Does evil exist in Africa?
To be convinced that evil exists in Africa, just look at the rapid spread of churches and mosques across the continent. In a culture where evil spirits and demons dominate, where people attribute their misfortunes to them and struggle to seek protection against them and the churches and mosques becoming a refuge, evil does exists. In Ghana, the suggestion has been made by Akanayo Konkronko, director of Black Herbal Clinic, a traditional medicine clinic that among other activities battle evil spirits, for the establishment of National Spiritual Courts to try traditional spiritual cases.
Why are Africans obsessed with evil? Who created evil? What does evil look like? If evil is a mystery, as some thinkers argue, can it be scientifically or systematically proved? When Africans speak of evil what do they mean? Is traditional sense of evil the same as modern sense of evil? Can we know evil; can the African know what drove Sudan’s Arab janjaweed militias to engage in racially-motivated rape against African fellow Muslims in Darfur? A dilemma! But we can know the works of evil and the fact that it is strange and understated. President Charles Taylor used to enforce discipline in schools by canning his daughter publicly for indiscipline but is on trial for crime against humanity in The Hague.
As the destructions of the cities and plains in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire show evil is easier to undertake. And as attempts at reconstruction of the cities and plains in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire show creativity is harder. African dictators, who have caused immense destruction of the continent, normally have leisure time while their countries burn. Samuel Doe has nice time drinking whisky while Liberia implodes. Kutu Acheampong entertained women with alcohol and cigarettes at the Osu Castle while Ghana’s socio-economic affairs collapsed.
As the hearings at various Truth and Reconciliation Commissions across Africa revealed evil is the dread projected to the category of the incomprehensible. When the rebel forces neared Monrovia, Samuel Doe and his associates fatalistically shouted, “No Doe, No Liberia” and they destroyed Monrovia. Despite the atrocities some Liberians were prepared to forgive. Part of the reason may be their inability to understand why brothers and sisters will easily destroy each other for nothing. And sometimes, as the ICC, the various Truth and Reconciliation Commissions across Africa, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the ICTR indicate, evil is actions we cannot forgive. Thomas Lubanga, a DRC ex-warlord, is on trial at the ICC for recruiting children under 15 to fight. To Lubanga and the likes of Foday Sankoh, what has children got to do with DRC’s troubles that they should be used to fight?
Evil and the Other
Nowhere in Africa is evil the Other than in Darfur, Rwanda and Burundi – evil is the one outside the ethnic group. As the Rwandan genocide revealed evil works by dehumanizing the Other: The 1994 Rwandan genocide saw the mass killing of between 800,000 to 1,000,000 of Rwanda’s Tutsis and Hutu political moderates by Hutus under the Hutu power ideology over the course of approximately 100 days, from the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana on 6 April up until mid July. Its rapidity reveals its vicious and well-organized logic, where recognizing Others as evil justified further the mass killings against them.
In Benin, one of the reasons for its stable democracy for the past 16 years is its ability to integrate its over 42 ethnic groups, thus moving beyond people thinking in terms of deadly ethnicity, of categories, one of the methods of evil. In the Ethiopia of 1974 to 1991, true to its Marxist-Leninist thinking of categories, not human beings, saw the ruling Marxist Derg, under Mengistu Haile Mariam, used cruel tactics, including executions, assassinations, torture and the imprisonment of tens of thousands without trial, most of whom were innocent, to enforce its categories.
In either Rwanda or Ethiopia, and by extension other African states where the evils of the Other is a pressing issue, evil hardens into the fixed, creates chemistry that brews into obliteration of the Other, by becoming pitiless, persistent. Here comprehension reaches its limit and evil, ever charismatic, lures the mind to destruction. Guinea-Bissau’s tribalism is so deadly that President Bernardo Vieira instructed elements of his Balante tribe to kill Chief of Armed Forces, Gen. Tagme na Waie, whose Papel elements in the army retaliated by killing President Viera. Once again, Benin has superbly integrated its ethnic groups, and despite evil and good still circling in people’s mind, like any human being, it has been able to deal with the evil of tribalism by its ability to let its citizens think not in class or categories, despite being a former Marxist ideologue. Such skillful ethnic integration cures evil as a malady.
Africa’s evil – a metaphysical dilemma
If in the horrors of Darfur and eastern DRC we see Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown where there is Satanic revelry in the wood and the devil proclaims, “Evil is the nature of mankind. Welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race,” can the Supreme Being be faulted for the evil nature of the perpetrators since He/She is the creator? In African cosmology, the existence of evil (or demons) explains the existence of the Supreme Being, making the Supreme Being meaningful in a world of evil. Whether in African cosmology or Western theology, there have been long attempts by theodicy to grapple with the good Supreme Being and evil. As the revulsions in Darfur and eastern DRC show, people cannot come to terms with such evil, making any explanation of theodicy unpersuasive.
If there is good Supreme Being, then why the horrors in Somalia, Darfur and eastern DRC? Why the use of child soldiers and sex slavery by supposedly adults who should know better? Why dreadful believe in witchcraft? Why do some Africans engage in human sacrifices? Why albinos should in Tanzania, Ghana and other African states be killed for rituals and in Ghana hunchback’s hump ritualistically cut off for rituals and the “murder of physically challenged persons for superstitious reasons.”? Short of clearer theological explanations, thinkers such as Elie Wiesel, the American Nazi holocaust survivor, argue that either the good Supreme Being is in “exile” or “retracted himself,” and so the issue of tackling evil, either in Somalia, Darfur or eastern DRC, rest with responsibilities, that will redeem Africa’s evil, and “even God himself.”
For, whether by God or not, both evil and goodness is in our minds, and will need the ICCs and African civil societies to wash the evil parts for the good of the African in the face of unfreedoms, poor rule of law, certain cultural practices that violate human rights, paternalistic “Big Man” syndrome, and authoritarianism in most African countries. A former DRC vice-president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, will know soon whether he will be tried for war crimes stemming from rapes in the near-collapsed Central African Republic. Africa’s evil have brought out the African condition and helped the growing of the ongoing human rights, democracies and freedoms across the continent. At the same time, these reveal the amorphous nature of evil, its corresponding mysteries, and the dilemma confronting theodicies in addressing evil.
Taking on the evil in the African culture
Martin Meredith, in The Fate of Africa, recount that between 17 to 19 April, 1979 the President of CAR, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who had been accused of cannibalism as part of his juju rituals, participated in the massacre of a number of elementary school students after they had protested against wearing the costly, government-required school uniforms. Around one-hundred were murdered and Bokassa personally beat some of the children to death with his cane.
Over the years, it appears the Bokassa evils have been growing in some parts of Africa where juju help massage the “Big Man”‘s ego trip. Africans talk of how some of their leaders appropriate the dark parts of their culture for evil – human sacrifices, charms, ritual blood bath, burying of persons alive with juju charms, and other fearsome rituals that blocks general enlightenment. Tune into the Charles Taylor trial in The Hague or the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown and you will be shocked beyond believe about the immense dominance and power of juju-marabout practices, savageries, horrors, the despising of the Supreme Being, the filth and the demonism of Africa. But such negative practices playing with the positive parts in the African culture remain constant and familiar, the proportions roughly the same over the years.
How does Africa contain the proportion of God and evil in the horrible deeds that happened to Rwandans, Congolese, Darfuris, Liberians, Sierra Leoneans? Why should God allow Bokassa to have such evil thoughts and practice them with the state’s instruments of coercion? If culture is the construction of people, why the construction of these destructive parts that appear to turn some Africans evil?
Aware of certain destructive parts of their culture and the rest of Africa, Ghanaian public intellectuals – academics and journalists – have rolled out some sort of 17th century European Enlightenment campaigns to refine certain aspects of the culture they deemed destructive, and move their society from the shadows of evil, mal-development, negative superstition and unreason. Using universal human rights values as tools to address these evils, Ghanaian public intellectuals are taking on juju-marabout mediums messing up their system; early marriages and betrothal of women that obstruct their progress such as going to school; female genital mutilation and its physiologically negative implications; human sacrifices that are murders; witchcraft as responsible for varied misfortunes that destroy human agencies; the killing of people (mostly women) accused as witches; the cultural dictation of the beating of wives, sometimes resulting in death; the killing of twins that are deemed evil,
By actively engaging the destructive parts of their culture, Ghanaian public intellectuals are revealing the ascendancy of Africans, as an enlightenment act, despite the Darfurs shattering reason and African civilization. From Kwame Nkrumah to Nelson Mandela, the struggles have been to throw light into Africa’s evils and help deal with its mysteries. Nkrumah embodies the struggles against the evils of colonialism part of which consequences are responsible for today’s Africa’s evils (as Rwanda’s President Paul Kagama will tell you). Mandela personifies resistance and challenges to creating democracy as anti-dotes to Africa’s evils.
Despite complications with the Supreme Being, this is a way of bringing order, either scientific or moral, in DRC, Somalia, Darfur, CAR, western Chad, Burundi and other parts of Africa. Beyond Nkrumah’s era, Africa has much more being integrated into the world system, taking in light as well as darkness and its corresponding evils. The weapons used in DRC, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Liberia or Darfur were imported from abroad, and so are Sierra Leonean rebel groups being advised by their foreign backers to amputate their opponents to send strong signal home and abroad. Africa’s evils have also increased due to increases in African population and the world’s supply of weapons, and as Sierra Leone and Liberia revealed, drugs, as instruments of evil.
Africa’s evils are African made
Africa’s evils swing between certain practices within its culture and tribulations spewing from the outside world. But at the centre of Africa’s evils is the idea that Africans are responsible for the actions that results in their evils. This means, aside from natural evils, the supposedly God’s evils become Africans’ responsibilities and this explains all of Africa’s future results. As Amnesty International reported, it isn’t only outrageous but also irresponsibility that the death of the Gambian President Yahyah Jammeh’s aunt will be attributed to witchcraft and result in over 1,000 Gambian villagers seized by witch-doctors with the help of state police, the army and the president’s personal security guard to secret detention centres and forced to drink traditional juju-marabout potions (some developing kidney complications and some dying) to confess.
The Gambian incident reveals Africa’s real evils and false evils. In the Gambian episode, agents of objectivity, rationality and reasoning are mixed in a bizarre cocktail of superstition, irrationality, darkness, and primitivity – and the results are irresponsibilities and false evils.
Why should the president’s aunt’s death be attributed to witchcraft? Is the aunt immune from natural death? Upon what mechanisms did the witch-doctors accuse the poor villagers of bewitching the aunt to death? Who told the witch-doctors that the villagers are witches, evil and, therefore, death merchants? Where is the proof, where is the beef? Will a European think like the Gambian President or Gambians? Are the differences between the Gambian mind and the European mind due to their respective cultures, and, therefore, that determines, in some aspects, what is evil? Does the Gambian culture stifle the human rights of the villagers accused of bewitching the President’s aunt? How do we resolve the contradictions between human rights values and the Gambian culture in relation to accusing an innocent person of being a witch, as evil, a killer?
In Imagining Evil, Gerrie Ter Haar and associates explain that in Africa witchcraft is a way of imagining evil, and as the Gambian episode reveal, it can result in death, terrorization, harassment, psychological damages and threats to society, thus making “witchcraft is a human rights issue” and a development challenge. At higher thinking, this is not different from President al-Bashir’s crimes against the Darfuris. And like most of Africa’s evils, witchcraft becomes simultaneously a spiritual problem as well as material one, as Haar and associates argue. Yet still, as President Jammeh’s actions reveals, “both dimensions are significant, but it appears that no lasting solution to the problems posed by witchcraft beliefs and accusations will be found unless full account is taken of the spiritual dimension of the matter,” argued Haar and associates
How do African policy-makers resolve the “full account is taken of the spiritual dimension of the matter”? A conundrum, isn’t it? As a Ghanaian traditional spiritualist had suggested, should there be a Spiritual Court to address this aspects of Africa’s evils? In the Gambia as in other parts of Africa, Africa’s evils become a mystery, and Africans are yet to liberate themselves from it no matter how necessary some see evil – some argue Idi Amin’s evils produced the good works of Yoweri Museveni and that South Africa’s horrendous apartheid created the grace and love of the Nelson Mandela legend.
Minimizing Africa’s evils
Whether small or big, part of Africa’s evils emanate from its culture, part due to globalization, part from its ancient traces, and part from its reptilian brain – the tribal hatred, the will to mindlessness, the drive to self-destruction. As Benin Republic, Mali, Cape Verde, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius, and Ghana demonstrate, Africa’s evils could be contained with greater dialogue, healthy rule of law, bigger freedoms, vigorous democratic consolidation, dynamic civil society, objective engagement with traditional values and institutions, and active human rights practices. This will help strain out the evils, the Darfurs and the DRCs, and boost the much praised African humanism.