On Tuesday 2nd July, 2013, Nurudeen Salifu a reporter of the Daily Graphic wrote a feature which appeared in page 40, centre spread titled “Hope for women at Gambaga ‘Witches camp’. The article presented a package of real hope for the alleged banished witches of the Gambaga camp, the oldest in the Northern region. The First Lady in consultation with the overlord of Mamprugu Traditional area has acquired a land to build a new settlement for these accused women. The right to live in clean and enhanced environment has to be ensured, hence thumbs up to Her Excellency Mrs. Lordina Mahama.
In spite of the good intent of the First Lady, care must cautiously be exercised in order not to create a new settlement for these alleged witches. Firstly, the camp was isolated from the settlements, but the Gambaga township has developed close to the camp and as the report indicated a visitor might stray there. The question is what happens to anyone who strays or goes there unwillingly or willingly? Traditionally, the camp has been isolated for years but time has drawn the town close to the abode of these alleged witches. The town folks rather built close to them because natural justice is having it course. Why then take them away from society that natural justice has united with into isolation again? The First Lady has good intentions, but the adviser has to get the act right.
Though the feature did not indicate when the camp started to received inmates. The enquiry will be to acquaint with how many of these alleged witches were sent there at its formative years? As well as how many of such alleged witches are driven from their homes to the camp(s) in recent years? Another pertinent question which needs immediate answer is why are all the witches’ camps in Northern Ghana? Adding, every attempt to make life better for these camps inmates is appreciated. But no move should be made to recreate it as a permanent settlement for some stigmatized group of citizens. Remember there is freedom of association, movement and speech. These alleged witches are not freely exercising their religious and other rights. The District Assembly Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme operated by the Government is laudable, but should be considered adhoc leading to their reintegration. The over ten (10) acres of land money should rather be channeled through the reintegration programme instead of recreating an isolated establishment. The building of a new settlement for these unfortunate citizens would amount to commissioning the camps which has to totally be eradicated from the Ghanaian society.
Despite the negative effect of the ugliness of stigmatization, there is positive strength and beauty in education. The alleged witches are directly stigmatized, while their dependants suffer stigma indirectly. This indirect stigma experience of the children of these alleged witches was carried in a news bulletin on Joy FM, an Accra-based private radio station. These children should be desensitized psychologically to attend normal everyday school with their friends. These colleagues of theirs should equally be educated to demystify any generational beliefs about witchcraft. There should be no segregated education for them. If Government and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) especially ActionAid, Ghana as reported decide to equally isolate the children of these accused alleged witches during their critical period, these children will have serious problems in future. Would these children grow to continue living in these camps? No, because in the very near future, these camps should not only be disbanded but cleared from our living memory, it is a total human torture and traumatising.
Why are all the alleged witches women and worse of it old women? And do you know that in African belief a male wizard is more powerful done one hundred (100) women? Therefore, are there no male wizards in Northern region or its only woman who can be identified and why?
Downrightly, the issue of reintegration is very important and solution, for the reason that, in the case where a person or persons have been living in segregation for a long period it proves to be difficult to easily integrate with society. The report indicated that, a programme by the Presbyterian Church dubbed Presby Go Home Project initiated a reintegration measure for some fifty (50) women into their communities but it suffered a setback. The process of reintegration starts with the custodians of the socio-cultural ethics of the people under whose authority these alleged witches were banished from. The chiefs, subjects, opinion leaders and the traditional priest should be consulted. These identified socio-cultural custodians are to be educated to demystify the ideas and myth about witchcraft. That is when the reintegration could be effective. A successful reintegration as reported by the Presby Go Home Project mentioned by the Project Manager, Mr. Sampson Laar, came between 2010 and 2012 when fifty-two (52) new inmates were admitted back to their communities after the chief priest had performed some rituals. It is also reported that, because, “These people believe in the powers of the priest and so they welcome the women back, although there is still some stigma attached”. Another vivid example worth citing was the nomination and the eventual confirmation of Hon. Dr. Seidu Danaa, the Minister of Chieftaincy and Traditional Affairs. The National House of chiefs objected his nomination with the opinion that a visually impaired fellow could not be allowed to lead a ministry. The objection was raised by the custodians of our culture. Human Rights activists voices of opinion were drown in the sea of authority of these chiefs. However, when these chiefs were prevailed upon, same welcomed Dr. Seidu Danaa and did the public relations for him which appealed to the Ghanaian population to accept the honourable Minister. For the reason that, it is a taboo in African belief for a visually impaired person to lead in any group because, he is led. Therefore, when the socio-cultural custodians are educated to disabuse their minds of witches and the consequence of witches’ camp maintenance on society, the reintegration process will be easy.
Nonetheless, these alleged witches should receive at a fixed intervals psychologist to deal with trauma and anxiety. They (alleged witches) will look cheerful in appearance, but deep down it is an act of denial which has long term consequences. Gradually, they are becoming habituated in their unfortunate home with innocent children who are sharing in the suffering through no fault of theirs. The successful reintegration depends on how sound these old women are psychologically. The communities they came from must also be educated extensively as their leaders, for the reason that, they would be interacting regularly with these alleged witches daily.
Strategically, the reintegration should be a gradual process of ‘Half way home, on your way home’. This is where the alleged witches are moved from the camps to a median community. Here, these unfortunate ones go into the communities to work and return to their median homes. As reported they are often hired by the chief to work on his farm. The women will do same in their communities. It would help to disabuse their perceptions about witches’ having winds to fly and looking different way. Analogically, the reintegration should take the form of filling a barrel or empty container with water. It is done gradually till it’s full. The alleged witches are already traumatized hence; their reintegration should be carefully planned with them at one hand and the communities on the other.
The statistics as published by the report on the women and their dependants is scary. From Kukuo, Kpatinga, Nabulli, Bonyase, to Gambaga and Gnani the women numbered 567 while their children are 405 adding up to 947. Every move should be made to wipe out this social shame from Ghana, a country that prouds herself of being the gateway to Africa.
The witches’ camps are to be disbanded and not perpetuated to enhance the exercise of fundamental human rights. As a nation we should not give our eyes sleep until this unfortunate part of a great country as Ghana is done away with.
Our help is in the name of the lord, who made the heavens and the earth.