Posted by: rumnet | January 31, 2012

Disbandment of Witches’ Camps Should not Endanger Lives of the Victims

Disbandment of Witches’ Camps Should not Endanger Lives of the Victims

Alleged Witches

By Joseph Ziem

The belief in witchcraft or sorcery is widely known to exist in every indigenous community in Ghana, and particularly deep-rooted in the Northern Region, where the abhorrent attitude of most residents toward suspected witches have led to the creation of what many call witches’ camps.

Residents in the region out of paranoia and lack of understanding, feel better having someone to blame for life’s misfortunes and death of a beloved relative, and that blame or charge often fall on powerless and vulnerable elderly women on mere suspicion of they being witches’ and responsible for such unfortunate incidents.

In Africa and most especially Ghana, the majority of people have strange beliefs that they associate with witchcraft, wizardry or sorcery. For instance, they believe witches fly in the night, walk upside down, eat human flesh, torture people out of envy, inflict people with incurable ailments, kill their enemies, turn to vampire bats, spark fire during night out, stall the progress of one’s business or academic performance, cause bareness, impotency, madness, among others.   

As a result, the victims of witchcraft who are mostly elderly women in the Northern Region, face penalties such as lynching or banishing from their community members and relatives who out of sheer ignorance and unnecessary anger, accuse them of spiritually killing a relative or causing misfortunes in their families and communities.  

The resultant effect of this deep-seated belief or culture, adopted by the people several decades ago led to the banishing of thousands of alleged witches mostly old women including their children who are currently living in Gnani (Yendi), Kukuo (Nanumba North), Gambaga (East Mamprusi), Bonyase, Katinga and Naabuli (Gushiegu) witches’ camps, all dotted around remote communities in the Northern Region.

The elderly women and their children live in varying degrees of discomfort and penury. Some do not have access to safe drinking water and are compelled to walk long distances in the blistering heat during the harmattan season to fetch water. Others perform hard labour in the fields of nearby villagers in exchange for a bowl of cereal or tubers of yam. Those who are fortunate, have families that cater for them and occasionally send them food. Others are neglected by their families and left to fend for themselves, or rely on the kindness of neighbours and other non-governmental organizations like ActionAid-Ghana and Songtaba who have been providing them with aid since 2005.

Stakeholders of the alleged witches’ camps in the Northern Region met recently in Tamale at a two-day conference organized by ActionAid-Ghana, deliberated on the existence of the alleged witches camps, and resolved to put before government, through the Deputy Minister for Women and Children Affairs, Hajia Hawawu Boya Gariba, their observations and position on the matter of the disbandment of the camps.

According to the participants, the camps as they exist today were not purposely established as dungeons to punish and dehumanize people alleged to be witches. Rather, the rulers of the three Kingdoms in the Northern Region in whose jurisdiction these camps exist, acting in their capacity as traditional governments to provide protection and safe havens for people suspected to be witches, kept them under the protection of some selected priest or priestesses.

This practice, they noted, resulted in the creation of camps and the priests still continue to receive and protect assaulted, abused and banished women and their children suspected to be witches into the camps even in modern Ghana. The conference indicated that the priests with support from the chiefs and kings provide the basic needs of the women under difficult situations, and this notwithstanding; the living conditions of these aged women are still dehumanizing and unacceptable if Ghana wants to achieve the Millennium Development Goals on poverty or hunger, education, health, among others.

The participants added that, the women and their dependants did not have productive resources, suffered severe food insecurity and malnutrition, live in congested dilapidated thatched buildings and lack access to many lifeline facilities such as potable water sources and health facilities at the camps.

The conference detested the inaction by the current and previous governments to arrest the continuous abuse and banishing of women, and the horrendous living conditions in the camps, hence participants viewed recent pronouncement of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MOWAC) on government’s intention to disband the alleged witches’ camps in 2012 with mixed feelings.

While commending the good intention to disband the camps to the extent that a statement was made in the 2012 budget statement to that effect, the conference said it had its reservations about the manner the disbandment could be done saying, “we dread an approach that has a potential to endanger the lives of the women even as the camps are disbanded.”

In a five-point communiqué issued to the government by ActionAid and alleged witches through MOWAC, the conference demanded that in the interim, government must meet the immediate needs like food, shelter, water and health of the camps’ inmates as often done for people in distressed situations.

It said government must establish a specific programme with definite budget, accompanied with a roadmap to the disbandment, stressing that, “The roadmap must be developed in consultation with all stakeholders including the communities of origin of the alleged witches.”

The communiqué also stated that government must put in place a specific, pragmatic and operational legal regime that would halt fresh witchcraft allegations and ensure the safe reintegration of the women and their dependants (children) into any community of their choice.

The communiqué finally maintained that the programme must provide for psycho-social and economic components that will guarantee some peace of mind and economic independence for the women and their children in whatever communities into which they were reintegrated.

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Responses

  1. The objective is good, though is easier said than done. We visited the camp at Gambaga and found there women who possessed dignity and self-respect, and saw a strong sense of community. Of course the beliefs and prejudices that brought the ‘witches camp’ situation into existence need to be challenged and hopefully overcome. But as the conference recognised, until these beliefs are overcome, it may be true for some women that they will experience a stronger and more supportive community within the camp than elsewhere, including their places of origin from which they may have been driven out decades ago.

  2. i cried de day i watch de documentary on witches camp. i asked myself , who brought dis idea. we claime we ve freedom of association in Gh so why all dis humilation . dis act shd be abolish b’cos is degrading women


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