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My criticisms of religion specifically center around what I think are dangerous beliefs they promote. Beliefs, when taken seriously, have deleterious effects upon society.

My recent talks in the UK focused particularly on the dangerous beliefs that were being promoted by the charismatic Christian belief system (Born-Again/Pentecostalism/etc).

I have always contended that charismatic Christianity plays an IMPORTANT role in promoting and reinforcing beliefs about the efficacy of witchcraft in this country. In this post, I am interested in presenting direct evidence of this contention.  I will look at two widely read charismatic Christian books in Uganda (and sub-Saharan Africa).

Snatched from Satan’s Claws:

The book, “Snatched from Satan’s Claws”, was given to me by my mother two years ago. She felt that, being an atheist, I needed to be reminded of the threats we face as humans in this demon haunted world. Being reminded of these threats, she thought, might make me think twice about not accepting Christianity. She implored me to take seriously what was written in it.

snatched from satan's claws

Reading this book, I concluded that the authors of this book must either be deliberate liars or fraudsters; or they are insane and in need of psychiatric help. There is simply no other way to make sense of the blatant and outrageous assault on rationality that emanates from this book.

The book, co-written by Pastor D. D. Kaniaki and Evangelist Mukendi (from the Democratic Republic of Congo), is about Mukendi’s alleged ordeal as a former sorcerer, who later converted to Christianity.

Here is an excerpt from the first chapter:

Read the rest of this entry »

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?

Yes.

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!

This coming Freethinkers’ Night is going to be yet another movie night! Every now and then we’ll be holding a FREE screening of an interesting, thought provoking movie pertaining to freethought, and thereafter have a discussion about the issues covered in the film.

The movie we will be screening on Thursday is a documentary called KURU: The Science and the Sorcery.

kuruBuy the documentary here.

According to one online review of this documentary:

This fascinating film is a medical detective story, which looks at the story of Kuru (also known as ‘laughing sickness’) a degenerative neurological disorder found predominately in Papua New Guinea’s Fore people. Kuru: The Science and the Sorcery follows Australian scientist and the world’s leading authority on the disease, Michael Alpers as he retraces his groundbreaking 1962 pioneering research trip deep into the jungles of PNG. The documentary takes its audience into a mysterious world of sorcery, cannibalism and tribal conflict.  Stranger than fiction, research into Kuru revealed a chain of discoveries, which turned scientific understandings upside down and resulted in two Nobel prizes. This film is an anthropological study not to be overlooked.

The reason we chose to screen this movie at the next Freethinkers’ Night is because it its relevance to the state of affairs with regards to the public understanding of neurological disorders. This state of affairs leads many Ugandans to conclude that someone is “possessed by evil spirits” whenever they encounter a person acting in ways that cannot be properly understood. Many alleged claims of bewitching feature stories about people “running mad”.

In this movie, and as depicted in this trailer below, the local communities claimed to be certain that the condition they called Kuru was the result of sorcery/witchcraft. A familiar pattern can be seen here… where a community can think of no explanation for something they encounter, they almost immediately relegate it to the realm of the supernatural. This documentary does a great job of showing how, in the end – even in the midst of all these widely held cultural beliefs in sorcery – long, painstaking scientific research prevailed, and provided the answers.

See: Kuru (disease) in Wikipedia.

 

This documentary will hopefully get more people thinking critically whenever they hear stories about people who have allegedly been bewitched. While the people they hear about will most probably not be suffering specifically from Kuru, watching this documentary will make people realise the effects neurological disorders can have on people. They might thus become less inclined to jump to the conclusion that someone was bewitched, and be more open to medical reasons for why certain people may be acting as if ‘possessed’.

The February Freethinkers’ Night is going to take place on Thursday, 24th February 2011 at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant, Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. We will start showing the documentary at exactly 6.30pm, so please keep time! There is NO entrance fee – it is FREE.

After the screening of the film, we’ll have a discussion on neurological disorders in general, and how they manifest in people as seemingly strange behaviour that tends to get attributed erroneously to witchcraft. 

If you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed not by religious or cultural dogma but on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are welcome to join us at the meeting.

If you happen to be religious, you too are welcome to interact with those of us who are not, and engage in debate about these contentious issues.

See you there!


Related Posts:

On November 6th 2010 I witnessed an attempt by a witchdoctor to try to catch a car thief. I posted a detailed account of what I witnessed, in which I also narrated how I was able to retrieve a sample of a strange mixture that the witchdoctor made the ‘suspects’ drink at the scene of the crime.

Everyone who drank the strange mixture fell ill immediately, with one of them showing up at the scene later in the evening appearing to be completely disoriented.

I nick-named this mixture ‘juju juice’ and promptly took the sample I had collected to the Government Analytical Laboratory for a toxicology analysis, to see if it might be containing any hallucinogenic substances.

The chemical analyst handling my case informed me today that so far his tests have not yielded any conclusive results; but he said he was interested in carrying out more tests, given the increase in reported cases of disorientation, and even death, resulting from the consumption of this strange substance.

He has shipped the sample to his contemporaries in Nairobi, Kenya, who he says have better equipment. The analysts in Nairobi, he told me, will be subjecting the sample to liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, which is currently the most advanced technique for analysing the chemical composition of complex mixtures.

Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry machine

He hopes they will be getting back to him soon with a result.

Till then…


Related Posts:

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.


Related Posts:

On Saturday, November 6th 2010 I received a call from a reporter from NTV (the same guy who filed this famous story) about how something interesting was about to happen in Kitgum House (a business complex approximately 1km from the centre of Kampala, along Jinja Road). He had received a tip that a witchdoctor was en route to Kitgum House to help a man recover a vehicle of his that was stolen a while ago.

Kitgum HouseKitgum House

I arrived at the scene at about 2.30pm and I was later joined by Michael Mpagi, with whom I’d previously investigated the Banda case.

We found an engineer called Benedicto Kiwanuka  sitting inside his workshop inside the Kitgum House complex. A few mechanics were in there too. After introducing myself I asked about what was going on. He said that in August of this year his car was stolen from the Kitgum House parking area (just outside his workshop), and he promptly reported the theft to the police. As he had feared would be the case, the police were too slow in making any real progress towards the recovery of his vehicle and apprehension of the perpetrators – and because of this, he felt he had to resort to other means. Kiwanuka then contacted a witch-doctor, and arranged to have him visit the scene of the crime in order to help find the missing car, and to catch the one(s) who stole it.

The witch-doctor arrived at about 3:30pm in a small black car, and stayed in it for a while as two young men came to him and appeared to brief him about what was going on. I had not seen these young men when I had first arrived at the scene, so they too must have been waiting somewhere nearby for the witch-doctor to arrive. One of the young men then walked away from the car, and came back moments later with cassava leaves, still on their branches, and presented them to the witchdoctor in the car. The witch-doctor stepped out of the car to inspect them.

Image004 The young man was then told to remove the leaves from the branches. He was assisted by one of the other young men who had been with him at the car.

Image005

Image008

Image009

The witch-doctor reached into his car and pulled out a handful of leaves of an unknown plant. He handed them over to another young man (identity unknown) and instructed him to place those leaves, together with the cassava leaves, in a mortar and pound them.

Image012

Image013

The young man was then told to transfer the pounded leaves into a plastic white container, which the witchdoctor had brought with him…

Image020

…and was told to add water to it (about 2 litres). 

   

Image022

The young man was told to mix it thoroughly…

Image023

…and then pour the contents, through a sieve, into a cup.

Image027

This all seemed very familiar to me… the cassava leaves, the mineral water…

Curious, Michael and I asked this witchdoctor who he was. He showed us a sheet of paper which he told us was a letter from the Local Council endorsing him and his services.

Image016

The witch-doctor’s name was…

Image016 DOCTOR OJWANG PETER – yes, the witchdoctor from the recent Banda Saga!

Image028 

[It turns out that Kiwanuka had seen the NTV news report about a witchdoctor in Banda who had purportedly helped a local businessman to magically recover his missing money, and promptly visited Banda to find out how he could contact the witchdoctor. In Banda today, Peter Ojwang is a hero (thanks to the publicity he received from his most recent case), and many of the residents in that area possess his telephone number. It was therefore not long before Kiwanuka was able to track him down. Peter Ojwang agreed to offer his services to Kiwanuka at a fee, and this was the day in which he was supposed to perform his miracles.]

Read the rest of this entry »

This is a review of October 2010 Freethinkers’ Night:

Last Thursday we gathered at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant to discuss the media’s reporting of witchcraft stories. Our concern was (and still is) that the local media tended not to take a skeptical-enough approach to stories pertaining to witchcraft, and by so doing helping to lend credence to the notion that witchcraft is efficacious in some way or that it actually works (yet it does not).

The evening began with a screening of some of the videos showcased during the March 2010 Freethinkers’ Night. They were useful in getting people to see how seemingly magical things could be done using the art of illusion, misdirection and trickery.

Besides the usual crowd that normally attends Freethinkers’ Night, and several new faces, only a handful of news people actually showed up to see what the event was about. Radio journalists from Sanyu FM, Capital FM, Radio One, were in attendance. The local BBC correspondent was there too. Sadly, no newspaper or TV journalists or editors were able to make it. Still, we managed to engage in a spirited debate with those that were present.

Some of the main issues raised included:

  • Radio journalists said they feel content to report on a story as they hear it, and prefer to leave it to the discretion of the listeners on whether or not to accept the testimonies of interviewed witnesses/bystanders. They claim they are simply reporting ‘what people are saying’ – and they feel that their mandate need not necessarily extend beyond this. (They were fiercely challenged on this point. Many felt that the journalists’ mandate DID require them to be responsible and try to establish the truth of the story to the highest degree possible)
  • The Ugandan scientific community is notoriously media shy, and its members are often reluctant to participate in news interviews.
  • Most stories pertaining to witchcraft are filed by underpaid reporters, who do not feel motivated to file a thoroughly researched story.
  • They also don’t have sufficient means to carry out a thorough investigation. Most radio stations allocate very little by way of resources to their news departments. It is therefore difficult for them to contact experts, or travel to their offices to speak with them.

Some suggestions came up during the meeting as to how best we can remedy this seemingly dire situation:

For example, should we (Freethought Kampala) come across a story in the media that we feel did not adequately present the facts, we could alert them of this, and if it so happened that we had looked into that matter ourselves, we could send them our information (and the sources of that information), and they would include these clarifications in their consequent bulletins. This approach can be looked at as a kind of strategic partnership.

The other way forward suggested by some of the FK members is publicly criticising the media house responsible for publishing or airing an inadequately researched story pertaining to witchcraft. Such criticisms may be done online (such as on this blog) or better still, in form of a letter or article in the newspapers. The rationale comes by way of the following interesting comparison… just like it is the media’s job to hold public servants/the government accountable, it is we (the public) who need to hold the media accountable. In this case, it is we, the skeptics, who need to hold the media accountable on their reporting of stories pertaining to witchcraft. Ideally, in wishing to maintain the reputation of being credible (and not be embarrassed by a public response such as this), media houses will, in future, consider it to be in their best interest to broadcast or publish only well-researched news reports that feature allegations of witchcraft.

For now we shall be pursuing both options. The above approaches are likely to prove useful in engaging with TV and newspaper journalists as well, since, from what we were told by the radio journalists, the issues raised were universally applicable.


By the way, thanks to UBC TV for inviting me on Thursday afternoon (on the day of the event) to discuss the topic for the October 2010 Freethinkers’ Night, right after the one o’clock news. It was very nice of them – we had 10 whole minutes of critical thinking on the issue of witchcraft (and faith healing) broadcast to the whole country as a result!


Related Posts:

From today’s Daily Monitor:

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.

This is yet another case of an uncritical media report lending credence to the notion of the efficacy of witchcraft.

  • Where is the skeptical angle in this story?
  • Why didn’t the reporter talk to the students who were allegedly attacked by evil spirits?
  • Why no comment from the doctors at the health centre where the injured students were attended to?
  • What about the police? 

Freethought Kampala will definitely be looking into this.

In my previous post, WOO TAKEDOWN # 001 – The Banda Witchcraft Saga, we saw how sometimes even reputable media houses lend credence to the notion that witchdoctors possess supernatural powers by running uncritical news reports about such phenomena. When the actual reports are examined, however, there isn’t anything resembling good evidence put forward in support of such a notion.

witch-doctorWow… great shot! It’ll look great on the 9 o’clock news!!!

Once they receive a tip about a witch-doctor somewhere, reporters will typically ‘visit the scene’ and interview bystanders who will offer all kinds of wild tales about what they claimed happened at the scene. Because these stories run rampant in areas where the majority haven’t gone far with formal education, the ‘interviewees’ end up being the likes of peasants, market vendors, small-business owners, taxi drivers, boda-boda riders or idle youths. Naturally, their accounts of events are informed by the pervasive superstitious beliefs widely held in their communities. Such news stories seldom, if ever, feature a skeptical or scientific voice to offer a rational counter-point to the wild claims being made by the typical TV ‘interviewee’.

Sadly, this absence of skepticism is commonplace in the Ugandan media, whether it be television, radio or newspaper when it comes to coverage of stories that have something to do with witchcraft, or witch-doctors. Media houses almost seem to relish covering the spectacle of hysterical villagers as they report these witchcraft-related stories (probably because it makes great news footage for TV, or pictorials for newspapers).

broadcasting Why should this be of any concern?

As I discussed in a previous post

As harmless as running such news stories may seem, they are effective in reinforcing superstitious thinking among the general Ugandan public. People will consult witchdoctors for solutions to their problems, after all, even reputed media houses like NTV Uganda are running news stories in prime time called “Witch’s Magic Formula delivers Banda Thieves.” Reinforcing these beliefs perpetuates such horrors as ritual child sacrifice, because people are being led to believe by the local news media that witchcraft is efficacious.

The news media needs to be aware of the fact that by airing uncritical news reports about witchcraft, they worsen an already bad situation.

What could be the problem? Where is the skepticism?

Is there difficulty in finding local experts, or professionals, in the relevant fields to comment on these matters from a scientific perspective? Do the local ‘experts’ themselves believe in the efficacy of witchcraft? Do the reporters themselves believe in the efficacy of witchcraft, hence see no need for the inclusion of a skeptical perspective? Does the pressure of tight deadlines compel some reporters to overlook the inclusion of a skeptical perspective to these stories? Or do they intentionally seek such stories about witchcraft for the purpose of sensationalism, and entertainment value, in which case the inclusion of a skeptical viewpoint might seem counter-productive?

Might it be possible to incorporate a skeptical perspective in future news stories featuring witchcraft?

question mark

We wish to meet with members of the media in this month’s Freethinkers’ Night and ask them these questions, and also hear what they have to say about the issue of witchcraft in general. We will be inviting several prominent news reporters and news editors representing a wide spectrum of the local media in a bid to engage them on this very important issue.

There will also be a video presentation, and joining us will be Henry Ford Mirima, co-author of Unveiling Witchcraft.

And as usual, if you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed not by religious or cultural dogma but on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are WELCOME to join us at the meeting.

The October Freethinkers’ Night is going to take place on Thursday, 28th October 2010 at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant, Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. Entrance is FREE.


Next month:

Freethinkers’ Night November 2010: Which Religion is the ‘True’ Religion? A Dialogue with Believers

Freethought Kampala

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