What to do with all the “Witches”?

There is a great problem brewing in Ghana – What to do with all the witches? The government has decided to eradicate witchcraft. The plan is to close down the safe camps where those accused of witchcraft fled to get away from their accusers. The victims are to be sent back to their accusers who will kill them in all likelihood.

Witchcraft is big business in Ghana. Soothsayers, priests and chiefs wield great power over largely helpless people through the threat of exposing common people as witches. Once accused, the “Witch” is usually killed or expelled from the village. The accused witches that escape with their lives end up in witch camps where they are protected from execution.

Now Nana Oye Lithur, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, wants to close the camps and send the “Witches” home to be killed. She has convened a committee with a mandate to eradicate witchcraft in the northern region of Ghana. The scheme she is proposing in closing down the camps would enable victims to “Flee(sic) their minds from the act.” I am not quite sure what this means but if the camps are closed down and the “Witches” are sent back to their villages as the government plans to do they will probably be killed.

To the superstitious, the witch is a very dangerous person that can cause illness, cast spells to kill livestock or murder innocent people with witchcraft. To the superstitious mind, illness, deaths and accidents are all caused by witchcraft, not natural phenomena. When a calamity befalls a person they pay soothsayers and priests to interpret dreams and omens that point out the witch that is causing the trouble. Once accused of witchcraft, life for the accused can become a living hell that may quickly come to a sudden bad end.

The government of Ghana has recently been under local and international pressure from human rights groups and development agencies to take action against witch hunting in the country. The response from the government is to close the few places those accused of witchcraft can seek protection.

The witch camps are difficult places to live to be sure. There have been reports of inhumane and degrading conditions including cases of sexual abuse and exploitation of the victims by camp managers, local chiefs and priests. Still they provide a shred of support for people who have no place else to turn for help.

The government of Ghana is acting under pressure to redeem its image and its human rights record in the eyes of the international community. It wants to eliminate this embarrassing situation of witchcraft accusation in the region. But closing down the witch camps and sending the “Witches” back to the people who will kill them is clearly not the best choice.

Witch camps are the consequence, not the cause of witch hunting. Witch camps are at the end of an abusive process that starts in minds steeped in religion. Witchcraft is popularly believed to be a real crime punishable by death. It is fueled by lack of real world education and used by soothsayers, chiefs and priests for financial and political gain.

Witch camps are at least safety nets, however poorly run, for these victims of religion whose believers will kill them for crimes it is impossible for them to have committed.

Closing the rescue camps and sending their human wreckage to be disposed of by people who still believe in witches is not the answer. Educating the religious to look for real causes in the natural world so they are not hunting witches, or calling on supernatural forces, but rather finding ways to cure the problems they face would go a long way in making the camps unnecessary and Ghana a better place to live for all.

The government is clearly out of touch with reality concerning the camps. If the government of Ghana is serious about combating witch hunting in the country, it should first focus on addressing the cause, not the symptom of the disease. The government should institute a program of public education and enlightenment that will bring about a mental and cultural shift.

Ghanaians need to abandon this notion that people can kill others spiritually and begin to come to terms with the fact that death is a natural occurrence. That misfortune is a part of life not some spell cast upon them. Part of this program should be devoted to getting Ghanaians to abandon this notion that dreams are the way god reveals the witches in the family or community.

Soothsayers and local priests are largely responsible for promoting and reinforcing these beliefs in witchcraft and magic. These occult entrepreneurs need to be retrained to make a living at a profession that adds to the productivity and well being of the community.

Belief in witchcraft is the problem, not the safe haven of the camps. If Ghanaians abandon the belief in witchcraft, the witch camps will simply fade away.

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