April 8, 2016
By Idris Haruna
Ritual murder has shown a resilience in some African societies as to constitute a repugnant stain on Africa’s image. It is perhaps the last stain in a history of inhuman acts perpetrated on the continent by Africans and non Africans alike. Among the most notable inhuman acts were slavery, colonization and Apartheid. European, American and Arab slave traders, in collusion with African chiefs and slave dealers, were the principal actors in the slave trade that sent African captives to the Americas, Europe and to the Middle East.
Slavery’s abolishment, after a long struggle led by white abolitionists, was replaced by another scramble for Africa and her riches which led to colonization. This lasted for several centuries in some areas. In this second decade of the 21st century, slavery remains dead and buried, with the exception of Mauritania where vestiges of the institution remain, largely because of its stubborn embedding in the socio-cultural fabric of Mauritanian society. European colonies ceased to exist in Africa by the 1970s, and Apartheid was vanquished in South Africa, where a democratic system predicated upon the one man one vote principle was established in 1994. In spite of the progress made to destroy the various forms of inhumanities that have plagued the African continent, the pernicious act of ritual murder persists.
African news headlines occasionally scream of the latest murder, committed in various regions of the continent. In Tanzania, the killings involved albinos who were butchered because of a crazy belief that their body parts possessed spiritual power that brought good luck and prosperity. The Tanzanian government rightly cracked down on the national shame by arresting 200 witch doctors who traded in albino body parts, paying as much as $75,000 for a set of harvested body parts. An estimated 100 people with albinism have been killed in Tanzania since 2000.
In Uganda, unscrupulous wealthy people are known to pay top dollars to witch doctors to sacrifice children in the belief that such sacrifices would enhance opportunities for business success to acquire still more wealth. In Liberia, politicians pay for ritual sacrifices to increase their prospects for winning elections. Ritual practice is particularly rampant in Nigeria where the robust and colorful press compete with each other for the goriest reporting about ritual murder. A government raid at a hideout in the state of Ogun exposed a satanic den where kidnapped victims were killed and their bodies harvested. Another raid in a forest in the state of Oyo discovered human remains and captives awaiting their turns at the human slab.
In states of Southeast Nigeria, several baby factories—hideouts where young women are held captive, impregnated and watched over until their babies are born and taken from them—have been shut down and their operators arrested. These babies are sold off, at times to childless couples, but many are bought for the purposes of ritual sacrifice so somebody can get rich.
Superstition is prevalent in Africa where there is also a correlation between adherence in supernatural beliefs and illiteracy. As the illiteracy rate is rather high, the rate of superstitious belief is invariably high. The motivations for African ritual murder—that certain body parts are medicinal, and that human body parts have supernatural properties that bring protection and wealth—ironically may actually be pronounced among the elite class, who are supposed to be educated and therefore least likely to subscribe to such crazy beliefs. Exposés of many high profile cases often found that the rich and powerful of African society engaged the services of illiterate witch doctors to make fortified human juju for use in pursuing some business deal or some electoral seat or top appointment in government.
For a continent already suffering from a constant battering of its image by racist notions propagated by Western media, ritual murder strengthens the Western media narrative. Research in anthropology, as well as archaeological digs around the world prove the existence of ritual murder in non African societies in ancient times, so the macabre deed is not historically associated with Africa alone. Government and law enforcement in African countries where ritual murders still occur must redouble their efforts to stamp them out and wipe off the last stain on Africa’s image.