The power of witchcraft in Africa

African notions of witchcraft are neither archaic nor static but are highly flexible and deeply attuned to the conundrums of our contemporary world.
Withdoctor dressed for the part
Withdoctor dressed for the part

African notions of witchcraft are neither archaic nor static but are highly flexible and deeply attuned to the conundrums of our contemporary world.

In much of Africa, it is common for soccer teams for example to turn to witchcraft so as to gain a competitive edge.

This was recently witnessed in Rwanda when the Moroccan team officials, started checking Amavubi (Rwandan national team) goal posts, in the middle of the match because they believed their failure to score, was as a result of witchcraft.

People were surprised to see Arabs behaving the way they did, but forgot that their colour did not stop them from being Africans. What does this imply?

It implies that there is a strong belief that, no African team loses at home, because it plays in the environment which is favoured by the power of medicine. The issue of proximity to witchcraft is considered to be vital. Much as this may not be true, the belief stands.

“It sounds so funny but true that, a belief in witchcraft is common in African sports as opposed to Europe and other countries of the whites. Whites do not even know about witchcraft, but go to Africa, you will be amazed.

You know when one uses the medicine and by sheer coincidence wins a match, then, be sure that such a person will stick to it. That is how people start believing in witchcraft”, affirmed Jean Marie Ntagwabira, a coach of one local team in Rwanda.

Teams often summon witch doctors to cast spells on opposing teams. But due to the secrecy attached to such practices, it’s not easy to tell how widespread it is on the continent.

Soccer is the number one loved sport in Africa and that is why traditional beliefs and practices come into play. Remember, only what one loves most, can take his or her fortune.

The medicine is given for a handsome price!
The issue of witchcraft thus leaves us with many unanswered questions; for example, does witchcraft mean a lot or can it be banned in Africa?

The ban on ‘’witchdoctors’’ would be considered offensive to practitioners of African medicine. Any effort to ban the practice will have little or no success at all. The roles the superstitious beliefs have in African soccer are strongly embedded in people’s mind and cannot be removed so easily.

It is a psychological issue that is in people’s culture and the interrelationship between culture and sports cannot be overemphasised. That is why most countries tend to combine the two under one ministry.

They are simply inseparable!  As a matter of fact, African teams and players feel better when they have the protection and guidance of the ‘ancestors’.

Traditional beliefs are still relevant and can be evidenced in other areas of Africans’ life. In other words, witchcraft is not limited to the world of sports, but cuts across societies.

For centuries, traditional chiefs have been custodians and promoters of African culture, a reality that explains why witchcraft is one of the most potent and ‘dreaded’ superstitions in Africa.

Most Africans believe witches are real active beings that can act to influence, intervene and alter the course of human life for good or ill. Africans accept witchcraft as a mode of explanation, of perception and interpretation of their problems, events, nature and reality even when reason and common sense suggest otherwise.

“My neighbours are bewitching me and I am actually contemplating selling my house and then find elsewhere. Ever since I came here they have been on my neck with their witchcraft. My wife used to be among mothers who give birth without any problem.

But today, things have changed. She has been pregnant for the last twelve months and yet she does not show any sign of giving birth. This is because of witchcraft, yes, I know. But they are joking, before I go, I will make one of them give birth after twenty four months.

I know what it demands and I am ready”, opined Julius Rebero, a resident of Kayonza district in the eastern region of Rwanda. Though it beats anybody’s logic, the man believes that witchcraft made the wife to be pregnant for twelve months.

You can imagine how the belief contradicts science and the general nature of a human being. Beliefs are as strong as that and you cannot easily change the psyche of people.

Most African people believe witches can cause poverty, diseases, accidents, business failures, infertility and childbirth difficulties. A number of people in Africa attribute any extraordinary, mysterious or inexplicable event, manifestation or phenomenon to witchery.

Conversely, some communities talk about positive witchcraft. The belief is that positive witchcraft is used to do good. That is, curing diseases or solving problems as opposed to negative witchcraft, which is used to do evil.

But generally, in Africa, witchcraft is associated with evil, harm and destruction. All these notwithstanding, witchcraft in Africa remains to be more of a psychological issue that is not easy to do away with, whether positive or negative.

You may call it a superstition or any other thing but it exists and consoles people’s psyche. It is however wrong, to use the word (superstition) pejoratively to refer to beliefs in Africa as irrational.


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