Condemned to Live in a Camp, Victimized Woman Narrates Painful Experience
She was betrothed to a man she did not know. The man had allegedly performed all the customary marriage rites while she was still at a tender age. Madam Akurugo (not her real name) who is now confined in one of the witches camps in Ghana narrated a horrifying story living under a man she called her husband.
A 49 year old woman who comes from a village near Nakpaduri in the East Mampurusi District of the Northern region of Ghana had some missing teeth. Smiling uneasily, Madam Akurugo tells me she suffered from frequent beatings from the man she called her husband without provocations. Her plight worsened when a fetish priest declared her as a witch and blamed her for being responsible for her husband’s misfortunes. The priest allegedly accused her of being responsible for the death of a family member who died shortly after suffering from a snake bite.
She explained that she was kept in solitary confinement under the instruction of the priest who claimed he had powers to ostracize her witchcraft. “Every night I was subjected to another horrible beating by this man, in hopes that I would admit to being responsible for the death of that young man who died from a snake bite. To spare me from this ritual nightmare I had to admit to being a witch. I wish I was never born”, she said while wiping tears on her face.
She snuck out of her “prison” one night when her life was threatened and took refuge in a deplorable isolated settlement near Gambaga called “Witch Camp” three months ago. The Gambaga witch camp in Ghana houses over one hundred aged women and children and few men.
Gambaga, located in the north Eastern part of the northern region is about a 35 km drive from Tamale, the capital city of the north. It harbors approximately 350,000 people with isolated hamlets. The area is predominately made up of farms with less economic activities, according to the 2000 Population and Housing Census.
The people are extremely poor and are said to be living below half a dollar a day. Maternal and infant mortality, malaria, and other communicable and non communicable diseases are also high. The area, which is also an administrative head (district) also lacks basic social amenities such as electricity, clean drinking water, and good roads. Other witch camps in Ghana include Bimbila and Gnaani, all of which are located in the northern region of the country.
“I am the only person who feels the pain of what I went through. I was not treated like a human being. When my breasts were still hard and standing nobody accused me of witchcraft, but now that they have fallen and I am weak. I have become a witch who kills people. What an unjust society”, she lamented.
Madam Akurugo is among hundreds of women and children accused of witchcraft and confined in isolated camps called “Witch Camps” dotted across Ghana and Africa at large. A Ghanaian Journalist Mohammed Salifu Nurudeen once wrote that “the stigma attached to the witchcraft accusation, which mostly label against poor women, is embarrassing to their dignity as human beings”.
The Witch Camps at Gambaga, Gnaani and other parts of Africa including Kenya, Somalia, Burundi, Malawi, Togo, Tanzani, Congo among other African nations, depict extraordinary stories of a group of women condemned to live as witches in isolated camps. In her new book, “Spellbound: Inside West Africa’s Witch Camps”, a Canadian journalist, Karen Palmer described the alleged witch settlements as populated and made up of mostly women, exiled from their homes due to accusations of witchcraft. It must be noted that witchcraft is not limited to Northern Ghana alone but spread across the country and the continent at large.
The government of Ghana through the ministry of women and children’s affairs is working to disband all witch camps in Ghana. The government described the system as barbaric due to the violent acts performed against women and children. The government made a firm commitment to disband the six witch camps in Ghana and re-integrate the inmates back into their communities.
A recent statement by the Deputy Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs, Hajia Hawa Boya, stated that the action of the government of Ghana to disband the camps was in response to the UN General Secretary’s Unit to end violence against women campaign to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls worldwide.
Chapter 5 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, which is devoted to human rights stated in article 12, section (1) that “the fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in this chapter shall be respected and upheld by the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary and all other organs of government and its agencies and, where applicable to them, by all natural and legal persons in Ghana, and shall be enforceable by the Courts as provided for in this Constitution. Section (2) also stated that “Every person in Ghana, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, religion, creed or gender shall be entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual contained in this Chapter but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest”.
The 1992 Constitution of Ghana is not different from other African states constitutions of which are committed to the fight against human rights abuses, discrimination and violence against women and children.
However, the stories of human rights abuses, witchcraft accusations, molestation of women and children are often heard in African dailies but no interventions are taken to deal with the culprits. The authorities in Africa seem to condone human rights abuses, violence against women, forced marriage and discrimination against women and girls. Most African nations including Ghana are signatories to the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in society.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), violence affects millions of women in Africa. In a 2005 study on women’s health and domestic violence, the WHO found that 50 per cent of women in Tanzania, and 71 per cent of women in Ethiopia’s rural areas reported beatings or other forms of violence by husbands or other intimate partners.
The Amnesty International reports indicated that about one woman is killed in south Africa by her husband or boyfriend every six hours, while in Zimbabwe, six out of 10 murder cases tried in the Harare High Court in 1998 were related to domestic violence. About 47 per cent of homicide in Kenya in 2003 was related to domestic violence according to that country’s Attorney general’s office report.
Irrespective of international conventions signed into, an African woman or girl still suffers in silence from abuses. The issue of domestic violence is not going away any time soon until there are enough commitments from Africa leadership to deal with the perpetrators of the crime.