“Do We Need to Uproot Witchcraft in Africa?” demands a headline in Rwanda’s New Times newspaper.
The answer, according to the article, is no — but that opinion is not necessarily shared around the continent.
Indeed, witchcraft — or at least the accusation of it — is a serious matter in much of Africa and the African diaspora.
In Ghana, belief in witchcraft is widespread, Africa News reports, and in rural areas a witchcraft accusation lead to exile.
Banished by their families and left without means of support, those accused — usually older, impoverished women — are forced into so-called “witch’s villages,” and resort to selling charcoal to survive.
Sometimes the consequences can be even worse. Three people were arrested in Tanzania for killing accused witches, the BBC reported in 2003.
They were rare arrests in a crime that is reportedly common.
Witchcraft prejudices are hardly confined to the African continent.
The BBC reported earlier this week that hundreds of African children living in the United Kingdom have been sent back to Angola or the Democratic Republic of Congo after being accused by fellow immigrants of witchcraft.
The problem first came to the attention of the greater public in Britain when three people were jailed in London for torturing an 8-year-old girl they believed was a witch.
Of course, it should be noted that Britain itself imprisoned women accused of witchcraft as late as 1944.
Earlier this month, Scottish authorities refused to issue a posthumous pardon to Helen Duncan, who was convicted under the Witchcraft Act of 1735, and spent nine months in jail after holding a seance during World War II.
“DR Congo’s ‘dangerous’ superstition”
BBC, March 23, 2008
“Rwanda: Do We Need to Uproot Witchcraft in Africa?”
The New Times (Rwanda), March 24, 2008
“Plight of suspected witches in Ghana”
AfricaNews, March 17, 2008
“Tanzania arrests ‘witch killers'”
BBC, Oct. 23, 2003
“Witchcraft torture three jailed”
BBC, July 8, 2005
“Witchcraft pardon plea rejected”
BBC, March 5, 2008