Poverty, Witchcraft and Witch-Killing in Africa

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Poverty, Witchcraft and Witch-killing in Africa

“The campaign to make poverty history- a central moral challenge of our age- cannot remain a task for the few; it must become a calling for the many”. -Kofi Annan, United Nations Ex- Secretary-General, October, 2006

The Kofi Annan’s challenge above is a mean one; a clarion call to every citizen of the world to do their bit, their very best, in the quest for a poverty-free world. To some of us who are African humanists, the call must be taken seriously to guarantee better future devoid of deprivations of essentials of life. Yet we see the probability of eradicating poverty in Africa soon, most especially in sub-Saharan Africa, as a mirage based on daily worrisome happenstances around us. In this piece and for the benefit of October 17 celebration, the international day for the eradication of poverty, we shall be examining two of these disturbing trends of events that are giving many of us sleepless nights: witchcraft and witch-killing. We shall be exploring their nature and effect most especially as they relate to poverty and poverty eradication possibilities. This is necessary because many citizens of the world, including the Norwegians, are currently worried about the level of deprivations, the dearth of the basics that makes humans truly human, in our globalised world.

Let’s start with the definition of witchcraft.
Witchcraft, according to Bertrand Russell, is ‘a composite phenomenon drawing from folklore, sorcery, demonology, heresy and Christian theology’. The World Book Encyclopedia describes it as ‘the use of supposed magic powers generally to harm or damage property”. From the above, we can move on to deduce a definition of a ‘witch’ as a person who is supposed to have received such powers from ‘evil spirits’, that is, power to know all things, power to destroy lives, among others. While ‘witch’ is a general name, the word has a gender connotation. A ‘male witch’ is called wizard, while a ‘female witch’ is called ‘witch’.

The belief in witchcraft is not recent, nor is it a product of the popular Harry Porter series. Rather, according to Godffrey Parrinder, it is “one of the great (sic) fears from which mankind has suffered”. The belief has appeared in many parts of the world, in one form or the other. While it became particularly prominent and developed in Europe in the later middles ages and renaissance periods, the belief in witches and their evil powers have remained with Africans for centuries before then. For Africa, therefore, till today, witchcraft belief is a great tyranny spreading panic and death. This unhindered, thriving, belief, which is devoid of any commonsensical scientific ratiocination, is being buoyed by the excruciating and pitiable living condition of many Africans that they found unexplainable; hence the need for scapegoats, the ‘witches’. Thanks to the modern day fraudsters, the Pentecostal pastors.

The advent of Pentecostalism, and the healing Christian, churches have contributed in no small measure in reinforcing the belief. They accepted the existence of witches and witchcraft and claimed they have the power to protect against its evil powers. All manner of social, health and economic problems are readily carpeted as having ‘spiritual’ dimension blamable on ‘witches’, who are usually aged women and unwitting teenagers.

To market their churches, most of these pastors have resorted to demonizing many aged, mostly poor, haggard looking, widows or barren women and innocent children, as witches that must be ‘delivered’ and ‘saved’ from the power of darkness. This uncritical scapegoating is gaining momentum more than ever before because of the seemingly irredeemable economic condition of living of sub-Saharan Africans. The many frustrated sub-Saharan African people are brainwashed to believe that their...
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