Challenge of Advocacy against Witch Persecution in Africa

witch camp
witch camp

The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW) was launched in January in response to pervasive cases of witch persecution and related abuses in Africa.

AFAW’s main goal is to supply the missing link in the activism and campaign for the eradication of witch-hunting in Africa. However, the mission faces so many challenges. First of all, African witchcraft has largely been misrepresented in the West and in the world. And many institutions have bought into this misrepresentation. Many western NGOs have cashed in on the misconceptions and are using exoticizing and patronizing campaign approaches that tend to perpetuate and not resolve the problem of witch persecution. Witchcraft has largely been presented as a mechanism that helps African societies to function, as a socially stabilizing force. This mistaken anthropological position, which is dominant in ‘scientific’ and popular western literature, has hurt the advocacy for alleged witches in the region. This misrepresentation has led to a lackluster campaign by the UN agencies and Western NGOs who fund campaigns to eradicate child and adult witch accusations in the region. This approach must change because it’s been largely unproductive and ineffective. The mistaken idea about witchcraft in Africa must be abandoned if we must see an end to witch persecution in Africa as envisioned by AFAW.

So witch persecution in Africa has not been given the attention that it deserves. It has not been addressed with the sense of urgency that the issue demands. The lives of alleged witches in Africa have been treated as if they are inconsequential. For some reason, witchcraft imputation in Africa has been treated like a domesticated useful facility, not a wild and destructive phenomenon that wreaks havoc in the lives of people across the region. Thus the campaign against witch persecution in Africa has been dominated and driven by agencies, organizations, and activists that have refused to call witchcraft belief by its name: myth or superstition. In some cases, there are organizations that have re-missionization agenda and are more interested in using witch persecution in Africa as a medium for re-evangelization than ending this vicious phenomenon. In other cases, there are organizations that have, in trying to avoid being labeled racist or neocolonialist, resolved not to designate witch persecution as an irrational superstitious practice that Africans should abandon.

However, COVID-19 has provided a great lesson in global campaigns and activism. As in the COVID-19 pandemic, a campaign against witch persecution must be based on fact and science, not on fiction and superstition. Evidence-based propositions are and should be the guiding principles. So in situations where religious beliefs or practices pose a threat or undermine the advocacy against witch persecution, such practices must be called out and be critically examined, whether they be traditional, Christian, Islamic or Bahai. In situations where religious actors are linked to the persecution of witches, such religious actors must be excoriated. Refusing to do so is a betrayal of the cause and campaign against witch persecution.

Now some activists and organizations do not want to openly and publicly take on the negative role of religion in witch persecution in Africa because they do not want to be perceived as atheists or disbelievers in God. They do not want to make statements that imply skepticism such as stating that witches do not exist as believed by the people. They are of the view that such statements will alienate Africans and their Christian partners in the campaign. Look, regarding the COVID-19, WHO has issued guidelines, not based on what aligns with the cultures and religions but what would help contain the virus. What actually alienates people is being dishonest or ambiguous about one’s position on the existence and non-existence of witches and by implication other magical entities. Stating that witchcraft is superstition is based on fact, not fiction, and is the most effective way to end witch persecution in the region.

Again it takes being critical or better entertaining some disbelief to campaign against witch persecution in Africa even if one is a Christian evangelist or theologian who does not believe in the African witch. Thus in this campaign, disbelief or critical thinking is an asset, not a liability. And pretending to believe or lying about one’s position on the existence or non-existence of witches as believed by Africans sends a wrong signal about the intention and mission of an activist or an organization, and attracts people of similar interests to the campaign.

Furthermore, many western NGOs and activists have refrained from criticizing harmful traditional, cultural and religious practices such as witch persecution, witch hunting or witch trial because they do not want to offend the cultural sensibilities of Africans. They regard this as a gesture of respect for the African culture and religion. It is not. In fact, these NGOs withhold funding or threaten to severe funding for African counterparts that do not comply. Religious, cultural practices that harm other human beings do not deserve respect. They should be critically analyzed and abolished. A critical examination of harmful beliefs and practices is an intellectual duty to Africa and the world. All NGOs and activists must rise up to this duty and challenge in order to realize a witch-hunting free Africa in 2030

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