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22.05.2007 Feature Article

Obasanjo, Atiku in Juju-Marabout Row

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong examines the implications of the juju-marabout row between Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubaka, in the larger development process of Africa
In Africa's cultural and development context, it is not strange that Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo accuses his deputy, Mr. Atiku Abubakar, of craving to kill him through the dreaded juju-marabout spiritual practice. Obasanjo's claims that Atiku has been “consulting Islamic holy men on the date of his demise,” as the BBC reports (21 May 2007), reflects the huge unrefined elements within the African culture waiting to be polished for progress. "Don't worry, the president will be dead soon," a juju-marabout medium told is said to have told Atiku. More expression of the deeper under-currents of the troubles of the African development process, Atiku responded that Obasanjo's “mind was full of “the cobwebs of juju or occult.”

Developmentally, and in an era of the on-going African Renaissance process, it is culturally healthy that such incidents are coming from the top of African ruling elites, who have been linked to dabbling in irrational juju-marabout mediums to the injury of Africa's progress. Reasons are not far-fetched; such practices have been part of African culture for thousands of years, especially in West Africa, the most juju-marabout and witchcraft infested region of Africa. The imperative is that African elites are yet to have a fuller grasp of the realization that juju-marabout and other such practices are counterproductive to progress.

The idea of African leaders dabbling in juju-marabout and other such practices, as development experts debate its implications in national development, is that it weakens the rulers' ability to totally rationalize developmental problems on the ground. As the Obasanjio and Atiku row demonstrates, juju-marabou and other such practices not only weakens trust, a key ingredient in national development, but it also undermines "national morality, because they are based on irrational spirit power," as Robert Kaplan reports in “The Coming Anarchy.” African experiences show that developmental problems are not solved by dabbling in juju-marabout. Nigeria's Gen. Sani Abacha's juju-marabout-directed murdering spree to transform himself into not only civilian President but also solve his mounting problems is case in point.

The history of Africa's development process shows that leaders, both military and civilians, who dabble heavily in juju-marabout either paralyze their country or blow it into pieces or are blinded from reasoning properly to solve the problems. From Liberia's Gen. Samuel Doe to Uganda's Gen. Idi Amin to Central Africa Republic's Jean-Bedel Bokassa (who ate human flesh as part of his juju-marabout rituals), dabbling in juju-marabout weakens the rational abilities of the ruling elites to handle the problems of the people. The leader becomes unrealistic, depending on illiterate, irrational, unscientific and impractical juju-marabout mediums that, in all measure, are immoral and destructive. The juju-marabout dabbling Africa leader sees critics as enemies and lives in paranoia to the detriment of Africa's progress. Such leaders become the manipulative robots of the juju-marabout and spiritual mediums as we saw in Gen. Idi Amin's Uganda, perhaps one of the most rabid juju-marabout dabblers Africa has seen, who listened to these mediums to the extent of deport enmass Ugandan-Asians and which impact destroyed Uganda's economy till President Yuweri Uneven stepped in. The Ugandan media described Amin as “spiritually weak.” In Sierra Leone, Foday Sankoh's revolution was derailed partly because of the juju-marabout mediums. And so was the collapse of Gen. Samuel Doe's Liberia and mounting troubles of Guinea Bissau till recently.
In Ghana, Gen. Kutu Acheampong regime not only revealed a throwback to the ancient times mired in irrational native spiritual mediums but rule by forces of irrationality. The era shows a Head of State confused and shifting from one juju-marabout medium to another. They made Gen. Acheampong not only terribly gullible but also infantile, believing in everything the spiritual mediums told him. It is, therefore, not surprising that Gen. Acheampong was swimming every mid-night in one of the rivers in Accra, as advised by his spiritual mediums, ostensibly to ward off being overthrown. But Gen. Acheampong was overthrown all the same and executed because he failed rationalize the problems on the ground. In Nigeria, the juju-marabout mediums had so much grip on Gen. Abacha that his every move was juju-marabout directed: he conducted important affairs of state overnight by the advise of the mediums; he looted the Nigerian treasury in the same fashion; he killed and jailed in the same vein (He jailed and nearly killed President Olusegun Obasanjo upon the advise of his mediums, some of whom come as far as Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and India). Nigeria was ruled by so much irrationality that the country not only became 'dark' but also was on the edge of another civil war after the Biafran one of the 1960s.

Dirk Kohnert, of Germany's Institute for African Affairs, argues that the belief in juju-marabout and other such practices are still "deeply rooted in many African societies, regardless of education, religion, and social class of the people concerned." Like any other culture, this aspect of the African culture is irrational and blinds one from realistic assessment problems. As Atiku spoke of Obasanjo, most African elites use religion as smokescreen to hide their deep-seated juju-marabout dabbling, a practice that emanates from the African culture. Said Atiku, “Unlike Obasanjo who uses Christianity as a smokescreen while engaged in occultism and diabolical acts, I am a devout Muslim who has always striven to live in accordance with the teachings of Islam… The next occupant of the State House (presidential villa) will need to spiritually cleanse the presidential lodge to make it habitable for normal people.”

Such counter-productive thoughts by African elites show how the irrational African cultural values appear to outweigh the rational parts, and how such patterns persist in Africa's development process. While the scientific side of the African mind demands objective evidence as to why juju-marabout should influence them, their brains' mythopoeic, irrational juju-thinking side entices them to irrational marvels – to evil spirits, juju, or demons. Can these matters be addressed with a whole mind, as the African media and other members of Africa's objective society mount campaigns to refine some serious inhibitions within the African culture? Can the two instincts of the African brain, the rational and the irrational, formed by the African culture, be made to fit together?

For the sustainable development of Africa, it is healthy that African elites re-think the relationship between their culture and progress, especially how to refine the inhibitions within their culture to facilitate progress, as the Europeans did during their Enlightenment struggles in their development process. That's partly what Nigeria's Nobel Prize-winning laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, was saying when he told an Accra audience recently that “trokyosi,” a cultural practice among West Africa's Ewe ethnic group, where teenage girls are enslaved to shrines for sins committed by their parents, be abolished for the larger progress of African women. And it is in the same vein that today the Ghana Police Service and the South African Police Force (it has an Occult Unit) now implicate juju-marabout and spiritual mediums in crimes if they are proven to be linked as facilitators in terms of sing their craft to help criminals. Despites these positive attempts, African elites are yet to tackle these aspects of their culture in their development process.

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, © 2007

This author has authored 338 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KofiAkosahSarpong

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