Witchcraft, Violence and Mediation in Africa: A comparative study of Ghana and Cameroon. Shelagh Roxburgh. Thesis submitted to the

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Witchcraft, Violence and Mediation in Africa: A comparative study of Ghana and Cameroon Shelagh Roxburgh Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies in partial fulfilment of the
Witchcraft, Violence and Mediation in Africa: A comparative study of Ghana and Cameroon Shelagh Roxburgh Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Doctorate in Philosophy degree in Political Studies School of Political Studies Faculty of Social Sciences University of Ottawa Shelagh Roxburgh, Ottawa, Canada, 2014 Table of Contents Chapter 1 Introduction: Waking from the Fantasy of Western Reality 1 Chapter 2 Theories of the Unknown: The usual work of political science and witchcraft 38 Chapter 3 Into the World of Witches: A method for studying witchcraft 69 Chapter 4 Witches on the Road to Power: Witchcraft and the state in Africa 97 Chapter 5 Empowering Witches and the West: NGOs and Witchcraft Intervention 131 Chapter 6 Prayer is the Only Protection: Religious Organizations and Witchcraft 163 Chapter 7 Accessing the Invisible World: The shared origins of Traditional Authorities and Witches 186 Chapter 8 Flying by Night: Looking for Answers in the Dark 207 References 217 ii Abstract This thesis explores the question of how witchcraft-related violence may be best addressed through the discipline of political science. This comparative analysis seeks to investigate the effectiveness of four actors mediation efforts: the state, religious organizations, NGOs and traditional authorities. Based on an extensive inter-disciplinary literature review and fieldwork conducted in Ghana and Cameroon, this thesis views witchcraft as a form of power and through this analysis presents two inter-related conclusions. The first conclusions argues that no actor is currently able to successfully address witchcraft-related violence or reduce the sense of spiritual insecurity which is associated with violence due to logical constraints. This is seen primarily in the inability of the state, many religions and NGOs to acknowledge the reality of witchcraft or address experiences of witchcraft which reflect the needs of those seeking redress. Where actors may share these experiences or reality, as in the case of traditional authorities, their ability is often seen as being limited by or in conflict with other actors. The second conclusion addresses this conflict by framing the logics of witchcraft and contemporary liberalism, seen in the state and NGO interventions, as a site of contention and debate; one which not only affects witchcraft-related violence in West Africa, but which also contributes to the construction of this phenomenon in academia and international discourse. I would like to thank my supervisor Stephen Brown for his unending patience and support. I would also like to recognize Erika Kirkpatrick, Aline Korban, Jade Rox, Paul London and Liam Brown for enduring this obsession. I would like to thank my committee members, the International Development Research Centre, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the University of Yaounde II for making this work possible. And most importantly, I would like to thank Susan Thomson for the initial vote of confidence that launched this ship. This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada. Information on the Centre is available on the web at iii Chapter One Introduction: Waking from the Fantasy of Western Reality I was living in South La, a neighbourhood in Accra, Ghana, only feet away from the Gulf of Guinea. From my bedroom window, through steel bars and over a white wall topped with shards of green glass, broken beer bottles laid into the concrete, I could see the ocean. Behind the wall of the compound was a soccer field, dusty and pock marked, beyond that, a line of small houses, five of them, built out of recycled materials. From there, the shore fell steeply, at least five feet, onto a thin line of beach where refuse from the ocean rolled in and remained in long arcs. I rarely walked on the beach, a bit weary of the drove of pigs which could be found snuffling and snorting through the piles of waste. This day I was walking on the beach looking for sea dollars or shells, something to bring home and decorate with. As I walked I noticed children playing on the beach, working on cartwheels and throwing stones into the waves. For the first time it struck me that I had not yet seen a child playing with sea shells or searching the sand as I was for a perfect, unbroken shell. After returning home to the compound where I lived, I asked a friend why these small marvels were ignored. I was immediately corrected. They aren't ignored, I was told, they are avoided. Sea shells are known to have contained curses and it may be that some still contain remnants of witchcraft. Children know from a young age to avoid sea shells at all cost. The subject of witchcraft had always been on the periphery of my life and interests, from fairy tales to movies, TV and the adolescent phase of occult dabbling. However it had never become a consuming reality until I lived and worked in Osu, Accra, in A few months into my eight-month internship with the NGO HelpAge Ghana, I arrived at work to find the office in a tense silence around the radio. Isaac 1, the driver, Rebekah, the secretary, and Isaiah, the other project officer, were listening intently to the report as I approached. Unable to decipher the shouts and static, I asked for a summary of events so far. Isaiah pulled himself away from the yelling to explain: A man had been found to be cheating on his wife, who, in retaliation, went to a fetish priest and had the husband cursed and turned into a woman. The man was currently in a taxi at Danquah circle on his way to the hospital to be surgically returned to his proper manhood. Intrigued, I drew a chair over and joined the huddle. However, after an hour of listening to the call-in reports of the people who were swarming the circle, hoping to glimpse the man/woman in what was now full and growing gridlock, consisting of details such as whether or not braids could be seen through the rear window (conflicting calls came in) and which taxi number people thought it was (unclear), I became less interested and hoped to get the day started. Unfortunately, the project I was working on required Isaiah's assistance. In trying to persuade him to move away from the radio, I was expressing a scepticism that was expected. Isaiah took me aside and explained that things like this happen here, I had to be understanding. After five hours of waiting in the office, the accounts becoming less detailed and in my view, less credible, I left the office in a huff. If I wasn't going to work here, I might as well go home and get something else done. I began walking back through Osu towards South La, passing first the open market next door to my office. I looked over the low wall and noticed the mountains of tomatoes unattended, wooden stalls piled and alone. Where was everyone? I walked into the covered central area and found a crowd around the loudest radio. I walked further to the main road, which was nearly empty. A few taxis were on the side, doors open and radios blaring. All the way home, people could only be found in small groups, listening and discussing the event of the day. The city, as far as I could tell, had ground to a halt. I arrived at my compound and for the first time in my life felt truly lost, unattached, isolated, 1 I have used pseudonyms for these former co-workers. 1 singular and alone. This was not the first time I had encountered witchcraft in my work. Just a week earlier I had conducted a program evaluation survey with every Adopt-A-Gran recipient and met a bedridden and blind woman who had not been receiving her arranged meals. It took a few days to find the delivery boy who admitted that he was too afraid to bring the woman food because he thought she was a witch. In a few weeks' time, I would be travelling to the Northern Region to conduct an assessment of the witch camps 2 there. But somehow, this was just the work I was there to do; I hadn't reflected critically on myself, my role there and more ultimately, my complete disconnect from the reality being lived around me. I was completely unprepared. I had left Ottawa two weeks after being offered the position with HelpAge Ghana during an interview for a posting with HelpAge Canada. I had hoped to be working with isolated seniors in my own community, but without even thinking had jumped at the opportunity to work overseas. Before I left, I was aware of some of the witchcraft stories that had made international news over the years. When I was thirteen I read a report on the witch camps at my aunt and uncle's house in Thunder Bay. During my undergraduate studies at Concordia, I read Adam Ashforth's Witchcraft, Violence and Democracy in South Africa and was enthralled but allowed other work and interests to slowly crowd it out. Even the experiences throughout my life; being given a tarot deck as a child (which I had with me in my room in South La); going to the psychic fair with my foster parents to have my past lives read; having friends who practised Wicca; and myself from a young age, being drawn to symbol and ritual and constructing little altars all over our apartment; nothing had prepared me for this. I realized I had never thought of magic, witchcraft, the occult, the supernatural, as a reality. I had been accustomed to its marginalized position in my life and society, playing with a passing interest and relying on doubt or running to scepticism when uncertainties arose. Now I found myself with nowhere to go. Witchcraft was the dominant reality and I was the alien. I had so many questions: How could these realities be so separate? How do they coexist and through what mechanisms are they hierachized? How is knowledge of these realities formed? What are the power relations underlying them? What is the relationship between witchcraft and the hegemonizing reality of Western modernity and the continuing imperial project to form the world in people's minds and imaginations? I had never considered my own society to be without supernatural beliefs 3, however, I had also never considered a reality where supernatural beliefs dominate. This is how my own obsession with witchcraft began. Witchcraft, violence and mediation in sub-saharan Africa In the greater majority of the world, the threat of witchcraft is a daily reality, where people live within a state of spiritual insecurity, vulnerable to psychic attack from those around them. In a world of witches, the threat of harm cannot be limited by either time nor space. For those who live outside of the reality of witchcraft, this very real and contemporary phenomenon is most visible in reports of various 2 Witch camps are a phenomenon which occur in many countries in West Africa. These camps are generally on the outskirts of a town or village which has been identified as a safe haven for accused witches. When an individual is accused of witchcraft in their home and subject to banishment or forced to flee for fear of torture or murder, they may travel to a known witch camp for protection. 3 As noted by Legare & Gelman (2008) there is no society that we are aware of that wholly excludes supernatural beiefs. Even within highly educated, industrialized modern communities, at least some individuals endorse supernatural beliefs, ranging from God, to ghosts, to astrology (608). 2 forms of witchcraft-related violence. From the public in South Africa, where students of a high school determined the source of their classmates emotional disturbances to be the work of witches and convened with their village elders to accuse two elderly women who were then set ablaze on a sport ground (Hedge 2007), to the private in Ghana, where 72 year-old Ama Hemmah was tortured and set on fire by a local pastor whose sister had invited Ama into her home (Ocloo 2010), violence against accused witches is prevalent across Africa. As is ritual murder, evidenced in the past years by news reports regarding albino murders in Tanzania and Burundi, highlighting the risk to albino children who are sold or kidnapped for use of their body parts, deemed to bring one luck (BBC 2009), or the raid on hospital in Nigeria where trafficked girls between the ages of 15 and 17 were imprisoned and impregnated to produce babies for sale for use in witchcraft rituals (BBC 2011). Though such violence is often sensationalized in media and presented in terms and language which persuades us to view these acts as shocking or appalling, for those who live amongst witches, mob justice as it is called in Ghana, or jungle justice in Cameroon, is often viewed as the last defence against a world which is increasingly uncontrolled and uncontrollable. What is to be done with individuals who have themselves confessed to being witches? From the man who contested a court in Malawi defending his right not only to believe in and practice, but also teach witchcraft (Mponda 2011), to a woman in South Africa who claimed to have magically infected several community members with HIV and accurately predicted their deaths within three months' time (Petrus 2011), to children in the Democratic Republic of Congo who confess in great detail of having eaten human flesh and convened with witches (de Boeck 2009), the perception of danger is more complex than simple dismissal. Further, witchcraft-related violence is also multifaceted. For example, in Ghana, witchcraft-related violence was frequently defined by respondents who participated in my field research as verbal or physical attacks against women and men who have been accused of witchcraft. However, some respondents also defined witchcraft-related violence as the act of attacking another through supernatural means, a definition which was consistently voiced in Cameroon. Individuals who live among witches, in interviews and in discussion, therefore present a dilemma in defining violence: What is violent and what is necessary and just retribution or protection? Acts which may seem to be violent to those outside the logic of witchcraft may be preventive or protective in nature. As well, violence was defined by some respondents in Ghana and Cameroon as being relevant only between human beings, which witches are not. The question can be extended to various forms of violence, including ritual murder, exorcisms and deliverance healing, witch cleansing and ordeals. In some instances, ritual murder was not seen a violent, but rather benign or beneficial, as it is assumed that the intention is not to cause the individual who is sacrificed harm, but to ensure productivity, where wealth generated by the act will benefit others' in the long run. In the case of ordeals, accused individuals may undergo torturous rituals in order to cleanse themselves of witchcraft power or of the stain of witchcraft accusation in order to reduce their own and others insecurity. Though many ordeals involve pain, the exaction of this is not seen as violent as it is applied first to a witch who after surviving the ordeals may again be considered part of human society. An initial aim of this research project was to problematize the correlation made between witchcraft belief and violence and to investigate whether these two concepts are mutually constitutive. I began with the question of how can witchcraft-related violence be assessed in African contexts? From this first question I hoped to investigate the potential for mediating witchcraft-related violence. Unfortunately, as with every other aspect of the research, the complex and amorphous reality of witchcraft confounds any easy conclusion. Witches are driven to cause harm and do violence, therefore as long as they exist, violence will be bound to them. Yet, in many societies, there have been means to for mediating the threat of witchcraft attack which are non-violent, though some have been abandoned and others may prove to be irretrievable. Despite this, it remains one of the main focuses of this work: 3 to address the problematique of witchcraft-related violence in an effort to assess opportunities for addressing and mitigating spiritual insecurity towards reducing instances of witchcraft violence of all kinds. As a political scientist, the second question that came to mind, was how witchcraft might be understood in terms of the political. Part of my reasoning behind this question was my interest and intent in taking the challenges put forth by Adam Ashforth (2005) and Dirk Kohnert (2007) seriously. These authors have both persuasively argued the need to understand witchcraft-related violence in respect to the political landscape of African states. In this approach, witchcraft is investigated as a fundamentally non-western concept of power, which translates into a unique conception of the political, including the nature of morality, justice, the state and society. Overall, this investigation has led to me to conclude that the Western construction of witchcraft-related violence in Africa may be best understood as a continuation of the colonizing mission which sought to alter African realities. In this case, the Western perception of reality, dominated by modernity, the liberal state and capitalism, is in conflict for hegemonic status with the pervasive and elusive reality of witchcraft. Much as these paradigms continue to attempt to alter reality around the world, including the West, where plurality of thought and alternative perceptions of reality continues to exist and are also marginalized by liberal and state discourse. In terms of witchcraft, this focus reveals a discursive point of conflict where what is at stake is the most essential ability of Africans to imagine and perceive their own world. Following this same path of critical reflection, the next question that came to mind was how political science understands witchcraft-related violence, witchcraft and, by extension, the African political landscape. Conversely, it was important to me to consider what were the possible impacts of witchcraft belief and witchcraft-related violence in African politics, from both the perspective of Western political science and from the logic of witchcraft itself. This approach to this subject, and in many ways, the subject itself, also sought to address and challenge many assumptions and limitations in political science theory. Throughout my work, I maintained a critical perspective towards theories which are applied in comparative politics when assessing political institutions and issues in Africa. The consistent theme across this analysis and my own conclusions focus on the limitations of political science theories in understanding realities which exist outside, alongside and within Western political conceptions of reality. Overall, following my previous conclusion, I have come to view this limitation as the final bastion of the Enlightenment project which propelled colonization, a process and project which is often viewed in the past tense. However, through this research I have been compelled to continue to investigate this power dynamic as witchcraft appears to be an incredibly resilient epistemology that challenges the hegemonic reality of the modern liberal capitalist state, which continues to seek to dominate the very ability to imagine reality and ultimately homogenize the imaginations of the world. These conclusions reflect the analysis conducted of four main actors who seek to intervene in and address witchcraft-related violence. The state, NGOs, religious organizations and traditional authorities were assessed in their capacity to respond to the spiritual insecurity and violence associated with witchcraft. I argue that of these four actors, the state, NGOs and religious organizations are all unsuccessful in addressing witchcraft-related violence because they are made intolerant to the complexity of the problem by their own modern logic and embedded imperatives to conform the world to thei
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