Most Africans agree that ‘juju’ (voodoo or magic) is real. Some have experienced or witnessed it; some have heard narrations and ‘evidence’ from family members and friends. Juju is a ‘fetish, charm, or amulet’ that is common in West Africa
Most recently (24 March 2014), we saw images of a hex (juju) that was allegedly found at the residence of the Special Executive Assistant to the President of Sierra Leone, Sylvia Olayinka Blyden. According to the SEA, desperate people are fighting by all means necessary to get her out of State House (The president’s office). This led to a woman who professes her faith in the Almighty God to seek the assistance of a traditional healer (a euphemism for a witch doctor) one Dr Sulaiman Kabbah, who happens to be the President of the Sierra Leone Traditional Healers Association, in the wee hours of the morning, to explain what the hex was all about and to ‘detonate’ the hex (juju) by way of ceremonies.
“…even though the presidential guards had urinated on the evil black magic arsenal that night, it was so built that when the four horns were split open, red blood flowed out. Also in the witch arsenal were monkey’s hair, dog’s hair, puss (cat’s) hair, cowrie shells, loads of leafy powderish stuff and so much more”, said the shaken Special Executive Assistant to the president”.
The ‘juju arsenal’ allegedly found at Ms Blyden’s residence
This goes to show that even educated, religious people with social and political clout do believe in the existence and ‘power’ of juju. Dirk Kohnert, (Germany’s Institute for African Affairs) was right when he stated that the belief in juju and similar practices are still “deeply rooted in many African societies, regardless of education, religion, and social class of the people concerned“.
Going by the experiences some people have had and the gory stories most have heard (with regards the use of juju to kill, make people go crazy, to curse people, to make them seriously ill etc) it is understandable why most people would be shaken by the situation and wouldn’t want to leave it to chance.
Unwittingly, however, it also questions how powerful people really think God is. If God created man, does it not follow that he is more powerful than man? If one therefore believes in God and walks in his ways, does it not follow that he’s got the power to protect one from the pestilence that flies by night?
With regards to juju playing a part in African politics, my friend the ‘conspiracy theorist’ suggests that juju does play a significant role in African politics. According to him, it is used for so many reasons; to secure positions in government, to get rid of others, to be favoured, to destroy, to be more powerful and for protection etc.
“Make no mistake; the corridors of power are contaminated with juju, superstitious beliefs and supernatural powers. If they are not rubbing smelly concoctions, they are drinking potions, carrying amulets or charms and burying objects and animals. It is everywhere. It is no longer about merits or what you know but who your ‘witch doctor’ is. ‘Just lek wae doctor pass doctor…witch doctor pass witch doctor’ he added.
I was intrigued and decided to engage another friend who also questioned the role juju plays in African politics. We recounted stories, rumours, allegations, reports in the past and present with regards juju. He concluded that the manner in which some of our leaders (African) have behaved in the past and continue to behave beggars belief.
“They are rendered weak/powerless in the midst of all these jujus. The people that surround them come fully prepared with charms to get their way by hook or crook. Check how many criminal activities have gone unpunished or check how many square pegs we’ve got in round holes then you’ll start to understand the role juju plays in African politics”, he concluded.
During my research, I came across the Nairaland Forum. There was an article there titled ‘Juju Scare In Aso Rock!’ (dated June 28, 2011). The opening paragraph reads: “PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan is ill at ease at the moment. Inside sources in the country’s seat of power the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja confided in National Daily that the number one citizen does not know whom to trust any longer.Reports indicated that the President is suspecting the possibility of some ‘unexpectedly’ highly influential guests using charms better known as Juju or native African fetish spell on him”.
WHY THE SUSPICION?
According to the same article, aides to the president disclosed that the president ‘gets tired or exhausted unnecessarily after visits from certain guests’ (most of them not on the scheduled list).
I decided to scroll down and read comments by other contributors. One, from Dan John, caught my eye. “I do not believe in Juju. I just do not believe in it. When you believe that a problem is caused by spiritual forces, it infringes on your ability to come up with rational and objective solutions.
For example this story talks about how appointments are added to the President’s schedule at the last minute. Has there been any conversation about whether the President is overworked or whether he needs to do more exercise in order to have more stamina? They speak about how the President is forgetful. How he forgets to reprimand members of his staff when needed. Can these be early signs of dementia? These are questions that educated people should ask.
People need to stop jumping into Juju conclusions without even exploring other possibilities. When the British came to Nigeria, they had machine guns and we had Juju and evil forests. Well, we know who won that fight”, he responded.
I tend to agree with Dan. We cannot continue to place everything on juju. A lot of our politicians seem to be so engrossed and overwhelmed by the practices it keeps them in a permanent state of paranoia. Though the effects of juju cannot be discounted, the psychology behind it is even more destructive. For Africa to progress, we must be rational in our undertakings rather than be crippled by irrational fears. If they’ve got the power to destroy, why not use it to develop the continent and the various countries?
Still on Nigeria – a mention was also made (in the article above) about a feud between Former President Obasanjo of Nigeria and his estranged Vice-President, Mr Atiku Abubakar. According to the article, President Obasanjo accused his vice of ‘craving to kill him through the dreaded juju spell’. It was alleged that the vice had confided in a former minister that “Don’t worry, the president will be dead soon”. Mr Abubakar suggested that Obasanjo’s mind was full of “the cobwebs of juju or occult”.
In a statement by Mr Atiku Abubakar, he said: “”The next occupant of the State House (presidential villa) will need to spiritually cleanse the presidential lodge to make it habitable for normal people”.
This brought to mind an quote in an article I had read in the past. It was by Esu Biyi – titled: “Temne Land Tenure” (Journal of the African Society). It reads: “In retaliation for this unjust transaction, by which their lands had been wrestled from them, the natives are said to have, in accordance with their custom, consigned the place to a ban by burying an ass’s head on Fort Thornton (now State House). This according to the significance of native occultism, dooms the place to an ever retrograding progress”.
Another brother whose article I enjoyed reading on the topic and found very informative is Kofi Akosah-Sarpong (Journalist). He summed it up perfectly when he said: “African elites are yet to realize that juju practices are counterproductive to progress. Dabbling in juju weakens the rulers’ ability to totally rationalize developmental problems on the ground. As the Obasanjo and Atiku row demonstrates, juju and other such practices not only weaken trust, a key ingredient in national development, but also undermine “national morality, because they are based on irrational spirit power,” as Robert Kaplan reports in “The Coming Anarchy.”
The conversations I had with my friends and the research I did made me sit and think whether juju was responsible for late President Momoh’s infantile behaviour; whether it led to the RUF dastardly behaviour, whether it affected the late Pa Kabbah and whether it’s rendering our current president powerless and meek. The people mentioned above do not necessarily have to dabble in it but the people around them. Like my friend joked in krio, ‘some man wae dae round de pa en dem ministry dem always strap like Rambo. But instead of guns and grenade, nar jaygay en bokku rub rub’ (meaning: some people around the president and the ministries are well prepared with charms and rub their bodies down with some concoction by witch doctors)
According to Kofi, dabbling in juju is partly responsible for the destructions the RUF caused. “The RUF itself got entrapped in the ancient juju-marabou practices. Expectedly, it derailed RUF’s aimed democratic revolution and made RUF frozen in the dark practices of this aspect of the African culture. In their confusion – stuck in juju practices, the RUF amputated Sierra Leoneans limbs, turned girls into prostitutes, looted diamonds, fire-bombed properties, practiced cannibalism, and frequently carved the initials “RUF” on their child soldiers’ chest”.
Whether one believes in these superstitions or not, the psychology behind it cannot be discounted. Men/women can go to great lengths if they believe in the power of something. To believe that you can use it to your advantage and to harm others is to believe that others can use it also to your disadvantage. The fear can be crippling. Imagine the torment if you find yourself in that position. The paranoia can be overwhelming.
Let’s say a leader believes in Juju. It is fair to say that he/she can afford the most ‘powerful’ witch doctor (that is if one exists). In the process of seeking the assistance of a witch doctor for protection or to find favour with the masses, they automatically become powerless. Psychologically that is.
They are unwittingly handing over power to the witch doctor who in turn controls their every move and make decisions for them. Whilst the witch doctor enriches himself, the leader enters a permanent state of confusion and paranoia. For instance, if the leader had any suspicion that someone was after his job or trying to harm him he’ll subsequently seek further ‘help’ from the ‘juju man/woman’. The leader will swallow hook, line and sinker whatever the witch doctor dishes out.
If he (medium) was to say your deputy, for example, is after your job, this would create tension between the leader and his deputy (whether there’s tangible proof or not) as we saw with Obasanjo and Abubakar in Nigeria. Could the same be said of the sour relationship (that existed) between our president Koroma and his deputy Sam Sumana? Rumours are rife on social media and some Sierra Leonean circles that some of our politicians dabble in juju. This is worrying for Sierra Leone. The irrationalities connected with juju cannot be relied on to move Sierra Leone forward.
Mr Akosah-Sarpong was spot on when he said: “Africa’s development history shows that leaders, both military and civilians, who dabble heavily in juju either paralyze their country, blow it into pieces or are blinded from reasoning properly to solve problems.
Dabbling in juju weakens the rational abilities of the ruling elites to handle the problems of the people. The leader becomes unrealistic, depending on illiterate, irrational, unscientific and impractical juju mediums that, in all measure, are immoral and destructive.
The juju- dabbling Africa leader sees critics as enemies and lives in paranoia to the detriment of Africa’s progress. Such leaders become the manipulative robots of the juju and spiritual mediums”.
Britain is not great because of Juju; neither is America powerful because of Juju. Do you think Obama used juju to be elected the first black president of America? No. He did it through hard work; honesty, dedication, genuine love for the people, people believed in him, he earned people’s respect and was consistent in what he was doing. There are no short cuts in life. Consulting a juju man/woman is attempting to take short cuts. The results can be destructive.
I have read about how Ghana’s General Kutu Acheampong, (then head of state of Ghana) was ‘confused and rolling from one juju/marabou medium to another’. According to Kofi Akosah-Sarpong “the juju/marabou made Acheampong not only gullible but also infantile, believing in everything the spiritual mediums told him”. People also gossiped that Acheampong swam every midnight in a river in Accra as advised by his spiritual mediums. Why, you may wonder? Apparently, to prevent him from being overthrown and to protect him from ‘evil spirits’. Nevertheless, he was still overthrown and executed.
Idi Amin of Uganda was said to have deported all Asians in Uganda because he was instructed by his witch doctor to do so. That led to Economic ruin for his country. I have also read about Jean-Bedel Bokassa (Central Africa Republic) who ‘ate human flesh as part of his juju/marabou rituals for power. We’ve also heard of the late Sekou Toure of Guinea and his mystical ‘walking stick’. Late Samuel Doe was said to have paid too much attention to ‘spiritual mediums’ as well. We also hear a lot of stories about Jammeh of the Gambia. The list goes on.
Decades ago in Sierra Leone kids were warned not to wander off during elections for fear of them being sacrificed for political power. In the last general elections in Sierra Leone there were reports of a woman who went missing in Kambia (Northern part of Sierra Leone). The woman’s corpse was later found with her parts missing. Some suspect she was sacrificed for political power.
The above incidences are just a tip of the iceberg. There are many more reports, gossips and allegations of African politicians dabbling in juju and it’s being going on for a very long time. Might this be partly responsible for the dire situation we find ourselves in today? If these witch doctors are that powerful, it begs the question why they do not use these ‘powers’ for the advancement of Africa to compete on the world stage? It is self-defeating really.
Africa finds itself in a precarious position. If our politicians and the general populace continue to dabble in juju/witch craft for selfish means; for political power, to be favoured or to destroy another – then sustainable development will continue to elude many African countries. At the instructions of the various juju men/women our politicians and the people will continue to act on a whim. Reasoning will go out of the window whenever the witch doctor/marabou opens their mouth. In the process those that consult these spiritual mediums become powerless as they do not believe in their capabilities anymore but the words of the juju man.
Obama never used the help of a juju man but still made history by becoming the First black president in the USA. So, for all those wondering whether it is possible to succeed in life without juju…you have got your answer in Obama. Yes, it is possible!
Woe unto anyone who would sacrifice another for any type of power. Woe unto anyone who would want to harm another just to get ahead. Woe unto any leader who’s entrapped in the psychology of juju.