally constructed, it can be deconstructed with enlightened campaigns and strident institutions, as Ghana is attempting to do. The key is to understand the cultural meaning of African witchcraft, its social drama, its impact on individuals and development, and then work out the solution to deconstruct it.  As Ghana’s case shows, the mass media has to be heavily involved by having thorough grasp of the implications of the inhibitive cultural values to progress, and then wage sustained campaigns for their refinement.

A UNICEF study says that Africa’s growing witchcraft menace is as a result of the “emergence of Pentecostal or revivalist churches” and juju-marabou mediums. Poverty has inflamed the witchcraft hazard. “Exploitative pastor-prophets claiming to be able to identify witches and offering exorcisms provide additional legitimization for witchcraft accusations.Their lucrative vocation complements the work of traditional healers, who also fight against the malevolent forces of the “other world,” UNICEF says.

Although the Eric Bikubi and Magalie Bamu sentence was done in London, UK, the message was transmitted instantly to the DRC and the rest of Africa. Most African news media carried the report by the BBC. In most African countries, the resilient, irrational beliefs in witchcraft have made the criminal justice systems that are supposed to tackle such inhuman practices useless. As inhibitive African traditional values collide with the international development ideals, they will be refined through strong human rights values, the rule of law, freedoms, and social justice. The associated effects will be the eventual strengthening of the African criminal justice systems and civil societies to deal with the inhibitive cultural values that have been entrapping Africans’ progress.

In 2010, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the global children welfare agency, study revealed that “accusations of child witchcraft are on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa - spurred on by urbanization, poverty, conflict and fragmenting communities, creating a “multi-crisis” for already vulnerable children.”  Topmost in Africa is the DRC, where a “wide spectrum of children are at risk, including orphans, street-children, albinos, those with physical disabilities or abnormalities such as autism, those with aggressive or solitary temperaments, children who are unusually gifted; those who were born prematurely or in unusual positions, and twins.”

The UNICEF study shows that gradually the international community is getting grip of the implications of witchcraft and other inhibitive beliefs in Africa’s development. This comes in the tail of Africans attempting to understand certain erroneous cultural beliefs that hinder their progress. In Ghana, prominent figures such as ex-President Jerry Rawlings are questioning inhibitive cultural practices that not only dehumanise Ghanaians/Africans but also undercut their progress.

On a recent visit to Africa, Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI strongly spoke against the dangers of witchcraft beliefs and other inhibitive cultural rites that have been entangling Africans’ progress. The mixture of the international and the African campaigns are  not only raising awareness and throwing light into the dark recess of the African culture but also how to tackle the dangers of the inhibitive beliefs in African culture.

The continuing Ghanaian enlightenment campaigns reveal that democratic tenets such as the rule of law, social justice, freedoms (especially press freedom) and human rights will help to open up certain parts of the African culture that are no-go areas, that bordered on ethnocentrisms, for refinement. There is  need for an open society driven by democratic tenets to discuss the inhibitive cultural values in more civilized ways without fear of ethnocentrisms.

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