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05.08.2007 Feature Article

Mozambique tackles Witchcraft and Human Sacrifice

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Kofi Akosah-Sarpong examines Mozambique's attempts to eradicate flourishing witchcraft and human sacrifice in its development process, drawing cases from Ghana and other Africa states

Blessed with some good elites, unlike other African states, Mozambique battled cyclical droughts and civil war. Overtime, Mozambique overturned the label, "the poorest country in the world." Having achieved that, Mozambique roll out political stability and adroitly cemented multi-party democracy. Since then, Mozambique has been rebuilding, and in the 1990s, its economy had made amazing progress, with double-digit growth rates, making it some of the highest growth rates Africa.
But despite these inspiring feats, Mozambique, like most African states, has serious problems from certain aspects of its culture – the growth in witchcraft and human sacrifice - that appear to inhibit its impressive growth. The growth of such negative cultural practices over the years show that Mozambique and other African states are yet to have holistic grasp of their cultural values, positive or negative, that drive their development. Such features are not factored in when developing policies, bureaucratizing, and consultancies. It is, therefore, not surprising that the BBC (2 August 2007) reports that “murder, mutilation and exhuming human bones for witchcraft have become a common practice, particularly in the country's northern and central regions. Items are sold in neighbouring Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe.” Such worrying practices occur against the backdrop, paradoxically, of growing economy and poverty remaining widespread and Mozambique still heavily dependent on donor aid - and subject to the whims and caprices of conditions attached to such assistance.

Over the years Mozambique and other African countries have overlooked certain aspects of their traditional values hindering their progress. Even, Ghana, first to free itself from colonial yoke and touted as the “Black Star” of Africa and which pride itself as the leading light of Africa, is yet to demonstrate that it is tackling such inhibiting values. Consider this: A priest, Yaw Agbebu, in Ghana's Central Region, confessed to killing eight people including his ex-wife for ritual purposes. In this context, let's look at Equatorial Guinea, dubbed “Kuwait of Africa,” where human sacrifice and magic constitute one of the most powerful rhetorics of political culture. Florence Bernault, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells us “that Public rumors depict sorcery as the most common way to achieve personal success, wealth, and prestige in times of economic shortage and declining social opportunities. Political leaders are widely believed to perform ritual murder to ensure electoral success and power, and many skillfully use these perceptions to build visibility and deference.”
How do you progress in such societies that swing between fear and mistrust? Such societies can't progress or progress very slowly as if retarded. Retarded by what: by the extremely strong negative cultural inhibitions. Why? Trust, a key element in the development process, is weak. As Bernault and other experts argue, within the breadth of the African culture and in the deeper progress of Africa, “is oftentimes ignored by classic political and historical studies.”

African elites, who should know better, blindly go by these Western classical paradigms, and have not made any conscious attempts to deal with this cultural issue as one of the hindrances in Africa's progress. As the interplay of culture and progress show, the impact of the inhibiting aspects of Africa's culture on the continent's progress, as Bernault analyses, “is not a marginal, but a central dimension of the nature of public authority, leadership, and popular identities in Equatorial Africa” and Africa. Dirk Kohnert, of Germany's Institute of African Affairs, argues that the belief in African native occultism are still "deeply rooted in many African societies, regardless of education, religion, and social class of the people concerned" and this has “implications for democratization and poverty-alleviating aid in Africa.”

Over the years, some African leaders have been dabbling heavily in the negative aspects of the culture and this has either paralyze their countries or blow them into pieces or blinded them from reasoning properly to solve their problems. From Liberia's late Gen. Samuel Doe to Central Africa Republic's late Jean-Bedel Bokassa (who ate human flesh as part of his rituals), the negative cultural practices have been appropriated and is responsible for weakening the rational abilities of the ruling elites to handle the challenges of the citizenry. The leader becomes unrealistic, depending on the illiterate, irrational, unscientific and impractical native spiritual mediums that practice the negative aspects of the culture that may come in the form of human sacrifices. Such leaders become the manipulative robots of the spiritual mediums, and by extension the African country.

A more telling illustration: Nigeria under the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha. Juju-marabout mediums had grip on Gen. Abacha and his every move was directed them: 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 former President Olusegun Obasanjo upon the advice of the 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 became 'dark,' implicating its progress.

Gradually, Africans are rising up to deal with these troubling aspects of their culture, including Mozambicans officials, who describe the encroaching negative values as worrisome. The BBC said the Mozambican cabinet is enacting “a bill against the trafficking of humans for body parts to be discussed and approved in the country's parliament this month.” And the Ghana Police Service and the South African Police Force (it has an Occult Unit) now focus on spiritual mediums that engage in the negatives such as human sacrifice.

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, © 2007

The author has 338 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KofiAkosahSarpong

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