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About the Author

Johan Knols
Blogger, safari specialist, professional wildlife guide (Woerden, Netherlands)

Johan Knols is the owner of the planyoursafari blog. He studied tourism in the Netherlands and has been working in the African tourism industry for nearly 15 years. Starting as lodge manager in the Serengeti in Tanzania, he eventually owned his own mobile safari company in Botswana. Johan received his professional wildlife- guides licence in 1998 and was awarded the title of Honorary Wildlife Officer with the Botswana Wildlife and National Parks authority in 2005. During his time in Africa he has managed upmarket safari lodges and has done overland trips in the luxury and semi-luxury sector. At the moment he is a full-time blogger giving tips and advices on everything related to African safaris.

Post

15.000 Witches

Published 25th May 2010 - 36 comments - 12555 views -

Brutalities in the name of Jesus Christ

Imagine getting a nail driven into your head or
Getting covered in boiling cooking oil or
Having to drink a coction with the ‘bishops’ blood and
.....you are not even ten years old.

The 'witches'

Africa has its moments of beauty and happiness and its moments of despair and violence.

But what is happening in Nigeria is something that goes beyond the imaginable. Dodgy, money hungry characters pretending to be priest, bishops and ‘healers of evil’ are randomly accusing (very) young innocent children of all the misfortune and misery in their families: the death of a loved one, unemployment, the failing of a crop or illness. These innocent children get branded as Satan’s Witches.

The mix of traditional beliefs and the import of christianity through missionaries has resulted in a brew of emotions that is potentially lethal for the most vulnerable in society. Especially the Nigerian pentecostal churches have their arrows aimed at children, justifying their acts by referring to certain verses in the bible and taking those literally. Exodus 22:18: “Suffer not a witch to live” plays a major role in this. If you scream this loud in especially the provinces Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers, many quickly will start listening and since witchcraft has always played an important role, influencing and scaring people in Nigeria and other parts of Africa is very easy.

Liberty Gospel Church

One name that keeps coming up is that of Helen Ukpabio, a mother of three, who through her believe in demonic possession has managed to inspire many in Nigeria to become a member of the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministry. Her website explains the beliefs of her church and some of her controversial books and movies are on sale through the E-shop. Her film company clearly tries to increase the belief in witch-children through movies like ‘End of the Wicked’.

Under the heading ‘Child Witch’ she claims that her church will never harm witches and that only her ministry shows mercy. I am sure that she is right when she claims that, as all others that were trained by her will be doing the gruesome jobs of exorcism.

Eventually it is the family and the community through their strong beliefs that will do the (physical) harm to the children, thus leaving her outside the line of fire.

Stepping Stone Nigeria (SSN)

Another name that gets the positive spotlights is that of Gary Foxcroft and his organization called ‘Stepping Stone Nigeria’. After having worked in the oil industry in Nigeria, this Brit decided to devote his energy in the protection of wounded, maimed and rejected children. Together with a few nationals who see the absurdity of Ukpabio, they have set up a school and a safe shelter for children being accused of being a witch.

One of Foxcroft’s supporters and aides is Leo Igwe, a Nigerian Humanist that wants to stop the dangerous practices of the Liberty Gospel Church as well.

Needless to say that Ukpabio is doing everything possible to make Foxcroft’s and Igwe’s life miserable and dangerous. Recently she filed a lawsuit against them and claimed more than one million USD for not being able to freely spread the gospel.

After her second ‘no-show’ on February 4th 2010, the court fortunately decided to drop the case.
Leo Igwe writes a lot about religion in his country and publishes the articles on his blog.

Unfortunately the children of Nigeria are not the only ones suffering. The idea that children can be witches is widespread in Africa has can be seen from this article with footage from Uganda.

Who responds?

People like Helen Ukpabio have to be stopped, not only in Nigeria but all over Africa. Not because they preach weird ideologies, but simply because those ideologies interfere with the innocence of children and lead to physical harm. Crimes are again committed in the name of Jesus Christ.

So who of the religious leaders should stand up and condemn these practices?

Since in many parts of Africa we see a mix of religions and superstition, this question is not easy to answer. Yet, every day children are suffering.

Seeing the views of the pope on the use of condoms and Africa, I am afraid that we should not expect too much action from his side. The child abuse cases in the Roman Catholic church makes it even more difficult to take a firm stance against the brutalities in Nigeria.

Two documentaries were made about the Witch Children of Nigeria. The first one in 2008 and the second one a year later. Strangely enough I saw all parts last week of the 2008 documentary. Now several (graphic) parts are missing (?).

2008: part 3, part 5, part 6, part 7.

2009: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.

For those of you that want to sign a petition against Ukpabio, you can click here.

Or you can give support by visiting the website of PACT (Prevent Abuse of Children Today).

 

 

 



Comments

  • Helena Goldon on 25th May 2010:

    Hi Johan, don’t agree with all you are saying - it is to me very generalizing, but let me explain my point via my next post, which I have been writing for the last week - also, on witchcraft smile

    It will be based on my own experience of a witchcraft service.

    Otherwise, lovely somebody started to post about the topic as it is of vital importance, especially in Africa!


  • Johan Knols on 25th May 2010:

    Looking forward to your post Helena.
    After an assault experience in Botswana I visited a witch-doctor with a high ranking police officer who thought it a good idea. Typical that also the witch doctor could only ‘help’ after I paid money. Little did he know that I don’t believe in witch-craft. I never paid him.


  • Helena Goldon on 25th May 2010:

    Ha! smile I got a better deal - if it worked, I was going to pay, if it didn’t, I didn’t have to, lol.

    Will post also my interview with a witchdoctor in an mp3 format, just that I am still trying to figure out HOW to post an mp3 ;p

    Any help anywhere?


  • Iwona Frydryszak on 25th May 2010:

    I saw some of those “exorcism” in Tanzania and at the beginning I was shocked, then I tried to understand. However when I attended the mass in pentecostal church which was supported by Compassion Organisation (one of the biggest sponsored child organisation). It was a service just before the final exams for students so they got some kind of exorcisms… I will be quite OK, if the pastor didn’t say something like: it’s your parents sins that you are poor and unhappy… I was working for the centre for mentally handicapped youth and in Tanzania it is quite common opinion that child is born with mental disability because of the sins from past (church) or evil ghosts (witch craft).


  • Johan Knols on 25th May 2010:

    Hi Iwona,

    Do you mean ‘sins from the past’ committed by the child before being born or sins committed by the parents before the birth?


  • Iwona Frydryszak on 25th May 2010:

    committed by parents or grandparents


  • Andrea Arzaba on 25th May 2010:

    Oh la lá! So Helena is writing about this issue too…

    Let me tell you that this is a very original post…and it is so…unbelievable! I can’t believe this is still happening…this seems so UNFAIR, UNHUMAN and SURREAL!

    Thank you Johan for this post


  • Johan Knols on 25th May 2010:

    Hi Andrea,

    Lets hope that, together with Helena’s post, we will have plenty of room for discussion soon.


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 25th May 2010:

    Witchcraft… oh dear. People like Ukpabio are criminals! But please explain me Johan, is their main reason for torturing children to basically just put a blame on someone so that a specific problem wouldn’t get investigated? It should also contain an element of power, from what I can tell from your post - these pseudo healers maintain their control over the population by fighting a scapegoat, is that correct? In the name of jesus christ… oh jesus.


  • Stefan May on 25th May 2010:

    I am following for some time already the work of Leo Igwe, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Humanist Movement, his movement fights against this and all the other kinds of religious fanaticism in Nigeria. A very destructive dynamic seems to have developed in this country between Islamic and Christian fundamentalists trying to ‘outfanatic’ each other, both thriving on a ground of poverty and lack of education, thereby worsening the problems.
    Check out his articles on http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com:
    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2010/why-africans-are-religious/
    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2009/the-many-ways-africans-are-dying/
    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2010/humanism-and-the-quest-for-justice-in-africa/


  • Johan Knols on 26th May 2010:

    @Giedre,

    It is the ultimate belief that witches exist that is so dangerous.
    And of course power is something that has to do with it: The power to be in direct contact with God.
    The pseudo healers can not solve the (MDG’s) problems, so blaming kids and asking money from the terrified parents to cleanse their souls is a lucrative business.
    The blog from Leo Igwe and the articles that are mentioned by Stefan are quite interesting to read in this regard.

    @Stefan

    I agree fully with you that poverty and therefore lack of education are the foundations for the abuse.
    But isn’t outfanatic-ing something that we see in most parts of the world where poverty is rife?


  • Stefan May on 26th May 2010:

    @Johan
    Competition in fanaticism and superstition you have everywhere, not only where poverty is (just visit some new age shop in every Western European city where you can buy crystals with ‘healing energy’, and we already talked about the ‘economic growth delusion’ as main fetish of Western civilisation that usually thinks of itself so enlightened, don’t also forget about Sarah Palins ‘healing’ by a witch doctor). As soon as there is a certain threshold met you’ll have poverty for sure. Nigeria is a special case where the population is almost evenly distributed among Islam and Christianity and where it is very easy to ‘politicise’ confessional disagreements, esp. in the central part where conflicts over water and the use of agricultural land are ‘solved’ by gory massacres. On the other hand, this country has a huge potential if could manage to solve this conflict and with a strong Nigerian identity transcending those divisions.
    This brings me to my usual topic about adapting culture and changing attitudes as important field in mankind’s ‘development’.


  • Johan Knols on 26th May 2010:

    Hi Stefan,

    Agree with your remarks about how the west deals with superstition. The big difference is that we are not blaming small children that can not defend themselves. So maybe the comparison is not the right one?
    I would be interested to receive a link to the massacres you mention.


  • Glenn Upton-Fletcher on 26th May 2010:

    Words fail me. I have lived in Africa for 30yrs, i know a lot of stuff happens. This region/country is rife with this nonsense. Other parts of Africa practice similar ‘stuff’ but not on the scale of the country/ies in question. This has absolutely nothing to do with faith or God, apart from the cover they get from twisting the Bibles teachings. There is the very sad fact that some people will stop at nothing to make money. The whole business is about taking advantage of the superstitions that belong to a bygone era. No doubt that this whole witchcraft business has grown massively over the last decade or so. In terms of the Christian faith these healers/exorcists are committing quite possibly the very worst ‘offence’ anyone can. The murder and torture of children, in the name of God!! Words fail me when just one person commits a crime against a child. This wholesale and disgusting assault leaves me with revulsion. The whole problem is one vicious circle and the cycles involved need to be broken. “local” beliefs and Christianity are not the same. These people are twisting both into a rope that will hang them one fine day. I am trying not to be judgemental over these people but my true feelings are raw.

    This is quite possibly one of the most heinous crimes being committed in Africa today, and other parts of the world. It is a momentous task to tackle. Where does one start? I for one have just had a shocking reminder of some of the things that are not good on the continent and would be happy to hear from people who are actively involved in combating this nonsense, and of course those who feel like minded.

    In closing i would really love to get to speak with one of these charlatans, take them to task and find out what really goes on in their minds. Might be a good way to get a unique way to a solution.


  • Stefan May on 26th May 2010:

    @Johan
    Sure, and I think a good way to fight horrible outcomes of superstition and religious fanaticism is to ensure human rights for all enforced by a strong secular state and an adaption of the religions towards modernity and a pluralist society.
    About the religious violence in Nigeria there is a lot of info on the web, start in wikipedia, there are usually links to various news-articles:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yelwa_massacre
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_Jos_riots
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Jos_riots
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Jos_riots
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religions_in_Plateau_State
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Nigerian_sectarian_violence

    an interesting article about a view on the the ‘background’
    http://allafrica.com/stories/201003110135.html

    There are much more, I’m still looking for a comprehensive scholarly treatment on the issue, if a reader here has a suggestion please tell!


  • Johan Knols on 26th May 2010:

    @ Glenn,

    Thanks Glenn for your very clear statement and I agree with you that this in one of the worst things happening on the continent.
    I am afraid there is not that much that we can do apart from speaking and writing about it. There is a FaceBook page against Helen Ukpabio ( http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=183710703554&ref=ts) and of course people can join and donate on the websites of Stepping Stone Nigeria and Pact (see bottom of the article).

    @Stefan,

    I wonder though whether these religious clashes have something to do with the witch-children…..? It shows that ‘religion’ in Nigeria is important. Yet, I haven’t seen a link between the mutilations of the kids and what is happening at large.


  • Stefan May on 26th May 2010:

    @Johan
    That is exactly what Leo Igwe writes about: people are told to listen to clerical authority and believe blindly. It’s believe without questions that is the root of both problems.


  • Johan Knols on 27th May 2010:

    @Stefan,

    When people are poor they can’t afford the luxury of questioning their belief. Especially if their poverty is created by ‘witches’. That is where the crime of the whole movement comes in.


  • Glenn Upton-Fletcher on 27th May 2010:

    The whole situation of witches has been part of Africa’s beliefs for many many generations and then some. It was part of Western culture for centuries as well. There may be some synergy between the way the two have dealt with it and certainly a parrallel in using christianity to further a purpose. The one big differnece with ‘today’s version’ is that the whole system in the nations we are discussing, and to a lesser extent other African nations, is that this is not a society, or government driven purpose but about individuals taking advantage. These people absolutly know what they are doing, no question in my mind of it.

    I have had the misfortune or it may turn out the good fortune of meeting similar charlatans in my time. I have taken them to task. They have lost, but still survive. Their whole system is based on preying on the vulnerable, and such is the skill with trickery this makes the whole spectacle of a cleansing believable. Even in the short video clip you can clearly see this happening. I am sure in cases the ‘client’ may see it too but the fear of pointing it out to others keeps this under wraps. Many will not return after ‘busting’ the charlatan, but by then in a lot of cases to late.

    Going to stick my neck out here.
    One thing that a lot of the outside world and people do not seen to grasp, is that in some shape or form there is most certainly a real and tangible results that magic, and i suppose you have to include some notion of witchcraft does exist in Africa. What does not exist is this whole subject of witches in children, and certainly non can be based on Christian beliefs. None of this is in the bible. It is not Biblical at all. This is all made up, and driven by individuals exploiting others. In addition, such is their skill of this deplorable ‘profession’ politicians, business leaders and other people of great influence are seeking the services of these charlatans. What i wonder is if they are putting their children through the cleansing or are they finding other children to be accused. The latter tends to be the case, as this is a business and you can afford to protect you income by pointing the blame on someone else’s child, or another person.

    All this above does happen, and apart from the witchcraft and children aspect as in the countries we are discussing, i have witnessed all. The bottom line is that this is all about someone’s chosen way to make money, and in this part of the continent people tend to have less of a conscience or limits on how this is acquired.

    Just to put good measure to all this and put it into perspective and to highlight my thoughts on this being business driven. For the most part, most African nations have banned this practice and it carries some very severe penalties. The citizens of most of these nations have witnessed this type of ‘profession’ in some shape or form in their pasts. The death penalty exists and is given out to individuals practising.

    This is more about a single nation, and possibly others to a lesser degree though, and how they allow certainly people to go about exploiting others. It is rooted in the make up of the characters of these people. It is every man for themselves, and by their industrious nature will exploit and manufacture and take advantage of anything to make money.  I really wish i did not have to point this out, but if you are from Africa, you will know this, and for most other people who are familiar even a little with Africa’s different cultures will pick up what i mean by this. I am trying to avoid using a big brush here and putting numbers or percentages to the proportions of the societies in these nations but it may be safe to say this is a trait of the people.

    As to solutions, without sounding like the world police, or ‘someone’ poking their nose in. It may take outsiders to point out to the ‘elders’ and influential people of the land the wrong that is committed on the citizens by these individuals. It may be part of the answer for other African nations to discuss the matter. After all they have outlawed such practices themselves. Why?


  • Stefan May on 27th May 2010:

    @Johan
    Questioning beliefs is not a luxury, it’s (according to your article as well) a matter of life and death, and don’t victimize grown ups please or pretend they are children and not responsible for their actions. You patronize poor people if you think they are all mad and fanatic witchburners.
    It’s a ‘hen-egg-problem’: people are superstitious and others use this for their gain by telling them what they want to hear (and I don’t even think they have to be charlatans, many of those probably really believe in witches). I’d say: let’s fight it like a disease, immunize the people with education and better access to the means of their living and at the same time campaigning against the charlatans that make money of this. This is not only about ‘fighting poverty’ in the economic sense, it is specifically fighting one aspect and cause of poverty in a much more broad sense.
    I wonder if a movie could do good, apparently there are quite some Nollywood movies that have witchcraft as a theme, but I haven’t heard of one that tells the story from the viewpoint of the victim that could make more Nigerians empathise and think critically about this.


  • Johan Knols on 27th May 2010:

    @ Stefan,

    Did I see somewhere that all are mad and fanatic witchburners? If so, please tell me where I said that and I will change it.
    A counter attack with another movie could be an idea. Problem is that the the belief in satan is so strong that it would be easy to brush the film aside and brand it as propaganda of the devil. Another problem is that you will have difficulties of finding someone willing to talk as we are dealing with kids here.


  • Glenn Upton-Fletcher on 27th May 2010:

    @Stefan May,
    Movies may not a bad way to reach people. Nigeria has a vibrant movie industry. How right you are with the content of some of these movies. Fits in with my thoughts of how well ingrained this problem is within the society and my comments on how the more affluent may be treated when they turn up for a cleansing and who might carry the penalty of the diagnoses given out by the practioner. Getting the right people from within the country to sanction and back this may be a good idea. How possible to engage the needed influential people for this may be the challenge. Something suggests that this may have been explored but who knows, sometimes the obvious has not been explored. 

    For me, i think the use of the word Charlatans is right on the nail for these people. Not being patronising, but i looked up the word http://www.thefreedictionary.com/charlatan.
    A person who makes elaborate, fraudulent, and often voluble claims to skill or knowledge; a quack or fraud. or:
    someone who professes knowledge or expertise, esp in medicine, that he does not have; quack

    Adding to my comments above.
    There is a real belief in witches, but how this is being manipulated and twisted through religion (Christianity) itself is more or less a ‘modern’ making. Those who practice it are multi skilled, but specialise in witchcraft, drawing on historic beliefs and fusing it with a credible world religion to give it authenticity. Africa on the whole, through its more modern history of colonisation has had the Christian Faith seeded through it and is part of who the people are now. Given this history and Christianity’s connection to the world and the use of its ‘modern’ status to transplant (if i can use that word) and intertwining with more traditional beliefs, then aligning this with the aspiration that Western culture is modernised and the benchmark for general everyday life,  for many African, and not only African’s here, to aspire to, gives them a needed edge of credibility. The set-up these charlatans have come up with is not God given, nor Biblical but a business opportunity as gruesome as it may be.

    Small observation i have made over the last 10 or so years about the fallout from poor (self serving) political decisions is that where a thriving society is subject to hardships and economic stress one of two things generally move in. Either people go drinking or turn to religion. It is the turning to religion and the lack of any control over this that opens doors to these opportunists, who start off with the ‘straight and narrow’ down the line religion, and when up and running start to infuse special abilities and get the whole idea of specialising going. By the way, it is rare to see these people operation on their own. They tend to have a small team of people around them just like any other business who are also fully aware of the ‘program’. Their job is to keep the ‘claims’ going, run the day to day operations etc. These start-up outfits grow fast and virus like. They spawn other variations and in a matter of months can encompass whole regions.

    @ Johan
    You may not be far off the mark in saying, this subject may need fighting just like any other ‘disease’ in every sense of the word.


  • Johan Knols on 27th May 2010:

    @ Stefan, @ Glenn,

    Unfortunately it appears that the problem, not only of child witches but adult witches as well, is a lot bigger than expected. See: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE58M4Q820090923


  • Stefan May on 27th May 2010:

    @Glenn
    When I meant that I think some of the witch-doctors are not charlatans I wanted to say that I could imagine many of them really believing in what they are doing is right.
    This brings me to something Johan said about the Catholic Church: I would say the Catholic Church and moderate protestant Churches could play an important role in fighting witch-hunting. Contrary to the picture many have, there has been lots of development in Christianity since the witchburnings in Europe and I think a charismatic local church leader condemning this practice as ‘unchristian’ (as you just did) would be very good. What we need is a concerted action of everybody that wants this evil ended, regardless if they believe in magic or not.

    @Johan
    I of course didn’t want to patronize you with my remark about the ‘stupid poor’. I just think that there it’s a common misconception that needs to be fought, nothing personal. Of course you didn’t write this, I over-exaggerated, sorry.

    @all
    Are you familiar with the concept of the ‘meme’? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme) I think here we have an example for a ‘memetic plague’, we need to know more about how this aweful ideas are spread and why exactly people in certain conditions find this so plausible (and why now? are there people ‘immune’ if yes, why? etc.).

    About the movie: I have no clue how Nollywood works, but I guess the first thing to start would be an organisation that makes a competition to call for a good screenplay. In the meanwhile there can be fundraising, I’m sure you’ll get the money you need for such a project. The point about this movie (and any campaign) would be exactly that it ‘speaks to the heart’ of the people stronger than the charlatans and rumors, so that the viewer sees the problem and empathises with the victims and cannot easily dismiss this as ‘Satans work’ because the feelings for the victims and the injustice of this are stronger. That’s very difficult, I know, but I think a challenge for an ambitious film-maker that knows the audience.


  • Helena Goldon on 27th May 2010:

    I no longer label all the practitioners as witch doctors

    Let me take part in the discussion with this post

    http://development.thinkaboutit.eu/think3/post/witchcraft_unveiled_3mp3s/


  • Johan Knols on 28th May 2010:

    @ Stefan,

    Yes, there are people that are immune. My little experience with witchcraft in Tanzania and Botswana showed that never ‘a white man’ would get bewitched. Why? Because the witchdoctors know that we seldom believe in witchcraft. This could show why witchcraft is so strong amongst Africans: many DO believe in it.

    @Helena,
    I have read your article and I am not quite sure where you want to go. You are obviously impressed by the experience you had with the snake and I can understand your reaction.
    The difference between the (important) herbalists and witchdoctors is also clear. But the ‘pastors’, ‘priests’ and ‘bishops’ belong to a much more dangerous group. They use religion as a pressure tool to steal money out of the pockets of the innocent. Thereby accusing the weakest: their children.


  • Stefan May on 31st May 2010:

    @Johan
    I was once ‘cursed’ by an Angolan in Brussels, we had a disagreement about money and I’ve to say the guy scared the hell out of me with this. I don’t believe in the ‘magic’, but the sheer madness of this attempt (lots of drama) was frightening and not easily forgotten.
    So yes, many ‘white people’ are immune because they don’t believe in witchcraft or magic anymore (but what about Helena f.e.?), but I think there must be different causes for the social pathology you are describing, this kind of epidemic in Africa and other places now, because obviously many people also believed in magic and witchcraft there before.
    My guess now would be that it has to do with the changing role of esp. children and their mothers in the urbanizing environment (‘post-rural’ but ‘semi-traditional’) that shows this kind of results - fears directed towards children - when accompanied by certain cultural precepts and probably economic insecurity.

    @Helena
    I agree with Johan, your article is confused. My sister is ‘expert’ in herbal remedies (we prefer them to antibiotics or other pills when we don’t have grave illnesses) but that f.e. has nothing to do with ‘magic’ but all with biochemistry- effects of various phytopharmaka, the opposites of phytopathogens- and psychology, sometimes people just need care by another human.
    Even if one believes in the magical power of herbs (if you believe in Homöopathy etc.) that is worlds away from telling people that HIV can be cured with it etc., those people either deceive themselves or others and are dangerous and often frauds (or quacks as they used to be called). And the witch-doctors Johan described who are torturing children are doubtless either crazy maniacs or perverse cynics preying on the gullible to elevate themselves and fill their pockets, a curse be upon them.


  • Helena Goldon on 31st May 2010:

    Oh, guys, definitely.
    My starting point and conclusion is: <u>It’s necessary to differentiate between the two.</u>

    The second point I make is ... <u>THERE ARE NO CLEAR ANSWERS</u>.
    Just like the denominations of the very professions are very much puzzling. It’s extremely difficult to differentiate between herbalists and witch doctors - their ads and services are confusing.

    I would dearly love to draw a clear line between them and be able to say:
    herbalists deal with herbs and with a little help of suggestion they can work miracles or at least deal with some of the popular diseases, whereas the witch-doctors are maniacs and all they have are just bad intentions. Sure, I would love to. I won’t deny your sister Johan knows a lot about it - she sure does - but I just want to make a point the situation is far more confusing then it may seem and…

    ..in all its complexity the only thing I feel I can do is I can illustrate a piece of the reality I experienced and let you draw the conclusions yourselves.


  • Johan Knols on 31st May 2010:

    @ Stefan,
    You introduce the word urbanization to the discussion. Nowhere have I seen that the practices of the priests and bishops were more prevalent in urban areas. On the contrary, I am under the impression that it is more of a rural problem.

    @Helena,
    A herbalist: someone working with herbs to cure illnesses.
    A withdoctor: someone working with herbs AND other substances like bones, intestines, barks and animals parts to cure illness..
    A prophet: someone who ‘cures’ by instilling fear.
    Can you live with this?


  • Helena Goldon on 31st May 2010:

    Listen to the first sound in my article, Johan. This guy is a registered herbalist specialist, a good friend to Haji Sentamu, president of the Uganda Medical Practitioners’ Association, yet what he has in offer is charming boys or revenge!

    If you ask the Ugandan herbalists if they can do it for you, they would be delighted.

    That’s pretty confusing ;/


  • Johan Knols on 01st June 2010:

    @Helena,

    So we are now entering the domain of the clairvoyants. Clear seeing is what the bishops in Nigeria do (when the say the know who the devil is, in other words which child is guilty). The same happens with the witch doctors that can charm a boy for you.
    We both don’t believe in these things. But hang on, what do you make out of the situation where western cops call in clairvoyants to solve crimes: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7295650/
    Is this any different?


  • Lynda Battarbee on 08th June 2010:

    Hi all,

    I just wanted to say a big thank you for having such an excellent dialogue on this important topic. Here at Stepping Stones Nigeria, we are incredibly grateful to people like you who are engaged on this issue and want to understand the context and most importantly, change the situation for the hundreds of vulnerable children who are being abused on a daily basis. I just wanted to fill you in on some of what we are doing to address the problem:

    Firstly, we are continuing to work with state governments,the judiciary and local communities through dialogue, discussion and training. Where children have been abused, our partner organisations provide accommodation, shelter, food and clothing in order to help them to begin rebuilding their lives.

    In addition to this, we have been collaborating with the Nollywood film industry and will be releasing a film called ‘The Fake Prophet’ later this year in attempt to challenge the belief in child witches. This is a very exciting project so please do check out our websites for more information. For those in London, we will be having a premiere on th 24th July and for Nigerians, there will be a premiere in Lagos in August.

    We are hosting and funding conferences and round-table discussions both in the UK, Nigeria and around the world with a particular focus on engaging church leaders. In order to increase the commitment of the world-wide Christian community, we have developed a church pack to inform churches and encourage them to join the PACT campaign and stand against child witchcraft accusations and abuse.

    Finally,we are working at an international level in order to try and eradicate this problem. We have been collaborating with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in order to raise this problem at an international level and have been pleased that the Federal government have strongly condemned witchcraft-related abuse. We will be continuing to hold the government to account in the coming months to snsure they follow through on their commitments.

    For those of you who have not yet managed to catch our documentary ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’, you can view it in the following ways:
    1. If you are an American supporter you can watch it on HBO
    2. If you are in the Netherlands, please contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and we will put you in touch with our friends in the Netherlands who can supply a copy.
    3. If you are in the UK, again, please email the above address with your postal address and we will send you a copy out.

    Please don’t forget to add your name to the PACT campaign by visiting http://www.makeapact.org and sign up to receive our newsletters by going to http://www.steppingstonesnigeria.org

    Please don’t hesitate to get in contact with any furthe questions you may have.

    Thanks friends!

    Lynda (Advocacy and Campaigns, Stepping Stones Nigeria)


  • Johan Knols on 08th June 2010:

    Hi Lynda,

    I appreciate the time you took to comment on the article.

    I have a few additional questions:

    1. What is happening in the court case of Helen Ukpabio against Stepping Stone Nigeria.
    2. Is it safer for Gary to work in the UK than in Nigeria?
    3. What do you think Helen Ukpabio will do to undermine the message you bring in “The Fake Prophet”?

    Looking forward to your answers.


  • Lynda Battarbee on 08th June 2010:

    Hi Johan,

    Thanks for your questions. In terms of the case against Helen Ukpabio,things are still ongoing but we are confident that no damage will be done to either CRARN or SSN-because things are still going on, I can’t disclose too much at this stage as I’m sure you can understand.

    With regards to your question about safety, because of the unstable nature of working in the Niger Delta, anyone who travels out there is at some risk of kidnapping. This is partly because of the activities of the oil industry going on in that region. In addition to this, of course we have people who are trying to undermine and harm our work and this presents an added danger to workers travelling there. Gary’s family are based in the UK and we find that actually we manage to be very effective in our work by undertaking advocacy and campaigning and fundraising from this end and supporting our partners over the phone and via email. Gary visits our partners on a regular basis.

    We don’t have an office in Nigeria, because we believe in encouraging and supporting Nigerians to do the grassroots work. We recognise that they have a far better understanding of the culture and context in which they’re working and that long term change will only be achieved with the hard work of committed Nigerians. The work they do is phenomenol and we encourage, support and assist them in any way they can. Thus we prefer to develop the capacity of these organisations rather than establishing our own base out there.

    We are anticipating that there will be some controversy surrounding The Fake Prophet, particularly amongst church leaders who are profiting from the belief in child witches. However, we want to create a space for debate and dialogue and hope very much that those who watch it will be challenged to consider the importance of child rights. There will always be people who disagree with the work that we do-our first aim is always to protect children rather than be directly confrontational with any particular preacher.

    Thanks Johan!

    Thanks for your questions.


  • Johan Knols on 09th June 2010:

    Hi Lynda,

    Thanks for your comprehensive answer and of course I can understand that some issues can’t be discussed while the court case is still going on. Good luck with it!

    I am also happy to hear that SSN lets Nigerians do most of the work. As you say, they are most at home with what is happening and the changes should definitely come from within the country.

    It is also great that your organization focusses on the children first. But what does surprise me a little bit is that you don’t confront the preachers themselves. Why is this, too dangerous?


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