Our attention has been drawn to the lynching of 90-year old Akua Denteh at Kafaba in the East Gonja Municipality of the Savannah Region. According to information available to STAR-Ghana Foundation, the old woman was accused of witchcraft by a soothsayer, and met her death at the hands of an angry mob. This is inhumane, appalling, and condemnable! It is unfortunate that in the year 2020, such barbaric acts persist in Ghana. Over the years, Ghana has recorded several of such unfortunate incidents, involving women, mostly aged, resource-deprived, and with no close family. They are accused of witchcraft and harassed by their accusers, without a fair legal trial. Sometimes, they are banished from the community. Witch camps still exist in Northern Ghana, where such condemned and banished women live under undignified conditions.
We note that these acts persist because, often, perpetrators are not penalized decisively. This cannot continue. Ghana has an enviable record of human rights protection of its citizens and our country is a signatory to several international human rights conventions and protocols. The 1992 Constitution guarantees protection for all Ghanaian citizens. All citizens, including young and older women, are to live without unwarranted fear of being accused of witchcraft and the attendant harassment and abuses.
Over the years, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Ghana have committed to providing a life of dignity for women accused of witchcraft. From 2017 to 2019, STAR-Ghana partnered with Songtaba, a non-governmental organization (NGO), to support four (4) Assemblies to develop frameworks for managing witchcraft accusations such as instituting relevant byelaws. A National Reintegration Committee, which included the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) and CSOs, put in a lot of effort to reduce the rate of witchcraft accusations, harassment and support reintegration processes. We are aware of several other organizations working in this regard. These efforts have targeted two (2) main objectives:
1. To improve conditions in witch camps through increased access to food, water and health services; and
2. To curtail the inflow of residents into the camps through the reduction of accusations and banishments.
Unfortunately, the gains from these efforts are continually threatened by the actions of unscrupulous citizens who have no regard for the laws of the country. These acts continue to undermine the national drive towards gender equality, human rights protection and development gains in general.
Barbaric acts such as witchcraft accusations perpetrated against women and the aged is a nationwide canker. Some of these acts manifest themselves in the activities of spiritual and prayer centres where grave human rights violations and abuses are meted out to victims including physical assault and gross neglect.
It is about time Ghana addressed this brutal and cruel phenomenon as a matter of national concern. We cannot continue to treat them as removed or isolated, localised issues. Ghana cannot continue to tout its human rights credentials if it cannot protect its citizenry, especially the vulnerable. The women of Ghana deserve better!
We call on His Excellency, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo as the President of the Republic of Ghana and the AU Gender Champion to task the necessary institutions to act swiftly and decisively. The Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP), the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Ghana Police Service, National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE) and all relevant national and local institutions, including traditional authorities, must take urgent and sustained actions to nip this endemic practice. This should be done with no fear or favour for traditional, religious or ethnic sensibilities that undermine human and citizen rights as prescribed by our national laws and regulations. Our traditions respect and celebrate old age and the elderly. Above all, under the 1992 Constitution, cultural rights are subsumed under national laws and treaties. The case of the 90-year old woman, Madam Akua Dente, whose life has been brutally terminated, is no exception. Madam Akua Dente deserves justice and justice now!
We hope that the late Madam Akua Dente’s ordeal marks a turning point for changing the narrative on witchcraft accusations and the attendant human rights violations in Ghana.
ESTHER OFEI-ABOAGYE CHAIR, STAR GHANA GOVERNING COUNCIL