Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bonyase Witches Camp Closed Down, 55 Alleged witches Return Home

Nana Oye Lithur

The Government of Ghana in collaboration with ActionAid Ghana and Songtaba has succeeded in closing down the Bonyase Witches Camp in the Central Gonja District in the Northern Region. Government has also reintegrated 55 alleged witches from the six witches’ camps in the region into their original communities to reunite with their families. 

Ghana’s Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur who closed down the camp on Monday December 15, 2014 said that the government would not hesitate to disband the remaining five camps should it (government) reached the expected consensus with the traditional authorities, opinion leaders, the youth and the victims themselves. 

The six witches camps were established by hospitable chiefs and fetish priests where women accused of witchcraft sought refuge from beating, torture and even lynching to live a life in exile, ostracized from their families and left to fend for themselves.

Many of the women in the camps have been blamed for using black magic to cause some misfortune in their communities, whether death, illness or drought.

Denied the opportunity to defend themselves, they are chased into these camps where, exiled from their families for up to thirty years, they live in appalling conditions with scarcity of food and running water as well as medical care. The camps are effectively women's prisons where the inmates are given a life sentence.

Typically, when a woman arrives at the witches camp, a fetish priest confirms her guilt or otherwise through a ritual in which a fowl is slaughtered. If it falls on it back, its beak in the air, then the woman is pronounced innocent. If not, she has to consume a somewhat fatal concoction of chicken blood, monkey skull and soil to "cleanse" her. Only then can she consider returning home. But not all communities are prepared to accept the women back because of their entrenched stance against witches.

Son of Bonyase Queen performing rituals for witches camp to be closed down
However, at a historic durbar of Chiefs and people of Kusawgu Traditional Area in the Central Gonja District, Nana Oye said that there were about 600 women between the ages of 60 and 90 years who were still confined in the witches’ camps and were undergoing several difficulties. There are over 503 of their children and grandchildren of school going age who are also living in the camps.

She said that the witchcraft accusations and human rights abuses in Ghana and the mere existence of witches’ camps puts a scar on the country’s human rights record. There are still five of such camps in four districts of the Northern Region of Ghana. They are Kukuo, Gnani-Tindang, Gambaga, Tindan-zhie (Kpatinga) and Nabuli in Nanumba South, Yendi, East Mamprusi and Gushegu districts respectively.

Nana Oye said that the witchcraft accusations interconnect with mental health and domestic violence issues, as well as issues of poverty, disability and gender inequality. Out of the 600 alleged witches only one is believed to be a male. 

“We need to work together to develop a national consensus on the underlying issues surrounding the problem with the view of developing a collective national response to witchcraft accusation. The complexity underlying the problem means we cannot just come up with a single and isolated solution. It is instead important that all key stakeholders work together to pursue an integrated, long-term, national and inter-sectoral approach. There is the need for a very robust collaboration by all stakeholders to deal with the issue systematically”. 

The Central Gonja District Chief Executive (DCE), Mumuni Shiraz Ibn Yacin was much appreciative to ActionAid Ghana and for that matter the government of Ghana for their effort to liberate the suffering women. 

89 yr old alleged witch at Gambaga
According to him, the alleged witches were accepted into the Bonyase camp by the Queen and Priestess, Ayishetu Kishenaba to discourage their accusers from lynching them. He pledged that the Central Gonja District Assembly would do everything possible to ensure that the camp was not opened to any woman accused of witchcraft and also warned the people to learn to respect the rights and dignity of the women in society.

The Chairman of the Reintegration Committee, Dr. Al-Hussein Zakaria expressed his deepest sorrow at the dehumanizing condition the women were made to undergo for several decades now. 

Describing the witches’ camps as “human zoos”, Dr. Zakaria observed that the nature of the camps did not only take away the dignities and pride of the women, but also put them in perpetual death sentences.

Meanwhile, ActionAid Ghana and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection have put in place special packages for the reintegrated women to have a sustainable livelihood. They were given livelihood training in soap making, tie and die and beads making by ActionAid and Songtaba as well as accommodation to those who lost their properties during their banishment from their communities. 

The Fetish Priestess, under whose care the women in the Bonyase camp were put, Queen Mother Ayishetu Kishenaba was also given a grinding mill and motor tricycle popularly known as motor king as means of livelihood by the Ministry and ActionAid Ghana.

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