Advocacy for Alleged Witches: African skepticism in action Leo Igwe The Skeptic

Skepticism is usually associated with the west, not with Africa or Africans. Western anthropologists, colonialists and missionaries introduced Africa as we largely know it today to the world. But that introduction was impaired. It was defective. Western interpretation of African culture is one sided and stereotypic. Western scholars explained Africa in religious, dogmatic, magical and occult terms. They presented Africans as primitive in thinking and outlook.

Westerners have interpreted African cultures in ways that created the impression that scientific or skeptical rationality had no place in the African thought and culture. They westernised scientific outlook and Africanised magical thinking. This mistaken impression, or scholarised racism, which many African intellectuals have been reluctant to challenge, pervades and persists. The stereotypic image of a magical Africa has become a staple in the academic discourse of Africa. It has become a ‘standard’ for the perception and representation of Africa, and of African thoughts and cultures.

This mistaken idea of Africa has become a liability. It encumbers and undermines efforts to foster skepticism, dispel superstitious beliefs, eradicate superstition-based abuses, and realise positive and progressive change. The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) is an effort to correct this mistaken impression and deploy skeptical rationality in addressing issues and problems that affect Africa and Africans. 

This advocacy group, founded in 2020, combats witch persecution and campaigns to end witch hunting in Africa by 2030. Witchcraft belief is a silent killer and eliminator of Africans. Witchcraft accusation is a form of death sentence. Alleged witches are attacked, banished or murdered. Alleged witches are buried alive, lynched or strangled to death in many parts of the region. The AfAW became necessary to fill in many gaps and supply missing links in the campaign and representation witch hunting in the region.

Western anthropologists have misrepresented and misinterpreted witchcraft and witch hunting in Africa. They created the impression that witch hunting was cultural to Africans; that witch persecution was useful, and that it fulfilled socioeconomic roles. Western scholars presented witchcraft in the west as a wild phenomenon and witchcraft in Africa as having domestic value and benefit. They explained witchcraft accusations and witch persecutions from the accuser, not from the accused’s perspective. 

Incidentally, western NGOs drive and dominate ‘global’ efforts to address witch persecution in Africa. Witch hunting is not a problem in western societies, so western NGOs have waged a lacklustre campaign that merely papers over the problem. They do not treat the issue of witch persecution with the urgency that the issue deserves. On their part, African NGOs and activists have been complicit. They lack the political will and funding to challenge this sham, and have an ineffective approach to combating witchcraft accusation and witch hunting in Africa. Meanwhile, to end witch hunting, a paradigm shift is needed. The way that witchcraft belief or witch hunting is perceived and addressed must change.

AfAW exists to realise this shift and change. AfAW is an exercise in practical and applied skepticism. It deploys the canons of reason and compassion against witch hunting. AfAW engages in public education and enlightenment. It questions and debates witchcraft and ritual beliefs to dispel misconceptions too often used to justify abuses. AfAW tries to reorient and reason African witchcraft believers out of their illusions, delusions and superstitions. It foregrounds the skeptical Africa, which has too often been forgotten and ignored.

Abuses linked to witchcraft and ritual beliefs are pervasive in Africa because the region lacks a robust initiative to apply skeptical thought and rationality. To this end, AfAW uses the ‘informaction’ (from information and action) theory of change, because witch hunting persists in the region due to lack of information, or misinformation, and due to lack of action, inaction, or infraction.

At the global level, there is a lack of information about witch-hunting in Africa. Although a lot has been written and published on witchcraft in African societies, many people in Europe and America do not know about raging witch hunts in many parts of the region. The Advocacy for Alleged Witches works to fill this gap and correct the misrepresentation of witchcraft accusations in Africa. We campaign to draw attention to this imbalance in the perception of the phenomenon. But correct information is not enough. Balanced interpretation does not suffice. To combat witch persecution, information needs to be turned into action. Interpretations need to be translated into effective policies and interventions, hence the action aspect of the informaction theory.

On the action side, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches takes measures to address the problem because lack of adequate information has occasioned inaction or infractions. Wrong information has resulted in apathy and indifference towards witch hunting in Africa. Many international agencies are reluctant to act; they have refused to take action or to treat the issue with the urgency it deserves. With adequate and balanced information, international organisations would take appropriate actions.

At the local level, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches works to fill the information and action gaps. Many people accuse and engage in witch hunts due to a lack of information, or due to misinformation. Accusers are misinformed about the cause of illnesses, deaths, and other misfortune. Many people persecute witches because they have incorrect information about who or what is responsible for their problems, because they are not informed about what to do and where to go, who or what to blame for their misfortunes. Many people do not know what constitutes sufficient reason and causal explanations for their problems.

As part of the efforts to end witch-hunting, the AfAW highlights misinformation and disinformation about causes of misfortune, illness, death, accidents, poverty, and infertility, including the misinformation that charlatans and con artists, god men and women such as traditional priests, pastors, mallam and marabouts use to exploit poor ignorant folks. The AfAW provides evidence-based knowledge, explanation, and interpretation of misfortunes. It informs the public about the law and other existing mechanisms to address allegations of witchcraft. The AfAW sensitises the public and public institutions, including schools, colleges, and universities. It sponsors media programs, issues press releases, makes social media posts, and publishes articles and blogs on witch-hunting in the region.

The AfAW facilitates actions and interventions by state and nonstate agencies. The post-colonial African state is weak, so state agencies have limited powers and presence. The AfAW encourages institutional synergy to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. The AfAW petitions the police, the courts, and state human rights institutions. It pressures these agencies to act, collaborate and take appropriate measures to penalise witch-hunting activities in the region.

AfAW also intervenes to support individual victims of witch persecution. This intervention is based their needs and available resources. For instance, in situations where the victims survived and were not killed, AfAW works with relatives to take them to a safe location, support their medical treatment and facilitate access to justice. In situations where the alleged were murdered, the AfAW supports relatives of victims and ensures that the murderers are brought to justice.

As expected, AfAW gets more cases that it can handle and support. Due to limited resources we have not been able to intervene in all cases that have been reported to us. However in less than four years, the advocacy group has registered effective presence through its interventions in Nigeria and beyond. 

With an informactional approach, the AfAW is deploying the canon of skeptical rationality to save lives, awaken Africans from their dogmatic and superstitious slumber and realise an African enlightenment that speaks to a specific problem and challenge.

The post Advocacy for Alleged Witches: African skepticism in action appeared first on The Skeptic.

The Western notion of “magical Africa” has become a liability – as we seen from accusations of witchcraft, and their deadly consequences
The post Advocacy for Alleged Witches: African skepticism in action appeared first on The Skeptic.