Saturday, July 28, 2012

At last, a conviction for child sacrifice!

Two years ago, a respectable be-suited Kampala businessman, Kajubi, was tried for paying for the ritual murder of a 12-year-old primary school pupil from Masaka. He was acquitted for 'lack of evidence'. The furore in the media grabbed our attention as soon as we arrived in Uganda, shortly after the trial.

Last Thursday, Kajubi was sentenced to life imprisonment, that same evidence having been reviewed at a retrial. Kateregga, the witchdoctor who in 2008 had carried out the crime, together with his wife, decided to cooperate with the authorities, in exchange for the case against them being dropped. This was a controversial decision but one which was generally welcomed. Worth it, the prosecutors thought, to catch one of the rich people who are often ultimately responsible for such crimes. Kateregga provided the more detailed evidence through which the conviction was secured, including locating the body. 

There are a number of significant elements to this story.

Firstly, child sacrifice is not restricted to remote rural areas where traditional practices persist and levels of education are low. On the contrary, the people behind it are often, like Kajubi, educated middle-class people living in urban centres.  Kajubi had businesses in Kampala, Jinja and Masaka. The 'shrine' where he was eventually arrested is in Kajjansi, a Kampala suburb which we drive through every weekend. One of the centres of witchcraft in Uganda is Mukono, just down the road from us.

Although Kajubi did not actually carry out the killing himself, he 'sponsored' it, employing a witchdoctor to do the dirty work. Actually convicting a 'sponsor' of child sacrifice is very significant. As with many crimes in Uganda and the rest of the world, it is not unusual for the common criminal to be caught while the rich man who hired him to get away. The wealthy pay the witchdoctor; the poor are usually (but not always) the victims. Many sacrificed children have been living with grandparents or friends rather than their own parents. In a country where most children are hungry for a good bit of the time, an offer of sweets or biscuits is very tempting.

And you do have to be pretty wealthy to pay for a ritual murder. It can cost up to Shs3 million to perform such a ceremony (£767, a lot of money in Uganda). Apparently, such services are advertised on the radio but are also easily discovered by word-of-mouth. Clearly, no one reports the witchdoctors until their own families are affected.

Secondly, traditional beliefs are widespread despite the much-quoted figures of 85% of Ugandans being Christians and 10% Muslims. As we have noted before, Christianity and animism co-exist, alongside a belief in 'science'. A fair number of people hedge their bets by following both religious practices and then going to the medical doctor if all else fails. Given the state of Uganda's health services, the cost of treatment and bribes and the distances people have to travel, it is often easier to go to the local traditional healer than to the health centre. Some of the traditional treatments are effective, and some of them are not. Roads are lined with euphemistic 'herbal research centres'.

A couple of weeks ago we were chatting to a traditional healer over in the west of Uganda. The man was very knowledgeable about the medicinal uses of plants, lore which he had learned from his father and grandfather, both believers in traditional religion. Our informant, however, had been converted to Christianity. As a result, he spent much of his time talking to other traditional healers about their work, supporting the positive elements and trying to steer people away from the negative ones. He told us that the negative aspects of witchcraft are often related to arguments over property and land. One villager would ask the witchdoctor to cast a spell on another villager of whom he was envious or whose land he coveted. Our healer insisted that such spells 'worked'. Being told you had been bewitched always, so he said, triggered a catastrophic physical collapse, followed by death - the power of the mind.

Other forms of 'bewitchment' are more mundane. There are many cases of poisoning in Uganda within families, particularly polygamous families. Herbalists provide a range of potions, some benign - love potions for example - and some less so. Poisons are relatively easy to hide in food or drink and death can easily be explained as the result of witchcraft.

However, the third element which typifies 'negative' witchcraft, according to our informant, is that it often relates to an attempt to 'get rich quick' - which is where Kajubi comes in. Body parts and blood are buried under supermarkets and businesses to ensure their success. Kajubi's victim, Joseph, a fisherman's son, had his head and his genitals cut off, typical of such crimes. Money matters enormously in Uganda and is a feature of all kinds of religion, not just traditional animism. Evangelical churches promise untold riches to adherents who 'tithe' their incomes, giving huge amounts to the pastors. In return they receive the promise that true belief and fervent prayers will result in school fees being paid, limousines purchased and mansions built.

A fourth characteristic is that child sacrifice rarely comes about because of 'stranger danger', although, as a result of the Kajubi case, the newspapers are currently publishing letters advocating such programmes in Ugandan schools. Many of us remember Scottish schools running extensive 'say no to strangers' campaigns to combat child sex abuse. In fact, much of this work was misguided. Despite some high-profile cases apparently proving the opposite, Scottish children were, and are, more likely to be raped by their family and neighbours than by 'strangers'. Similarly in Uganda, children fall victim to witchdoctors operating in their own neighbourhoods. Such witchdoctors are not 'strangers'; they are the equivalent of the local GP practice in a country where many people can't afford to go to a GP. Joseph passed the witchdoctor's house every day on his way to the well, a journey he took a couple of times a day. His jerry can was found in the witchdoctor's house and his torso in the nearby swamp. The witchdoctor was a close family friend and so it was natural for Joseph to go into his house when invited.

According to the reports from the Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Taskforce and Uganda Police, more than 72 children have been ritually murdered and scores more have gone missing since 2006 although police do state that the numbers are going down. However, most cases are not reported to the police. Between January and April this year, three young children aged around five were reported in the press as having been killed by ritual murder, with the usual elements of body part removal and blood drained. The body of an eighteen-month-old baby was discovered mutilated the previous November; other children just disappear. The body parts removed vary according to what the client wishes to achieve, for example sexual organs for love potions.

During the same period January to April, five children were reported as having been rescued or found 'unworthy' of sacrifice, ie they had pierced ears or had been circumcised, practices which many parents employ in order to protect their children by making them 'imperfect'. The ones who 'get away' are literally, not just psychologically, scarred for life. A few months ago, an eight-year old in northern Uganda was given chloroformed bread and castrated. He was found still alive in the bush. The traditional healer responsible, a 47-year old, received 50 years in jail. His punishment, however, will not restore the boy to full health. A recent case involved a two-year old who was found castrated. The perpetrator was the man next door, a traditional healer. 

A spokesman for the Kyampisi Childcare Ministries, a charity which is helping this boy, now aged five, is quoted as saying, 'Government need to come out loud [sic] to help us in the fight against ritual activities. There is need for an investigation to find the benefits of traditional healers compared to other activities in the economy.'


In an attempt to distinguish between positive and negative traditional practices, the Ugandan government requires all traditional healers to be registered with a professional association, rather like the Ugandan Nurses and Midwives Council, but for herbalists. However, registration has met with limited success. Every so often, a healer and his family are accused of 'witchcraft' and nearly lynched. An 80-year old woman from Rakai was recently beaten to death by a mob, accused of sacrificing two children. The body of one of the children was found in her shrine. The district police commander said no arrests had been made but 'warned locals to desist from taking the law into their own hands.'

Sometimes, ironically, the witchdoctors accused of ritual murder end up being rescued from their neighbours by the local police, as happened with a family in northern Uganda not long ago, who then took up residence in the police station. The police have a difficult path to tread, trying to restrain mob justice while also trying to bring the perpetrators of terrible crimes to justice. After all, members of the community have lived alongside the witchdoctors for years without complaining and, no doubt, availed themselves of their services now and again. 

At least police efforts were met with success as far as Joseph's killer was concerned.

“I want the children of Uganda to sleep happy tonight, knowing that one of their tormentors is now in prison for life,” Justice Chibita said at the conclusion of Kajubi's trial.

The Anti-Child Sacrifice Coalition applauded the judgement. The coalition comprises influential NGOs and international donor organisations such as the ANPPCAN Uganda Chapter, Uganda Child Rights NGO Network, Save the Children, World Vision and Plan International.

Anslem Wandega Executive Director ANPPCAN stated, “This is the best gift the government of Uganda has given to its children this year.”

The coalition wants the government to establish special courts for ritual murders. Such bodies have observed the need to amend the 1957 Witchcraft Act to differentiate clearly between traditional healers and 'quack' doctors (as Ugandans call unqualified medical staff) to make it easier to implement. The new-ish Trafficking in Persons Act (2009) has still to be implemented fully.

In the meantime, UNICEF is supporting the Child Sacrifice Prevention Programme organised by the charity Lively Minds. The programme is running in central Uganda in the areas surrounding Kampala - Jinja, Mukono, Buikwe and Wakiso. Pupils read the story 'Saving Little Viola', which deals with a child who survives an attempt at child sacrifice, and learn how to escape from danger themselves. Ranzo, the facilitator, says that when he began the workshops last year, more than 50% of children across the area believed that child sacrifice could lead to wealth. In some schools, the figure was as high as 80%. Following the workshops, the figure apparently dropped to 30%. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Gender and with Lively Minds to see if the Child Sacrifice Prevention Programme can become part of the National Curriculum.

Ranzo said, 'It's mainly locals, businesspeople, looking for money...People go to witchdoctors before they go to the proper doctor...Sometimes people believe in villages that child sacrifice can cure diseases such as mental illness.'

So, it will be some time before such beliefs in the efficacy of witchcraft are wiped out.

In the meantime, let us all be glad that at last the courts have achieved a conviction for child sacrifice, and of a rich man too.

You may also find the following posts of interest:

Demons, ghosts and evil spirits
Ghost bicycles, ghost schools and real children

ANPPCAN - African Network for the Prevention and Protection from Child Abuse and Neglect

Saturday, July 21, 2012

There's nowhere like Ndali

Back to the west of Uganda again and a wonderful restful weekend before a solid week of work, every day in a different place.

Where had we not already stayed? Ndali Lodge, south of Fort Portal, set amidst one of the many groups of crater lakes in this part of Uganda. You can see the cluster of lakes - about sixty in all, some big, some small - at the top right-hand corner of the map below. Sensibly, it only shows the main ones.

Ndali Lodge is set on the rim of one of these lakes, Lake Nyinambuga. As you navigate the bends at the end of your forty minute drive from Fort Portal, you catch your first sight of it. Wonderful, you think, but you will see far more spectacular views than this when you eventually arrive at the lodge itself.

The lodge consists of a dozen thatched cottages set in woodland along the rim of the crater. Here is the dining room...

...with its verandah...

...and its view.

And you will see that view from various different angles during the course of your stay.

The breast-shaped hills are volcanic cores, as are the other similarly-shaped mounds all around you. Below are the two crater lakes which we could see from our own comfortable verandah. Beyond them are more hills and then the invisible Rwenzori Mountains, all seen through the warm haze of the west.

And this is our verandah from which we gazed at the view with good books on our laps and good gin in our glasses.

Ndali is a place to come and relax. The setting is lovely and the gardens bright with flowers, among them, as one would expect, lots of African marigolds and many others of whose names we are entirely ignorant.

So what does one do at Ndali Lodge, given that we were too lazy to repeat our experience of chimp tracking just down the road at Kibale? What does one do apart from drink and gaze at the flowers, that is?

Well, eat, of course - some of the most delicious food in Uganda, much of it grown on Ndali's own farm. Here is Stuart at breakfast, exemplifying healthy eating, his bowl piled with mango, watermelon, banana and pineapple and his hand stretched towards the fresh passion-fruit juice. I would expect no less.

One can sleep, though who would want to stay inside on a hot sunny day?

You can swim, of course...

...and sunbathe.

You can watch butterflies...


...and chameleons, some showing off...

...and some lying low.

You can visit the farm to find the bananas used to make your warigi (gin)...

...the ingredients for your bedtime cocoa (on the tree, the ripened 'fruit' and the drying 'nuts')...

..traditional remedies for any illnesses you might have (bark, in this case)...

..but most important of all, the fair trade vanilla you buy in Waitrose or Tesco, or eat in your Ben and Jerry's ice-cream. First the vine with its long green pods...

...the sorting process...

...the drying process...

...the grading process...

...and finally, the packing process.

I now know a lot about vanilla.

And the highlight?

Well, for me it had to be the birds: the wagtails...

..the weaver birds (black rather than yellow, unless I am mistaken - see the rather smudgy photo below)...

...the sunbirds...

...but best of all the wonderful exotic Great Blue Turaco...

Will we be back? Just try and stop us!

You may be interested in the following post about the area around Fort Portal and the road to Kamwenge, its people and its animals, including its famous chimpanzees.

Living together in Kibale Forest
Chilling out in Kyaninga
Fort Portal, Semliki and Toro Golf Course