Attacks and killings of people suspected of witchcraft and malevolent magic continue unabated in different parts of Africa. A local newspaper in Uganda, the Daily Monitor, has just reported the brutal murder of a man ‘accused of being a witch’ in a local village. The man, Siraje Kayondo, was waylaid on his way from the garden by machete-wielding persons. They tied him up and beheaded him. According to the report, they threw his head into a bush and dumped his body on the roadside.
In January, Kayondo was accused of killing two members of his community through witchcraft. A local mob burnt down his house and he was forced to flee the community. Kayondo came out of exile to cultivate his garden when he was waylaid and killed. Such gruesome murders of suspected witches take place in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and in other countries in Sub Saharan Africa.
In Uganda, the belief in witchcraft and ‘black’ magic is very strong. The term witchcraft evokes fear in the minds of people across the country. Very often people attribute death, diseases or any misfortune to witchcraft. Witchcraft accusations often take place among neighbours, family or community members. People hate or react violently to anybody suspected of using occult powers to harm or destroy. A witch is generally seen as an ‘enemy within’ who should be eliminated.
Many Africans are turning to witchcraft as they try to manage and respond to uncertainties in their lives. They use witchcraft to explain or cope with cases and instances of misfortune. They believe witches are responsible for their poverty, misery, unemployment, marital or childbirth difficulties.
Many people in Africa also believe in the power of witchcraft to enhance their political and economic fortunes.
A recent survey carried out in Uganda says that more ‘literate Ugandans’ are using witchcraft to get and secure their jobs. According to the survey,
‘A majority (66% of those interviewed) said witchcraft was a common practice at workplaces while 16% were undecided about its prevalence.
Although 17% said witchcraft was not common at workplaces, only 4% strongly believed in what they were saying.
Of those, 60% of the respondents, mostly males, testified that they had either heard or seen signs of witchcraft in their offices.
In that group, the majority were aged between 18 and 20 years, followed by those in the 41-45 age group and others between 36 and 40 years.
Also, 41% of the respondents said an “average number” of their colleagues in offices depend on witchcraft while 17% said “too many” of their workmates use it. However, some 42% believe “too few” of their workmates use witchcraft to secure their jobs.
About 90% of the respondents reported that people practice witchcraft to seek job promotion while 12% said others use witchcraft to prosper in business.
Astonishingly, others use witchcraft either to harm or hurt workmates, besides seeking favour and power at workplaces, as reported by 17% of the interviewees.”
This survey clearly reveals how obsessed the so-called literate people in Uganda are by this ancient superstition. It shows how ineffective the literacy and educational program in Uganda is and has been. Since the colonial days, there have been efforts to eradicate witchcraft beliefs and related abuses through legislation. But these efforts have also proved ineffective. In many African countries, the practice of witchcraft is a crime punishable by law. Witchcraft accusation is also an offence. But these legal provisions have not deterred people across the region from persecuting or murdering in cold blood any suspected witch or wizard. A major anti-superstition campaign is urgently needed in Africa to save the people from the dark and destructive influence of witchcraft and other irrational beliefs.
Leo Igwe is a skeptical activist in Nigeria and a former representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He is partnering with the JREF to respond in a more organized and grassroots way to the growing superstitious beliefs about witchcraft throughout the continent of Africa.