Witchcraft Revolution? Witch finding Journalism in Africa

If the outcome of the recent investigative journalism project on the topic of witchcraft in Africa is anything to go by, then there is an urgent need to investigate ‘investigative journalism’ in the region. This is because the findings of this team are laughable in one sense and disturbing in another. They are laughable because they have reaffirmed the same old contradictory superstitious fantasies that have made Africans a laughing stock in the global intellectual market. They are disturbing because they are presented as products of investigative journalism! The resolution and manifesto issued at the end of the meeting in Accra are just uncritical rendering of commonplace witchcraft beliefs (I guess of the journalists), not a reflection of the region’s diverse critical mix of beliefs, ideas and notions.

First of all let us take a look at the event that led to the constitution of this ‘investigative team’. Two journalists, one from Benin in West Africa and the other from the Netherlands differed on reporting a story on witchcraft because the West African believed witches existed and the Dutch counterpart did not. As the report says, “While the Benin journalists worked to prove that witches exist, the Dutch journalist was tasked to prove that witches didn’t”. For me this is a clear indication that the investigative project was agenda driven or perhaps I should say the investigation was dead on arrival.

However the encounter led to the formation of a team of journalists from Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon. The team was tasked to conduct a research with the following guiding questions: “Does everybody believe in the power of witches? Does it mean that everybody can become the victim of witches? Does it mean that anybody can be or become a witch or wizard?”

The reporter from Nigeria’s Daily Trust was part of this investigative team and covered the Nigerian leg of the investigation. Now let us look at their findings.

First of all, they found out that “Witchcraft is an invisible mafia-like system, practiced by faceless people and is practically impossible to prove”. I could not make sense of this, could you? They said that “Witchcraft not only kills people, it can kill countries as well. Witchcraft seriously retards the development of a country on all levels, democracy, economy, health, education, community life, relations. It can even kill a country.”

Now if witchcraft were impossible to prove, how did they know that it killed people, and that it could kill a country? How is ‘witchcraft’ a mafia like operation? This “investigative team” further stated as part of their findings that the witchcraft system “is egotistic, with no eyes for the common good. Witchcraft is built on fear and jealousy and nobody can escape it, neither the victims nor the people practicing it. Through witchcraft, people are threatened and manipulated; members cited many examples of blackmail, corruption, tribalism, nepotism, forgery, fraud, maltreatment, and abuse; all in the name of witchcraft. Witchcraft is responsible for many peoples’ deaths; it’s impossible to say how many”. I mean let’s think about this. How is witchcraft egoistic? Has a witch an ego? How is witchcraft responsible for deaths? Which deaths? Do they mean witchcraft or belief in witchcraft?

Anyway, the team further stated that “through witchcraft, elections could be manipulated. Several cases of politicians who used witchcraft, or became the victims of witchcraft were cited”. It would have been very interesting to know which politicians in Nigeria, Benin or Cameroon used witchcraft to manipulate the election. This team should have come out with findings based on facts and substance not hearsay. The team made reference to the abuse which African children suffer due to witchcraft beliefs. However, they could have investigated whether the claims of their users and abusers were valid, that is if the children actually did what they were accused of. Yes, the team could have extended their investigation to finding out about the veracity of witchcraft claims. I guess the journalists could not do this because the project was meant to prove a point: that witches existed. So sad!

Little wonder then as part of their so called ‘Witchcraft Revolution’ manifesto, they refrained from calling for the eradication of witchcraft beliefs. Instead they asked that witchcraft be used “for the good and not for the bad”. Really? How can people use something which they said was impossible to prove for good? In fact they planned starting a campaign to ask “local and national governments, associations of local chiefs and churches to take action”.

I hope the campaign that people should use witchcraft for good and not for evil never sees the light of the day in West Africa and in the entire region.

For me this project was a wasted time, effort and opportunity because there was literally nothing new in their findings – still the same old story, the same old narrative and prejudice recycled. In fact it was a misnomer to have called what these journalists did an investigative project. No. This is a witch hunting project. This is witch finding journalism at work. This project raises much doubt about the worth, substance and credibility of investigative journalism in Africa. It reinforces the stereotype that Africans are mentally wired to think magically and mystically, that Africans are intellectually stuck in the early modern European phase of human development and that the witch doubting, disbelieving and questioning mind is white, European and western. Unfortunately, this is what this ‘witchcraft revolution’ has achieved.

Thus we need to rethink the project of investigative journalism in Africa because what these journalists have done is definitely not the critical, fact-finding, unbiased, hard hitting, objective inquiry which the topic of witchcraft in Africa urgently needs.

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