Wed, 23 Mar 2011 Feature Article

Witches have right to live

A witches campA witches camp

The number of victims in the various witches' camps in Northern Ghana appears to be increasing by the day, despite numerous campaigns by both non-governmental organisations (NGO) and the media. The existence of three camps in the three, namely the Upper East, Upper West and Northern, is helping to address the problem.  Many accused of witchcraft are now insulated from the wrath of their own people, by being confined to these camps.

It is a shame that in a society like Ghana, where old age has always been revered, to be in the evening of one's life is threatening to become a nightmare.

The vulnerable, especially, old and weak women, is the group of people who always fall victim when suspicion of the existence of a witch or wizard arises among a family or society. The belief of the people of the northern part of the country makes people attribute bad dreams, poor harvests, sickness and epidemics to witchcraft manipulation.

In many of these societies in the northern part of the country, apart from the victims being beaten, abused, and even driven out of the village, those accused of witchcraft are sometimes forced to drink unhealthy concoctions of herbal medicines to prove their innocence. In some extreme cases, the suspects are strangled to death.

Witches camps in the Northern Region of Ghana
The need to insulate those accused of witchcraft from the wrath of society, has occasioned the setting up of three camps in Northern Ghana.  They are the Ngani camp in Yendi, the Kukuo camp in Bimbilla and the Gambaga camp.

According to the Southern Sector Youth and Women's Empowerment Network (SOSYWEN), a non-governmental organisation who help women whose rights have been trampled upon, the Ngani camp consists of 750 women and 400 children, Kukuo camp has 130 women and 171 children, while the Gambaga camp consists of 86 women and 36 children.

Members of these camps are normally left on their own to fend for themselves without the help of any family member. As old as they are, they are required to undertake various tedious activities just to get their daily bread.

They have very unhealthy sources of water which puts their health at risk. The water available to them is stagnant water that has gathered on its own. Naturally, the water is dirty and unhealthy.  They have no choice than to wait for the dirt to settle, before they are able to use the water for domestic use and drinking.  They have to go through the trauma of all kinds of diseases that afflicts them, as the majority of them have not been registered on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) - A scheme that caters for the sick without them paying money at the various hospitals and health centres.

View of students from Nalerigu SHS
As a result of the alarming nature of the situation, day in and day out, many young people in the Nalerigu Senior High School, a second cycle institution close to the camp, are reported to have made it a policy of drawing attention to the plight of the inhabitants, in order to secure help for them. The students apparently feel that by getting help for the inmates, whose only crime, perhaps, is that most are in the evening of their lives, they would not be abandoned by society.

According to Alhassan Joseph, a final year student of the Nalerigu Senior High School, who is a regular visitor to the camp, counseling is one major need of the supposed witches and wizards, as well as those who may not be at the camp per se, but face discrimination on account of society deciding that they may be witches.

Alhassan would like the general society to be educated to understand that growing old does not necessarily invoke a witch or wizard on any individual. He would like the media especially, to mount a campaign to educate the populace not to maltreat those accused of witchcraft, as they may not necessarily be so.

'There should be no maltreatment of accused persons. People accused of witchcraft should not be persecuted. None of their freedoms should be taken away under any circumstances. The Holy Bible commands us not to judge the deeds of anyone, until we are all judged by the Creator, since there is no one who has never transgressed in life. Hence, suspects should be respected and treated like fellow human beings.'

The student would like to see more camps established in areas where the level of accusations of witchcraft is alarming. He says the few camps in Ghana, all located in the northern parts of the country, are not enough to protect the many old and infirm accused by their societies of practicing witchcraft.

'There are many villages and towns in which people are accused of witchcraft. Since all the existing witches camps are found in the northern parts of the country, some should be built in Southern Ghana, either by the government, or NGOs.

'There should be a national policy of aiding so-called witches in the various camps to learn some trade. Energetic inmates could be trained in carpentry, masonry, and other profitable ventures, especially, for male inmates. For the female, beads making, pottery, etc., could provide basic incomes for inmates.'

Such crafts, according to the student, would provide income for those who, because of man's cruelty to the fellow person, find themselves confined in witches' camps. .

Alhassan Joseph said it would be ideal if NGO's and the general society advanced some form of financial support to these confined persons, who are wrongly identified as witches and wizards. Society ought to understand that witches or not, theses inmates have a constitutional right not to be deprived of any basic thing in life. To help minimise the belief in witchcraft, the media has to mount a vigorous campaign to disabuse the minds of the general society on the existence of witchcraft.

He said those accused of being witches and wizards should not be made to stay in camps for long periods. The motive behind this is to avoid single parenting, which may lead to social vices among children. Accused persons should be encouraged to live within to make the various families to stay together.

To Abdulai Yahuza Nantomah, in the first place, those who are already camped should not be made to suffer too much. He is not happy that in the Gambaga camp, for instance, the inmates are said to go into the bush on their own to search for firewood, in order to cook their meals. This, according to the student, was a problem, because of the advanced age of most of the inmates. It is not the very best that people in the evening of their lives are left to fend for themselves in the harsh climate of northern Ghana, he says.

He is looking forward to an appeal to the general public, philanthropists,

Church and Muslim organisations to come to the urgent aid of these camp inmates. According to Abdulai, children usually offer help to these inmates. He would like to see a situation where the number of hands in the various camps would be enough for them to be able to do the hazardous chores on behalf of the inmates.

In order to avoid the practice of these camp aides taking the law into their own hands and doing whatever they want, there should be rules and regulations governing the conducts of these helpers.

The necessary punishment should be meted out to those who take advantage and end up going contrary to camp rules and regulations.

In order to ensure peace and harmony among the supposed witches and wizards in the various camps, there should be moral and religious education, spiced with counseling by eminent church elders, and the eminent in society.

To discourage melancholic feeling among inmates and reduce the nostalgic feelings for home that these camp inmates may suffer, basic means of entertainment should be made available.  Making inmates feel part of the general society, by exposing them to what obtains in the larger community, would help to eliminate quarrels, and the propensity to be unnecessarily aggressive, according to Abdulai.

Like Alhassan, Abdulai would also like to see the inmates go through some apprenticeship on how to eke out a living for themselves. That way, the so-called witches and wizards may not forever remain a burden on society.