According to IEET readers, what were the most stimulating stories of 2015? This month we’re answering that question by posting a countdown of the top 30 articles published this year on our blog (out of more than 1,000), based on how many total hits each one received.
The following piece was first published here on June 23, 2015, and is the #26 most viewed of the year.
In recent years, the issue of gay rights in Africa has generated intense debate and discussions. Some countries have tried to tighten the laws against homosexuality and prohibit same sex marriage. They claim homosexuality is an evil, corrupt and immoral lifestyle which western societies are trying to impose on African nations.
I am against the ongoing efforts and campaign by the Catholic Church to make the late South African schoolteacher, Benedict Daswa, a saint. While I acknowledge the heroic struggle waged by Daswa against witchcraft based violence and exploitation of his Venda people, a struggle that eventually led to his brutal murder; while I understand the need to celebrate and commemorate his life, legacy and achievement, this initiative to make him an object of ‘worship’ or reverence by the catholic establishment is a self-serving scheme and is literally an insult on the memory of this critical and courageous mind.
Thank you Foundation Beyond Belief for selecting me as the recipient of the Heart of Humanism Award for 2015. I believe I have just received the best award the world has to offer.
Superstition confuses the mind. It distorts reality, hardens the conscience and poisons the heart. Irrational belief drains the well of human compassion causing suffering, death, darkness and destruction. As Voltaire once noted, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”.
In the North of Ghana, among the Dagomba, the name for a witch is Sonya, and a wizard is Bukpaha. But in local discourse there is often no reference to Bukpaha. Sonya is commonly used to refer to a person, male or female (though largely female), who engages in malevolent magic.
Another Dagomba term for Sonya is Pakurugu, which means an old woman, or as the English speaking Dagomba say, an ‘old lady’. Among the Dagomba, the notion of witchcraft has a female face. Men are more often perceived as ‘doctors’ with the cure for witchcraft.
President Muhammad Buhari has stated during his recent visit to the US that his government would not consider decriminalizing gay marriage in Nigeria. Well, that did not come to me as a surprise because President Buhari is a hardline conservative muslim whom I think would be unwilling to support any legislative or policy change that is not compatible with sharia law.
A lot has been said about militant Islam and extreme Christian, traditional religious practices in Nigeria. There has been much focus on violent attacks by the jihadist group, Boko Haram, on the abuses perpetrated by sharia policing agencies and the nefarious activities of homophobic pentecostal churches and witch hunting pastors in the country. Unfortunately not much attention has been paid to the efforts of humanists, atheists, skeptics and agnostics in the country to address these problems. Not many Nigerians know about the campaigns by humanists against witch hunting, blasphemy law and harmful traditional practices. In fact not many Nigerians know that humanists and humanist groups exist in the country.
Ivory Coast is one of the countries in Africa where belief is witchcraft is widespread. A Gallup Poll found in 2010 that up to 95 percent of the populations believed in “sorciellerie” – the French word for witchcraft. This means that witchcraft is more or less a ‘national religion’. Almost everyone in the country thinks as a matter of fact, not fantasy that witchcraft is real in its conception and consequences, that people can harm others using mystical means.
African traditional medicine is widely perceived as a form of voodoo medicine, as a survival of some stone age pre-modern illiterate formation that still functions and fulfills medical purposes for Africans. This is, at least, how many anthropologists have viewed the subject. They have argued that African traditional medicine is unlike ‘western medicine’, and then go on to establish how witchcraft and magic is embedded in this ‘unique’ medical practice. African medicine men and women are portrayed as witch doctors - as if the traditional-medical profession is about treating and curing witchcraft.
Like other countries in Africa, Zambia is a very religious nation and has the dubious of distinction of being officially declared a Christian nation by President Federick Chiluba in 1996. One need not look far to see where Chiluba got the political will to establish this Christian nation. Eighty seven percent of the population is Christian and only twelve percent profess other faiths. The number of non-believers is too low to measure. Apparently, Zambia is 100 percent religious and theistic.
Four persons suspected of murdering an ‘albino’ have reportedly been arrested in Malawi. They allegedly abducted an ‘albino’ man from his village, killed him, removed his body parts and buried them in a riverbed. These horrific murders which have been taking place mainly in Tanzania seem to be spreading to this Southern African country, and it is important to rally Malawians against this horrendous practice before it is too late.
If you are one of those who think there is no connection between politics and the savage practice of albino killing in Tanzania, then you need to read the recent statement from the Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, Pereira Silima. Silima made it clear to politicians in the country that if they stopped patronizing the ‘witch doctors’ then this East African country might see an end to the shameful and horrific murders of albinos.
The people in Tanzania need to discard the belief that drives them to attack kidnap and kill people living with albinism.
Children are among those who populate the witch camps in the Northern Ghana. These children are not at the sanctuary because they were accused of witchcraft. They are at these shelters because their mothers or grand mothers were accused. But from my observations, many of these children end up suffering as a result the label of witchcraft applied to their mothers or grand mothers. The belief in child witches exist among the Dagomba and other ethnic communities in the Northern region. But it takes a different dimension.
Witch sanctuaries, described by local NGOs as ‘witch camps’, form part of the infrastructure of witchcraft in Northern Ghana. These sanctuaries are shrines, though one of sanctuaries in Gushiegu is not attached to any shrine. Tindana are the heads of the sanctuaries. The Dagbani term, Tindana, literally means - the one who owns the land. They are responsible for consulting the Tindang, the community spirit or god whenever there is a problem like drought or epidemic, war, plague, accusations of death or illness witchcraft, etc
Anybody who thinks that the wave of christianity based witch hunting and pentecostalism sweeping across Africa and migrant communities is due to some unique strand of piety and religiosity of Africans should think again. The rise of African pentecostalism has a lot to do with the 'business acumen' of the region's 'pastorpreneurs' who are exploiting the situation in the region.
A few years ago I met a man in Ghana who claimed to be a traditional African religionist. He was putting on some exotic costumes- some multi colored clothing and beads, holding some bits and pieces of ritual making tools. He was pretending to have some supernatural powers, and to be communicating with invisible forces. In the course of our conversation, he asked me the religion which I belonged to and I said that I had no religion, that I was an atheist. And he quickly retorted. Are you not an African?
On February 9, 2013, the former Chair of the Nigerian Humanist Movement, Eze Ebisike died after a brief illness. On March 2, he was buried in his hometown Okpokume, Mpam, Ekwerazu Ahiazu Mbiase in Imo State. Ebisike was an ex-catholic priest and an atheist. He was buried after a short humanist funeral ceremony in the compound.
I am writing to urge the international community to come to the aid of the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea as it grapples with the menace of witchcraft or sorcery related violence. Witch persecution and killing has been going on in the country for too long and we cannot allow it to continue.
We need to take action now!
The belief that evil magic and witchcraft can possess infants is largely behind the wave of exorcism-related abuse of children ravaging many parts of Nigeria and Africa. Many families and communities make scapegoats of their kids.
There is a growing incident of lynching and murder of suspected witches in different parts of Africa. This wave of witch hunting targets elderly people particularly women. In Nigeria, a court has rejected the bail application of three persons accused of killing a 70-year old woman, Mrs Rebecca Adewumi, for witchcraft.
The west African nation of Ghana is rather widely known for its ‘witch camps’, where mainly old women who are accused of occult crimes and subsequently banished from their communities. They seek refuge in these ‘camps’ to avoid being killed by their family and community members. But in the village of Sang, off Tamale-Yendi Road, in the northern region of Ghana there is a care center for vulnerable children.
For too long, African societies have been identified as superstitious consisting of people who cannot question, reason or think critically. Dogma and blind faith in divinity and tradition are the mainstay of African popular thought, culture and mentality.
The ‘anti-Islam film’ which led to protests, attacks and killings across Middle East, Asia and Africa has sparked debates over religious offense, particularly how to balance freedom of speech/expression and freedom of religion globally.
According to a recent worldwide poll called, The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism, Africa is the world’s most devout region. Even with the global decline in religiosity, the black continent has the least number of self-proclaimed atheists in the world.
On March 24 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution titled, Promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind in conformity with international human rights laws.’
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