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12.11.2004 Feature Article

Letter From The President: Sikaman’s Guantanamo

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Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents, A very good friend of mine recently sent me a newspaper from Canada, with a publication about Sikaman. The article was about the so-called witches camp in Gambaga in the Northern Region. Most of you might know about that village – a huge camp where hundreds of women, accused of witchcraft have been confined, against their will, against the law and against their fundamental human rights. It's Sikaman's Guantanamo, where people suspected of spiritual terrorism are being held illegally with no chance of ever appearing before a duly constituted panel to defend themselves. The story of the witches' village has been told over and over again. I heard about it long before I ascended the Black Star Stool. At the time, I didn't consider myself able to do anything about it. I swore to myself that if I became president, I would go to the village and free all those hapless women whose rights have been violated by a bunch of native nitwits, who justify their failings in life by blaming others.

Unfortunately, I became president and I forgot about it – until my friend in Canada sent me the article in the Canadian newspaper. I feel so ashamed. I feel that something needs to be done, probably before soon, to free those women. Now, with their story being told in the international media, I feel I have lost the moral right to criticize the Americans for keeping their terrorists in Guantanamo for so long without trial.

I find it totally incredulous that in this 21st century some people still believe that witches can take over their destinies and drive them to failure. It's difficult for me to say that witches don't exist. But it is impossible for me to believe that a witch somewhere is responsible for all my failings. I can't blame any witch for the creases on my face. I don't think some witch somewhere has tied up my intestines, slowing down my bowel movements and giving me constipation – which I suffer three days a week. In the same vein, I cannot credit any witch for my few successes. That's why I think it's so stupid, but typically African, unfortunately, for people to brand poor, helpless women as witches and blame them for such banalities as mosquito bites, failed marriages, fevers, motor accidents and poor harvests. I believe that any right-thinking, forward-looking, progress-minded person who reads or hears about the Gambaga witches' village would heave sigh of despair and amusement and rain as many insults on Africans as they could muster. What's wrong with us?

What's wrong with us is that we, I mean most Africans, are still living in a primitive world of our own where common sense is a scarce commodity. That's what happens when leaders decide to buy bulletproof four-wheel drives instead of building primary schools and motivating teachers to accept postings to rural communities. So when a man gets bitten by a dog he seeks revenge by accusing a helpless 80-year-old woman of using witchcraft to either incite the dog or turning herself into a dog to inflict the bite. When an idiotic child fails an exam because he wouldn't sit his bottom down to learn about punctuation and subject-verb agreement, his parents like to look for a culprit in a granddad who can't even chew rice. The unshakeable belief in witchcraft in several African communities has been taken to such ridiculous, nonsensical depths that the rest of the world can't help but laugh at us.

So the time has come for action. The time to act is now.

First of all, I think the Minister for Women and Children's Affairs has failed to do one of the most significant things she could have done to justify the establishment of that 'job-for-the-girl' ministry of hers. I think that instead of concerning herself, almost obsessively, with teaching women to process gari and produce palm oil, she should focus a little attention on the plight of the women in Gambaga. There is more to the affairs of women and children than gari processing and palm oil extraction. She should go and sleep in the village for just two days, talk to the women, feel their pain and act to get them freed. I know it is political season and she would say she hasn't got the time to go there. If she hasn't got the time to set enslaved women free what else does she want to use her time – and the enormous resources we've put at her disposal for? How can she pretend to be Minister for Women's Affairs when hundreds of women are being held against their will?

Apart from the Women and Children Affairs Ministry, another agency which has failed in its duties, as far as the Gambaga witches are concerned, is the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice. For year's they've known about existence of the village and they've done absolutely nothing to end the violation of the rights of about 700 women, according to the Commission's own estimates. Why have they not acted? I don't know. But I want to believe that the commission wants some so-called 'civil society' organization to make a major intervention before they decide to play “a facilitating role”. That's what happened in the case of the “trokosi” slaves. An NGO took the initiative to get them freed only for CHRAJ to be heard shouting their support from the sidelines and when success was achieved the commission's officials were all over the place clamouring for recognition and undeserved praise. I don't understand these CHRAJ people. They have the full backing of the law. All they have to do is to go to the camp with a convoy of law enforcement agents, break down the mud houses and free the women. No one should worry about their re-integration into society. If the Women and Children's Affairs Ministry changed its thinking that the only way to liberate women is to organize workshops on gari-process and palm oil-extraction, they could save money which could be used to rehabilitate, protect and reintegrate those wrongly accused women in Gambaga into mainstream society.

As for those chiefs (mostly men) and their cohorts (mostly women) who delight in keeping those so-called witches captive, they should wallow in their primitive madness. Their day of reckoning will come. I, as president, might not be able to bring them to book because my current preoccupation is to undo the damage caused by Jerry Boom and cause a few damages myself. But a time will come when the law will take its course. Justice will be brought to the doorstep of the downtrodden, even the witches in Gambaga will taste the sweetness of justice, and anyone who unlawfully tramples on the rights of his neighbour with impunity will be severely punished. Unfortunately, this is a far off dream, which can only become a reality with the emancipation of the African mind from backward beliefs and primitive cultures. Until then, let's every citizen of Sikaman bear in mind that even witches have rights.

Witches' friend,

J. A. Fukuor

[email protected]

J. A. Fukuor
J. A. Fukuor, © 2004

The author has 204 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JAFukuor

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