Anti-Witchcraft Campaign Continues at CFI Kenya

George Ongere

Witchcraft belief still poses a great threat in Africa.

HBO’s recently released documentary Saving
Africa’s Witch Children

gives the actual picture of how superstitious belief is threatening
the survival of the younger generation in developing nations of Africa.
The documentary vividly exposes how evangelical religious vehemence,
combined with belief in sorcery and black magic, has branded many children
as witches in Nigeria. These children, denounced as Satan by religious
bigots, are believed to be the causes of their families’ problems
by their ignorant parents. Due to this, many children have been murdered,
starved, tortured, and abandoned by their parents to homelessly roam
the streets.

It
came as a surprise when Kenya’s leading newspaper, the Daily
Nation
, published
a story on a survey

conducted by The Pew Research Center (a U.S.-based organization) ranking
Kenya as the leading country in Sub-Saharan Africa in the worship of
alternative gods, belief in witchcraft and evil spirits, sacrifices
to ancestors, and belief in traditional religious healers and reincarnation.
In this survey, Kenya was ranked fifteenth in Africa for belief in witchcraft.
This puts Kenya a few points behind the Democratic Republic of Congo
and way ahead of Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zambia, and Rwanda. A quarter of
Kenyans, both Christians and Muslims, confessed to believing in the
protective power of juju (charms or amulets) and consulting traditional
healers.

Right
now, the media’s attention has been drawn to confessed serial killer
Philip Onyancha, who shocked security officers when he led them to places
he had hidden bodies of people he had kill in the past. Onyancha confessed
to having killed at least nineteen people, most of whom were women and
children that he claims are vulnerable. When asked the purpose of his
killings, he answered, “For blood.” He further said that he strangled
and bit the neck of his victims to suck their blood. Onyancha claimed
that an evil spirit instructed him to kill his victims and directed
him where to commit the murders as a sacrifice. Onyancha then narrated
how he was introduced to commit the murders by a teacher’s cult back
in high school. The cult promised Onyancha that he would become rich
after killing 100 people. More of his confession can be watched on YouTube. Of course this is how far the belief
of gods, witches, and Satan has come in most parts of twenty-first century
Africa.

Onyancha’s
case shows that if nothing is done to quickly enlighten the continent
about the dangers of believing in witchcraft, gods, and Satan, then
a lot more people are going to lose their lives to religious bigotry.
Religious beliefs can be used by cults focused on misusing the minds
of the poor people in developing nations of Africa. Many poor people
frustrated in poverty become fodder for these cults; they’re promised
wealth in exchange for agreeing to kill for the cult. As a result, there
is bound to be hundreds and hundred of serial killers looking for the
quickest way of making wealth, which will eventually lead to a human
rights crisis.

The
time has come for a humanistic enlightenment. It is time for humanists
and freethinkers to come out and defend the need for reason, science,
and freedom of inquiry. It is time for reason to be instilled in the
minds of the masses to remove irrational belief that poses a threat
to human survival. It is high time humanist movements in Africa stood
up strong and helped in the fight against superstitious beliefs and
witchcraft.

In
2010, the Center in Kenya made the anti-witchcraft campaign its number
one agenda. The Center began by engaging Moi Freethinkers—a campus
movement at Moi University in the Anti—in the anti-superstition campaign.
Moi freethinkers held several debates on superstitious topics aimed
at informing the University students of the dangers of superstitious
belief.

The
campaign has also been in progress by the On Campus movement at the
University of Nairobi. We at the Center realized that by engaging this
On Campus movement, we were creating active educators who would go to
their local communities during long holidays and teach members of their
societies about the dangers of superstitious beliefs. Many have succeeded
in distributing materials from CSI that expose fallacies made when pronouncing
witches to the communities.

In
addition, the Center for Inquiry/Kenya was one of the three organizing
groups of the first Kenya
National Humanist meeting

held May 8–9, 2010, during which CFI/Kenya mobilized leaders of the
On Campus Movements of three public universities. At the conference,
CFI/Kenya emphasized the need to embrace the fight against superstition.
Most of the new humanist organizations that attended the meeting expressed
an interest in pursuing this campaign further. CFI/Kenya distributed
the March/April 2010 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer, which had
the great article “Faith in the Power of Witchcraft” by Anthony
Lang on why witchcraft beliefs persist in this twenty-first century.

George Ongere presenting
on the dangers of superstition at the first
Kenya National Humanist conference held May
8–9, 2010.

Beginning
July 12, 2010, and continuing until to December 20, 2010, the Center
in Kenya is going to collaborate with local organizations in rural areas
of Kenya on the campaign. This is going to involve a lot of empowerment
and education. We shall then visit community to community with the help
of these organizations. The communities that the Center will visit will
be mostly in areas where belief of witchcraft is rampant.

Even
though the dangers of superstitious belief have been brought out in
the open in the media, most conservatives in Africa has been thwarting
the efforts of humanists to enlighten different societies about the
dangers of witchcraft belief. One writer, Emeka Esogbue, certainly attempted
to thwart Leo Igwe’s efforts. In his article “Witchcraft or Reality,”
Esogbue writes: “I have picked interest in the points raised by Leo
Igwe to buttress his own convictions that witchcraft is a mere belief
shared by those who want to explain away their misfortunes. This argument
is laughable because we know that Leo Igwe as an African descent posses
a vast knowledge of the African tradition.”

George Ongere
with IHEU East Africa Representative Deo Sesitoleko, Moses Alusala
of the Kenyan Humanist Association, and a
humanist attendant at the conference.

Esogbue continues:

For a long time, I wondered
what people, especially Africans, set to achieve when they deliberately
pretend not to believe in socio-cultural practices that trouble the
African societies, especially when some of them are living witnesses
in their own families or have been victims in the past until I realized
that we all think people would jeer at us if we profess beliefs in such
concepts or that the world would take us as uncivilized in spite of
the level of our educational qualifications. In this case, I have not
in any way attempted to create the notion that Leo Igwe is one.

Such
writers who ask what humanists achieve by engaging in an anti-superstition
campaigns obviously have failed to notice the harm belief in witchcraft
is doing in Africa. Writers like Esogbue feel that we have to honor
belief in witchcraft simply because we are Africans, even when parents
in Nigeria are made to believe that their children are witches and hack
them to death or feed them poison. These writers believe that when old
Men and women in Kenya are lynched because of the belief that they are
possessed by bad spirits of ancestors, we have to defend these actions
to protect our sociocultural practices!
Esogbue’s full article

is available online.

Humanist leaders pose for
a photo after the first Kenya National Humanist
conference in Kenya.

The
time has come to stop tolerating unreason. The time has come when we
need to justify beliefs through factual premises rather than through
supposition and confessions that lack logical justification. It is time
to put an end to the albino killings by ignorant fishermen who think
that the body parts of albinos bring large harvest of fish. This also
applies to businessmen who believe that putting albino parts on their
business premises will accrue big profits.

With
the continued support from the Center for Inquiry/Transnational and
CSI, the Center for Inquiry/Kenya will continue engaging campus groups
and local organizations in the fight against superstition. On the other
hand, humanists in Africa have held the fight dear, and they are willing
to make the dream come true. Humanists will continue to fight until
the day when Africa will pride in the fruits of reason, science, and
freedom of inquiry.

Together
we shall achieve!

George Ongere

George Ongere is the executive director CFI-Kenya.