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31.05.2007 Feature Article

Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo’s Fight Against Human Sacrifice

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong discusses a Gabonese teacher's campaign against human sacrifice and its wide-spread implications Africa's progress

Either because of the extremely long-running colonial rule, which pretty much suppressed African values for developmental metamorphosis or post-independence African elites' weak grasp of Africa's values in its progress, certain parts of Africa's values such as the excessive influence of juju-marabout mediums on state affairs, the excessive belief in witchcraft, the destructive Pull Him Down (PHD) syndrome, and ritual murder have not seen conscious attempts to refine them from within African values for its greater progress. It is in this atmosphere that in May (Afrol News), Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf could not hide her revulsion against the alleged ritual killing of a 5-year-old boy, Moses Binda, by two Liberian women who extracted some parts of his body. His killers tied his hands and dumped his incomplete remains in pit latrine.

The attempts to refine certain cultural inhibitions are universal as societies attempt to develop: the Europe of the “Dark Ages” had all these strange values and erroneous thinking. But European elites, through the Enlightenment thinkers and writers of the 17th and 18th centuries such as Galileo Galilei, Michel de Montaigne, René Descartes, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke and David Hume, summoned the intellectual will to overturned such strange practices by campaigning that human reason could be used to fight ignorance, deadly superstition, tyranny, and to build a better world. The Enlightenment thinkers and writer did this by using the mass media as some African are doing.

Now in some sort of a throwback to the European Enlightenment era some African elites are seriously pondering about the implications of certain troubling aspects of their culture in their progress. Writing in the Accra-based “Ghanaian Times” (29 March 2007), Bernice Ahlijah, an assistant research officer at Ghana's Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture, argued in an article entitled “The Modernisation Of Harmful Customary Practices” that, “One of the most topical issues in Ghana currently is that of harmful customary practices. Those of us who have given thought to the subject cannot help but come to the conclusion that it is high time we focused our attention as a nation towards resolving these problems, particularly where they impact negatively on girls and women in the country.”

As part of the broader African-wide debates, Ahlijah's views narrates what is happening in Libreville, Gabon, where Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo, a 46-year-old school teacher, is waging national campaigns against one of Africa's deadliest cultural inhibitions – human sacrifice or ritual murder after his 12-year-old son and a friend were ritualistically killed, their dismembered bodies washed up on a Libreville beach (News24 South Africa, April 12, 2007 and carried by Like other parts of Africa, the Gabonese has for long overlooked human sacrifices. But like the increasing wave of campaigns to refine certain inhibiting parts of Africa's culture for progress, Gabon is under pressure to open up its culture and “drag the morbid practice out of the shadows and do away with it for good.” And Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo has accidentally stepped in as its main launcher in the broad-based campaigns made up of other parents of ritual crime victims. Like the rest of Africa, Gabon has no official statistics on ritual crimes, but anti-human sacrifice campaigners estimates that "several dozen" such misdemeanour are committed yearly in a country of 1.4 million.

Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo faces herculian task, in this regard, as are other enlightened African in the forefront of such campaigns. In a continent where human sacrifice is both ancient and perpetuated mainly by its elites, or “Big Men,” Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo is facing walls of resistance aimed at frustrating him and hiding the awkward practice and protecting the perpetrators, who are normally fronting for the “Big Men.” But despite these obstacles Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo knows that warfare-by-publicity is effective as well. "I understood that the only way to make these entire practices stop was to publicly denounce these dreadful crimes and everyone who commits them." His group's warfare-by-publicity is working, creating nation-wide events called "Gabonese day against ritual crimes." The United States Embassy in Libreville hosted it and former Senegalese Culture Minister, Makhily Gassama supported it.

There are legal measures to address human sacrifice African-wide but as Makhily Gassama retorted, "In Africa, some people secretly carry out the abominable practice of human sacrifices, putting in their orders from their air-conditioned offices ... so as to promote a vulgar professional ascension…As we clamour for liberty and democracy we cannot accept that some people get away with killing another human being just so they can feel more at ease.” It is not only in the Moses Binda ritual killing that a police commander was implicated, from Nigeria to Central African Republic, African “Big Men” are known be to involved in human sacrifices, a practice that some development experts argue has implications for Africa's democratization and poverty alleviation. In Nigeria, juju-marabout mediums had terrible grip on the late Head of State Gen. Sani Abacha (20 September 1943 – Abuja, 8 June 1998) that they induced him to human sacrifices, and the period marked a Nigeria 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, fought between July 6, 1967 – January 13, 1970. Central Africa Republic's late Jean-Bedel Bokassa (February 22, 1921–November 3, 1996) was also involved in human sacrifices and as part of the rituals ate human flesh.

More expression of the deeper under-currents of the troubles of the African development process, such thinking emanates from within certain aspects of the African culture and reflects the unrefined elements within the culture waiting to be polished for progress as the Europeans did in the 17th and the 18th centuries. As they will tell you, it is not an easy task in the 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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