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Ghana struggles to reintegrate 'witches'

2014-11-05 09:41:35
This article has been read 549 times.

It is a bright morning in Boyanse, a traditional community in the central Gonja district. Birds are singing amid weeds that stretch up as high as the walls of the thatched homes. One of the compounds in this community is a camp for alleged witches.

Wumbie is one of five women held captive there. She was accused of having caused the death of a woman who was giving birth.

People had called her to assist the woman, 70-year-old Wumbie recounted, sitting in her room, cracking groundnuts with her bare hands. "When I got there, she was struggling … so I assisted her until the baby came out dead," she told DW's Maxwell Suuk. Everybody had seen it, she said. "So I went home, and they called me later and told me that the woman wasn't feeling well," Wumbie continued. "When they were taking her to hospital, she died."

Wumbie was accused of having had a hand in the woman's death - an accusation she completely denied. Still, she was eventually banished.

She had been a traditional birth attendant in her community and had successfully delivered babies for the past 20 years, she told DW.

She said she had previously helped the woman who passed away deliver six children consecutively without any complications. She cannot understand what made people think she would want to kill anyone.

Back in Yong, Wumbie's village, which is located in the vicinity of Tamale, Wumbie's children have been calling for their mother to be brought home. Azara Sulemana, one of her seven children, is worried. "There's no one preparing her food," she says. "How to even wash her clothes is a problem, because she is too old."

Whenever Azara came home from visiting her mother at the camp, she was so troubled that she would have difficulty sleeping. She thinks their community is not being fair to her mother.

"They threatened to stone her if she comes back," Azara told DW.

Last year, a seven-member committee was formed to work towards reintegrating people accused of being witches and to disband the "witch camps," as they are known in Ghana. So far, the committee has successfully reintegrated 100 women into their respective communities.

Many villages, however, refuse to accept the women and threaten to lynch them should they be brought home.

Action Aid Ghana, an NGO which has been pushing for the disbandment of the camps, told DW that the open resistance by many people was affecting the reintegration process.

"We have had instances where community chiefs resisted and also [where] the youth [was] resisting the reintegration of some inmates back into their communities," Alia Mumuni, a women's rights officer of the organization, recounted. "It is really affecting the work, because when you impose the person on them, you might not know what will happen afterwards when you leave," she said.

According to the Ghanaian Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), banishment of any individual is considered a crime. Moreover, Ghana's constitution protects the fundamental human rights of every person. The Ghanaian Commission on Human Rights is part of the reintegration committee.

"The constitution of Ghana prohibits banishment," its principal investigator in Tamale, Adam Baani, points out. "You have the right to live in any community, so why should somebody banish you?" he asks, adding that "it means the person has gone against the provision of the constitution."

The reintegration committee has been relying on dialogue to convince traditional chiefs and village community members to accept the women back. But this does not always seem to be yielding results.

Baani said that if dialogue failed completely, the committee had no other choice but to drag chiefs and their people to court. "They are not above the law," he stressed.


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