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I work at Sanyu FM, a radio station catering to the the 18-35 English-speaking urban middle-class male/female demographic, as host of the morning show.

Our news department had the idea of doing some kind of ‘special’ for Christmas during their news bulletins – where they’d present some background to the origins of Christmas, analyse its significance for Christians, and ask various people how they plan on celebrating it.

Today they aired the first in this series of specials, and their first interviewee was an atheist you might know. He talks about his understanding of the origins of Christmas, and why he plans on joining in the celebrations, even though he is a non-believer.

I’m in the mood for sharing; it’s Christmas, after all, right? So here’s the audio, just for you 🙂 .

Last Sunday, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, wrote an article in the Monitor called Uganda needs Jesus to end corruption.

The article deviates from the familiar defeatist attitude many religious leaders in Uganda have about corruption, where they urge Ugandans to rely on ‘God’ to save them from corruption, since, in their minds, all other approaches seem to be offering no solution because ‘Satan’ probably has his hand in it. The Archbishop instead appears to call for religious introspection:

The best our government can do – the IGG, the Anti-Corruption Court, laws passed by Parliament and enforced by our police and other agencies – is to give us moral and civil speed governors, external rules that are followed by us only because the police force or parliamentary investigative committees have been expanded to put fear into our hearts and ensure our compliance and proper behavior.

But, God said through the Prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament, “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant…It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers….This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”

In other words, my fellow Ugandans, we must acknowledge that the problem beneath our rampant corruption, witchcraft, child sacrifice, domestic violence, and immorality is the problem of a sinful human heart.

Only Jesus, whose laws of love are written on our hearts because he lives in our hearts, can solve this problem Only acknowledging our human problem of a corrupt heart will lead us to the ultimate and true solution to our problems – Jesus – because his name still means “he will save people from their sins.”

I guess what he’s trying to do here is to appeal to Christians to clean up their act by recognizing that they are ‘sinners’. Corruption is ‘sin’. So by accepting Jesus and turning away from such ‘sin’, then everything will be okay and there will be no more corruption.

Of course this is a rather simplistic approach to dealing with the problem of corruption in Uganda – one that does not take into account the cultural and economic realities on the ground (vis-à-vis our all-too-rapid transition from a historically traditional African society to a pseudo-democracy) that give rise to the conditions that make nepotism and patronage inevitable.

As for witchcraft, the Church is doing a rather fantastic job of promoting, and reinforcing extant cultural beliefs about its efficacy, isn’t it? With magical thinking as the driving force of Christian theology (and more so among the charismatics/born-agains), the church is very much complicit in validating the irrationality that is witchcraft in this country.

Anyway, this post isn’t intended as a point by point critique of Orombi’s article, but rather to bring attention to the fact that Peter Kisirinya, chairman of the Uganda Humanist Association, wrote a response that was published three days later, also in the Monitor, titled: Uganda is a Christian-dominated nation but why the corruption?:

The Archbishop suggests that belief in Jesus as Saviour is the only important thing. But evidence shoes that this belief alone is neither necessary nor sufficient to improve our society. The Archbishop says of Jesus that “he will save people from their sins”. But we are the ones who must save ourselves. If we pray, that is fine, but we must also act. If we believe, that is okay, but we must also be good. If we worship Jesus, fair enough, but we must also respect our fellow humans beings regardless of their religious beliefs.

Anyone can say they believe in any religion, but what matters is their personal integrity. Do they respect what is fair and just? Do they want to empathise and understand other people? Do they contribute positively to society? The world is learning that these are the important questions.

Whether we happen to believe in the divinity of an ancient Nazarene preacher is one thing and it is easy to say that you do. But can you truthfully answer “yes” to these questions? Would the people that know you answer “yes” on your behalf? It is not our faith which make us, it is our values and actions – and that is what Christmas is really about.

I have frequently been asked about the Uganda Humanist Association. I must confess that at this juncture there is not a lot that I know about them. They have a cool website – check it out.

Allan Tacca is a Ugandan novelist and socio-political commentator. Every once in a while he writes about religion in his weekly Sunday column in the Monitor – and when he does, it stings! Here is his most recent article, as it appeared in the Sunday Monitor, 31st July 2011:

Just like other gods, Abraham’s God can die

Isis lies dead. Jupiter lies dead. Zeus…. Apollo…. Eros…. Cupid… Venus… Aphrodite… The roll-call goes on, and in their silence we forget that, in different great civilisations, these gods once answered man’s quest for an understanding of the forces that gave life to him and his universe. But their once undisputed power came to be questioned and their impotence finally exposed.

Some time back, I heard about a movement in Greece advocating a return to the worship of their ancient deities. The contradictions of doctrine in the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), and their endemic violence in the name of faith make a return to Greek paganism a quaintly charming alternative.

However, it must be a tiny freakish movement; the general consensus is that the gods of the ancient Greece only survive in museum displays, literature, and scholarly enquiry. And we love them better that way, because they can no longer harm us.

It is interesting to note that, regarding the Egyptian and Greek civilisations, their highest achievements in architecture, art, mathematics and philosophy belonged to a pagan era. Abrahamic views took root when these civilisations were in decline.

In a sense, all religions are con jobs that start as cults. It was with a stroke of genius that Middle Eastern visionaries came up with the idea of a God who was ordinarily inaccessible to the five senses, and yet had the power to encompass the roles of all the earlier gods. If He “appeared” and “spoke” to a man at a dinner table, the man’s companions at the same table would see or hear nothing, except perhaps the contortion of the face of the chosen man. In European religious art, the experience of revelation was often depicted as similar to that of an orgasm.

How do you debunk this God? Biblical accounts show that Abraham, Moses and Elijah murdered thousands of people (especially priests) who served or worshiped other gods.

After European and Middle Eastern imperial and commercial power spread the idea of the one almighty and invisible God, it gained its own momentum. A semi-literate street preacher at the nearest road junction in Kampala now often thinks they know more about these things than all the rabbis in Jerusalem or the cardinals in Rome.

But just like the other gods, this God should show us His works; otherwise we defect to a godless universe; a universe that claims no mercy and threatens no malice; a universe that is as indifferent to our joy as to our suffering.

It is irrational reasoning (although many are brainwashed to reason that way) to say that those who were lucky to survive the Kyaddondo Rugby bombs were saved in a divine scheme. If it were so, then those who died also died in the same divine scheme. This makes God and the Devil an inseparable duality. If they are not a Siamese pair, then the Devil triumphed at Kyaddondo when his holier nemesis was temporarily asleep.

When God was alive, He would say to Moses: “I am in this burning bush. Take off your shoes…” Then to Samuel: “Get up; I will give you words to speak…” And to Jonah: “Go to Nineveh…”

God had that clarity; He would be very specific. Sending messengers has resolved nothing. We want Him here. His silence bothered a devotee no less saintly than Mother Theresa. Is He away fabricating other universes? Why is He dodging us?

Serious thinkers on this subject already know that God faces His greatest credibility crisis since the death of Jupiter, the king of the Olympian god. So this article is not dedicated to them, but to the many Sunday Monitor readers who have kindly responded to my July 17 article (“How Useful was God at Kyaddondo Rugby grounds?”), both in personal e-mails and to this newspaper. I am very grateful to them.

He writes in clear, lucid, and bitingly sarcastic prose… reading this, I am somewhat reminded of renowned author Sam Harris.

But of course, Allan Tacca is in a league of his own.

See other articles by Allan Tacca:

Eddie Ssemakula’s article yesterday, titled “When Your Lover Yawns” (from the Sunday Monitor of 19th June) was an interesting one.

In it, he speculates about what might have caused the abandonment of faith by a person who he once knew to be highly religious.

When I sit now to reflect on what could have driven my brother from his Christian convictions, I suspect one to be his lover(s). his girlfriend(s) must have yawned at him. Yes. Yawned. They must have yawned at his faith. They must have yawned at him every other morning he opened the scriptures.

They must have yawned everytime he picked the remote control and turned on a sermon. They must have yawned every time he showed them his sexual purity pledge card. They must have yawned. And he must have given up.

Ssemakula decides that it could have been the young man’s girlfriends that led him astray. One after the other, they purportedly kept “yawning” every time the young man turned on religious programmes on TV, read the bible, or declared his sexual purity – leading to this man’s apparent deconversion. He then goes on to quote various scathing utterances of Paul in the New Testament such as “do not be yoked together with unbelievers” to remind Christians that they should not associate too much with those that do not share their beliefs.

Apostle Paul called this whole obsession “yoking with unbelievers” and warned us “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and non-belief?

In the case of the young man Ssemakula speaks of, these would be the alleged yawning girlfriends.

What I did find odd about the article was that no mention was made of WHY these girlfriends might have been yawning. I will therefore propose some likely explanations, because I too have found myself “yawning” (or more accurately, express disinterest), when confronted by someone trying to preach to me:

  1. Perhaps his girlfriends have seen that the most pious among their flock are also the most hypocritical. They have seen the Catholic Church’s gross mishandling of the notorious child sexual abuse scandals, and how many of the prominent anti-gay pastors in the US have turned out the be gay themselves. They have also seen local bishops in Uganda receive brown envelopes from presidents, they have seen the most respected local pastors involved in financial fraud and sex scandals, they have seen choir girls at their local church get pregnant one after the other. In short, in their experience, the more ‘godly’ one has claimed to be, the more ‘immoral’ they have often tended to be – and we’ve all met people like that, haven’t we?
  2. Perhaps his girlfriends have come to realise that Christianity is one among thousands of other religions that have existed in the past. They see that all religions make mutually contradictory claims about truth, none of whose claims are falsifiable, or empirically verifiable, so there is no way to tell which religion is true, and which is false.
  3. Perhaps his girlfriends know that the bible, just like any other ‘holy’ book, was written by, and inspired by man. (Why should we take seriously what somebody called Paul wrote in the bible? He is a human being like anyone else, prone to the same faults and delusions as the next person. Not to mention the fact that almost half of the epistles attributed to him were not written by him but by anonymous authors). They may have also noticed the bible’s many factual errors, as well as its contradictions. They might also be aware that a council of bishops met and decided by voting what books would or would not be excluded from it.
  4. Perhaps they know that purported accounts of alleged miracle healing are reducible to fraud, exaggeration, misreporting, or the placebo effect.
  5. Perhaps they know that religion is not necessary for morality, fulfilment or purpose in life – and see that many people are living happy lives without it. The world’s two biggest philanthropists, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are, in fact, non-believers. Perhaps those ladies are even familiar with the volumes of actual research in existence that show a negative correlation between religiosity in societies and societal health, when measured based on indicators such as respect for human rights, democracy, level of employment, access to education and medical care.

And these are all facts.

If, in the face of all this, some self righteous person went about saying that all who do not abide by the religious doctrine he holds to are wicked, damned or evil – then one cannot be blamed for yawning, can they?

So rather than point fingers at non-believers when one of their own loses their faith, believers like Eddie Ssemakula need to start pointing the finger at themselves and ask why it is that they believe what they believe – and why others are increasingly not compelled to believe the same.

Fortunately, many believers are reasonable people. They realise that a lot of what they believe cannot be proven so they take it on faith, and so will not try to impose their beliefs on others. They recognise that believers in all manner of differing religions will inevitably find themselves interacting with those from other religions, or those with none, as they go about their everyday business – whether at office, school, hospital, their neighbourhoods and now even on the Internet. They also recognize that piety does not equal morality, and so prefer to judge people on the basis of the content of their character, rather than on a person’s self-professed religious beliefs. For this reason, Paul’s calls in the bible for believers not to be ‘equally yoked’ with non-believers (i.e. non-Christians) are not only impractical but also unnecessarily divisive.  Thomas Jefferson was indeed right when he said: “Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.”

Our level of human interaction and cooperation has today come to transcend religious (and of course, ethnic) differences – which any sensible person would contend is a wonderful thing – regardless of what anyone’s religious book says.

By the way Eddie Ssemakula is the same guy who one time wrote an article in about me, also in the Monitor, called “Onen Needs to Experience Jesus”.

We are in this month’s edition of the Kampala Dispatch Magazine.

Kampala DispatchDispatch - FK 

Click here to see the full article.

The article “A rational approach to the primary school ‘demon’ crisis,” was published in the Sunday Monitor Newspaper of April 17th 2011:

click on image to view larger readable version(click on image to view larger readable version) 

It is the short, modified version of my earlier blog post WOO TAKEDOWN #03 – ‘Demonic Attacks’ in Ugandan Primary Schools.

Thanks to Sunday Monitor for its continuous support of science and critical thinking in the Ugandan media!

The above article seems to have suffered under the editor’s knife, and thus it appears disjointed in some places. Here is the article in its original form, as was initially sent to the editor:

Read the rest of this entry »


In my previous post ‘WOO TAKEDOWN #03 – ‘Demonic Attacks’ in Ugandan Primary Schools’, we looked at the concept of Mass Hysteria in detail and analysed the events that transpired at Kitebi Day & Boarding Nursery & Primary School based on information we were able to get by interviewing the deputy headmistress and the school cook.

Yesterday’s Sunday Vision featured a story called ‘What’s Happening at Kitebi Primary School?’ in which its reporters talked to some of the pupils of that school, their parents, and also the teachers. Some of what has been brought to light is simply shocking.

For example, the school headmaster was very much involved in the practice of traditional spirit rituals, and subjected his pupils to it:

…as Hadija Nnalongo, a mother to Shakira Nakato, a P7 pupil, says, he undertook special measures to protect his students from the attacks. “My daughter told me that the headmaster slaughtered a cow last month and smeared its blood on every pupil’s ankles,” Nnalongo reveals.

One of the pupils tried to explain what happens to her during the times she is usually thought to be ‘possessed by evil spirits’:

Najjiwa narrates that “I feel weak when I am about to get possessed. I get a headache and lose my sight. I feel like someone is holding my neck so as to stop me from talking. I can’t to sleep at night and prefer to be left alone. I never wanted to be with my family members.”

Greater exposition of the widely-believed (by the pupils and teachers of Kitebi) conspiracy theory is provided:

Even more interesting is the fact that some, including pupils, claim to know who sent the mayembe to the school. Most people Sunday Vision talked to are convinced that one of the teachers, Naomi Wandera, who also happens to be Ssenfuma’s ex-lover, sent the mayembe to spite him.

“It is Teacher Naomi who sent the mayembe. She was once our headmaster’s wife but the headmaster threw her out for another teacher. They attacked my friends and they started speaking in tongues,” swore Zakai Nabitaka, a P7 pupil who stayed at school when her parents delayed to pick her up. She believes the demons did not attack her because she had a rosary and had started fasting.

The pupil’s testimony is backed by one P6 teacher. “I believe that Naomi is behind those demons because she was once involved with the headmaster, but he left her for another teacher,” the teacher says.

To spite her replacement and win back the headmaster’s love, Naomi’s accusers insist, she sought the services of a witchdoctor. “When this failed, she decided to plant charms in the school so that the headmaster leaves the school,” the P6 teacher claims.

Mayembe are ‘evil spirits’. Read the full article here.

It is interesting to note that the symptoms Najjiwa described earlier (as she was getting ‘possessed’) are precisely the type exhibited during episodes of mass hysteria as shown by these reports from unrelated cases:

During late January 1999 in a Bronx, New York City, intermediate school, 80 students and teachers fell suddenly and mysteriously ill, 40­60 students became sick the next day, and 1,200 students were twice "evacuated." The complaints the victims reported included piercing headaches, chest pain, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, dizziness, fainting, and weakness. Said the principal: "Some felt nauseous, and their legs were weak. It was almost like they were hallucinating." Thirty-three students and three teachers were taken to hospitals, where oxygen was administered to some.


There was a similar outbreak in Santa Monica, California, in 1989, at a school concert with 2,600 attendees. Many of the 600 student performers suddenly complained of abdominal pain, dizziness, headache, nausea, and/or weakness. Earlier that day, during rehearsal, some students had said they smelled fresh paint, and two girls had complained of dizziness, faintness, and nausea. During the concert 247 students took ill, including 16 sopranos who fainted. The fire department dispatched to the school two paramedic units, two engines, and a truck. A treatment station was constructed on the auditorium lawn. Many of the younger girls were frightened and had tears in their eyes as they observed rows of schoolmates on stretchers. Some paramedics and firefighters said they suspected that mass hysteria was responsible for the complaints. Eight ambulances took 19 students to hospitals. Although firefighters tried extensively to determine the presence of toxic chemicals, they did not. Many parents delayed their children’s return to school for days.

The diagnosis of mass hysteria is not properly a "default" diagnosis; that is, it is inappropriate to decide that mass hysteria has caused an illness merely because pathogenic organisms and toxic chemicals appear absent. Mass hysteria spreads by sight and/or sound. How one reacts to the sight of a conspicuously sick friend is the best predictor of the development of symptoms.

Mass hysteria occurs most often among adolescents or preadolescents. In groups of students, its incidence among girls is higher than it is among boys. According to some studies, symptoms tend to occur in groups that are overstressed. A history of such loss as of a parent or a history of physical illness increases individual susceptibility in children.

From: American Council on Science and Health, on Mass Hysteria

It is quite obvious that what transpired at Kitebi Day & Boarding Nursery & Primary School was Mass Hysteria.

In light of this:

  • The Ministry of Education would do well to instruct all head teachers to refer such cases to psychiatrists, psychologists or councillors – rather than have them invite pastors, priests, witchdoctors and other shamans (or worse still, have them carry out these bizarre rituals themselves).
  • Greater public discussion of the BELIEFS these people hold also needs to take place continuously. People need to stop believing that they are constantly being besieged by demons and evil spirits – for it is these beliefs that perpetuate and sustain the anxieties that manifest themselves by way of psychotic episodes and mass hysteria among those that hold them. There is no evidence that demons and evil spirits exist.

It’s about time that the rational approach to solving problems be appreciated by members Ugandan society.

Related Posts:

Demon Possession Stories of ‘demonic attacks’ in primary schools have become a staple feature of Ugandan Media in recent years:

Demons attack Kiboga pupils (New Vision, 7th July, 2004):

A primary school in Kiboga district was closed in May after parents reported that their children were being attacked by demons.
Bisika Primary School, located in Butemba sub-county, was later re-opened but the pupils continued to live in fear. Another demon attack was reported on June 29, in the same school.

Bisika, a government-aided day primary school, is located five kilometres from Kiboga town. The well-furnished four-building school has 450 pupils.

The parents accused Isma Sserunkuuma, a man, who lives near the school, of bringing the demons locally known as mayembe. They said Sserunkuma wanted the demons from a witchdoctor to help him acquire wealth.

Acting on the parents’ report, the Kiboga resident district commissioner (rdc), Margaret Kasaija, ordered for the arrest of Sserunkuuma and the closure of the school until the demons would be driven out of the school. Sserunkuuma is still in detention.

“I wonder why people really acquire demons and resort to bewitching others,” Kasaija lamented before she cautioned the public against acquiring demons.
At the time of arrest, Sserunkuuma said he could not afford the demons’ enormous demands. He said the demons demanded for 300 virgin girls and cows to provide them with blood for sustenance.

Sserunkuuma added that when he failed to provide the virgins and cows, he set them (demons) free. They then attacked the pupils. He pleaded that he had no intention of harming the school, but only failed to control the demons.

The demons reportedly affected primary four, five, six and seven pupils below 12 years. When attacked, the pupils gabble and run around the compound. Others undress and foam around their mouths.

They also shake violently as if shocked by an electric current. Parents also said they had to tie their children on pegs with ropes to avoid their disappearance.

The national chairman for traditional healers, Ben Ggulu, performed traditional rituals before the school was re-opened in May. He also healed 15 pupils, whose mental abilities had been affected by the demons.

Ggulu would hold herbs atop the pupils’ heads to invoke the demons out of them. Using traditional charms, Ggulu spoke strange languages causing bark cloth-wound cow’s horn to move around the place, a ritual he said he did to search for the demons.

Demons hit school (New Vision, 4th February, 2008):

OVER 100 pupils of Sir Tito Winyi Primary School Kiziranfumbi sub-county in Hoima district became “hysterical” yesterday, forcing the school to close, in what the authorities described as a demonic attack.

Some victims had undressed.

Hundreds of parents flocked to the school and took their children away.

As the situation seemed to run out of hand, the Rev. Geoffrey Matata of Kiziranfumbi Church took the children for special prayers.

Head teacher Vincent Kitende said 720 pupils had reported for the first term, which opened yesterday. “The situation is bad. About 100 pupils are totally mad. They are chasing everybody including teachers and fellow pupils, throwing stones, banging doors and windows. The situation is difficult to explain.”

The school, named after the late Tito Winyi, the King of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and father of King Solomon Gafabusa Iguru, is a UPE mixed day school, with a total number of 970 pupils.

Kitende said late last year, a similar incident happened at the school, affecting about 210 pupils. “We do not know what to do. on Sunday, we held special prayers before the pupils reported and assured parents to send their children, knowing there was no cause for alarm. But here we are in a bad situation again.”

Last year, four residents of the area, one of them a Congolese national, were arrested and charged in a Hoima court with casting a spell on the school. However, when the prosecution produced witnesses, court had to adjourn and magistrate George Obong and the prosecutors fled the courtroom after the pupils who were witnesses became hysterical again when they saw the suspects. The suspects reportedly have a land dispute with the school.

Demons in Hoima district? (New Vision, 9th February, 2008):

THE land wrangles in Hoima District have taken on a new dimension. Pupils are suspected to have suffered a demonic attack and their academic future hangs in the balance. Residents are accusing a prominent landowner of provoking the demons. Pascal Kwesiga visited Hoima and now writes.

AS the saying goes, when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Juliet Katusabe and Lillian Kwikiriza had just begun the new school term last week when they were hit by severe headaches. Then came sharp pain in their stomachs. And then, darkness. Residents believe the children were attacked by demons, resulting from the land wrangles in Hoima District.

School officials say the girls were among many pupils hit by a demonic attack.

It began when one girl started barking like a dog. Then, others started shouting and pressing their stomachs, saying they felt a burning sensation in their stomachs. Children, both boys and girls, dashed out of their classes. Many were crying. Some fell to the ground and crawled. Others threw stones at people who were rushing to the scene. Adults tied up the affected children and took them to church, where the Rev. Geofrey Matata prayed for them. Eventually, the children got well.

Nakasongola school closes over witchcraft (Daily Monitor, 27th October 2010):

About 2,000 pupils of Nakasongola Junior Academy were yesterday sent home indefinitely after what the school administration described as ‘escalated incidences of evil spirit attacks.

The school is a day and boarding primary school in Migeera Town, Nakasongola District. The attacks have since been attributed to witchcraft. The school administration took the decision over the weekend after numerous consultative meetings with directors.

Pupils injured:

At least 26 pupils are reportedly admitted to Nakasongola Health Centre IV with injuries they say were sustained after being physically attacked by evil spirits.

When contacted yesterday, Mr Francis Ssebitosi, the school headmaster said the school would remain closed for three days as the administration ‘seeks a way forward’. “Our school, like many others in this area, has been affected by evil spirit for very many years but in the last month these attacks have escalated and we felt it would be best to send the children to their parents,” he said.

And the most recent one…

Kitebi Primary School remains closed over mass hysteria (New Vision, 30th March, 2011):

KITEBI Primary School in Rubaga division has remained closed since Monday after 100 pupils tried to kill a teacher.

The pupils at the Government-aided school reportedly became hysterical and acted as if they were possessed by evil spirits.

Sarah Namutebi, the deputy headmistress, said an unidentified pupil ran berserk during breakfast time. Shaking his body and shouting, the pupil claimed that Naome Wandera, a Primary One teacher had concealed charms in the compound which were disrupting the school programmes. “He attracted other pupils’ attention and many of them became hysterical,” Namutebi narrated.

The situation went out of hand when goons from outside the school joined the pupils. Besides eating the food prepared for pupils, the goons incited the pupils to destroy school property and beat up Wandera.

By the time the Police arrived, the hysterical students had torn Wandera’s clothes.

These stories all follow a predictable pattern:

It will be alleged that a school head-teacher somewhere (or a person he has aggrieved) consulted a witch-doctor to have him request the spirits to intervene in a domestic or business problem… the witch-doctor gives the head-teacher the terms and conditions.. the head-teacher reneges on these terms and conditions (or the aggrieved party fulfils his terms and conditions)… the angered spirits take revenge by taking possession of some of the children at his school… some children, completely disoriented, start ‘barking like dogs’… pandemonium breaks out in the school… clergymen are brought in to pray for the pupils, and cast out the demons… parents scramble to take their children away… school is closed…

..or some variation of this set up.

So what is actually going on in these schools? Are demons and evil spirits actually taking control of the minds of these children?

Most people in Uganda, being highly religious, have no problem declaring these phenomena to be supernatural in origin. The majority, being conservative Christians, are quite happy to accept that it must be evil spirits that are the cause of the strange behaviour of the children in these schools. Add to this the fact that in addition to their conservative Christianity, many whole-heartedly embrace the traditional African spiritual world-view, which includes a belief in the existence of ancestral spirits, who require continuous appeasement in order for good fortune to prevail. (While some Ugandan Christians might denounce the act of communicating with ancestral spirits as ‘Satanic’, and for that reason not partake of it, a sizeable fraction of them are more than happy to practice traditional religion alongside their Christianity, or Islam)

To the average Ugandan, this is not even a matter of debate. Indeed, as far as they are concerned, demons had possessed those children. To them, what is happening in this school is supernatural.

But is that the most likely explanation for these events?

Might there be a plausible NATURAL explanation for these same events?


Read the rest of this entry »

… and what Freethought Kampala is doing about it.

Click to view larger, read-able, imageThe online version of the article can be found here. (You can also click the above image to view a larger, read-able, version)

Well done Hassan!

click to see larger image file of article

The New Vision newspaper has today featured a double-spread ‘special report’ on the increased cases of theft plaguing Kampala, Uganda’s capital city.

The special report includes stories on what kind of new techniques Kampala’s thieves are using, how to prevent theft, and how several Kampala residents have taken to electrifying their fences as a result of increased incidences of theft.

The story that caught my attention in the special report was the one pictured (to the left) titled People resort to witchdoctors to catch rampaging robbers.” Basically, people now prefer consulting witch-doctors in case they’ve been robbed, rather than report the matter to the police.

The hero of the story is none other than Peter Ojwang, the witchdoctor whose exploits we’ve been following lately. From the New VIsion article:

When thieves stole two cows from Sam Mucwa of Kidokolo village, Najja sub-county, Buikwe district, he brought in a witchdoctor, Peter Ojwang (pictured below) from Tororo.

Minutes after applying Ojwang’s concoctions, Mucwa’s villagemates Richard Ndugu and Kalid Twase started walking on their hands and knees and eating grass. “These are the ones who stole the cows,” Ojwang said.

The activities of another witchdoctor by the name of Julius Okoth are also discussed in the story:

A case in point is the death of David Semakula, 28, in Mabuye, Kyampisi sub-county, Mukono district. A man had hired a witchdoctor, Julius Okoth, to arrest thieves who had stolen 20 bunches of his matooke. Villagers gathered in the banana plantation to witness the ‘miracle’. “If anyone of you stole the bananas, please confess before it is too late,” Okoth urged. Everyone kept quiet.

Okoth then crashed cassava leaves and mixed them with other herbs in a mineral water bottle. He then urged all those present to sip the liquid to prove their innocence. “This is the last warning. If you have stolen the matooke and you sip this liquid you might die,” he warned.

The villagers sipped the concoction. Minutes later, three men started crawling like lizards and eating grass. David Semakula, 28, Edward Sseruwagi, 39 and one Kizito were casual labourers in the village.

The witchdoctor then packed his bags and left, saying only the plantation owner had the antidote. The owner asked for sh3.5m to give them the antidote. The men’s families could not raise the money.

At 7:00pm, seven hours after administering the concoction, Semakula died.

Cassava leaves, other herbs, mineral water… pretty much the same pattern as Peter Ojwang. Might they be part of the same racket?

In all these cases:

  • It is the person whose property was stolen is the one who determines who the ‘suspects’ are, and brings them to the witch-doctor
  • All the ‘suspects’ who drink the witch-doctors concoction suffer from adverse side-effects, often described as being ‘possessed’. (The observed symptoms are typically temporary dissociation and disorientation)
  • The people who ‘get possessed’ never end up admitting to have stolen any of the allegedly stolen properties, and continually maintain their innocence long after the excitement surrounding the case has waned
  • It is never clear whether any properties were ever returned to the person who hired the witchdoctor (besides him just saying so)
  • If the person who hired the witch-doctor claims to have gotten his stolen property back, it is never clear from which of the suspects, who had earlier been ‘possessed’, he got it back from, or if at all

The witch-doctors, also, always make their claims non-falsifiable:

The third one, Sseruwagi, regained consciousness after three days and insisted that he did not steal the matooke, so he would not give any money for the antidote. “I have never stolen anything and I am ready to die. The witchdoctor said if you got a coin from the person who stole the bananas, you could also become a victim. This may be the reason I am suffering,” he said.

So basically, even if NOTHING is ever recovered, the community will maintain the belief that the people they saw get ‘possessed’ may have handled the money without ever knowing that they did so. The way they see it, maybe the actual thief had purchased a commodity from someone, or paid someone for a service, using the ill-gotten gains from the theft – and this rendered whoever touched that money equally susceptible to spirit possession. Therefore, it doesn’t matter that the ‘suspects’ are usually never conclusively found to be the perpetrators. As long as the suspects appear to suffer adverse side-effects following the consumption of the witch-doctors’ concoction, according to them, the witchcraft has worked.

In my previous article I mentioned that I had taken a sample of the witchdoctor’s concoction for analysis to the Government Analytical Laboratory. What, exactly, is in that thing? I hope to find out soon, especially since at least one person has died from drinking something similar to it.

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