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Will Africa Still Be Immersed in Deep Superstition by the Year 2030?

George Ongere

October 22, 2010

It is a fact that superstitious beliefs have still remained a disease in most parts of Africa even up to this century of enlightenment.

In 2006, the Kenyan government ushered a new national development blue print in hopes of transforming Kenya into an industrializing middle-income country providing a high-quality life to its citizens by the year 2030. Titled Vision 2030, this plan seeks to create a just, cohesive, and equitable social development in a clean and secure environment under an issue-based, people-centered, result-oriented, accountable democratic system. And to make sure that the government remains true to that vision, Kenyans voted in a referendum held on August 4, 2010, on a new constitution.

Not surprisingly, other African sub-Saharan nations have also taken a keen interest in Kenya’s strategic plan for the year 2030 and have also placed the year 2030 as the deadline for their ambition to become middle-income country.

The above strategy has raised hope among many Kenyans, and most have the self-assurance that come the year 2030, the poor man in the slums will experience a lot of changes. Many youths who have been caught out in the unemployment situation also believe that by following this vision, they will be absorbed by the many industries that will spring up when the vision is realized.

Nevertheless, there has been great debate among skeptics in Africa as to whether upgrading developing nations in sub-Saharan Africa will actually end crime related to poverty that has been on the rise lately, the most notorious of which have been related to irrational belief in witchcraft and superstition that causes many to seek shortcuts in getting wealth. Indeed, the recent activities in major parts of Africa have proved that if the majority of African societies do not become empowered to change their mindset about these beliefs, then many are going to engage in inhumane activities that are bound to cause a human rights crisis in most states of Africa. By 2030, the situation might be worse or even beyond control.

With the modern capitalist societies adopted by most African nations, competition has been fierce in most developing nations in Africa. The majority of the people in the competition is at a disadvantage and has therefore been thrown out, creating an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. The desperate poor have looked for ways of surviving in the competition and have resorted to looking for shortcuts. Secret cults demanding human blood and witch doctors looking for human body parts have in the past been the best shortcut for the poor people because they promise to provide a good amount of money for a single transaction. Graduating a third-world republic to a middle-income country will stiffen this competition, and the irrational will most likely resort to the witch doctors rather than seek different means of winning it.

Of course, the past incidents in Kenya have brought out exactly how the low-class people are trying to make wealth using such shortcuts. First, the public was shocked on September 13, 2010, when two mortuary attendants who had attempted to sell body parts were arrested by the police. The two were found with a green polythene paper bag containing male genitals, which they attempted to sell for 50,000 Kenya shillings (700 U.S. dollars). It is a fact that with the possibility of getting such money for a single transaction, the poor man living in the slums or other underdeveloped estates will continue risking engaging in the body-part market even if it means killing the neighbor next door.

The public was again driven into a panic on September 15, 2010, when family of a corpse that was to be buried found that the body was missing its genitals. This news caused dozens of citizens to rush to various mortuaries to find out whether their dead relatives had their genitals or whether they had been chopped off for the dirty business that has been on the rise lately. The above incidents left most Kenyans who had buried their relatives earlier doubting whether they had buried their loved one with their genitals intact.

Most investigations revealed that the genitals were being sold to witch doctors for a generous sum and then used to make love portions and charms to sell to the many Africans who have problems with their love lives and marriages. The parts were also used to make charms for business people to beat their business rivals.

These cases bring to mind the killings of taxi drivers that hit the country in August 2009. In that month alone about thirteen taxi drivers were killed and then found without their tongues, limbs, and genitals. These taxi drivers were approached by people who pretended to be customers late in the night, and at dawn their bodies were found mutilated and dumped by the roadside.

To continue, on August 17, 2010, the headlines of most East African media and daily publications were full of the story of a Kenyan man who was caught trying to sell an albino man in Tanzania. The man was arrested when the police pretended to be the potential buyer of the albino. The police had to pay the sum of 250, 000 U.S. dollars for the albino. The Kenyan man had told the albino man that he had secured him a job. Not knowing that he was a commodity that was to be sold for a great sum, the albino agreed. This is just one of many stories about the albino trade in East Africa. It started with fishermen who believed that albino hairs could bring them a large harvest of fish. They placed the hairs on the net and believed they worked. Then slowly the witch doctors took advantage of this belief and made business men believe that planting albino parts in their business would make their business successful. As a result, albino body parts were in demand that led to the deaths of over fifty albinos.

It is a fact that superstitious beliefs have still remained a disease in most parts of Africa even up to this century of enlightenment. The ideas that were invented by the primitive minds of the old societies have become a meme that has proved tough to delete from the minds of most Africans. These memes have even flourished among those with formal educations. This is because you will find most educated scholars in Africa still believing in the power of Juju, witchcraft, and other supernatural entities.

Adding to this debate, most ignorant African conservatives have always maintained that African beliefs like the belief in witchcraft, witches, witch doctors, the power of the ancestors, and other cultish beliefs should not be interfered with because they bring about African authenticity. These misled individuals have maintained that deleting superstitious beliefs from the African mindset will be detrimental to African literature because African man is associated with his unique beliefs, like the belief in witchcraft.

When you listen to these people argue, it’s hard to tell whether they are aware of the danger of encouraging the public belief in witchcraft and other irrational beliefs. Do these people know that there are children who are poisoned, hacked to death, or forced to roam the streets in some parts of Nigeria? Have they watched the documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children? Are these people aware that in Kisii and Malindi, Kenya, old women and men are at risk of being lynched simply because people believe that they have wicked powers that they use to cause harm? Do these people see the cases in Malawi where women are stoned to death because the societies have chosen to believe in witchcraft powers?

Even if Vision 2030 is successful in Kenya, these irrational beliefs will still persist if they are not addressed. With the emergence of small urban centers, competition will be high; many Africans will still find themselves at a disadvantage. Many will look for ways of making it big and seek the advice of witch doctors, who have maintained that they can use certain human parts to make people succeed in their business endeavors. These poor individuals will do anything they are told by the witch doctors, and the killings for humans for body parts will be on the rise.

With the rise of urbanization that the success of Vision 2030 will bring, most sub-Saharan African societies will still experience many more killings if we don’t teach them about the dangers of superstitious thinking. The challenges of urbanization in most developing countries of Africa have always included a rise of crime. This is because so many people migrate from the rural areas to look for employment. With high unemployment rates, most end up in the slums, and out of desperation they allow their minds to be swayed by gangs, cults, and other bodies that promise good money for their illegal endeavors. Young people are especially at risk for this kind of misuse.

This gives humanists and rational people a big task ahead. Can skeptics and rational people in Africa also adopt a Vision 2030 plan that society will be free from irrational beliefs? Can they foresee a 2030 where children in Nigeria will not have a bleak death due to witchcraft accusation to look forward? Can they adopt a vision where no women will be stoned in Malawi or old men and women will be lynched because of a belief in witchcraft? Can we have an end to killing of people for their body parts and teach societies how to effectively use their creativities for survival instead of appealing to irrationality?

Anti-Superstitious Thinking Campaign was held at CFI/Kenya on September 25, 2010.

This is an achievable vision, and the Center for Inquiry/Kenya has engaged with institutions of higher learning, secondary and primary schools, youth organizations, and the rural communities in their fight against superstitious beliefs since the launch of their Anti-Superstitious Thinking Campaign in May 2009.

Moses Alusala of the Kenya Humanist Association presents a paper on superstition at CFI/ Kenya.

In most of our engagement with youths, we have realized that they are flexible and have not yet been deeply indoctrinated by the superstitious beliefs of the older members of society. With good literature materials and education, they are the best people to engage in the Anti-Superstitious Thinking Campaign, for they will be the active people in the year 2030.

The Center for Inquiry/Kenya has scheduled a lot of ongoing campaigning at institutions of higher learning beginning November 5, 2010, at the University of Nairobi, then continuing on to Moi University in Eldoret. Then it will focus on local organizations in the spotlight areas in November and December.

Some participants of the Anti-Superstitious Thinking Campaign held at CFI/Kenya.

We started the campaign and will continue the fight against irrational beliefs. We believe that by engaging the campus groups, local groups, and secondary and primary school groups, we shall achieve our Vision 2030 of a society that will be free from irrational belief. It is encouraging that in Malawi, George Thindwa, a humanist who is involved with the Center for Inquiry, has taken on the fight deep has been featured in many international news stories. Mr. Thindwa is advocating for the release of about fifty women who have been arrested for witchcraft in the past. More of their story can be read at

More and more humanists in Africa are joining the fight, and if we continue with that vigor, then more and more people will continue to be liberated from the slavery of dogma and superstitious beliefs that have degraded development in Africa and have been the major cause of human rights crises.

Together we shall achieve the vision!

Dr. Adeleke Oluseyi Ogulana, a humanist from Nigeria, visited the Center for Inquiry/Kenya to have a look at how humanism is organized at the Center. He discussed how irrationality is becoming a threat to the survival of the younger generation in Nigeria. Pictured from left: George Ongere, Dr. Adeleke, Boaz Adhengo of Humanist and Ethical Union of Kenya, and Moses Alusala of the Kenya Humanist Association.

George Ongere

George Ongere's photo

George Ongere is the executive director CFI-Kenya.