Kofi Akosah-Sarpong on how Ghanaian students are socialized into juju-marabou culture and the implications for our development process
In a bid that smacks of the European Enlightenment era, Ghanaian elites are gradually taking on their cultural values that they deem counter-productive to their progress. While some say globalization and international communication system are responsible by throwing daylight into the dark recesses of our culture, Ghanaian elites have to be given credit for appropriating these global values in their development processes and leading such campaigns in a sub-region mired in deadly superstitions that are hindering progress. Many of the atrocities that occurred in the Liberian, Sierra Leonean and Ivorien civil wars have been tied to belief in juju-marabou and other native occultism.
It is in this context that Dr. Kwesi Andam, Vice-Chancellor of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, advise to students to desist from dabbling in occultism needs a further look in our on-going development process, more so with the revelation that some students at Kumasi High School were involved in stabbings in attempts to test their juju-marabou protection charms against knife attack. No society develops when the irrational beliefs outweigh the rational, especially when those supposedly trained, or being trained, in rationalizing problems are simultaneously entrenched in irrational beliefs as Andam said of the Ghanaian students. They become confused, they become a group that blames their problems on witchcraft and other unseen forces, as Ghana's Agriculture Minister, Major (rtd) Courage Quashigah, part of the new generation of Ghanaian elites confronting our negative cultural values, would say. The students become weak, and as elites, who are automatically expected to be the source of light to society, darken their society instead and lead the masses astray. Andam spoke about students dabbling in occultism in the limited sense. Andam forgot that he was speaking to Ghanaian students and that their notion of occultism first emanate from their own culture and in an era of soccer craze, high schools socialize their students into dabbling into native occultism to play the game. The trouble here is that aside from Andam we have not heard from any high ranking high school official or parents or guardians speaking against such practices in relation to Ghana's development. Why? Because school officials have been socialized into such occult practices during their school days and believe in the practice. Dirk Kohnert of Germany's Institute of African Affairs, Hamburg demonstrates in Magic and Witchcraft: Implications for Democratization and Poverty-Alleviation Aid in Africa (World Development, Vol. 24. No 8, pp. 1347-1355, 1996) says that “the belief in occult forces is still deeply rooted in many African societies, regardless of education, religion, and social class of the people concerned.”
The boom in the dabbling in native occultism is as a result of the strain and stress of poverty and the on-going democratic transition. As the Ghanaian society increasingly becomes competitive people are racing to spiritualists, juju-marabou mediums and other such occult practices for 'help.' Why? Because of a mindset created by their culture. The occult beliefs provide a weak shield against the “corrosive social effects of life” in a region that is the poorest in the world, technically unstable and that leads the rest of Africa in juju, witchcraft and other native occult beliefs. Andam's admonition, therefore, is a call to redefine aspects of the Ghanaian culture that undermine rationality and progress, especially considering the fact that it is students who are increasingly dipping into such irrational practices. Just imagine youth who are for long used to dabbling in the native occultism growing up to be “Big Men.” When they have any serious problem, like what most of their Big Men are doing now, they will go to these native occult mediums for solutions. The result will be a cycle of confusion, instability, crises, weak development, irrationality, poverty of thought, fear, suspicion, mistrust, a general climate of Pull Him (Her) Down syndrome, and arrested civilization (for civilization is an on-going process and is weakened by irrational beliefs).
In this regard, Andam did not go further by including juju, marabou and other African occult practices that have for long impacted negatively on our development process. What I am saying is that Andam should have pinned his speech on some aspects of our culture and draw references to how the negative occult elements within it has influenced much of our troubles. From the Kotoka-Africa coup to the Rawlings coups occult values within our culture were used to topple elected regimes. And armed robbers, con artists such as road-side magicians, pickpockets and other criminals all dabble in juju, marabou and other aspects of our culture that promotes these negative values to the detriment of the development process. Most of these scoundrels were students before. That in our development process we move one step forward, two steps backwards largely emanate from the negative values within our culture.
In terms of Andam's observation, the fact is that aside from the Ghanaian society being mired in such practices, most schools too deepen these occult beliefs by employing them in their soccer matches. And the students, especially the players, take this up not only to the national club level but also in their dealings in the nation. So in most schools while students are expected to be trained to be rational, they are at the same time 'trained' to be irrational. So what we have are minds in which there is circling of rational and irrational thoughts. The result is the schools training people who come out confused in terms of confronting problems, and those who are by nature weak become more irrational than rational, they become brutally dependent upon such beliefs, and easy prey of native occult mediums. At the national level people seek solution to their problems by consulting Malams, juju, and other such occult mediums. And since they do not use their brains fully to think out their problems properly it become weak, thus making people blame witchcraft and other unseen forces for their problems. So what we have here is students using the magical part of their brains more than their rational part when confronted with problems. This, too, is reflected in people with university degrees who cannot think well, are gullible, childish, and irrational, and have not been able to extricate the negative aspects of the culture from within them. The result is juju-marabou and other spiritual mediums controlling the elites and by extension the state. So the perceived trouble with the state is logically the trouble with our native occultism via juju-marabou and other spiritual mediums.
The moral implications of students socialized by their schools and their societies into dabbling in native occultism is that it weakens their moral and civic fiber and undermine the work of the numerous churches, mosques and other religious centers. For culture is an extremely powerful value and most times defines almost everything we do, including our notion of progress. The great American journalist Robert Kaplan in The Coming Anarchy (Atlantic Monthly, February 1994) talks about positive activities of churches in West African being undermined by such occult practices like juju and marabou and their unsuitability for a moral society, “because they are based on irrational spirit power.” Writes Kaplan; “Here spirits are used to wreck vengeance by one person against another, or one group against another.” For if the religious bodies were to operate in an atmosphere freed from native occultism they should have been the centers to spur progress as outstanding German sociologist Max Weber demonstrates in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Ghanaian religious bodies and the increasingly open elites such as Dr. Kwesi Andam have a tough fight against these negative cultural values. Throughout the world, as the illustrious American sociologist Francis Fukuyama says of the European development process or progress in The End of History and the Last Man, all development process or progress have its “spiritual origin” or cultural origin. However, this becomes impossible or weak or undermined or stifled if the spiritual origin is entangled in deadly entrenched negative cultural values such as juju-marabou and witchcraft.
Andam's warning provides an appropriate debate of cultural issues that are entangling Ghana's development process, often extremely unpleasant to discuss, sometimes for twisted ethnocentric reasons, which we have to confront in our developmental and civilizational process.
Mr. Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, an Ottawa, Canada-based journalist, was formally based in Freetown, Sierra Leone as a correspondent for the Lagos, Nigeria-based African Concord magazine. Hhe writes about African development issues especially its culture. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.