Accra, Ghana, 4th August 2020 – Most recently, Ghanaians were shocked by the depraved lynching of an old woman accused of witchcraft in the Savana Region. A second incident was brought to the attention of the Ghanaian public by The Sanneh Institute of a young man and his father who have set up a base near Widana in the Pusiga District, claiming to use sachet water for healing and for identifying and exorcising “witches”. The belief in witchcraft however goes back many generations and is deep rooted and widespread in Ghanaian society. The belief is deeply embedded in African culture and most religious adherents – Muslims, Christian, traditional believers, literates, non-literates, persons from the rural and urban areas and across all professions and public servants, believe in the phenomenon. So called “witches’ camps” exist mostly in the northern part of Ghana, overseen by local chiefs some of who are involved in trial by ordeal to identify “witches”. The consequences of witchcraft accusations are devastating, ranging from social ostracism to exile from one’s community to beatings and murder.
Local authorities are aware of most of these cases, some share in the belief and others actively support it. They intervene and interfere anytime cases are filed with the police and victims are pressured and threatened to remain silent. It is against this background that The Sanneh Institute is requesting your support for the practice of accusing, stigmatizing and dehumanizing people as witches is outlawed in Ghana. In two cases above, some of the culprits have been apprehended. The arrest however does not mean an end of the journey. On the contrary, the journey has only begun, and The Sanneh Institute is issuing this petition to the President of the Republic of Ghana, The Speaker of Parliament, The Majority and Minority Leaders of Parliament, and The Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection to bring about real and lasting change.
- We petition for a law to be 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 petition for the closure of the so-called witch camps in the Northern Region. 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 petition 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 relief and protection in the immediate term with reintegration into their families and communities as the ultimate objective.
- We petition for a fund to be set-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!
On how you can join and/support the campaign, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or +233506172909 Thank you, and God richly Bless you, for signing and supporting this petition!
Prof. John Azumah
The Sanneh Institute, Accra
Visiting Professor of World Christianity and Islam
Yale Divinity School – CT, USA