Arquivo da tag: África

Os africanos que propuseram ideias iluministas antes de Locke e Kant (Ilustríssima, FSP)

Ilustração de Fabio Zimbres

DAG HERBJORNSRUD
traduçãoCLARA ALLAIN
ilustraçãoFABIO ZIMBRES

RESUMO Os ideais mais elevados de Locke, Hume e Kant foram propostos mais de um século antes deles por Zera Yacob, um etíope que viveu numa caverna. O ganês Anton Amo usou noção da filosofia alemã antes de ela ser registrada oficialmente. Autor defende que ambos tenham lugar de destaque em meio aos pensadores iluministas.

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Os ideais do Iluminismo são a base de nossas democracias e universidades no século 21: a crença na razão, na ciência, no ceticismo, no secularismo e na igualdade. De fato, nenhuma outro período se compara à era do Iluminismo.

A Antiguidade é inspiradora, mas está a um mundo de distância das sociedades modernas. A Idade Média é mais razoável do que sua reputação sugere, mas ainda assim é medieval. A Renascença foi gloriosa, mas em grande medida graças ao seu resultado: o Iluminismo. O romantismo veio como reação à era da razão, mas os ideais dos Estados modernos não se expressam em termos de romantismo e emoção.

Segundo a história mais contada, o Iluminismo tem origem no “Discurso do Método” (1637), de René Descartes, continuou por cerca de um século e meio com John Locke, Isaac Newton, David Hume, Voltaire e Kant e terminou com a Revolução Francesa, em 1789 —talvez com o período do terror, em 1793.

Mas e se a história estiver errada? E se o Iluminismo puder ser associado a lugares e pensadores que costumamos ignorar? Tais perguntas me assombram desde que topei com o trabalho de um filósofo etíope do século 17: Zera Yacob (1599-1692), também grafado Zära Yaqob.

Yacob nasceu numa família pobre numa propriedade agrícola perto de Axum, a lendária antiga capital do norte da Etiópia. Como estudante, ele impressionou seus professores e foi enviado a uma nova escola para estudar retórica (“siwasiw” em ge’ez, a língua local), poesia e pensamento crítico (“qiné”) por quatro anos.

Em seguida, estudou a Bíblia por dez anos em outra escola, recebendo ensinamentos dos católicos e dos coptas, bem como da tradição cristã ortodoxa, majoritária no país.

Na década de 1620, um jesuíta português convenceu o rei Susenyos a converter-se ao catolicismo, que não tardou a virar religião oficial da Etiópia. Seguiu-se uma perseguição aos livres-pensadores, mais intensa a partir de 1630. Yacob, que nessa época lecionava na região de Axum, havia declarado que nenhuma religião tem mais razão que outra —e seus inimigos o denunciaram para o rei.

Yacob fugiu, levando apenas um pouco de ouro e os Salmos de Davi. Viajou para o sul, para a região de Shewa, onde se deparou com o rio Tekezé.

Ali encontrou uma área desabitada com uma “bela caverna” no início de um vale. Construiu um muro de pedra e viveu nesse local isolado para “encarar apenas os fatos essenciais da vida”, como Henry David Thoreau descreveria uma vida também solitária, dois séculos mais tarde, em “Walden” (1854).

Por dois anos, até a morte do rei, em setembro de 1632, Yacob permaneceu na caverna como ermitão, saindo apenas para buscar alimentos no mercado mais próximo. Na caverna, ele alinhavou sua nova filosofia racionalista.

Ele acreditava na primazia da razão e afirmava que todos os seres humanos, homens e mulheres, são criados iguais. Yacob argumentou contra a escravidão, criticou todas as religiões e doutrinas reconhecidas e combinou essas opiniões com sua crença pessoal em um criador divino, asseverando que a existência de uma ordem no mundo faz dessa a opção mais racional.

Em suma: muitos dos ideais mais elevados do Iluminismo foram concebidos e resumidos por um homem que trabalhou sozinho em uma caverna etíope de 1630 a 1632.

LIVROS

A filosofia de Yacob, baseada na razão, é apresentada em sua obra principal, “Hatäta” (investigação). O livro foi escrito em 1667 por insistência de seu discípulo, Walda Heywat, que escreveu ele próprio uma “Hatäta” de orientação mais prática.

Hoje, 350 anos mais tarde, é difícil encontrar um exemplar do trabalho de Yacob. A única tradução ao inglês foi feita em 1976 pelo professor universitário e padre canadense Claude Sumner. Ele a publicou como parte de uma obra em cinco volumes sobre a filosofia etíope, que foi lançada pela nada comercial editora Commercial Printing Press, de Adis Abeba.

O livro foi traduzido ao alemão e, no ano passado, ao norueguês, mas ainda é basicamente impossível ter acesso a uma versão em inglês.

A filosofia não era novidade na Etiópia antes de Yacob. Por volta de 1510, “The Book of the Wise Philosophers” (o livro dos filósofos sábios) foi traduzido e adaptado ao etíope pelo egípcio Abba Mikael. Trata-se de uma coletânea de ditados de filósofos gregos pré-socráticos, Platão e Aristóteles por meio dos diálogos neoplatônicos, e também foi influenciado pela filosofia arábica e as discussões etíopes.

Em sua “Hatäta”, Yacob critica seus contemporâneos por não pensarem de modo independente e aceitarem as palavras de astrólogos e videntes só porque seus predecessores o faziam. Em contraste, ele recomenda uma investigação baseada na razão e na racionalidade científica, considerando que todo ser humano nasce dotado de inteligência e possui igual valor.

Longe dele, mas enfrentando questões semelhantes, estava o francês Descartes (1596-1650). Uma diferença filosófica importante entre eles é que o católico Descartes criticou explicitamente os infiéis e ateus em sua obra “Meditações Metafísicas” (1641).

Essa perspectiva encontra eco na “Carta sobre a Tolerância” (1689), de Locke, para quem os ateus não devem ser tolerados.

As “Meditações” de Descartes foram dedicadas “ao reitor e aos doutores da sagrada Faculdade de Teologia em Paris”, e sua premissa era “aceitar por meio da fé o fato de que a alma humana não morre com o corpo e de que Deus existe”.

Yacob, pelo contrário, propõe um método muito mais agnóstico, secular e inquisitivo —o que também reflete uma abertura ao pensamento ateu. O quarto capítulo da “Hatäta” começa com uma pergunta radical: “Tudo que está escrito nas Sagradas Escrituras é verdade?” Ele prossegue pontuando que todas as diferentes religiões alegam que sua fé é a verdadeira:

“De fato, cada uma delas diz: ‘Minha fé é a certa, e aqueles que creem em outra fé creem na falsidade e são inimigos de Deus’. (…) Assim como minha fé me parece verdadeira, outro considera verdadeira sua própria fé; mas a verdade é uma só”.

Assim, ele deslancha um discurso iluminista sobre a subjetividade da religião, mas continua a crer em algum tipo de criador universal. Sua discussão sobre a existência de Deus é mais aberta que a de Descartes e talvez mais acessível aos leitores de hoje, como quando incorpora perspectivas existencialistas:

“Quem foi que me deu um ouvido com o qual ouvir, quem me criou como ser reacional e como cheguei a este mundo? De onde venho? Tivesse eu vivido antes do criador do mundo, teria conhecido o início de minha vida e da consciência de mim mesmo. Quem me criou?”.

IDEIAS AVANÇADAS

No capítulo cinco, Yacob aplica a investigação racional a leis religiosas diferentes. Critica igualmente o cristianismo, o islã, o judaísmo e as religiões indianas.

Ele aponta, por exemplo, que o criador, em sua sabedoria, fez o sangue fluir mensalmente do útero das mulheres, para que elas possam gestar filhos. Assim, conclui que a lei de Moisés, segundo a qual as mulheres são impuras quando menstruam, contraria a natureza e o criador, já que “constitui um obstáculo ao casamento e a toda a vida da mulher, prejudica a lei da ajuda mútua, interdita a criação dos filhos e destrói o amor”.

Desse modo, inclui em seu argumento filosófico a perspectiva da solidariedade, da mulher e do afeto. E ele próprio viveu segundo esses ideais.

Ilustração de capa da Ilustríssima, por Fabio Zimbres

Depois de sair da caverna, pediu em casamento uma moça pobre chamada Hirut, criada de uma família rica. O patrão dela dizia que uma empregada não estava em pé de igualdade com um homem erudito, mas a visão de Yacob prevaleceu. Consumada a união, ele declarou que ela não deveria mais ser serva, mas seu par, porque “marido e mulher estão em pé de igualdade no casamento”.

Contrastando com essas posições, Kant (1724-1804) escreveu um século mais tarde em “Observações sobre o Sentimento do Belo e do Sublime” (1764): “Uma mulher pouco se constrange com o fato de não possuir determinados entendimentos”.

E, nos ensaios de ética do alemão, lemos que “o desejo de um homem por uma mulher não se dirige a ela como ser humano, pelo contrário, a humanidade da mulher não lhe interessa; o único objeto de seu desejo é o sexo dela”.

Yacob enxergava a mulher sob ótica completamente diferente: como par intelectual do filósofo.

Ele também foi mais iluminista que seus pares do Iluminismo no tocante à escravidão. No capítulo cinco, Yacob combate a ideia de que “possamos sair e comprar um homem como se fosse um animal”. Assim, ele propõe um argumento universal contra a discriminação:

“Todos os homens são iguais na presença de Deus; e todos são inteligentes, pois são suas criaturas; ele não destinou um povo à vida, outro à morte, um à misericórdia e outro ao julgamento. Nossa razão nos ensina que esse tipo de discriminação não pode existir”.

As palavras “todos os homens são iguais” foram escritas décadas antes de Locke (1632-1704), o pai do liberalismo, ter empunhado sua pena.

E a teoria do contrato social de Locke não se aplicava a todos na prática: ele foi secretário durante a redação das “Constituições Fundamentais da Carolina” (1669), que concederam aos homens brancos poder absoluto sobre seus escravos africanos. O próprio inglês investiu no comércio negreiro transatlântico.

Comparada à de seus pares filosóficos, portanto, a filosofia de Yacob frequentemente parece o epítome dos ideais que em geral atribuímos ao Iluminismo.

ANTON AMO

Alguns meses depois de ler a obra de Yacob, enfim tive acesso a outro livro raro: uma tradução dos escritos reunidos do filósofo Anton Amo (c. 1703-55), que nasceu e morreu em Gana.

Amo estudou e lecionou por duas décadas nas maiores universidades da Alemanha (como Halle e Jena), escrevendo em latim. Hoje, segundo o World Library Catalogue, só um punhado de exemplares de seu “Antonius Guilielmus Amo Afer of Axim in Ghana” está disponível em bibliotecas mundo afora.

O ganês nasceu um século após Yacob. Consta que ele foi sequestrado do povo akan e da cidade litorânea de Axim quando era pequeno, possivelmente para ser vendido como escravo, sendo levado a Amsterdã, para a corte do duque Anton Ulrich de Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel —visitada com frequência pelo polímata G. W. Leibniz (1646-1716).

Batizado em 1707, Amo recebeu educação de alto nível, aprendendo hebraico, grego, latim, francês e alemão —e provavelmente sabia algo de sua língua materna, o nzema.

Tornou-se figura respeitada nos círculos acadêmicos. No livro de Carl Günther Ludovici sobre o iluminista Christian Wolff (1679-1754) —seguidor de Leibniz e fundador de várias disciplinas acadêmicas na Alemanha—, Amo é descrito como um dos wolffianos mais proeminentes.

No prefácio a “Sobre a Impassividade da Mente Humana” (1734), de Amo, o reitor da Universidade de Wittenberg, Johannes Gottfried Kraus, saúda o vasto conhecimento do autor, situa sua contribuição ao iluminismo alemão em um contexto histórico e sublinha o legado africano da Renascença europeia:

“Quando os mouros vindos da África atravessaram a Espanha, trouxeram com eles o conhecimento dos pensadores da Antiguidade e deram muita assistência ao desenvolvimento das letras que pouco a pouco emergiam das trevas”.

O fato de essas palavras terem saído do coração da Alemanha na primavera de 1733 ajuda a lembrar que Amo não foi o único africano a alcançar o sucesso na Europa do século 18.

Na mesma época, Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696-1781), também sequestrado e levado da África subsaariana, tornava-se general do czar Pedro, o Grande, da Rússia. O bisneto de Gannibal se tornaria o poeta nacional da Rússia, Alexander Pushkin. E o escritor francês Alexandre Dumas (1802-70) foi neto de uma africana escravizada e filho de um general aristocrata negro nascido no Haiti.

Amo tampouco foi o único a levar diversidade e cosmopolitismo a Halle nas décadas de 1720 e 1730. Vários alunos judeus de grande talento estudaram na universidade. O professor árabe Salomon Negri, de Damasco, e o indiano Soltan Gün Achmet, de Ahmedabad, também passaram por lá.

CONTRA A ESCRAVIDÃO

Em sua tese, Amo escreveu explicitamente que havia outras teologias além da cristã, incluindo entre elas a dos turcos e a dos “pagãos”.

Ele discutiu essas questões na dissertação “Os Direitos dos Mouros na Europa”, em 1729. O trabalho não pode ser encontrado hoje, mas, no jornal semanal de Halle de novembro de 1729, há um artigo curto sobre o debate público de Amo. Segundo esse texto, o ganês apresentou argumentos contra a escravidão, aludindo ao direito romano, à tradição e à razão.

Será que Amo promoveu a primeira disputa legal da Europa contra a escravidão? Podemos pelo menos enxergar um argumento iluminista em favor do sufrágio universal, como o que Yacob propusera cem anos antes. Mas essas visões não discriminatórias parecem ter passado despercebidas dos pensadores principais do iluminismo no século 18.

David Hume (1711-76), por exemplo, escreveu: “Tendo a suspeitar que os negros, e todas as outras espécies de homem em geral (pois existem quatro ou cinco tipos diferentes), sejam naturalmente inferiores aos brancos”. E acrescentou: “Nunca houve nação civilizada de qualquer outra compleição senão a branca, nem indivíduo eminente em ação ou especulação”.

Kant levou adiante o argumento de Hume e enfatizou que a diferença fundamental entre negros e brancos “parece ser tão grande em capacidade mental quanto na cor”, antes de concluir, no texto do curso de geografia física: “A humanidade alcançou sua maior perfeição na raça dos brancos”.

Na França, o mais célebre pensador iluminista, Voltaire (1694-1778), não só descreveu os judeus em termos antissemitas, como quando escreveu que “todos eles nascem com fanatismo desvairado em seus corações”; em seu ensaio sobre a história universal (1756), ele afirmou que, se a inteligência dos africanos “não é de outra espécie que a nossa, é muito inferior”.

Como Locke, Voltaire investiu dinheiro no comércio de escravos.

CORPO E MENTE

A filosofia de Amo é mais teórica que a de Yacob, mas as duas compartilham uma visão iluminista da razão, tratando todos os humanos como iguais.

Seu trabalho é profundamente engajado com as questões da época, como se vê em seu livro mais conhecido, “Sobre a Impassividade da Mente Humana”, construído com um método de dedução lógica utilizando argumentos rígidos, aparentemente seguindo a linha de sua dissertação jurídica anterior. Aqui ele trata do dualismo cartesiano, a ideia de que existe uma diferença absoluta de substância entre a mente e o corpo.

Em alguns momentos Amo parece se opor a Descartes, como observa o filósofo contemporâneo Kwasi Wiredu. Ele argumenta que Amo se opôs ao dualismo cartesiano entre mente e corpo, favorecendo, em vez disso, a metafísica dos akan e o idioma nzema de sua primeira infância, segundo os quais sentimos a dor com nossa carne (“honem”), e não com a mente (“adwene”).

Ao mesmo tempo, Amo diz que vai tanto defender quanto atacar a visão de Descartes de que a alma (a mente) é capaz de agir e sofrer junto com o corpo. Ele escreve: “Em resposta a essas palavras, pedimos cautela e discordamos: admitimos que a mente atua junto com o corpo graças à mediação de uma união natural. Mas negamos que ela sofra junto com o corpo”.

Amo argumenta que as afirmações de Descartes sobre essas questões contrariam a visão do próprio filósofo francês. Ele conclui sua tese dizendo que devemos evitar confundir as coisas que fazem parte do corpo e da mente. Pois aquilo que opera na mente deve ser atribuído apenas à mente.

Talvez a verdade seja o que o filósofo Justin E. H. Smith, da Universidade de Paris, aponta em “Nature, Human Nature and Human Difference” (natureza, natureza humana e diferença humana, 2015): “Longe de rejeitar o dualismo cartesiano, pelo contrário, Amo propõe uma versão radicalizada dele”.

Mas será possível que tanto Wiredu quanto Smith tenham razão? Por exemplo, será que a filosofia akan tradicional e a língua nzema continham uma distinção cartesiana entre corpo e mente mais precisa que a de Descartes, um modo de pensar que Amo então levou para a filosofia europeia?

Talvez seja cedo demais para sabermos, já que uma edição crítica das obras de Amo ainda aguarda ser publicada, possivelmente pela Oxford University Press.

COISA EM SI

No trabalho mais profundo de Amo, “Treatise on the Art of Philosophising Soberly and Accurately” (tratado sobre a arte de filosofar com sobriedade e precisão, 1738), ele parece antecipar Kant. O livro trata das intenções de nossa mente e das ações humanas como sendo naturais, racionais ou de acordo com uma norma.

No primeiro capítulo, escrevendo em latim, Amo argumenta que “tudo é passível de ser conhecido como objeto em si mesmo, ou como uma sensação, ou como uma operação da mente”.

Ele desenvolve em seguida, dizendo que “a cognição ocorre com a coisa em si” e afirmando: “O aprendizado real é a cognição das coisas em si. E assim tem sua base na certeza da coisa conhecida”.

Seu texto original diz “omne cognoscibile aut res ipsa”, usando a noção latina “res ipsa” como “coisa em si”.

Hoje Kant é conhecido por seu conceito da “coisa em si” (“das Ding an sich”) em “Crítica da Razão Pura” (1787) —e seu argumento de que não podemos conhecer a coisa além de nossa representação mental dela.

Mas é fato sabido que essa não foi a primeira utilização do termo na filosofia iluminista. Como diz o dicionário Merriam-Webster no verbete “coisa em si”: “Primeira utilização conhecida: 1739”. Mesmo assim, isso foi dois anos depois de Amo ter entregue seu trabalho principal em Wittenberg, em 1737.

À luz dos exemplos desses dois filósofos iluministas, Zera Yacob e Anton Amo, talvez seja preciso repensarmos a Idade da Razão nas disciplinas da filosofia e da história das ideias.

Na disciplina da história, novos estudos comprovaram que a revolução mais bem-sucedida a ter nascido das ideias de liberdade, igualdade e fraternidade se deu no Haiti, não na França. A Revolução Haitiana (1791-1804) e as ideias de Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743″”1803) abriram o caminho para a independência do país, sua nova Constituição e a abolição da escravidão.

Em “Les Vengeurs du Nouveau Monde” (os vingadores do novo mundo, 2004), Laurent Dubois conclui que os acontecimentos no Haiti foram “a expressão mais concreta da ideia de que os direitos proclamados na Declaração dos Direitos do Homem e do Cidadão, de 1789, eram de fato universais”.

Nessa linha, podemos indagar se Yacob e Amo algum dia serão elevados à posição que merecem entre os filósofos da Era das Luzes.

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Este texto foi publicado originalmente no site Aeon.

DAG HERBJORNSRUD, 46, é historiador de ideias e fundador do SGOKI (Centro de História Global e Comparativa de Ideias), em Oslo.

CLARA ALLAIN é tradutora.

FABIO ZIMBRES, 57, é quadrinista, designer e artista visual.

Anúncios

Drought and rising temperatures ‘leaves 36m people across Africa facing hunger’ (The Guardian)

Unusually strong El Niño, coupled with record-high temperatures, has had a catastrophic effect on crops and rainfall across southern and eastern Africa

A maize plant among other dried maize in a field

A maize plant among other dried maize in a field in Hoopstad in the Free State province, South Africa. The country suffered its driest year on record in 2015. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters 

The immediate cause of the drought which has crippled countries from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe is one of the strongest El Niño events ever recorded. It has turned normal weather patterns upside down around the globe, climate scientists say. 

But with the world still reeling from record-high temperatures in February, there are fears that the long-term impacts of climate change are also undermining the region’s ability to endure extremes in weather, leaving huge numbers of people vulnerable to hunger and disease.

The worst hit country in the current crisis is Ethiopia, where rains vital to four-fifths of the country’s crops have failed. Unicef has said it is making plans to treat more than 2 million children for malnutrition, and says more than 10 million people will need food aid.

“Ethiopia has been hit by a double blow, both from a change to the rainy seasons that have been linked to long-term climate change and now from El Niño, which has potentially led the country to one of the worst droughts in decades,” said Gillian Mellsop, Unicef representative to Ethiopia.

The crisis has been damaging even to Ethiopians not at immediate risk of going hungry. It has truncated the education of 3.9 million children and teenagers, who “are unable to access quality education opportunities because of the drought”, she said.

An boy walks through failed crops and farmland in Ethiopia.

An boy walks through failed crops and farmland in Afar, Ethiopia. Four-fifths of crops in the country have failed. Photograph: Mulugeta Ayene/AP

Neighbouring countries grappling with hunger after crops failed include Somalia, Sudan and Kenya, and altogether the failed rains have left more than 20 million people “food insecure” in the region.

The drought caught many officials by surprise, because although El Niño was forecast, the weather event normally brings more rain to the region, not less.

“The typical pattern that you would expect with El Niño is very dry weather in southern Africa, but slightly wetter than normal in eastern Africa,” said Dr Linda Hirons, a research scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science.

“So the fact that we have had parts of eastern Africa experiencing drought is unusual … but every single El Niño event manifests itself differently.”

In southern Africa, the drought caused by El Niño was expected, but it has been even more severe than feared, with rains failing two years in a row.

Overall nearly 16 million people in southern Africa are already going hungry, and that number could rise fast. “More than 40 million rural and 9 million poor urban people are at risk due to the impacts of El Niño’s related drought and erratic rainfall,” the World Food Programme has warned.

Zimbabwe, once the region’s bread basket, is one of the worst hit countries. In February, the country’s president Robert Mugabe declared a state of disaster due to the drought, and in less than a month official estimates of people needing food aid has risen from 3 million to 4 million.

Neighbouring countries are also scrambling to find food aid, including South Africa, whose ports are the main entry point for relief across the region.

“We are seeing this as a regional crisis, a cross-country humanitarian crisis,” said Victor Chinyama. “In each country maybe the numbers [of hungry people] are nowhere near as much as Ethiopia, but if you put these numbers together as a whole region, you get a sense of how large a crisis this is.”

More than a third of households are now going hungry, he said. Families that used to eat two meals a day are cutting back to one, and those who could once provide a single meal for their dependents are now entirely reliant on food aid, he said.

Beyond the immediate scramble to get food to those who need it, aid workers in the region say the drought has served as reminder that communities vulnerable to changing weather patterns need longer-term help adapting.

“It’s becoming common knowledge now that we will experience droughts much more,” said Beatrice Mwangi, resilience and livelihoods director, southern Africa region, World Vision, who said she is focused on medium- and long-term responses.

“In the past it was one big drought every 10 years, then it came to one drought every five years, and now the trends are showing that it will be one every three to five years. So we are in a crisis alright, that is true.

“But it’s going to be the new norm. So our responses need to appreciate that … there is climate change, and it’s going to affect the people that we work with, the communities we serve.”

This article was amended on 17 March 2016 to remove a picture because it was an inaccurate illustration of the theme of the article and contained ambiguities in the caption.


El Niño is causing global food crisis, UN warns (The Guardian)

Severe droughts and floods have ruined harvests, and left nearly 100 million people in southern Africa, Asia and Latin America facing food and water shortages

A farmer surveys her maize fields in Dowa near the Malawi capital of Lilongwe, 3 February 2016.

A farmer surveys her maize fields in Dowa, near the Malawi capital of Lilongwe, earlier this month. The country is experiencing its first maize shortage in a decade, causing prices to soar. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Wednesday 17 February 2016 00.01 GMT / Last modified on Wednesday 17 February 2016 14.48 GMT

Severe droughts and floods triggered by one of the strongest El Niño weather events ever recorded have left nearly 100 million people in southern Africa, Asia and Latin America facing food and water shortages and vulnerable to diseases including Zika, UN bodies, international aid agencies and governments have said.

New figures from the UN’s World Food Programme say 40 million people in rural areas and 9 million in urban centres who live in the drought-affected parts of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland will need food assistance in the next year.

In addition, 10 million people are said by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) to need food in Ethiopia (pdf), and 2.8 million need assistance in Guatemala and Honduras.

Millions more people in Asia and the Pacific regions have already been affected by heatwaves, water shortages and forest fires since El Niño conditions started in mid-2015, says Ocha in a new briefing paper, which forecasts that harvests will continue to be affected worldwide throughout 2016.

“Almost 1 million children are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition in eastern and southern Africa. Two years of erratic rain and drought have combined with one of the most powerful El Niño events in 50 years to wreak havoc on the lives of the most vulnerable children,” said Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, southern Africa regional director of the UN children’s agency, Unicef.

“Governments are responding with available resources, but this is an unprecedented situation. The situation is aggravated by rising food prices, forcing families to implement drastic coping mechanisms such as skipping meals and selling off assets.”

In a joint statement, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said: “El Niño will have a devastating effect on southern Africa’s harvests and food security in 2016. The current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years.”

Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) said in a briefing paper: “Even if it were to start raining today, the planting window for cereals has already closed in the southern part of the region [Africa] and is fast closing elsewhere. There has been a steep rise in market prices of imported staple goods. This is restricting access to food for the most vulnerable.”

According to the World Health Organisation, the heavy rains expected from El Niño in Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay and southern Brazil could increase the spread of the Zika virus. “The Aedes aegypti mosquito breeds in standing water. We could expect more mosquito vectors which can spread Zika virus because of expanding and favourable breeding sites [in El Niño-affected countries],” the organisation said.

El Niño conditions, which stem from a natural warming of Pacific Ocean waters, lead to droughts, floods and more frequent cyclones across the world every few years. This year’s event is said by meteorologists to be the worst in 35 years and is now peaking. Although it is expected to decline in strength over the next six months, its effects on farming, health and livelihoods in developing countries could last two years or more because of failed harvests and prolonged flooding.

“Insufficient rains since March 2015 have resulted in drought conditions. In Central America, El Niño conditions have led to a second consecutive year of drought – one of the region’s most severe in history,” said an Ocha spokesman.

“Mozambique and southern African countries face a disaster if the rains do not come within a few weeks,” said Abdoulaye Balde, WFP country director in Maputo. “South Africa is 6m tonnes short of food this year. But it is the usual provider of food reserves in the region. If they have to import 6m tonnes for themselves, there will be little left for other countries. The price of food will rise dramatically.”

Zimbabwe, which declared a national emergency this month, has seen harvests devastated and food prices soar, according to the WFP in Harare. It reports that food production has halved compared to last year and maize is 53% more expensive. It expects to need nearly $1.6bn in aid to help pay for grain and other food after the drought.

Malawi is experiencing its first maize deficit in a decade, pushing the price 73% higher than the December 2015 average. In Mozambique, prices were 50% higher than last year. The country depends on food imports from South Africa and Zimbabwe, and faces a disaster if rains do not arrive in the next few weeks, said Balde.

Fears are also growing that international donors have been preoccupied by Syriaand the Ebola crisis, and have not responded to food aid requests from affected countries.

“El Niño began wreaking havoc last year. The government has done its best to tackle the resultant drought on its own, by tapping into the national food reserves and allocating more than $300m [£210m] to buy wheat in the international market,” said Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros Ghebreyesus.

“But the number of people in need of food assistance has risen very quickly, making it difficult for Ethiopia to cope alone. For the 10.2 million people in need of aid, requirements stood at $1.4bn. The Ethiopian government has so far spent $300m and a similar sum has been pledged by donors. The gap is about $800m,” he said.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, set up by the US international development agency, USAID, in 1985, continued below-average rainfall and high temperatures are likely to persist in southern African well into 2016, with the food crisis lasting into 2017.

‘Na África, indaguei rei da minha etnia por que nos venderam como escravos’ (BBC Brasil)

14 janeiro 2016

Zulu Araújo | Foto: Divulgação

Image captionA convite de produtora, arquiteto fez exame genético e foi até Camarões para conhecer seus ancestrais

“Somos o único grupo populacional no Brasil que não sabe de onde vem”, queixa-se o arquiteto baiano Zulu Araújo, de 63 anos, em referência à população negra descendente dos 4,8 milhões de africanos escravizados recebidos pelo país entre os séculos 16 e 19.

Araújo foi um dos 150 brasileiros convidados pela produtora Cine Group para fazer um exame de DNA e identificar suas origens africanas.

Ele descobriu ser descendente do povo tikar, de Camarões, e, como parte da série televisiva Brasil: DNA África, visitou o local para conhecer a terra de seus antepassados.

“A viagem me completou enquanto cidadão”, diz Araújo. Leia, abaixo, seu depoimento à BBC Brasil:

“Sempre tive a consciência de que um dos maiores crimes contra a população negra não foi nem a tortura, nem a violência: foi retirar a possibilidade de que conhecêssemos nossas origens. Somos o único grupo populacional no Brasil que não sabe de onde vem.

Meu sobrenome, Mendes de Araújo, é português. Carrego o nome da família que escravizou meus ancestrais, pois o ‘de’ indica posse. Também carrego o nome de um povo africano, Zulu.

 

Momento em que o Zulu confronta o rei tikar sobre a venda de seus antepassados

Ganhei o apelido porque meus amigos me acharam parecido com um rei zulu retratado num documentário. Virou meu nome.

Nasci no Solar do Unhão, uma colônia de pescadores no centro de Salvador, local de desembarque e leilão de escravos até o final do século 19. Comecei a trabalhar clandestinamente aos 9 anos numa gráfica da Igreja Católica. Trabalhava de forma profana para produzir livros sagrados.

Bom aluno, consegui passar no vestibular para arquitetura. Éramos dois negros numa turma de 600 estudantes – isso numa cidade onde 85% da população tem origem africana. Salvador é uma das cidades mais racistas que eu conheço no mundo.

Ao participar do projeto Brasil: DNA África e descobrir que era do grupo étnico tikar, fiquei surpreso. Na Bahia, todos nós especulamos que temos ou origem angolana ou iorubá. Eu imaginava que era iorubano. Mas os exames de DNA mostram que vieram ao Brasil muito mais etnias do que sabemos.

Zulu Araújo | Foto: Divulgação

“Era como se eu estivesse no meu bairro, na Bahia, e ao mesmo tempo tivesse voltado 500 anos no tempo”, diz Zulu sobre chegada a Camarões

Zulu Araújo | Foto: Divulgação

Pergunta sobre escravidão a rei camaronense foi tratada como “assunto delicado” e foi respondida apenas no dia seguinte

Quando cheguei ao centro do reino tikar, a eletricidade tinha caído, e o pessoal usava candeeiros e faróis dos carros para a iluminação. Mais de 2 mil pessoas me aguardavam. O que senti naquele momento não dá para descrever, de tão chocante e singular.

As pessoas gritavam. Eu não entendia uma palavra do que diziam, mas entendia tudo. Era como se eu estivesse no meu bairro, na Bahia, e ao mesmo tempo tivesse voltado 500 anos no tempo.

O povão me encarava como uma novidade: eu era o primeiro brasileiro de origem tikar a pisar ali. Mas também fiquei chocado com a pobreza. As pessoas me faziam inúmeros pedidos nas ruas, de camisetas de futebol a ajuda para gravar um disco. Não por acaso, ali perto o grupo fundamentalista Boko Haram (originário da vizinha Nigéria) tem uma de suas bases e conta com grande apoio popular.

De manhã, fui me encontrar com o rei, um homem alto e forte de 56 anos, casado com 20 mulheres e pai de mais de 40 filhos. Ele se vestia como um muçulmano do deserto, com uma túnica com estamparias e tecidos belíssimos.

Depois do café da manhã, tive uma audiência com ele numa das salas do palácio. Ele estava emocionado e curioso, pois sabia que muitos do povo Tikar haviam ido para as Américas, mas não para o Brasil.

Fiz uma pergunta que me angustiava: perguntei por que eles tinham permitido ou participado da venda dos meus ancestrais para o Brasil. O tradutor conferiu duas vezes se eu queria mesmo fazer aquela pergunta e disse que o assunto era muito sensível. Eu insisti.

Ficou um silêncio total na sala. Então o rei cochichou no ouvido de um conselheiro, que me disse que ele pedia desculpas, mas que o assunto era muito delicado e só poderia me responder no dia seguinte. O tema da escravidão é um tabu no continente africano, porque é evidente que houve um conluio da elite africana com a europeia para que o processo durasse tanto tempo e alcançasse tanta gente.

No dia seguinte, o rei finalmente me respondeu. Ele pediu desculpas e disse que foi melhor terem nos vendido, caso contrário todos teríamos sido mortos. E disse que, por termos sobrevivido, nós, da diáspora, agora poderíamos ajudá-los. Disse ainda que me adotaria como seu primeiro filho, o que me daria o direito a regalias e o acesso a bens materiais.

Foi uma resposta política, mas acho que foi sincera. Sei que eles não imaginavam que a escravidão ganharia a dimensão que ganhou, nem que a Europa a transformaria no maior negócio de todos os tempos. Houve um momento em que os africanos perderam o controle.

Zulu Araújo | Foto: Divulgação

“Se qualquer pessoa me perguntar de onde sou, agora já sei responder. Só quem é negro pode entender a dimensão que isso possui.”

Um intelectual senegalês me disse que, enquanto não superarmos a escravidão, não teremos paz – nem os escravizados, nem os escravizadores. É a pura verdade. Não dá para tratar uma questão de 500 anos com um sentimento de ódio ou vingança.

A viagem me completou enquanto cidadão. Se qualquer pessoa me perguntar de onde sou, agora já sei responder. Só quem é negro pode entender a dimensão que isso possui.

Acho que os exames de DNA deveriam ser reconhecidos pelo governo, pelas instituições acadêmicas brasileiras como um caminho para que possamos refazer e recontar a história dos 52% dos brasileiros que têm raízes africanas. Só conhecendo nossas origens poderemos entender quem somos de verdade.”

Liberia: Dead Ebola Patients Resurrect? (The New Dawn)

24 SEPTEMBER 2014

Photo: Boakai Fofana/allAfricaA burial team carries the body of a suspected Ebola victim under the watchful eyes of police officers.

By Franklin Doloquee

Two Ebola patients, who died of the virus in separate communities in Nimba County have reportedly resurrected in the county. The victims, both females, believed to be in their 60s and 40s respectively, died of the Ebola virus recently in Hope Village Community and the Catholic Community in Ganta, Nimba.

But to the amazement of residents and onlookers on Monday, the deceased reportedly regained life in total disbelief. The New Dawn Nimba County correspondent said the late Dorris Quoi of Hope Village Community and the second victim only identified as Ma Kebeh, said to be in her late 60s, were about to be taken for burial when they resurrected.

Ma Kebeh had reportedly been in door for two nights without food and medication before her alleged death. Nimba County has had bizarre news of Ebola cases with a native doctor from the county, who claimed that he could cure infected victims, dying of the virus himself last week.

News of the resurrection of the two victims has reportedly created panic in residents of Hope Village Community and Ganta at large, with some citizens describing Dorris Quoi as a ghost, who shouldn’t live among them. Since the Ebola outbreak in Nimba County, this is the first incident of dead victims resurrecting.

21 varieties of traditional African homosexuality (76 crimes)

Posted on January 30, 2014 by 

King Mwanga II of Buganda, who reportedly had sexual relations with men.  (Photo courtesy of Sebaspace)

King Mwanga II of Buganda, the “gay king” who reportedly had sexual relations with men. (Photo courtesy of Sebaspace)

At least 21 cultural varieties of same-sex relationships have long been part of traditional African life, as demonstrated in anew report  that is designed to dispel the confusion and lies surrounding Uganda’sAnti-Homosexuality Bill.

The following discussion and the 21 examples are from that report, “Expanded Criminalisation of Homosexuality in Uganda: A Flawed Narrative / Empirical evidence and strategic alternatives from an African perspective,” which was prepared by Sexual Minorities Uganda:

In their work anthropologists Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe provide wide‐ranging evidence in support of the fact that throughout Africa”s history, homosexuality has been a ‘‘consistent and logical feature of African societies and belief systems.”

Thabo Msibi of the University of Kwazulu‐Natal documents many examples in Africa of same-sex desire being accommodated within pre-colonial rule.”

Boy Wives and Female Husbands cover

The work of Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe is cited in the new report by Sexual Minotrities Uganda on traditional forms of homosexuality in African cultures.

Deborah P. Amory speaks of ‘‘a long history of diverse African peoples engaging in same-sex relations.”

Drawing on anthropological studies of the pre-colonial and colonial eras, it is possible to document a vast array of same-sex practises and diverse understandings of gender across the entire continent.

In the former Kingdom of Dahomey, women could be soldiers (above) and older women would sometimes marry younger women, according to anthropologist Melville Herkovits.In the former Kingdom of Dahomey, women could be soldiers (left) and older women would sometimes marry younger women, according to anthropologist Melville Herkovits.

Examples include:

  1. One notably ‘‘explicit” Bushmen painting, which depicts African men engaging in same-sex sexual activity.
  2. In the late 1640s, a Dutch military attaché documented Nzinga, a warrior woman in the Ndongo kingdom of the Mbundu, who ruled as ‘‘king” rather than ‘‘queen”, dressed as a man and surrounded herself with a harem of young men who dressed as women and who were her ‘‘wives”.
  3. Eighteenth century anthropologist, Father J-B. Labat, documented the Ganga-Ya-Chibanda, presiding priest of the Giagues, a group within the Congo kingdom, who routinely cross-dressed and was referred to as ‘‘grandmother”.
  4. In traditional, monarchical Zande culture, anthropological records described homosexuality as ‘‘indigenous”. The Azande of the Northern Congo ‘‘routinely married” younger men who functioned as temporary wives – a practise that was institutionalised to such an extent that warriors would pay ‘‘brideprice” to the young man”s parents.
  5. Amongst Bantu-speaking Pouhain farmers (Bene, Bulu, Fang, Jaunde, Mokuk, Mwele, Ntum and Pangwe) in present-day Gabon and Cameroon, homosexual intercourse was known as bian nkû”ma– a medicine for wealth which was transmitted through sexual activity between men.
  6. Similarly in Uganda, amongst the Nilotico Lango, men who assumed ‘‘alternative gender status” were known as mukodo dako. They were treated as women and were permitted to marry other men.
  7. Same-sex relationships were reported amongst other groups in Uganda, including the Bahima, …
  8. the Banyoro and …
  9. the Baganda. King Mwanga II, the Baganda monarch, was widely reported to have engaged in sexual relations with his male subjects.
  10. A Jesuit working in Southern Africa in 1606 described finding ‘‘Chibadi, which are Men attired like Women, and behave themselves womanly, ashamed to be called men”.
  11. In the early 17th century in present-day Angola, Portuguese priests Gaspar Azevereduc and Antonius Sequerius encountered men who spoke, sat and dressed like women, and who entered into marriage with men. Such marriages were ‘‘honored and even prized”.
  12. In the Iteso communities, based in northwest Kenya and Uganda, same-sex relations existed amongst men who behaved as and were socially accepted as women.
  13. Same-sex practises were also recorded among the Banyoro and …
  14. the Langi.
  15. In pre-colonial Benin, homosexuality was seen as a phase that boys passed through and grew out of.
  16. There were practises of female-female marriages amongst the Nandi and …
  17.  Kisii of Kenya, as well as …
  18. the Igbo of Nigeria,
  19. the Nuer of Sudan and
  20. the Kuria of Tanzania.
  21. Among Cape Bantu, lesbianism was ascribed to women who were in the process of becoming chief diviners, known as isanuses.

In the 1600s in the  Kingdom of Motapa in southern Africa (labeled "Monomotapa" on this map), Christian missionaries encountered cross-dressing men known as chibadi.

In the 1600s in the Kingdom of Motapa in southern Africa (labeled “Monomotapa” on this map), Christian missionaries encountered cross-dressing men known as chibadi.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Given the overwhelming evidence of pre-colonial same-sex relations which continued into the colonial and post-colonial eras, as well as historical evidence of diverse understandings of gender identity, it is clear that homosexuality is no more ‘‘alien” to Africa than it is to any other part of the world.

As stated by Murray and Roscoe: Numerous reports also indicate that in the highly sex-segregated societies of Africa, homosexual behaviour and relationships were not uncommon among peers, both male and female, especially in the years before heterosexual marriage. These kinds of relations were identified with specific terms and were to varying degrees institutionalized.

What the colonisers imposed on Africa was not homosexuality “but rather intolerance of it — and systems of surveillance and regulation for suppressing it.”

Related articles

Mapping the Future of Climate Change in Africa (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 2, 2012) — Our planet’s changing climate is devastating communities in Africa through droughts, floods and myriad other disasters.

Children in the foothills of Drakensberg mountains in South Africa who still live in traditional rondavels on family homesteads. (Credit: Todd G. Smith, CCAPS Program)

Using detailed regional climate models and geographic information systems, researchers with the Climate Change and African Political Stability (CCAPS) program developed an online mapping tool that analyzes how climate and other forces interact to threaten the security of African communities.

The program was piloted by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at The University of Texas at Austin in 2009 after receiving a $7.6 million five-year grant from the Minerva Initiative with the Department of Defense, according to Francis J. Gavin, professor of international affairs and director of the Strauss Center.

“The first goal was to look at whether we could more effectively identify what were the causes and locations of vulnerability in Africa, not just climate, but other kinds of vulnerability,” Gavin said.

CCAPS comprises nine research teams focusing on various aspects of climate change, their relationship to different types of conflict, the government structures that exist to mitigate them, and the effectiveness of international aid in intervening. Although most CCAPS researchers are based at The University of Texas at Austin, the Strauss Center also works closely with Trinity College Dublin, the College of William and Mary, and the University of North Texas.

“In the beginning these all began as related, but not intimately connected, topics” Gavin said, “and one of the really impressive things about the project is how all these different streams have come together.”

Africa is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to its reliance on rain-fed agriculture and the inability of many of its governments to help communities in times of need.

The region is of increasing importance for U.S. national security, according to Gavin, because of the growth of its population, economic strength and resource importance, and also due to concerns about non-state actors, weakening governments and humanitarian disasters.

Although these issues are too complex to yield a direct causal link between climate change and security concerns, he said, understanding the levels of vulnerability that exist is crucial in comprehending the full effect of this changing paradigm.

The vulnerability mapping program within CCAPS is led by Joshua Busby, assistant professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

To determine the vulnerability of a given location based on changing climate conditions, Busby and his team looked at four different sources: 1) the degree of physical exposure to climate hazards, 2) population size, 3) household or community resilience, and 4) the quality of governance or presence of political violence.

The first source records the different types of climate hazards which could occur in the area, including droughts, floods, wildfires, storms and coastal inundation. However, their presence alone is not enough to qualify a region as vulnerable.

The second source — population size — determines the number of people who will be impacted by these climate hazards. More people create more demand for resources, potentially making the entire population more vulnerable.

The third source looks at how resilient a community is to adverse effects, analyzing the quality of their education and health, as well as whether they have easy access to food, water and health care.

“If exposure is really bad, it may exceed the capacity of local communities to protect themselves,” Busby said, “and then it comes down to whether or not the governments are going to be willing or able to help them.”

The final source accounts for the effectiveness of a given government, the amount of accountability present, how integrated it is with the international community, how politically stable it is, and whether there is any political violence present.

Busby and his team combined the four sources of vulnerability and gave them each equal weight, adding them together to form a composite map. Their scores were then divided into a ranking of five equal parts, or quintiles, going from the 20 percent of regions with the lowest vulnerability to the 20 percent with the highest.

The researchers gathered information for the tool from a variety of sources, including historic models of physical exposure from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), population estimates from LandScan, as well as household surveys and governance assessments from the World Bank’s World Development and Worldwide Governance Indicators.

This data reflects past and present vulnerability, but to understand which places in Africa would be most vulnerable to future climate change, Busby and his team relied on the regional climate model simulations designed by Edward Vizy and Kerry Cook, both members of the CCAPS team from the Jackson School of Geosciences.

Vizy and Cook ran three, 20-year nested simulations of the African continent’s climate at the regional scales of 90 and 30 kilometers, using a derivation of the Weather Research and Forecasting Model of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. One was a control simulation representative of the years 1989-2008, and the others represented the climate as it may exist in 2041-2060 and 2081-2100.

“We’re adjusting the control simulation’s CO2 concentration, model boundary conditions, and sea surface temperatures to increased greenhouse gas forcing scenario conditions derived from atmosphere-ocean global climate models. We re-run the simulation to understand how the climate will operate under a different, warmer state at spatial resolutions needed for regional impact analyses,” Vizy said.

Each simulation took two months to complete on the Rangersupercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC).

“We couldn’t run these simulations without the high-performance computing resources at TACC, it would just take too long. If it takes two months running with 200 processors, I can’t fathom doing it with one processor,” Vizy said.

Researchers input data from these vulnerability maps into an online mapping tool developed by the CCAPS program to integrate its various lines of climate, conflict and aid research. CCAPS’s current mapping tool is based on a prototype developed by the team to assess conflict patterns in Africa with the help of researchers at the TACC/ACES Visualization Laboratory (Vislab), according to Ashley Moran, program manager of CCAPS.

“The mapping tool is a key part of our effort to produce new research that could support policy making and the work of practitioners and governments in Africa,” Moran said. “We want to communicate this research in ways that are of maximum use to policymakers and researchers.”

The initial prototype of the mapping tool used the ArcGIS platform to project data onto maps. Working with its partner Development Gateway, CCAPS expanded the system to incorporate conflict, vulnerability, governance and aid research data.

After completing the first version of their model, Busby and his team carried out the process of ground truthing their maps by visiting local officials and experts in several African countries, such as Kenya and South Africa.

“The experience of talking with local experts was tremendously gratifying,” Busby said. “They gave us confidence that the things we’re doing in a computer lab setting in Austin do pick up on some of the ground-level expert opinions.”

Busby and his team complemented their maps with local perspectives on the kind of impact climate was already having, leading to new insights that could help perfect the model. For example, local experts felt the model did not address areas with chronic water scarcity, an issue the researchers then corrected upon returning home.

According to Busby, the vulnerability maps serve as focal points which can give way to further analysis about the issues they illustrate.

Some of the countries most vulnerable to climate change include Somalia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Sudan and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Knowing this allows local policymakers to develop security strategies for the future, including early warning systems against floods, investments in drought-resistant agriculture, and alternative livelihoods that might facilitate resource sharing and help prevent future conflicts. The next iteration of the online mapping tool to be released later this year will also incorporate the future projections of climate exposure from the models developed by Vizy and Cook.

The CCAPS team publishes their research in journals likeClimate Dynamics and The International Studies Review, carries out regular consultations with the U.S. government and governments in Africa, and participates in conferences sponsored by concerned organizations, such as the United Nations and the United States Africa Command.

“What this project has showed us is that many of the real challenges of the 21st century aren’t always in traditional state-to-state interactions, but are transnational in nature and require new ways of dealing with,” Gavin said.

Nigerian car thief turns into goat! (The Christian Science Monitor)

In West Africa, widespread belief in witchcraft, black magic, and superstition undermine the fundamentals of journalism.

By Walter Rodgers / July 6, 2009

ABUJA, NIGERIA
In Nigeria recently, an angry mob demanded that police jail a goat. Vigilantes insisted the animal was a human car thief who transmogrified upon being apprehended. Nigerian law doesn’t recognize magic, witchcraft, or voodoo. Yet, faced with an angry mob, police acquiesced, arresting the goat.

This story was my object lesson for a Practical Reporting 101 class I taught to Nigerian journalism students this spring. There was just one problem: Some felt the goat was guilty. “These things actually happen,” one woman protested.

Objective truth is the ideal of journalism. It’s a destination reached through rigorous reporting rooted in skepticism. That’s a tall order in a society that’s so heavily riddled with superstition. In Nigeria, the sharp line between fact and fiction is badly blurred by centuries of animism and occultism that infects contemporary Muslim and Christian thinking as well as secular thought.

Journalistic skepticism is hard to teach where public imagination supersedes rational disbelief. As a result, journalism’s leavening effect on society is diminished. Reporters must always tread lightly in matters of religion, of course. Nearly all faiths hold to beliefs that defy everyday evidence. But, in the West at least, it’s understood that private religious beliefs – along with political beliefs – should be compartmentalized from the practice of journalism. A reporter’s religious beliefs, no matter how odd, don’t necessarily preclude good journalism. But when those beliefs clearly interfere with basic fact-checking and verification, then it’s worth examining how collective belief in magic can impede the civic development that good journalism fosters.

Black magic, malevolent curses, and witch doctors are woven into the fabric of West African society. “I don’t believe in witches, but I know they exist,” one of my students said. Television soap operas feature a villain sprinkling green powder on the doorstep of the woman next door. The following day she is shown writhing in agony. Great swaths of Nigerian society take these curses seriously.

Not infrequently, police hear reports that a man claims someone cast a spell to capture his spirit. Tradition here holds that if you sleep in bed with your feet at the headboard, you are communing with witches. Criminals buy charms from witch doctors to become invisible and escape arrest. A hairdresser tells of a client of another customer who reported a snake in her house that turned into a young woman. When the girl was taken to a Pentecostal church service she turned back into a snake. The journalistic canon of having two independent sources to confirm a news story becomes irrelevant when an entire congregation insists “it really happened.”

In Nigeria hearsay becomes conviction, then “truth,” and credibility grows in the retelling.

TV coverage lends currency to rumor. Take the story of four thieves apprehended by vigilantes who tied and bound them. According to dozens of village witnesses, there was supposedly a puff of smoke and the bound villains became four tethered crocodiles. One student insisted this was more credible than transubstantiation at Roman Catholic communion – the doctrine that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ – because “the TV news showed video of the four crocodiles.”

“We believe in God,” says Lydia Tolulope Adeleru, an American-educated daughter of a Baptist minister. “We also believe in our cultural gods like Sango, the god of iron, as well as Esu, the devil. We are a deeply religious people but we never left the old ways.” Africans often look for an unknown element to blame for disasters, floods, and crop failures. “If Christians have a God who makes Lucifer fall from heaven,” adds Ms. Adeleru, “what’s so strange about our juju [black magic]?”

The “rules of evidence” are easily contaminated here. Beatrice Funmilayo, a diplomat’s daughter, was a rare skeptic. “Nigerians have rich traditions of storytelling, but as journalists, we have to divorce ourselves from our cultural inclinations.” “Besides,” she said, “if these things really happened, wouldn’t they happen everywhere and not just [in] Nigeria?”

Shebanjo Ola is a university-educated attorney. He told of a woman in his village mixing sand and stones in a bowl and covering it with paper. When she removed the paper, the contents had magically turned into rice and meat. I asked, “Did you see it?” “No, but my mother did, and she never lies,” he replied. So much for the journalistic canon: “When your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”

In one class I abruptly asked, “Has anyone here actually seen someone magically disappear?” Temple Ojutalayo assured me he had. He said his university professor teaching traditional folk medicine “disappeared in front of the entire class.”

I asked how many of these aspiring journalists believed in ghosts. The hands shot up. “What about UFOs?”

No response. Then a voice from the rear said, “Those only happen in America.”

Walter Rodgers is a former senior international correspondent for CNN. He writes a biweekly column for the Monitor’s weekly edition.

Ghana aims to abolish witches’ camps (The Christian Science Monitor)

For years, Ghanaians have banished women from their villages who were suspected of witchcraft. Now, Ghana is trying to ban this practice.

By Clair MacDougall, Correspondent / September 15, 2011

ACCRA, GHANA
Ghanaian leaders and civil society groups met in the nation’s capital, Accra earlier this week to develop a plan to abolish the witches’ camps in the northern region, where over a thousand women and children who have been accused of sorcery are currently living in exile.

Deputy Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs Hajia Hawawu Boya Gariba said the ministry would be doing everything that it could to ensure the practice of families and neighbors banishing women from communities whom they suspected of being witches is abolished by developing legislation that would make it illegal to accuse someone of being a witch and gradually closing down camps and reintegrating women back into their communities.

“This practice has become an indictment on the conscience of our society,” Ms. Gariba said at the conference called Towards Banning “Witches” Camps. “The labeling of some of our kinsmen and women as witches and wizards and banishing them into camps where they live in inhuman and deplorable conditions is a violation of their fundamental human rights.”

Supreme Court Justice Rose Owusu also said that the practice violated numerous clauses in section 5 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution. That section protects human rights and outlaws cultural practices which “dehumanize or are injurious to the physical and mental well-being of a person.” Ms. Owusu also called for the development of new legislation to outlaw the camps and the practice.

The witch camps of Ghana’s north

There are currently around 1,000 women and 700 children living in 6 of the witches’ camps in Ghana’s northern region.

Many of them are elderly women who have been accused of inflicting death, misfortune, and calamity on their neighbors and villages through sorcery, witchcraft, or “juju,” a term used throughout West Africa.

The women enjoy a certain degree of protection within these camps, located some distance from their communities in which they could be tortured, beaten to death, or lynched, but the conditions of the camps are often poor. The “accused witches,” as they are sometimes referred to, live in tiny thatched mud huts, and have limited access to food and must fetch water from nearby streams and creeks.

Forced to flee

An elderly woman named Bikamila Bagberi who has lived in Nabule witch camp in Gushegu a district in the Northern Region for the past 13 years, told the story of how she was forced to leave her village. Dressed in a headscarf, faded T-shirt, and cotton skirt, Ms. Bagberi spoke softly with her head bowed as a district assemblyman translated for the conference delegates.

Bagberi’s nephew, her brother-in-law’s son, had died unexpectedly and after the village soothsayer said she caused the death of the child her family tried make her confess to murdering him through sorcery. She said that when she refused she was beaten with an old bicycle chain, and later her nephew’s family members rubbed Ghanaian pepper sauce into her eyes and open wounds.

When asked whether she could return back to her village she said the family couldn’t bring her back into the community because of the fear that she will harm others. Bagberi said she expected to spend the rest of her life in the camp.

Catalyst for action

Human rights groups have been campaigning for the closure of the witches’ camps since the 1990s, but have had little success in abolishing the practice of sending women suspected of witchcraft into exile, in part because of lack of political will and the pervasiveness of the belief in witchcraft throughout Ghana. But the brutal murder of 72-year-old Ama Hemmah in the city of Tema in Novermber of last year, allegedly by six people, among them a Pentecostal pastor and his neighbors who are accused of dousing her with kerosene and setting her alight, caused public outrage and made headlines across the world. Since Hemmah’s death, opinion pieces and articles about the issue have featured in Ghana’s major newspapers, along with feature stores on local news programs.

Emmanuel Anukun-Dabson from Christian Outreach Fellowship, a group working with the accused witches at the Nabule camp and one of the organizers of the conference, suggested that a broader cultural shift needed to take place if the camps were to be abolished.

“In Ghana, we know that when a calamity happens or something befalls a family or a community the question is not what caused it, but rather who caused it?” Anukun-Dabson said. “We are a people who do not take responsibility for our actions; rather we find scapegoats and women are the targets.”

Chief Psychiatrist of Ghana’s Health Services Dr. Akwesi Osei, who spearheaded the conference, argued that a public awareness campaign on psychological disorders, dementia, and the mental and behavioral changes associated with menopause might help the public understand behaviors and perceived eccentricities that are often associated with witchcraft.

Belief in witchcraft and supernatural powers is common throughout Ghana, and Africa countries and is often encouraged by pastors who preach in the nation’s many charismatic churches. Supernatural themes and sorcery also feature strongly in Ghanaian and West African films and television programs.

Deputy Minister Gariba has called for another meeting to develop a more concrete road map and said that the National Disaster Management Organisation would be providing the witches’ camps with water tanks and additional food supplies.

Joojo Eenstua, another organizer of the camp who works with Christian Outreach Fellowship at Nabule, said the conference marked a new era in activism on the issue and believed that significant changes and improvements to the livelihoods of the women and children living in these witches camps would follow.

“There is more public awareness than before and there is more political will and momentum around this issue,” Ms. Eenstua says.