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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.

and:

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?

Yes.

Read the rest of this entry »

For the last two weeks or so the talk of the region has been the magical Loliondo herbal concoction of retired Lutheran pastor Ambilikile Mwasapile.

Loliondo1

Mwasipile has, for the past several months been serving his herbal concoction to multitudes of people, estimated at over 10,000 every day, in the village of Loliondo (about 400km from the town of Arusha, north-eastern Tanzania).

Loliondo5

The sick, accompanied by relatives and well-wishers, have been seen by the cleric, who dispenses a cupful of herbal medicine he claims cures HIV/Aids, cancer and diabetes.

According to Rev Masapila, the cup of mugariga he administers, in addition to special prayers, was able to cure chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, TB and Aids though there is no scientific proof so far.

loliondo2 (1)

The Loliondo story has been covered extensively on local/regional television in recent weeks:

 

 

Not everyone is excited about this, particularly the Kenyan Health Minister:

Public Health and Sanitation Minister Mrs. Beth Mugo has dismissed so-called traditional and faith healers saying the government would not allow them to mislead the public that they can cure all sorts of illness.

Speaking in Machakos in celebrations to mark the World Tuberculosis Day Mrs. Mugo said the faith and traditional healers posed a threat to the health of Kenyans.

She said claims that the healers could cure all manner of diseases including known epidemics like HIV/Aids and Tuberculosis by praying facilitated transmission of the illnesses to other people.

"It is bad for pastors and traditional healers to tell people they can heal all diseases and ask them to quit drugs. Get prayed for but continue taking your medicines. This is a lie that is causing confusion among people", said Mrs. Mugo.

Mrs Mugo dismissed reports in a section of the media that a doctor in Loliondo, Tanzania was curing all illness by giving some herb from a poisonous tree to the patients and asked the Tanzanian Government to close down the place and ban people from visiting the "healer".

[See: Kenya’s health minister dismisses faith and traditional healers]

 WHAT SCIENCE HAS TO SAY:

In a story called “‘Magic herb’ is well known to Kenyan scientists” the Daily Nation on Tuesday brought to light an interesting study conducted back in 2006 which might shed light on what this ‘magic’ herb of Loliondo actually does:

The ‘magic herb’ that has made thousands of people flock to remote Loliondo village in Tanzania was identified by Kenyan scientists four years ago as a cure for a drug-resistant strain of a sexually transmitted disease.

An expert on herbal medicine also said yesterday the herb is one of the most common traditional cures for many diseases. It is known as mtandamboo in Kiswahili and it has been used for the treatment of gonorrhoea among the Maasai, Samburu and Kikuyu.

The Kamba refer to it as mukawa or mutote and use it for chest pains, while the Nandi boil the leaves and bark to treat breast cancer, headache and chest pains.

Four years ago, local researchers turned to the plant for the treatment of a virus that causes herpes. Led by Dr Festus M Tolo of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), the team from the University of Nairobi and the National Museums of Kenya found the herb could provide alternative remedy for herpes infections.

“An extract preparation from the roots of Carissa edulis, a medicinal plant locally growing in Kenya, has exhibited remarkable anti-herpes virus activity for both wild type and drug resistant strains,” they reported in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

Also:

Further studies have shown the plant to contain ingredients that make it a good diuretic. Diuretics are drugs used to increase the frequency of urination to remove excess fluid in the body, a condition that comes with medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, liver and kidney disease.

Some diuretics are also used for the treatment of high blood pressure. These drugs act on the kidneys to increase urine output, reducing the amount of fluid in the blood, which in turn lowers blood pressure.

It would appear that the herb does have certain specific medicinal properties. Of course, this does not justify its use and promotion as a ‘cures-it-all’ panacea, as Ambilikile Mwasapile purports it is.

Things are made worse by his allusions to ‘faith healing’ and ‘miracle’ which will actually have the unfortunate effect of lending credence to mysticism.

Why is this significant?

Because if tomorrow a witch-doctor claims to have powers to change your financial/romantic fortunes for the better, you would be more susceptible to exploitation if your understanding of the Loliondo spectacle has led you to think mysticism is in some way efficacious. You will also fall prey to exploitation of all manner of quack pastors, of which Uganda has absolutely no shortage.

Way forward?

Further study on this herb should be done. Pharmacologists should then try to isolate the active ingredient of this herb, synthesise it, mass produce it, and make this medicine available to all in a way that can be regulated. We would also have a better idea of exactly what diseases the active ingredient of this herb actually cures, and what it doesn’t. In so doing, the treatment would be stripped of its mystical veneer, and enter the realm of medical science.

As it is, it is difficult to tell which of the alleged recovery stories from Loliondo are due to misreporting, exaggeration, wish-full thinking, the placebo effect, or the actual medicinal effects of the herb.

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.

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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.

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

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

   

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The young man was told to mix it thoroughly…

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

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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.

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The witch-doctor’s name was…

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

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[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 »

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.

On Tuesday, October 19th 2010, Nation TV (NTV Uganda) broadcast a story in its prime time news that captured much public interest. In that story, 3 individuals had apparently been ‘immobilised’ by witchcraft for allegedly stealing Ushs. 7 million from a butcher named Ssuna, generating hysteria near Banda trading centre.

According to the NTV news report, after his money went missing on Saturday, and only Ushs. 500,000  left behind, the butcher informed his friends. He then warned ‘whoever had taken the money’ of their ‘consequences’ if they did not own up to the theft. Apparently they did not, and so he hired a witchdoctor from Mayuge district to ‘pin-point the culprits’. The butcher claims the witch-doctor mixed some herbs, which were consumed by all present, and then the thieves were indentified. The thieves in question turned out the be the three young men in the video, who, according to the reporter, seemed barely able to walk the following morning.

The report says that residents claimed that efforts by the police to take the suspects away during the previous night  failed because the vehicles failed to start, thanks to the charms that had been planted around the scene by the witchdoctor earlier.

Interesting story, right?

Because I’m known by many as a person intensely interested in witchcraft, I received several calls from people asking me to look into this story. Many were pointing at this story and gloating about how there was now irrefutable evidence of the efficacy of witchcraft – captured on tape – and how I now had to accept that such phenomena were real.

Freethought Kampala’s investigation:

Not satisfied with the way this Banda witchcraft story was covered on television, I, together with Michael Mpagi, decided to look into this matter ourselves, to see what we could find out  about the story.

We went to Banda trading centre on Thursday 21st October.

According the area Local Council chairperson (for Banda Zone 2), Fatuma Kitimbo, Nsereko, a butcher, landlord and resident of the area, informed her at 8.30pm on the evening of Saturday 16th October, that Ushs. 7 million had been stolen from his house. There was apparently no sign of forced entry, as the padlock was intact; however, he told Fatuma Kitimbo that his furniture seemed to have been moved about. She advised him to report the matter to the police, but he told her he wouldn’t because he did not think the police would be able to help him. Nsereko then told her that he suspected three people – who happen to be HIS TENANTS – of having been behind the theft of his money. One of the three, Lukyamuzi, is Nsereko’s close friend, and happens to possess the spare key to Nsereko’s residence, according to what he told Kitimbo.

The chairperson (Kitimbo) was called to Nsereko’s house on Sunday evening, where she found Nsereko, three young men (Nsereko’s tenants), a witch-doctor and other on-lookers, including a man called Abdullah Walangalira, as well as Suleiman Kigoro and Henry Ssebuliba, waiting. The witch-doctor was about to perform some rituals and the chairperson of the area was informed that she need to be present as a witness.

The witchdoctor then requested a volunteer to go purchase water from the shops, and mix it with ordinary cassava leaves. Abdullah volunteered. The witchdoctor then requested for 2 red (brown) cocks. Once they were brought, he purportedly placed them on the ground and ‘made them look upwards’. Once Abdullah had returned with the ‘mixture’, everyone present in the room was ordered to drink this mixture.

The witchdoctor informed all present that the ‘culprits’ would be revealed within the next 3-4 hours, and then left Nsereko’s house. He was not seen again.

According to Fatuma Kitimbo and other eye-witnesses, immediately after consuming the mixture, the three men (who were already the main suspects) began to feel disoriented. The chief suspect, Lukyamuzi, is said to have immediately hired a boda-boda to take him to where he wished to consult with his personal witchdoctor in Kayunga District to ‘undo the spell’. It is said that before he could reach his destination, Lukyamuzi passed out (near Kalagi) and had to be brought back in a car (Lukyamuzi denies this happened).

The one of the other suspects, Kyakulaga (a chapati vendor), purportedly climbed up a nearby tree and began crowing like a cock, allegedly possessed by ‘spirits’. The other suspect, Haruna, remained in his house. Nsereko, meanwhile, had also left the scene to find the witchdoctor in order to have him perform a cleansing ritual now that, presumably, the guilt of the three suspects had been established.

News of the alleged works of the witchdoctor spread like wildfire in the community, and soon there was a big crowd of people gathered at the area of Banda trading centre just next to the local National Social Security Fund branch. (Fatuma Kitimbo, Nsereko, Lukyamuzi, and the 2 other suspects live around this area).

Late that Sunday night Kampala’s Central Police Station (C.P.S.) received a call to its emergency (999) number from a ‘concerned citizen’ that a lynching of some suspected thieves was in progress. Kampala C.P.S, through its Mobile Police Patrol Unit (M.P.P.U.), despatched 2 vehicles to the scene, to rescue the suspects from the mob. According to the Deputy Commander of the M.P.P.U, Echiru, the crowd was so large that their cars could not get through to the actual scene and locate the suspects. There was also a heated argument in progress, between those who wanted the suspects to be taken away by the police, and those who insisted that Nsereko had to return with the ‘antidote’ to reverse the effect of the witchcraft on the suspects before they were taken anywhere (residents had been warned that none of the suspects should be taken away before the ‘spells’ were broken). This impasse led the officers on the scene to radio headquarters and report to Echiru. Believing that the suspects will remain relatively safe, he ordered the vehicles back, and issued instructions to the District Police Commander (D.P.C.) of Jinja Road Police Station to visit the scene in the morning and bring the suspects in. If the D.P.C. was unable to attend to it for any reason, then the Officer in Charge (O/C) of Criminal Investigations Department (C.I.D.) was to follow it up.

Next morning, a police vehicle was despatched from Jinja Road Police Station to Banda Trading Centre, and the three suspects, Lukyamuzi, Haruna and Kyakulaga, were taken into police custody. They were taken to Jinja Road police station, where they made statements to the O/C C.I.D, Herbert Wanyoto. According to Wanyoto, only one of the men in custody appeared to him to be slightly disoriented, though not obviously so. They each were able to issue statements that were recorded by the police. Attempts to summon Nsereko while the three suspects were in custody  failed. According to  Wanyoto, because none of the ‘suspects’ admitted to having stolen anyone’s money, and there was no one present to lodge a formal complaint, they were released with no charge.

Nsereko has, up to now, not filed a complaint with the police about his allegedly stolen money.

FINDINGS:

About the police cars..

  • We asked the M.P.P.U. officials whether there was any truth to the claims that the 2 vehicles initially despatched had been immobilised by witchcraft, as was alleged by onlookers in the news report, and also reiterated by the witnesses we spoke to. Deputy Commander Echiru informed us that this was absolutely not the case. The vehicles had simply been prevented by the crowd from proceeding to the actual scene upon arrival, and it was he himself that ordered them to turn back. None of the vehicles experienced any mechanical problems on the scene.
  • Commander Arinaitwe, on the other hand, informed us that all officers in the field are required by procedure to immediately radio headquarters in case their vehicles experience mechanical difficulty of any kind while they are on duty. No such communication was received by headquarters during the night in question.

The alleged magic spells…

  • There is no evidence to show that the three main suspects were ever paralysed, or immobilised.
  • Stories from the residents range from the suspects allegedly falling totally unconscious, the suspects climbing trees, to the suspects defecating on themselves – after consuming the witchdoctor’s concoction. The accounts of the various witnesses we spoke to pertaining to the state of the suspects are contradictory.
  • Lukyamuzi, for one, denies losing consciousness at all throughout the ordeal, and also denies hiring a boda boda to leave the scene to consult anyone.
  • Kyakulaga – who was unwilling to discuss the issue with us at length – claims he doesn’t remember what happened that day.
  • While in custody at Jinja Road Police station no medical or psychological tests were performed to ascertain the physical or mental health of the three men. Interestingly, all were of sufficiently sound mind to make written statements in which they denied stealing Nsereko’s money.

The witch-doctor..

  • On Saturday 23rd October 2010 we tried to reach the witch-doctor in question, who goes by the name of Professor Peter Ojwang.
  • At first he told us he was too busy meeting clients in Kampala to meet us. Then he told us that to speak to him we’d have to find him in Butaleja district in eastern Uganda, near Mbale.
  • We contacted him by telephone on the morning of Monday 25th September 2010. He said he was in Kotido district.
  • Efforts to arrange a meeting with him on his next visit to Kampala have not been successful. He is intentionally evasive about when he will be able to speak to us, and refuses to answer questions about the case over the phone.
  • It is difficult to confirm his present whereabouts at present.
  • One only has to look at a map of Uganda to see how unlikely it is that he is being honest about his travel movements.

About the money..

  • According to the area Local Council I Chairperson, Fatuma Kitimbo, Nsereko told her he had received his money back on Monday morning soon after the suspects were taken to Jinja Road Police Station.
  • We spoke to Lukyamuzi, the chief suspect on Saturday by telephone, and he told us he knew nothing about the money. He said a lot of what happened was just a fabrication (he refused to elaborate). He says he did not take any money from Nsereko, and neither did he give any back to him. ALL ‘SUSPECTS’ deny any knowledge about the money.
  • On the same day, we spoke to Nsereko. He refused to tell us who, out of the three suspects, had actually stolen his money. Since he had claimed he had received his money back that Monday morning, we asked him to tell us from who he had received it. Who paid him back the missing money? He has, to this day, refused to tell us.
  • There is simply no way to establish whether there was any cash in the first place, let alone Ushs. 7 million, in Nsereko’s possession prior to these events – and no way to establish whether he got any cash back from the alleged perpetrators afterwards. No one physically saw the cash before, or saw it after.

The aftermath…

  • According to the area Local council chairperson, Fatuma Kitimbo, Nsereko and the three ‘suspects’ are currently getting along just fine – as if nothing happened. As of Saturday the 23rd of October, Nsereko was out on business together with Lukyamuzi.
  • All three suspects are still Nsereko’s tenants to this day.

Conclusion:

This story has all the hallmarks of an elaborate scam.

We suspect that the witchdoctor is working in collusion with Nsereko and his tenants to advertise his ‘services’ to the community where the events discussed took place. The entire episode was a fabricated dramatic ploy intended to hoodwink unsuspecting members of the Banda community. There is plenty of justification for this view, given that local witchdoctors, and their collaborators, have given us plenty of reason to question their honesty.

In addition to this, one of our members, Joseph Bombokka, recalls hearing a story very similar to this from Mukono town (the area where he stays and runs his business) three months ago. In the story he heard, suspects were required to drink a concoction made with water and cassava leaves, 2 red cocks were procured for the ritual, and afterwards the suspects began clucking like chicken, to the bafflement of bystanders.

Its basically the same type of scam!

If ‘Professor’ Peter Ojwang disagrees with our assessment and insists that he does indeed  possess magic powers that can supernaturally disorient people subjected to it, or do any other supernatural works , he should contact me personally and collect Ushs. 2 million upon a successful public demonstration of his so called black-magic under controlled conditions.

Nsereko and his 3 tenants can also come forward and provide honest answers to questions we have about the money that allegedly went ‘missing’.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy in the case of this Banda story that ran in the news, is that no attempt was made by the reporter to contact the witch-doctor in question – to find out who he is, and what his track record is. The reporter was not able to speak to the alleged ‘bewitched’ suspects to find out what was really going on, or whether it was really true that they had been ‘bewitched’. Were they credible? The reporter also did not seek corroboration from the police as far as the dubious claim of stalled vehicles was concerned. And where were the scientists who could have been brought in to shed light on psychological and other factors that could explain what we saw in the clip? Why was no skeptic interviewed? Instead, what went on the air was a sensational story based on the hearsay of highly superstitious people.

As harmless as running such news stories may appear, they are very 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.

Going forward, it is clear that we must initiate discussions with people in the media on how best to approach stories pertaining to witchcraft.


Related Posts:

Woo refers to…

“…ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers.”

Source: The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Many people in Uganda believe that witchcraft works. For what they may describe as ‘moral’ or ‘religious’ reasons, many frown upon it, and might actively discourage others from practicing it (many Christians and Muslims believe that witchcraft is the handiwork of Satan, after all); BUT, there is no doubt in their minds that it is efficacious, that is, they firmly believe that witchcraft can be used to influence events in reality.

witch-doctor

What is commonly referred to as witchcraft (as practiced in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa) is a dangerous superstition. There is no credible evidence that demonstrates that it is efficacious in any way, but because people believe in it, they will shun modern medicine, and consign the problems of the world to an imaginary spiritual realm. The result is that people end up dying of treatable diseases, and forgo rational approaches to solving their problems, in favour of superstition – both courtesy of witchcraft. In extreme cases, the lives of innocent young children and albinos are put at risk.

The solution to this problem is sensitisation, and education.

This new series will examine, on a case by case basis, claims about witchcraft in Uganda that come to, or are brought to, our attention – for the purpose of establishing the veracity of such claims. Of course, we will not be able to look into each and every claim, but… we’ll try and look into as many cases as time, resources and logistics allow.

There are many other dimensions to woo, such as quack medicine and alleged faith healing. These too will be featured in this series, as and when we are able to look into such cases that arise – however, witchcraft will be the primary focus.

This series page will be updated as an when new posts pertaining to the subject matter are generated.


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