The following shocking report appeared in Ghana’s most widely-read newspaper the Daily Graphic, on 26 November 2010:
“Grandma Set Ablaze To Exorcise Witchcraft
“A 72-year-old grandmother [Nana Ama Hemmah] suffered one of the most barbaric of deaths when she was burnt alive by a mob at Tema Site 15, after being accused of being a witch.
“A student-nurse, who appeared on the scene, attempted to rescue the old woman from her ordeal but she died of her burns within 24 hours of arrival at the Tema General Hospital.
“Five people who allegedly tortured and extracted the confessions of witchcraft from Ama Hemmah before drenching her in petrol and setting her ablaze have been arrested by the Tema Police.
“But the suspects, including an evangelist, denied the crime and claimed that they were rather praying to exorcise the evil spirit from the deceased, Ama, when the anointing oil they had applied to her body caught fire.
“Two of the suspects are Samuel Ghunney, a 50-year-old photographer, and Pastor Samuel Fletcher Sagoe, 55, the evangelist.
The rest are Emelia Opoku, 37, Nancy Nana Ama Akrofie, 46, and Mary Sagoe, 52, all unemployed.
“Briefing the Daily Graphic on the incident, the Tema Regional Police Commander, Mr Augustine Gyening, Assistant Commissioner of Police, said about 10 a.m. on November 20, 2010, Samuel Fletcher Sagoe visited his sister (Emelia) at Site 15, a suburb of Tema Community 1, and saw Madam Hemmah sitting in Emelia’s bedroom at a time Emelia had sent her children to school.
“Mr Gyening said Samuel then raised an alarm attracting the attention of the principal suspect, Samuel Ghunney, and some people in the neighbourhood.
“According to him, the suspects claimed that Mad. Hemmah was a known witch in the area and subjected her to severe torture, compelling her to confess [to] being a witch.
“He said after extracting the confession from Mad. Hemmah, Ghunney asked Emelia Opoku for a gallon of kerosene and, with the help of his accomplices, poured it all over her and set her ablaze.
“[Assistant Commissioner] Gyening said a student-nurse, Deborah Pearl Adumoah, who chanced upon the barbaric act, rescued Mad. Hemmah and sent her to the Community One Police Station, from where she was transferred to the Tema General Hospital, but she died the following day.
“In their [statement made under caution], the suspects denied the offence and explained that they poured anointing oil on the old woman and [that] it caught fire when they offered prayers to exorcise the demon from her.
“The docket has since been sent to the Attorney General’s Department for advice while the body of the deceased has been deposited at the Police Hospital mortuary for autopsy.”
Because the suspects are likely to be prosecuted, I cannot offer a detailed analysis of their behaviour, due to the sub judice rule that prohibits comments on cases that are yet to be decided by the courts.
But without prejudice to this particular case, I can confidently state that one thing is certain: a great number of people, particularly old women, are routinely subjected to the most excruciating physical and mental torture in Ghana in the mistaken belief that they are “witches”. The lack of knowledge in the country generally about the physical and mental degenerations that occur in certain individuals during old age, results in some people taking Alzheimer’s disease and hysterical dissociation in particular and mental illness as a whole, as signs of witchcraft.
This ignorance, fuelled by a patchy knowledge of scriptures, which causes some people to interpret the Bible literally, induce them to inflict ultra-barbaric treatment on these alleged “witches” in the mistaken belie that they are doing what The Lord Jesus Christ would have done, had these alleged “witches” been brought before Him. But Jesus did not burn witches. He showed them compassion and physically touched them with his hands, which acts, even if He were not endowed with divine healing powers, would have affected the sick people positively in psychological terms and hence brought them healing, given the enormous reputation for miraculous performances that preceded Jesus to wherever He went to preach.
Many of the latter-day evangelists who preach in Jesus’ name, are in fact religious mercenaries, some of whom are borderline maniacs, who believe that ‘it is better to be feared that to be loved’ and resort to what amounts to religious terrorism in order to exercise power in their communities. Witchcraft has long formed part of Ghanaian mythology, and to the ulearned, the mention of demons in the Bible translates only too easily into the existence of “witches” among communities today.
So, a marriage breaks down, due probably to infidelity or pecuniary hardship — the old lady in the household is held responsible. A young, unemployed man becomes listless and shows signs of depression: an old lady wants to kill him spiritually and consume him with her coven of witches. A lorry driver gets drunk and crashes his vehicle: an old lady shone a torch into his eyes and blinded him, running his vehicle into a ditch. Even simple things like pupils failing exams, or crops failing, or an inability to save money due to reckless spending, are laid at the doors of “witches.”
Hence, large swathes of Ghanaian society absolve themselves of personal responsibility in almost all things, and, with the aid of both traditional superstitions and the modern equivalent preached by some churches, embark on acts of brutality against helpless scapegoats, such as occurred at Tema.
That this is a nationwide phenomenon is attested to by another report in the Daily Graphic. This report reads:
“The Chairman of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) has observed that the existence of witch camps in the country offends Chapter Five of the 1992 Constitution.
“Mr Laary Bimi, considered the practice as discriminatory against women and [said it was] inhuman and … prevented the victims from enjoying their rights as humans. as enshrined in the constitution.
“He wondered why there were supposed to be wizards too but only women were made to endure the ordeal at the witches’ camps, where they are kept against their will.
“Mr Bimi was speaking at a day’s workshop organised by the NCCE in Accra to disseminate findings of a study conducted by the Research Department of the Commission on: “Witchcraft and Human Rights of Women in Ghana: Case Study of Witches’ Villages in Northern Ghana”.
Witchcraft is considered a universal and historical phenomenon, which continues to attract a lot of interest. Suspected witches are regarded as evil and harmful and because of that, people suspected to possess such powers are sometimes killed, maltreated or banished from the communities in which they live.
Against that background, Mr Bimi challenged Ghanaians to abide by the tenets of the constitution in a holistic manner if they wanted to be counted among the democratic people of the world.
The study was conducted in three witches camps in the Northern Region, namely the Gambaga Camp* in the East Mamprusi District, Tindanzie Camp in the Gushiegu District and the Tindang Camp in the Yendi District.
Presenting a paper on the “Objective, Methodology and Socio-demographic characteristics of Respondents”, Mrs Janet Sarney-Kumah said the 1992 Constitution established that citizens were entitled to certain rights and freedoms, which include equality before the law, freedom from torture, cruelty and inhuman treatment, and human dignity.
Mrs Sarney-Kumah indicated that most of the alleged witches interviewed were very old people and said old age was a factor influencing an individual’s likelihood of being accused of witchcraft.
She, however, indicated that 7.1 per cent of the people interviewed [in the study] openly admitted possessing witchcraft.
Mr Derek Gyamfi Yeboah, who presented a paper on “Witchcraft acquisition and conditions at the camps”, said 38 per cent of the respondents indicated that witchcraft was acquired through gifts obtained from persons who were already possessed.
In addition, 49 per cent stated that people acquired it through family lineage either by inheriting it from a dying relative or handed over to them by other family members.
Speaking on “Freedom of association, integration and conclusion”, Mrs Praise Mensah said since the constitution guaranteed freedom of association for every citizen, the alleged witches, irrespective of their conditions, had the right to participate in every lawful social activity of their choice in the community.
In her welcoming address, the Director of Research at the NCCE, Mrs Getrude Zakaria-Ali, commended the personnel for a good work done and said with the findings, the Commission was better equipped to embark on an effective civic education, which the constitution mandates it to do.
*Meanwhile, The Witches of Gambaga, a film co-produced and directed by a Ghanaian-British film-maker, Yaba Badoe, has won the 2010 Black International Film Festival Best Documentary Award. According to its Synopsis, “The Witches of Gambaga is a haunting 55-minute documentary film about a community of women condemned to live as witches in Northern Ghana. Made over the course of 5 years, this disturbing expose is the product of a collaboration between members of the 100 strong community of ‘witches’, local women’s movement activists and feminist researchers, united by their interest in ending abusive practices and improving women’s lives in Africa.
Painful experience and insight combine to generate a uniquely intimate record of the lives of women ostracized from their communities. Told largely by the women themselves, their incredible stories and struggles are rendered comprehensible to a wide range of audiences by the director’s narration.
It was completed in August 2010 by Fadoa Films Ghana and UK. It was directed by Yaba Badoe, and co-produced by Yaba Badoe and Amina Mama.
REVIEWS of The Witches of Gambaga
“A very good watch, beautifully made” Ingrid Falck, Al Jazeera
“I was gripped from beginning to end” Suzy Gillet, London Film School
“A brave and brilliant production” Hope for the African Village Child Trust
“Thank you for living up to our expectations.” Netright, Ghana
“…will go a long way to promote the rights of women…” African Women’s Development Fund
“ .. a shocking, extraordinary film..” Michael Eaton, screenwriter
“… the unacceptable and abusive treatment of women as witches is exposed…” ABANTU FOR DEVELOPMENT
Below is a link to the trailer of the film of Youtube
YABA BADOE is a Ghanaian-British documentary filmmaker and writer. A graduate of King’s College, Cambridge, she worked as a civil servant in Ghana before becoming a General Trainee with the BBC. She has taught in Spain and Jamaica and has worked as a producer and director making documentaries for the main terrestrial channels in Britain. In 2009, her first novel, ‘True Murder’, was published by Jonathan Cape. Her TV credits include: ‘Black and White’, a ground-breaking investigation into race and racism in Bristol, using hidden video cameras for BBC1; ‘I Want Your Sex’, for Channel 4, and a six-part series, ‘VSO’, for ITV.
For further information contact Yaba by e-mail or on +44-(0)208 675 5978