Is this REALLY Africa?!: Child Sacrifice and ‘Witch Doctors’ in Uganda

In Culturally Misunderstood, OrijinBlog

Child Sacrifice: photo by Marco Vernaschi

I recently came across an “investigative” BBC report about the issue of child sacrifice by ‘witch doctors’ in Uganda and looked at the video with total disgust! After watching the video, I was reminded of when I went to the store with a friend, who was questioned by the young inquisitive African-American cashier. She asked about the orijin of the bracelet he was wearing and when he responded by stating “Ghana, Africa; you should go there one day,” she looked at him in utter disgust and replied “uh uh… I don’t wanna to go to Africa.” Noticing that he might be from the very place she obviously disapproves of, she changed her tone and attempted to pacify the situation by further declaring that she did not want to leave the U.S. After watching such a disturbing video, why would anyone want to go to Uganda or anywhere in Africa for that matter?! A place where ‘they’ practice such barbaric and inhumane rituals such as child sacrifices? A place where ‘they’ have ‘witch doctors;’ where people with money kidnap and kill children for sacrificial purposes in hopes of attaining wealth and prosperity? WTF is wrong with ‘these’ people?! If your understanding of Uganda or Africa is limited to the scope if this video, then the above response is warranted. If you are well informed about Africa and watched the video with Fela Kuti’s declaration that “99.9% of the information you get about Africa is wrong” in mind, then you will have questions about the detrimental impact it will have on Ugandans and Africans and the extent to which it further exoticizes and perpetuates negative stereotypes of Africans. I am not of the position that everyone is out to “get” Africa and that everything done to question African culture and practices is done out of malice. I am cognizant of the fact that there are certain cultural practices that are inhumane, regardless of their cultural and historical background. However, I do believe that any issue surrounding or criticizing culture should be done in an all encompassing and well informed manner. The bottom line is that the practice of child sacrifice is barbaric and downright wrong. However, in this recent 2011 report by the BBC and the preceding report on the same issue in 2010, I am also disturbed by the fact that: 1) It does not provide any background about the practice of child and human sacrifice and leaves the impression that it is solely inherent to Uganda and for many, by extension Africa 2) The “investigation” is done with the input of a very selective group of people, most of whom who have a lot to gain by exaggerating and simplifying the practice 3) It provides a myopic view of the general issue of child disappearance in Uganda and leaves the impression that all child disappearances are related to them being sacrificed 4) Its limited scope of the practice of child sacrifice and its ostensible rise and prevalence in Uganda reinforces the notion ascribed to Africans by racist ideology that they are “barbaric heathens and savages”

Child Sacrifice: photo by Marco Vernaschi

The practice of child or human sacrifice is not confined to the borders of Uganda or to the continent of Africa. In fact, there are copious amounts of historical documents about the practice in different cultures around the world. For example, the Inca culture sacrificed children in a ritual called capacoha; according to well documented Roman and Greek sources, Phoenicians and Carthaginians sacrificed infants to their gods; the ancient Chinese are also known to have made sacrifices of young men and women to river deities and even the Bible, in Genesis 22, makes reference to the practice of child sacrifice. My point in mentioning all of this is to show that this cruel and barbaric practice is not inherent to Africa as might be interpreted by the video. After watching the video, I also did some research as I was sure that I was not the only one left these aforementioned concerns. In confirmation of my belief, I came across a brief response in the journal Anthropology Todayby Pat Caplan where he addresses the concerns expressed by fellow anthropologist, including himself, about this BBC “investigative” report surrounding child sacrifice in Uganda. He noted that “a number of distinguished Africanist anthropologist” criticized the original report on the issue after it was published in 2010 for “reinforcing existing prejudices and stereotypes held by non-Africans, especially Westerners” and branded such reports as being “dangerous” as they “often encourage mob justice.” These anthropologists also expressed concerns over the fact that experts like themselves, who are every knowledgeable about the history and culture surrounding the practice and it’s perceived prevalence in Uganda, were not consulted to give an all encompassing and less exoticized understanding of the issue. They also noted that a similar story, ostensibly documenting accusations of Satanic abuse of children in Africa, was published in the UK two decades ago but was later proven to be false in a report commissioned by the government and anthropologist Jean La Fontaine in 1994. The article also raised the very important point that the local players who served as “experts” in these reports by the BBC such as the government minister, NGOs/INGOs and churches, as they play a very prominent role in Uganda’s welfare system than in the West and as a result, are highly dependent on foreign donors. Therefore, their agendas should be called into question. Additionally, the story of the reformed ‘witch doctor’ that he killed more than 70 children and “reformed” 2400 ‘witch doctors’ should also be scrutinized as it has been confessed by many of these “witch doctors” that a great number of the killings for which they boasted were lies told as a means to enhance their reputations.

Child Sacrifice: photo by Marco Vernaschi

The video also fails to provide alternate explanations surrounded the issue of child disappearances and gives the perception that most, if not all, child disappearances in Uganda are the result of child sacrifices. They failed to take into account that issues such as child trafficking; the taking of body parts for underground international trade, war and other issues could have contributed to the disappearances of missing children in Uganda. To insinuate that all or most child disappearances in the country result from the practice of child sacrifice, directs attention away from other important issues surrounding children and their safety in Uganda. Caplan also states that, according to Ugandans anthropologist, Agnes Kamya, in her own inquires into the issue of child sacrifice for the purposes of witchcraft, she has been told that it is unknown in Ugandan culture and that it has been theorized that it has a “great deal to do with the ubiquity of popular Nigerian films and soap operas in which occult practices – including child sacrifice- often feature. Additionally, it is estimated that over 85% of Ugandans are Christians, over 12% or Muslims and only about 1% adhere to just traditional cultural practices. Thus, only a very small percentage will pursue and practice traditional practice such as child sacrifices as for most, the practice goes against their religious beliefs. I am not discrediting the stories of any of the individuals in the video nor am I questioning whether the practice of child sacrifice exists in Uganda. In fact, I do believe that there are a selected few who partake in this practice and share the view that it is barbaric and inhumane and that all possible measures need to be explored and enforced to ensure its abolished. I also believe all responses to and objections to the practice, whether it’s conducted on one or 1 million children, are warranted. What I do object against, however, are reports that not only provide a myopic and generalized view of an entire country and by extension, continent. I also object to the fact that this narrow-minded view further helps to perpetuate preexisting negative stereotypes. One would think that after the release of the initial story in 2010 and the criticism that followed, that the BBC would have addressed the issues in a different manner; one that would have taken the expressed concerns into consideration. However, in a world where people find it difficult to indulge in anything more than 140 characters, one could only speculate about their choice of “reporting.” The great Benjamin Franklin cautioned us to “believe none of what you see and half of what you hear.” While the issue of child sacrifice is real and awareness if the issue is important in helping to curb the practice, we should also be mindful of how these issues are presented to us and we should be cognizant of the fact that they can often have far reaching consequences not only on the direct victim, but an entire population.

Child Sacrifice: photo by Marco Vernaschi

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