Ghana: «witch camps» controversy

In Ghana an elderly woman was lynched accused of whitchcraft. She didn’t survive the beatings, but some of women who survive the ordeal are sent away or flee to places called “witch camps“.

The recent murder of 90-year-old, Akua Denteh has caused an international outrage. Dentah was accused of being a “witch” by a local fetish priest and as follows was beaten to death in the village of Kafaba near Salaga in northern Ghana. Video of her violent death was posted online. Five people were arrested in the cause of the murder investigation.

The debate on witch camps closure in not a recent phenomenon. Almost a decade ago in 2011, the government announced it would shut down the camps, but they are still there. Contrary to human rights activists demands, the 2012 report by ActionAid gave a piece of advice to the government to restrain from swift action, insisting that for many women these camps offer a refuge, instead of lynching and imminent death. Since the issue came to pubic attention again in a dramatic context of the violent murder of an elderly women, the government and gender ministry are being urged to ensure the definitive closure the camps across the country.

The request of closure concerns also so-called “healing centre” which was established a year ago in Pulmakuom, Pusiga District of the Upper East Region, by father and son Rufai Sumaila. At their settlement near the Ghana-Togo border these self-styled natural healers claim to identify and heal women accused of being witches. They insist that they practice exorcism successfully, diverting women from of exercising the witchcraft, and with the activity of the centre they harmonise community life.

All persons who feel unwell, searching for “healing” at the centre are told their condition is caused by a family member, mostly women, who bewitched them. The relative, becoming a suspect, is forcefully brought to the centre to confess, and participate in ritual, including violent physical abuse.

Those who insist on their innocence are beaten until they confess, and the suspects are accused, being forced into confessing are chained to trees, tortured and made to shave their hair – supposedly to achieve the required result through correctional “therapy”.

In reality the healing centre has only caused physical and emotional pain and suffering to so many women and families, according to the executive director of the Sanneh Institute and a native of Widana, Professor John Azumah.

Accroding to Ghana media, late Dentah was one of 18 women who were identified by self-proclaimed “witch hunter,” Hajia Filipina who had been brought in by some of the villagers to discover who was responsible for the lack of rainfall, which they believed was being caused by evil “witches.” All of the suspected women “confessed” to being “witches” after being tortured in hopes of surviving the abuse, but Dentah, who was the only one in the group who refused to admit she was “witch,” and as therefore she was beaten to death in an attempt to force her to confess.

However, in spite of the shock and international outrage, there are Ghanaians who defend the barbaric tradition.

We have a very wrong perception about the witches’ camp. When I did my research I realized that it is rather this camp that serves as shelter for these old women. Because in the past, killing of these old women was very prevalent in the North. When we destroy this camp we can’t help but experience more of such killings,” said Professor Kwadwo Nimfour Opoku Onyinah, the Ghanaian theologian, while being invited to FM morning show.

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