Leo Igwe, a Nigerian humanist and human rights activist, writes the occasional article at Butterflies and Wheels, mostly on the subject of witchcraft in Western Africa. In his latest piece he visits Kukuo, a "witch camp" in Northern Ghana, where women accused of witchcraft escape to find some kind of refuge:
Many of the alleged witches said they would like to return to their original homes but were afraid for their lives. Some did not want to go back at all. They felt safe and at peace in Kukuo.
But that is because they do not have a better alternative. In Kukuo, life is hard. Survival is difficult. Most of the women survive by farming for others, but many of them are getting too old and could not farm any longer. Some of them were sick. One of the women could not walk, and she was living alone. She crawled around to cook and to attend to her daily chores.Some have resorted to begging for survival.
There is a scarcity of water in Kukuo. The only water pump installed in the village dries up during dry season, and the river is around 2 kilometers away. Many of the women cannot descend the hill to fetch water from the river. The situation is worse for the women who are childless or those who have no children staying with them.
Nevertheless ‘old ladies’ fleeing their communities after being accused of witchcraft are still coming to Kukuo to seek refuge. I met a 48 year old woman, Fusa, who came to Kukuo in November. Her husband died many years ago and she went to live with the mother.
In November, a neighbour’s child took ill and she was accused of being responsible. A man in the family who owed her some bags of groundnuts was her main accuser. Fusa was taken to the chief’s palace and there a local mob threatened to kill her if she did not heal the sick child. She denied being responsible for the child’s illness. The situation got so tense that one of her relations living in a nearby town had to send a police team to rescue her. She was later taken to Kukuo where she is currently staying. Fusa was heart broken and traumatized. Fusa just finished building a house and was about to move into it before she was accused and driven out of the village. Apparently the witchcraft accusation served as a pretence to dispossess her of the house. Other alleged witches I met in Kukuo had similar stories of making somebody sick, causing the death of a family or community member, or being seen in a dream.
It's a similar dynamic to the use of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, where accusations are often a pretext for settling scores and gaining property. In neither case is proof necessary: the accusation is all.