NGOs ADVOCATE FOR ABOLISHMENT OF WITCHES CAMPS
It is a common believe in Northern Ghana that most people feel better having someone to blame for life’s misfortunes. When a child or an adult falls sick and dies suddenly without any concrete reason, especially when medical reports prove that nothing was found to be the cause of death of the person, what quickly comes to mind is that, there are some other forces at work.
And the most unlucky old lady in that particular locality or staying close to that community is often the first person to be accused of causing the death of the “golden” child or man through witchcraft.
There has been incessant crusade and mounting of pressure by Civil Society and Faith Based Organisations on government and Ghana’s authouritative Parliament to abolish all purported witches’ camps that exist in any part of Ghana, most especially those identified in the Northern Sector.
Though government has not taken any bold step yet, it is a fact that the existence of witches’ camps in the North is a clear violation of the fundamental human rights of the inmates, who are largely old women and their children.
However, some traditional leaders and politicians still believe the abolition of the camps also violates some cultural practices.
Meanwhile, officials of Action-Aid Ghana, Christian Outreach Fellowship and Gate Way of Hope Incorporated are fuming over the continued existence of witches’ camps, which they describe as an act of injustice that should not be tolerated in modern day Ghana.
They say the witches are being ostracized and also classified as evil, based on mere suspicions that they are responsible for some alleged mysterious deaths among families, relations and also behind the agonies or sufferings of some family members.
However, the District Chief Executive for East Mamprusi, Adam Imoro has defended with passion and ardor the existence of a witch camp within his district, claiming that the camp is intended for protection and fortification.
In an exclusive interview recently with Ghanadistricts.com, the DCE claimed that the negative picture that has been painted by a cross section of the media and characterizes the witch camp is not exactly the situation pertaining on the grounds.
Sounding rather mystical and spiritual, he said natives and residents of Northern Ghana generally believe in the existence and operations of witchcraft and witchery for which reason their forefathers considered it prudent to establish a camp where perpetrators would be kept to protect the individuals in question and society at large.
Recounting events leading to a person’s confinement into the camp, Mr. Imoro said whenever one was accused of witchcraft in the community; a report is given to the Gambaga-Na (the chief of Gambaga) who in turn performs some rituals in tandem with the chief of the witch camp.
He noted that after the rituals, when the accused, who are predominantly old women are found culpable, they are eventually thrown into the camps to protect them from humiliation and mortification from members of the various households of the community.
“The camp does not only serve the Gambaga Community but also all the surrounding communities numbering about fifteen, so the belief is widespread and pervasive”, Mr. Imoro said.
He debunked concerns that inmates of the camp generally suffer stigmatisation, isolation and segregation adding that “the camp is even located within the middle of Gambaga which happens to be the capital of the East Mamprusi District”, he noted.
Mr. Imoro said the only source of water for the community, which is a mechanised borehole, is situated in the camp “and they enjoy every amenity the community enjoys”.
He said it would therefore be wrong for people to suggest the abolishment of the camp when it serves the purpose for which it was established for which reason “the practice is permissible and tolerable within the environment”, he asserted.
I have learnt that there are about six witches’ camps in the Northern Region alone, and they include Gushiegu or Naabuli, Gambaga, Naboli, Kukuo, Gnani and Basingwe. Besides, Action-Aid Ghana, one of the ardent critics of such camps also estimates that about 10,000 inmates live in these six camps.
Mohammed Saani Yakubu, Northern Regional Programme Manager of Action-Aid Ghana who disclosed this to the media recently during the launch of the NGO’s 20th anniversary celebration in Tamale, expressed worry that inmates of these witches camps are dying of hunger, poverty and lack basic social amenities that are needed to make them live comfortably.
At a recent outreach programme by Christian Outreach Fellowship in partnership with the Gate Way of Hope Incorporated, both Accra based charity organizations, at Naabuli in the Gushiegu District, about 75 inmates of the Naabuli witches camp appealed to government to support them to survive.
This is because, prostitution is their main source of income for survival since there are no job opportunities and that their clients pay just 50 Ghanaian pesewas for a sexual bout.
The Executive Director of the Christian Outreach Fellowship, Emmanuel Anukun Dabson who could not stand the revelations of the inmates unreservedly stated that Ghana’s quest to attain her Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015 would be an exercise in futility if that mission is not linked to the respect and dignity of women.
He said that such a goal cannot be achieved in a society where some women alleged to be witches are forced to suffer at various witch camps spread across some parts of the North.
For now, all the aforementioned NGOs are calling on government, philanthropists and civil society organizations to support inmates of the identified six witches’ camps to survive.
It is my hope that any legislator and cabinet minister of the Mills’ government would raise issues like this during meetings or deliberations so that a law could be enacted to protect these alleged witches and also grant them freedom in its fullest.