Home Opinion Featured Articles Belief in Demons, Exorcism and Ending Witch Hunts in Christian Africa

Belief in Demons, Exorcism and Ending Witch Hunts in Christian Africa

Mapping Africa

Many people have wondered why witchcraft accusations persist in Africa, and why witch hunting rages on the continent in this 21st century. Some think that Africans are hard-wired to magical thinking and occult interpreting of their life situation. This is not the case. Some persons are bemused, and unable to comprehend why modernity has not dislodged, or at least weakened the grip of superstition, this irrational belief on the minds of many post-colonial Africans. Yes, it is a case of some not all Africans. Look, the reason is not far-fetched. Africa has not gone through the modernization process as the West did. Efforts to secularize and modernize Africa are encumbered. Local and global factors are responsible for this situation. These forces are frustrating the process of diminution of magic and superstition.

The African continent has been a target of Western Christianization, Eastern Islamization, and global religionization. Religion has been a part of Africa’s cultural, political, and economic encounters with the West and the rest of the world. These religionizations have not birthed an African enlightenment, they have not occasioned necessary intellectual awakenings. Instead, they have stifled and suffocated African awakenings. Christianization or Islamization of Africa has been mistaken for modernization of Africa. It is not.

Africans have been unable to defy or subvert Western or Eastern religious imperialisms. Post-coloniality barely applies to religion in Africa. Religiously speaking, sub-Saharan Africa is still colonized. The continent is under Western and Eastern imperialisms and shows no signs of yielding to the dictates of reason, science, and critical inquiry. This situation is not because reason and science are alien to African cosmology as some scholars have proposed. No, not at all. Africa has been a competing ground for alien and indigenous enchantments. Africa has been held hostage by political Christianity and Islam. Africans have not found an effective mechanism and formula to repel and resist Christian and Islamic imperialisms. Africans have not mustered the will to free themselves, and their minds from this religious bondage and hostage, from the grip of Christian and Islamic religious tyrannies.

Christianity constitutes a key element of African modernity as scholarly conceived. Meanwhile no clear demarcation existed between the colonial bureaucracy and the colonial church. So, what has been designated as African modernity is not modern enough, is superficially modern. Or in a scholarly parlance, Africa is not yet modern or not yet as modern. The tragedy is that this surface, peripheral modernity has become or is mistaken for African modernity. African modernity coat has become African modernity character.

About witch hunting, European missionaries introduced post-Elightenment, post-witch hunts Christianity, but it was religion anyway, with all the magical, mystical, and transcendental trappings. Like everything colonial, western Christianity was an imposition, it was foisted on African people and societies. Western missionaries introduced Christianity to replace the traditional faith, local conceptions of the divine, and ways of worship. Colonial religion propagated doctrines that acknowledged the reality and potency of a god, of demons, and of evil spirits that included witches and wizards. Churches taught that witches be tortured to death, exorcised, or not suffered to live. Churches presented and still present witchcraft as a form of demonic expression and manifestation.

So, the introduction of Christianity or Islam has not marked a significant shift or change in beliefs. Religion in Africa only changed its coat, not its character. In many cases, foreign religions of Christianity and Islam reinforce beliefs in witches and other supernatural imaginaries. So, it is understandably difficult for churches that believe in demons and practice exorcism to end witch-hunting in Christian Africa. Churches are a part of the problem. They fuel accusations and sanctify witch hunts. Having said that, the campaign goes on. Churches and other religious institutions in Africa must be pressured to stop witchcraft accusations and witch-hunting. Churches in the West once hunted and killed alleged witches. Didn’t they? But today, this is no longer the case. Churches in the West are apologizing and regretting their role in that destructive campaign.

As it was the case with the Christian west, so will it be in Christian Africa.

Churches in the region must make concerted efforts to end witch and demon hunting.

Leo Igwe directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

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