By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
As Africa flowers and its traditional values play out naturally with international ideals, the ensuing schisms are helping to refine some toxic African values that have been entangling Africans’ wellbeing. The conviction for life in London, UK of Eric Bikubi and Magalie Bamu of murdering Bamu's 15-year-old brother Kristy, accused of using witchcraft to cause their existential predicaments, 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 Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI asking Africans “must fight against dangerous beliefs and superstitions” or 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 African regions such as the DRC, where there haven’t been any open enlightenment campaigns against certain inhibitive traditional values like Ghana, the international community, mostly through their non-governmental organizations, becomes 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, dehumanising him or her. Like all human values, witchcraft belief is culturally constructed. And so 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 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.
Though the Eric Bikubi and Magalie Bamu sentencing were 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. But 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 certain 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. Whether in Rawlings or Pope Benedict XVI, mixture of the international and the African campaigns are doing the work, helping to raise not only 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. The Ghanaian experience is, you need an open society driven by democratic tenets to discuss the inhibitive cultural values in a more civilized ways without fear of ethnocentrisms.
Kofi Akosah-Sarpong wrote in from Ottawa, Canada