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Anti-Witchcraft Campaign Continues at CFI Kenya

George Ongere

July 19, 2010

Witchcraft belief still poses a great threat in Africa.

HBO’s recently released documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children gives the actual picture of how superstitious belief is threatening the survival of the younger generation in developing nations of Africa. The documentary vividly exposes how evangelical religious vehemence, combined with belief in sorcery and black magic, has branded many children as witches in Nigeria. These children, denounced as Satan by religious bigots, are believed to be the causes of their families’ problems by their ignorant parents. Due to this, many children have been murdered, starved, tortured, and abandoned by their parents to homelessly roam the streets.

It came as a surprise when Kenya’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, published a story on a survey conducted by The Pew Research Center (a U.S.-based organization) ranking Kenya as the leading country in Sub-Saharan Africa in the worship of alternative gods, belief in witchcraft and evil spirits, sacrifices to ancestors, and belief in traditional religious healers and reincarnation. In this survey, Kenya was ranked fifteenth in Africa for belief in witchcraft. This puts Kenya a few points behind the Democratic Republic of Congo and way ahead of Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zambia, and Rwanda. A quarter of Kenyans, both Christians and Muslims, confessed to believing in the protective power of juju (charms or amulets) and consulting traditional healers.

Right now, the media’s attention has been drawn to confessed serial killer Philip Onyancha, who shocked security officers when he led them to places he had hidden bodies of people he had kill in the past. Onyancha confessed to having killed at least nineteen people, most of whom were women and children that he claims are vulnerable. When asked the purpose of his killings, he answered, “For blood.” He further said that he strangled and bit the neck of his victims to suck their blood. Onyancha claimed that an evil spirit instructed him to kill his victims and directed him where to commit the murders as a sacrifice. Onyancha then narrated how he was introduced to commit the murders by a teacher’s cult back in high school. The cult promised Onyancha that he would become rich after killing 100 people. More of his confession can be watched on YouTube. Of course this is how far the belief of gods, witches, and Satan has come in most parts of twenty-first century Africa.

Onyancha’s case shows that if nothing is done to quickly enlighten the continent about the dangers of believing in witchcraft, gods, and Satan, then a lot more people are going to lose their lives to religious bigotry. Religious beliefs can be used by cults focused on misusing the minds of the poor people in developing nations of Africa. Many poor people frustrated in poverty become fodder for these cults; they’re promised wealth in exchange for agreeing to kill for the cult. As a result, there is bound to be hundreds and hundred of serial killers looking for the quickest way of making wealth, which will eventually lead to a human rights crisis.

The time has come for a humanistic enlightenment. It is time for humanists and freethinkers to come out and defend the need for reason, science, and freedom of inquiry. It is time for reason to be instilled in the minds of the masses to remove irrational belief that poses a threat to human survival. It is high time humanist movements in Africa stood up strong and helped in the fight against superstitious beliefs and witchcraft.

In 2010, the Center in Kenya made the anti-witchcraft campaign its number one agenda. The Center began by engaging Moi Freethinkers—a campus movement at Moi University in the Anti—in the anti-superstition campaign. Moi freethinkers held several debates on superstitious topics aimed at informing the University students of the dangers of superstitious belief.

The campaign has also been in progress by the On Campus movement at the University of Nairobi. We at the Center realized that by engaging this On Campus movement, we were creating active educators who would go to their local communities during long holidays and teach members of their societies about the dangers of superstitious beliefs. Many have succeeded in distributing materials from CSI that expose fallacies made when pronouncing witches to the communities.

In addition, the Center for Inquiry/Kenya was one of the three organizing groups of the first Kenya National Humanist meeting held May 8–9, 2010, during which CFI/Kenya mobilized leaders of the On Campus Movements of three public universities. At the conference, CFI/Kenya emphasized the need to embrace the fight against superstition. Most of the new humanist organizations that attended the meeting expressed an interest in pursuing this campaign further. CFI/Kenya distributed the March/April 2010 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer, which had the great article “Faith in the Power of Witchcraft” by Anthony Lang on why witchcraft beliefs persist in this twenty-first century.

George Ongere presenting on the dangers of superstition at the first Kenya National Humanist conference held May 8–9, 2010.

Beginning July 12, 2010, and continuing until to December 20, 2010, the Center in Kenya is going to collaborate with local organizations in rural areas of Kenya on the campaign. This is going to involve a lot of empowerment and education. We shall then visit community to community with the help of these organizations. The communities that the Center will visit will be mostly in areas where belief of witchcraft is rampant.

Even though the dangers of superstitious belief have been brought out in the open in the media, most conservatives in Africa has been thwarting the efforts of humanists to enlighten different societies about the dangers of witchcraft belief. One writer, Emeka Esogbue, certainly attempted to thwart Leo Igwe’s efforts. In his article “Witchcraft or Reality,” Esogbue writes: “I have picked interest in the points raised by Leo Igwe to buttress his own convictions that witchcraft is a mere belief shared by those who want to explain away their misfortunes. This argument is laughable because we know that Leo Igwe as an African descent posses a vast knowledge of the African tradition.”

George Ongere with IHEU East Africa Representative Deo Sesitoleko, Moses Alusala of the Kenyan Humanist Association, and a humanist attendant at the conference.

Esogbue continues:

For a long time, I wondered what people, especially Africans, set to achieve when they deliberately pretend not to believe in socio-cultural practices that trouble the African societies, especially when some of them are living witnesses in their own families or have been victims in the past until I realized that we all think people would jeer at us if we profess beliefs in such concepts or that the world would take us as uncivilized in spite of the level of our educational qualifications. In this case, I have not in any way attempted to create the notion that Leo Igwe is one.

Such writers who ask what humanists achieve by engaging in an anti-superstition campaigns obviously have failed to notice the harm belief in witchcraft is doing in Africa. Writers like Esogbue feel that we have to honor belief in witchcraft simply because we are Africans, even when parents in Nigeria are made to believe that their children are witches and hack them to death or feed them poison. These writers believe that when old Men and women in Kenya are lynched because of the belief that they are possessed by bad spirits of ancestors, we have to defend these actions to protect our sociocultural practices! Esogbue’s full article is available online.

Humanist leaders pose for a photo after the first Kenya National Humanist conference in Kenya.

The time has come to stop tolerating unreason. The time has come when we need to justify beliefs through factual premises rather than through supposition and confessions that lack logical justification. It is time to put an end to the albino killings by ignorant fishermen who think that the body parts of albinos bring large harvest of fish. This also applies to businessmen who believe that putting albino parts on their business premises will accrue big profits.

With the continued support from the Center for Inquiry/Transnational and CSI, the Center for Inquiry/Kenya will continue engaging campus groups and local organizations in the fight against superstition. On the other hand, humanists in Africa have held the fight dear, and they are willing to make the dream come true. Humanists will continue to fight until the day when Africa will pride in the fruits of reason, science, and freedom of inquiry.

Together we shall achieve!

George Ongere

George Ongere's photo

George Ongere is the executive director CFI-Kenya.