(This article is a call for a re-think of the suggestion that the witch camps in the northern parts of Ghana should be closed down. Not an entirely bad idea, all other things being the same. The challenge, however, is that many, if not most, of the women got there voluntarily, escaping stigmatization, torture and death (as happened in the case of the 90-year Ekua Denteh recently murdered through lynching). Many, if not most, of them have nowhere to go; hence, my suggestion that the camps be turned into old people’s homes run by the state).
Now read on.
In this country, we are acquainted with shocks, the latest of them being the lynching of 90 year old Ekua Denteh accused of using witchcraft to stop the rain from falling at Kafaba in the Savannah Region.
We are so used to shocks that nobody seems to have noticed the shocking silence from our very august House of Laws, one of the loudest Parliaments in Africa, over the lynching.
Absolutely unbelievable, in a country where Parliamentary caucuses summon the press at the drop of a hat. On second thoughts, however, why should I be shocked? Apparently the lynching of a 90 year old woman offers no political advantage to be exploited in an election year.
I am no tribalist, thank God, but the silence from particularly the Northern Caucus is so loud that the fall of a baobab tree would escape the ear. I sit in total unbelief noting that no fewer than 51 very loud and aggressive MPs were elected from the North. Equally loud and questionable is the silence of the flagbearer of the NDC, who was once an MP from Bole, a Savannah constituency, and that of the NPP’s Minister for Zongo Development, a native born.
I propose that lynching of a suspected witch is one of those social crimes we commit in the name of culture and religion. It is so ingrained that condemnations, resolutions and press statements cannot root it out. It needs the storming of Kafaba.
Imagine the impact on people in that part of Ghana if they woke up one morning to the sight of an interminably long convoy of some 100 gleaming Land Cruisers, STC and VIP coaches from all parts of Ghana descending on Kafaba, blaring their horns from as far as Tamale through all seven Savannah constituencies of Bole-Bamboi, Damongo, Daboya-Mankarigu, Salaga North, Salaga South, Sawla-Tuna-Kalba and Yapei-Kusawgu.
In the coaches would be women’s activists and other concerned Ghanaians mobilized by the Northern Caucus in Parliament after a daily media blitz lasting seven days. Five of the vehicles would be carrying the National Chief Imam, the Ameer of the Ahmadiyya Movement, head of Afrikania religion dressed as a traditional priest, a prominent Catholic Archbishop, chairman of the National Peace Council (a Methodist) and MPs.
In the various petitions to be read at this day-long event, reference will be made to the witches camps in other parts of the three Northern Regions.
Dear reader, lynching of suspected witches is not going to go away any time soon if the rest of society does not intervene. The time to act is now, and we need a lot of noise with decibels equal to or greater than what we mobilized against Galamsey in 2017. Perhaps we need a Media Coalition Against Lynching of Women.
I once accompanied a researcher to the Gambaga Witch camp. I learned a few things that will boil your blood. Some of the elderly ones had lived in the camps for 40 years! The young females in the family feared to associate with them because no man would ever propose to them, knowing they were grandchildren of witches.
It was the first time I was hearing that witch camps were first created in the 18th century to accommodate alleged witches and wizards who had been banished from their communities.
An answer to a question by the researcher why the women never escape gave me the biggest jolt. Actually, the women have fled discrimination, threats or mob attacks for using witchcraft to cause sickness, droughts or fires, cursing a neighbour or even just appearing in someone’s dream!
As a matter of fact, Ekua Denteh was unlucky. The lucky ones are those who reach the witches camps. A few years ago, another unlucky woman, a mother of three, was beaten and set on fire after being blamed for making a child sick through witchcraft. In 2010, a 72-year-old woman was set on fire!
This we call culture? Do the Ministry of Culture and the NCCE not feel guilty? Organizing artistic groups to drum, dance (adowa/agbadza/azonto), paint and create music (hiplife/highlife); creating a National Film Authority, a Film Village, a Creative Arts Council and a Creative Arts School. These are needful. But is that all that is in the mandate of the Ministry? Does civic education become urgent only during elections?
In the wake of the Ekua Denteh murder, one suggestion in which I find much wisdom has come from public relations and advertising guru, Frank Apeagyei. A man familiar with life in the UK and other advanced economies, he suggests that rather than disband the camps, since the old ladies accused of witchcraft will need somewhere to hide, the camps should be turned into Old People’s Homes, as exist in the UK and elsewhere.
They should be run by the state, with guaranteed supply of water and electricity, toilets, health care et al. This falls in the lap of the Department of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Health. Those young and strong enough to work should be trained and capitalized to set up small scale enterprises. After all, it’s poverty that has turned into “witches”.
For a start, join me in the storming of Kafaba. Any volunteers from Parliament? Do I hear any ayes from the camps of NGOs and think-tanks?
The writer, Enimil Ashon, is a former Editor of the ‘Ghanaian Times’ and now a columnist of the ‘Daily Graphic’.