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In the violence of the witches

Witch doctors hinder democratic development in Tanzania. This makes Norwegian aid projects extra vulnerable.


By Marta Camilla Wright

[zanzibar] – Witches can never be good, they are born to do evil deeds. There is nothing we can do. If we kill them, we'll be put in jail.

I meet Hamisi (30) in Zanzibar. Last year, the son of one year became ill and died. Hamisi believes the death is due to witchcraft.

- I know who they are. I have to lie low. It's because things have gone well with me and my family that they want to hit us.

Now Hamisi has paid his own witch doctor to protect the family from the witchcraft of others.

- On the mainland, witches are killed, and that's good.

Statements like Hamisis do not arouse Zanzibar. There, witchcraft is both a part of daily life and of political life.

Hamisi believes witchcraft is an important reason why people are poor. The witches do not like development, and therefore people do not dare to develop. Hamisi's opinion is shared by many Tanzanians. People do not dare to invest in their local communities. If you are visible and experiencing strong progress, such as a high-level politician, you must have strong powers.

Need for protection

Many African leaders use witchcraft in political processes. During the election process in Tanzania last year, there were rumors of how politicians used witch doctors to protect themselves and ensure success. Several sources claim that President Amani Abeid Karume of Zanzibar buys services from witch doctors.

It can be dangerous for a politician to stand out and be visible. Therefore, one needs strong protection – preferably in the form of a witch doctor. Those who cannot afford such protection also dare not stand out, and thus democracy suffers.

Hamisi on Zanzibar hopes the president will address this.

- There are very many who have died due to witchcraft. But the president does nothing. He goes to the witch doctor himself and has more than enough money to pay for protection.

Hamisi says that the family is very careful now, after the son died because of the witches.

- We had planned to build a house, but we are waiting with it. We're afraid they'll hurt us more.

Witchcraft is used to gain power and to take revenge, he says.

Faith and knowledge

To understand power structures and the political game in several African cultures, one must first acknowledge the place of witchcraft.

- Witchcraft is an important ingredient in the political game – on several levels.

This is stated by researcher Kjetil Tronvoll at the Center for Human Rights at the University of Oslo.

- Witchcraft must be given weight when power systems are to be explained. The same applies to the mechanisms in an election process, Tronvoll explains.

He has looked at witchcraft in political processes, with a particular focus on Zanzibar. He says that politicians use witchcraft to win. It is often those who have power and are in a position to have the resources to exploit their own and others' belief that this works.

- Democratic elections are often introduced as clear demands from outside, and thus do not have their origins in African political culture. But the population has a need to understand political processes based on culture and traditions, says Tronvoll.

When witchcraft is a strong part of the faith and tradition, it can lead to a democratic bias. In addition, witchcraft is secret knowledge.

- If you mention witchcraft for someone who believes in it, he can be embarrassed. Witchcraft is not something that is talked about in public. Then witchcraft loses its power, says the researcher.

He emphasizes that especially aid actors must acquire knowledge of this and understand the influence of witchcraft on African social life.

If not, it can have major consequences for the outcome of the assistance.

Good and sound governance and a healthy development of democracy are prerequisites for Norwegian aid projects in, for example, Tanzania and Zanzibar to succeed.

Ny Tid has been in contact with Norad, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy in Dar-Es-Salaam, but no one dares to comment on the extent to which Norwegian aid projects relate to witchcraft.

When Kikwete [Tanzania's current president, editor's note] suddenly collapsed on the rostrum on the last day of the election campaign, everyone thought he was being hit by witchcraft.

That's what lawyer Mmanda says. He has been politically involved in the government of Tanzania, CCM. He says witchcraft is used by many politicians, especially during the election campaign.

- When Kikwete appeared strong and calm on TV the same night he collapsed, he won many votes, Mmanda believes.

- He showed that he had a very strong power, and thus has a strong witch doctor.

But to be able to use powerful witches

doctors, you have to have money. Hamisi in Zanzibar spent 60.000 Tanzanian shillings, about $ 300, to protect his family. That's more than a monthly salary. He must use even more soon. n

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