Accra, Ghana, 2nd August 2020 - With a great sense of satisfaction, The Sanneh Institute wishes to inform the general public that the father-son witchdoctor operating from a base in Widana near the Ghana-Togo border in the Upper East Region have been arrested and are currently in custody. The status of the base is unclear. It seems his surrogates continue to operate. We want to express our profound gratitude to the general public for the outrage and support, the media, especially TV3 and the numerous FM stations; a team of selfless young volunteers, The Ark Foundation and Women in Law and Development Africa (WiLDAF-Ghana). The arrest would not have happened without all of your efforts! We also want to register our sincerest appreciation to Ms. Angela Asante, Presidential Advisor on Gender and Development and the IGP for their personal intervention and support that brought about the swift arrest and detention of the culprits.
We however want to state that of the five arrested, three were directly working at the base. The remaining two are, in fact, victims of the witchdoctor’s activities. Now that the main culprit is in custody, the police can obtain the names of all those who worked with him at the base. They should be held accountable, not the victims who he took advantage of or cast fear and panic into them. The arrest however does not mean an end of the journey. On the contrary, the journey has only begun, and we are keeping a close eye on the court case and the outcome. The Sanneh Institute is also launching a major campaign with the following goals to bring about real and lasting change.
- We want to see a law passed by parliament to outlaw the accusation and labeling of people as witches in Ghana. The law should be named after Akua Denteh. The consequences of witchcraft accusations are devastating, ranging from social ostracism to exile from one’s community to beatings and murder. The belief is widespread across the country even though the horrific cases are coming from the North. Overwhelmingly, the victims are the most vulnerable in society: older women, widows, orphans etc. The socio-economic consequences of the stigma and discrimination associated with witchcraft follows victims for generations. Livelihoods are destroyed and families broken up. We need a law explicitly outlawing witchcraft accusations for culprits to be prosecuted and for the vulnerable to be protected.
- We want all the so-called witch camps in the Northern Region closed down. These are anything but safe-houses. The living conditions there are deplorable. Most if not all of the chiefs who oversee these camps are themselves involved in trial by ordeal that labels these vulnerable women as witches. After “convicting" these poor women as witches, the victims are condemned to a life in the camp away from their families, children and grandchildren. Many die in these camps! In most of these places, the chiefs insist on a percentage of donations given for the upkeep of the women. Most of the victims can be returned to their communities if the right measures, support and arrangements are put in place such as making communities leaders responsible for their safety.
- We are calling upon government to look into establishing government run safe-houses for the vulnerable victims. The total number of women in all the camps in the Northern Region will not be more than 400. Many will return to their communities if the right measures are put in place. The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection should cater for those who cannot be returned in the safe-houses. The victims need support and protection in the immediate term with reintegration into their communities as the ultimate objective.
- We are calling for a fund to be up in the name of Akua Denteh to support the victims, many of who are not in the camps but have been ostracized, stigmatized and are living in misery within the communities. The funds can also be used for the safe-house. We should not give the impression that we support the dead more than the living. Arresting and punishing the culprits is great. But we shouldn’t forget their victims who are with us. Many of these victims have had their petty business ventures destroyed as a result of lack of patronage due to the stigma and discrimination.
Finally, TSI will mount an educational program against the belief and practice of witchcraft in the country. We will put together a team of religious, legal and mental health experts, prepare teaching manuals on the subject and tour different parts of the country, starting from the northern regions. The teachings of traditional religions, Christianity and Islam all make it obligatory to protect and care for the weak and vulnerable, not to dehumanize and demonize them. The cancerous tree of witchcraft accusations has wreaked havoc on many families and lives of countless mothers, grandmothers, aunties, wives, sisters, daughters, nieces etc., and needs to be uprooted not pruned. Sadly, Akua Denteh was not the first to be lynched as a “witch", but if we can all say “enough is enough”, she could be the last!
Go to our website at https://www.tsinet.org/petition and sign the petition to support the campaign.
Thank you for your support and God Bless our Homeland Ghana!
Prof. John Azumah
Founding Executive Director
The Sanneh Institute, Accra
Visiting Professor, Yale Divinity School – CT, USA