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It’s 2013, And They’re Burning ‘Witches

25 May
By Jo Chandler


Belief in black magic persists in Papua New Guinea, where communities are warping under the pressure of the mining boom’s unfulfilled expectations. Women are blamed, accused of sorcery and branded as witches — with horrific consequences.

The shout went up from a posse of children as they raced past the health clinic in a valley deep in the Papua New Guinean highlands. Inside, Swiss-born nurse and nun Sister Gaudentia Meier — 40-something years and a world away from the ordered alps of her homeland — was getting on with her daily routine, patching the wounds and treating the sicknesses of an otherwise woefully neglected population. It was around lunchtime, she recalls.

Sister Gaudentia knew immediately the spectacle the excited children were rushing to see. They were on their way to a witch-burning. There are many names for dark magic in the 850 tongues of Papua New Guinea, sanguma resonating widely in these mountains. The 74-year-old sister hurriedly rounded up some of her staff, loaded them in a car and followed the crowd, with a strong foreboding of what she would find.

Two days earlier she had tried to rescue Angela (not her real name), an accused witch, when she was first seized by a gang of merciless inquisitors looking for someone to blame for the recent deaths of two young men. They had stripped their quarry naked, blindfolded her, berated her with accusations and slashed her with bush knives (machetes). The “dock” for her trial was a rusty length of corrugated roofing, upon which she was displayed trussed and helpless. Photographs taken by a witness on a mobile phone show that the packed, inert public gallery encircling her included several uniformed police.

In Papua New Guinea, the Pacific nation just a short boat ride from Australia’s far north, 80 per cent of the 7 million-plus population live in rural and remote communities. Many have little access to even basic health and education, surviving on what they eat or earn from their gardens. There are few roads out, but a burgeoning network of digital-phone towers and dirt-cheap handsets now connect them to the world — assuming they can plug into power and scrounge a few kina-worth of credit.

87d9e8e2553f1603169e61da288448ccThe beautiful landscape of PNG’s highlands belies the brutal reality of life in the region, where more than 90 per cent of women report suffering gender-based violence.

The resources-rich country is in the midst of a mining boom, but the wealth bypasses the vast majority. In their realities, some untouched by outside influence until only a couple of short-lived generations ago, enduring tradition widely resists the notion that natural causes, disease, accident or recklessness might be responsible for a death. Rather, bad magic is the certain culprit.

“When people die, especially men, people start asking ‘Who’s behind it?’, not ‘What’s behind it?’” says Dr Philip Gibbs, a longtime PNG resident, anthropologist, sorcery specialist and Catholic priest.

Last year, a two-year investigation by the country’s Constitutional and Law Reform Commission observed that the view that sorcery or witchcraft must be to blame for sickness or early death is commonly held across PNG.

Many educated, city-dwelling Papua New Guineans also espouse some belief in sorcery. But in the words of the editor of the national daily Post Courier, Alexander Rheeney, city and country-folk alike overwhelmingly “recoil in fear and disgust” at lynch-mobs pursuing payback, and at the kind of extremist cruelty that Sister Gaudentia was about to witness.

Angela’s accusers — young men from another town, high on potent highlands dope and “steam” (home-brewed hooch) — had come back for her. Sister Gaudentia suspected the same mob had tortured a young woman she nursed a few months earlier. She had dragged herself, “how … I don’t know”, says the nun, into the clinic, her genitals burned and fused beyond functional repair by the repeated intrusions of red-hot irons.

The concept of a serial-offending torture squad hunting down witches doesn’t fit the picture anthropologists have assembled of the customs that underwrite sorcery “pay-back” in parts of PNG. Attacks are, as a general rule, the spontaneous act of a grieving family, inspired often by vengeance, and sometimes by fear that evil magic will be exercised again. But experts also concede there are caveats to every rule in PNG. One of the most ethnically diverse landscapes in the world, PNG is endlessly confounding to outsiders, and even as modern explorers strive to pin down aspects of the old world, it changes before them.

5f779683092c743d6256e82d6c485063Walne was accused of using sorcery to kill a young boy and hunted by her husband’s family. Narrowly escaping public execution, she is currently in hiding.

As more reports of sorcery-related atrocities find their way into the PNG media, United Nations’ forums, and human rights investigations, there are concerns that the profile of this social terrorism is shifting. Ritual attacks on accused sorcerers — historically brutal in some parts, notoriously so in the punishing highlands — appear to have broken out of traditional boundaries, and now crop up in communities where they have no history.

Despite a lack of data and the suspicion that only a fraction of incidents are ever reported, the 2012 Law Reform Commission examination of sorcery-related attacks concluded that they have been rising since the 1980s. It estimated about 150 cases of violence and killings are occurring each year in just one volatile province, Simbu — wild, prime coffee country deep in the nation’s rugged spine. Figures vary enormously but volumes of published reports by UN agencies, Amnesty International, Oxfam and anthropologists provide unequivocal evidence that attacks on accused sorcerers and witches — sometimes men, but most commonly women — are frequent, ferocious and often fatal.

Australian National University anthropologist Dr Richard Eves is a PNG specialist who is convening a conference on the issue in Canberra in June. As he explains, the truism of anthropological literature is that the thrall of sorcery and witchcraft over a society declines with modernity, as occurred in Europe and North America. But right now in Melanesia, and particularly in PNG, this seems not to be the case.

Instead reports indicate tradition has in places morphed into something more malignant, sadistic and voyeuristic, stirred up by a potent brew of booze and drugs; the angry despair of lost youth; upheaval of the social order in the wake of rapid development and the super-charged resources enterprise; the arrival of cash currency and the jealousies it invites; rural desperation over broken roads; schools and health systems propelling women out of customary silence and men, struggling to find their place in this shifting landscape bitterly, often brutally, resentful.

“I have been in PNG since 1969,” says Sister Gaudentia. “We always had sanguma, but not to the extreme, not like it is now.”

Gibbs, who has published many articles on the issue, agrees that attacks have become more brutal. “It used to be that they would push someone over a cliff, something like that. They still ended up dead, but it wasn’t the torture, like now. This interrogation, this public stuff, with the kids watching, it becomes a spectacle.”

On the first day of Angela’s agonies, the nun pleaded with the watching police to intervene. Why would they and other community leaders not act? Gibbs explains: “Even if they would want to stop the violence, they have little power today in the face of a village mob — particularly when many young men within the mob are affected by alcohol or drugs”.

c58b3e5830cc409b7d31053668de26a8These men call their gang “Dirty Dons 585” and admit to rapes and armed robberies in the Port Moresby area. They say two-thirds of their victims are women.

PNG’s police force is underpaid, under-resourced and under-trained. It’s also notoriously corrupt and abusive. Many members subscribe to sorcery belief and some may see the interrogation of women like Angela as legitimate under custom, a view some argue is encouraged by the controversial PNG Sorcery Act of 1971, which acknowledges the existence of sorcery and criminalises both those who practice it and those who attack people accused of sorcery.

On that opening day of her “trial”, Angela was tortured, humiliated and interrogated; an absurd Monty Python-esque parody of prosecution in which she was in one moment accused of causing the deaths, the next being asked to give up the name of the real witch — “kolim nem, kolim nem [call the name]”, the gang demanded. At one point, in wracked desperation, she shouted out the name of another woman, but her accusers showed no interest.

For reasons not clear, they let her go, and the next day Sister Gaudentia heard she had been taken to a holding room at the police station, apparently for her safety. The nun tried to see her but the room was locked and no-one could locate the key. “I thought she was safe.” She later learned that at some point the police had released Angela after her attackers signed pledges to leave her alone.

It was lunchtime the next day when Sister heard the children’s chilling chorus outside the clinic window. “I left the car up the road and then we went into the village. At least we tried to go in,” the Sister recalls. The crowd was so dense she couldn’t push through. “I went back to the car and drove to the police station to report that they were torturing her again. The police commander said, ‘We can’t do anything. They promised me they wouldn’t.’”

Sister drove back, taking a priest with her. This time they fought their way through. “There must have been 600 people watching; men, women and children — a lot of them.”

Angela was naked, staked-out, spread-eagled on a rough frame before them, a blindfold tied over her eyes, a fire burning in a nearby drum. Being unable to see can only have inflated her terror, her sense of powerlessness and the menace around her; breathing the smoke and feeling the heat of the fire where the irons being used to burn her were warmed until they glowed. Would she be cooked, on that fire? She must have known it had happened to others before — and would soon infamously happen again, the pictures finding their way around the world.

The photographs witnesses took of Angela’s torture are shocking, both for the cruelty of the attackers and the torpid body-language of the spectators. Stone-faced men and women and wide-eyed children huddle under umbrellas, sheltering from the drenched highlands air as Angela writhes against the tethers at her wrists and ankles, twisting her body away from the length of hot iron which a young man aims at her genitals. [The photograph of Angela accompanying this article, taken on the first day of Angela’s torture, is confronting, but chosen as less humiliating and dangerous than pictures taken on the second day which would identify key individuals.]

Angela — a woman in her late 40s — is the mother of a small boy, says Philip Gibbs, who later collected her testimony and that of witnesses to her ordeal. Typical of the victims of sorcery-related attacks and killings in the highlands, she had been existing on the margins of her community. She had no husband or male family to protect her. Custom often requires women to leave behind the safe enclave of their own place and family when they marry. If their husband dies or leaves or abuses them, they find themselves stranded on “foreign” soil. As Gibbs has documented in his published work, which delves into the dynamics of accused and accusers, “when a family, believing that death comes through human agency, looks for a scapegoat to accuse, fingers will very often point at a woman without influential brothers or strong sons”.

Sister Gaudentia shouted over Angela’s screams, part begging, part ordering the interrogators she calls “the marijuana boys” to cease their assaults. “They held me back, stopped me getting to her,” she says. When Gibbs later investigated, he learned that the nun had put herself at dire risk — the torturers had tried to burn her, too. It was perhaps only her pale expat skin that saved her.

When there was nothing more she could do to stop Angela’s torment, the Sister gathered her clinic staff around her and shouted out to the crowd. “I called on the people. I asked, ‘Who here is a Catholic? Come, we will pray the rosary.’

“And a lot of people came and prayed with me. We prayed the whole rosary.” Angela’s suffering echoed around them through their invocation, the ritual comforts of one belief system colliding with the atrocities of another.

“A man came from another village and drove us back to the police and we pleaded with them again to come,” Sister recalls. She was still at the station when Angela was cut down. By then there was heavy rain falling. Perhaps the fire had gone out. Perhaps some of the sport had been dampened. Perhaps police did intervene.

It was around 5pm when “the marijuana boys” let Angela go, more than four hours after they began their assaults. When Angela’s elderly mother tried to attend to her they set upon her too, breaking her leg and her pelvis.

Later a police car delivered Angela and her mother to Sister Gaudentia’s clinic. “We treated them that night. People came to our house and wanted us to send these women out, but we didn’t.”

Then the mob grew and began shouting and throwing stones on the clinic roof, and Sister called the police, fearing the clinic would be burned down. “This time a different policeman came, he was really concerned. We had to agree to let the women go to the police cell for their own protection. We took them food.”

With that officer’s help, they smuggled Angela and her mother away by car, taking them a long way away, eventually finding them care in another hospital. When their physical wounds were healed, she was relocated again. She has now joined the ranks of sorcery survivors who are not only damaged but forever displaced by their experiences, refugees within their own country, forced away from the land many of them rely on for survival.

She remains in hiding with her young son.

94fa83eb8ad1e798e7d09fe1a84a366dDini was accused of using black magic to kill her son. His friends dragged her to a pigsty, where she was tortured using bush knives and red-hot iron bars.

ON FEBRUARY 7, Papua New Guineans woke to the headline “Burnt Alive!” and pictures of a large crowd, including school children, watching as flames engulfed the body of a young woman.

It happened in the busy, mercurial hub of Mount Hagen, smack in the heart of the country. A 20-year-old mother of two, Kepari Leniata, had been stripped, tortured, trussed, doused with petrol, thrown on a rubbish tip, covered with tyres and set alight.

The killing was reportedly carried out by relatives of a six-year-old boy who had just died in the local hospital. They seized a couple of women they suspected of causing the death, among them Leniata, and soon determined that she would be the scapegoat of their grief. Witnesses claimed the crowd blocked police officers and firefighters who tried to intervene.

The news provoked a statement of “deep concern” from the UN human rights office and international media coverage. PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill condemned the killing as a “despicable” and “barbaric” act. He said he had instructed police to use all available manpower to bring the killers to justice.

“It is reprehensible that women, the old, and the weak in our society, should be targeted for alleged sorcery or wrongs that they actually have nothing to do with,” said O’Neill. Similar sentiments resounded across PNG’s always animated social media scene, and included a push for a campaign to enlist Leniata’s name and legacy to rally momentum to address endemic, epidemic violence against women.

Leniata’s death and the anguish it provoked reprised a very similar scenario only two years ago, also on a rubbish tip in Mount Hagen, when an unidentified young woman — according to some reports, possibly as young as 16 — was tied at the stake and burned. But this time there were pictures. The horror of the act, and the passivity of the watching crowd, sent shockwaves across the country.

As the Post Courier’s Rheeney editorialised, the failure of witnesses to intervene, “to stop and condemn the murderers’ actions, points to a bigger danger of ordinary Papua New Guineans accepting this callous killing as normal and this methodology of dispensing justice as acceptable.

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Dini shows wounds she received after she was accused of using sorcery to kill her own son.

“Respect for the rule of law and the rights of others are pillars of a modern-day democracy, and we would like to think PNG falls under this category,” he wrote. Leniata’s murder raised questions, he noted, about whether “we believe that justice is dispensed in a legally constituted court of law and not a kangaroo court chaired by individuals misled by superstition and trickery”.

The earlier witch-burning at Mount Hagen, in January 2009, had been the catalyst for the Government’s directive to the PNG Constitutional and Law Reform Commission to review sorcery violence and the legal issues around it. Community distress had peaked following a series of similar reports, including that people accused of sorcery had been roasted over slow fire, nailed to crosses, hung in public places and beaten to death, locked inside homes and set alight, weighted with stones and thrown into rivers, and hacked to death with machetes.



Now Rheeney’s editorial echoed the view of many PNG commentators and international human-rights groups when it urged the Government to at least pursue one powerful, urgent measure and fast-track the key recommendation to emerge from the review: repeal the Sorcery Act.

The 1971 Act, in its preamble, acknowledges “widespread belief throughout the country that there is such a thing as sorcery, and sorcerers have extra-ordinary powers that can be used sometimes for good purposes but more often bad ones”. It distinguishes “innocent sorcery”, defined as protective and curative, from “forbidden sorcery” — everything else.

The Act, the review explains, was largely aimed at recognising the reality of citizens’ concerns and to provide a mechanism for them to have an accused sorcerer dealt with by the courts rather than taking the law into their own hands. Extensive consultations out in the PNG provinces over the past two years revealed that many communities still wanted the law to recognise that sorcery was real and active, and to provide systems to prosecute and punish sorcerers and their accomplices.

As the late Sir Buri Kidu, PNG’s first national Chief Justice, observed in a judgment in 1980, “in many communities in Papua New Guinea belief in sorcery and its powers is very strong and we cannot brush it aside. My own people believe it and greater fear is caused by such belief.” (His Australian-born widow — Dame Carol Kidu, for many years the only woman in the PNG Parliament until her recent retirement — has recounted the story that every night of her young married life in the family’s village home, Buri’s mother would pull the shutters to keep out what in her language they called the “vada”, only to have Buri get up in the small hours and open them again.)

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Rasta was accused of sorcery by people in her village after the death of a young man in 2003. She was set upon by a crowd at his funeral, beaten and strangled until she escaped. She lost her hand in the attack.

The review concluded that the Sorcery Act had plainly not prevented bad magic, and nor had it punished practitioners. What it had done was provide legal refuge for murderers and vigilantes to argue sorcery as a mitigating factor, allowing self-styled witch-killers — and comparatively few have even been prosecuted — to get off with light sentences.

After examining various options for amending the Act, the Commission has recommended its repeal, but with provision for village courts to continue to deal with sorcery disputes. It has drafted a Bill to that effect that commission secretary, Dr Eric Kwa, hopes will go before the PNG Parliament in the next few months.

“I’m really appalled by the [latest] reports,” Kwa told The Global Mail. “It is really sickening that Papua New Guineans are not able to stand up for the weak and vulnerable to oppose this evil in our society. We hope that with the repeal of the Sorcery Act [if the recommendation is supported], the normal criminal liabilities will apply in terms of serious crimes such as the one we read of today.”

Many commentators argue it will take much more than a change in legislation to achieve any meaningful inroads against the violence. Anthropologist Philip Gibbs, whose archive of work was heavily drawn on by the Law Reform Commission review, is one of them.

At the national level he urges the Government to also set up a PNG human-rights council — a measure promised in the past — and to consider establishing special police task forces to pursue killers. Human rights and UN agencies have repeatedly slammed PNG police for failing to intervene to stop attacks or to arrest suspects. But they also recognise the besieged force requires monumental investment in training, resources and equipment if it is to be effective.

As one 2011 UN report summarised, the PNG constabulary lacks everything from adequate pay, uniforms and accommodation to leadership. As a consequence, corruption is rife and morale poor. Police have almost no intelligence-gathering capacity. The likelihood of criminals being caught has been estimated at less than 3 per cent.

Even assuming the political will emerges to invest in stronger policing and community protection, it will be years before the terrorism fades in communities like Simbu, an epicentre for violence. Aid and development agencies have also been reluctant to touch the issue, says Richard Eves. “For many years religion was a taboo for donor agencies. Because it is so cultural and so complex, it’s not easy to come up with projects to address it.”

In the meantime concerned citizens, local human-rights activists and churches — deeply engaged with their congregations, and often the only functional institutions in sight — are devising grassroots interventions, some of them with substantial effect, according to Gibbs.

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Rasta had one hand severed and the other mutilated by the frenzied crowd.

One such program is championed by Bishop Anton Bal, the Catholic bishop of Kundiawa, the capital of Simbu. Born and raised in the province’s remote south, he’s enlisting his networks and his understanding of the culture to find ways to infiltrate and change thinking. Working with him is Polish-born surgeon and priest Father Jan Jaworski, whose work in the community as a healer of body and soul over more than 25 years resonates widely, earning authority.

Through its close connections to families the diocese is able to measure the reverberating damage from sorcery violence. The casualties number many more than the dead. The bishop’s office has estimated that as much as 10 to 15 per cent of the population have been displaced by fallout from accusations and attacks, many of them banished, their homes and sustaining gardens destroyed.

Bishop Bal argues that the catch-22 with sorcery is that the more it’s talked about, the greater its power and allure. So his programs include training up networks of local parish volunteers as a kind of resistance movement. Operatives deflect and douse conversations about blame as soon as a death in the community occurs. They go to the funeral and when someone brings up the question of sanguma they shift the topic — talk about the weather, shut it down. Or raise the alarm.

Kundiawa is in name a provincial capital, but in reality a pit stop on the nation’s only east-west thoroughfare, the Highlands Highway, which is heavily trafficked and rapidly eroding under the wheels of fortified convoys running to and from mine sites. It’s also the trading post and heart of a far-flung society of hamlets sprinkled through some of PNG’s steepest, tallest, harshest and lushest ranges.

At Kundiawa Hospital, which is distinguished by the proud efforts of its staff and community as something of a showpiece within PNG’s weary provincial hospital network, Jaworski sees patients with sorcery-related trauma being admitted at least a couple of times a week. “[They’re] usually women, but not only. It’s the tip of the iceberg. It is still very strong [the belief]. It is part of the system of justice.” After so many years at sanguma ‘Ground Zero’, there’s not much that shocks him.

Part of his practice is to use the influence he has gained to interrupt the cycle of accusation and prosecution, to go to the grieving family and explain medical cause of death whenever he has the opportunity, and pray that his story finds its way onto the bush telegraph and around the district.

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Gimu Jack, from Yamox Village in the Eastern Highlands. She lost her finger when her husband attacked her with an ax.

Not long ago the brother of a local politician died. When Jaworski got word that some 300 family members had gathered and were milling about looking for someone to blame, he went and confronted the mob. “I told them [his death] was his own responsibility. He was a fat man. He didn’t look after himself. Sometimes you have to put the responsibility on the person who has gone, or it hurts someone else.”

On another occasion he confronted the family of a young woman who had died of HIV/AIDS. When she was still a girl the family had given her to an older man in the community. She became his third wife, and then she became infected and sickened, leaving behind a young baby. “I told them ‘It is your fault she died — not sanguma. You sold her as a third wife.’ I wanted to burden them with the responsibility, otherwise they will just accuse someone else.

“The uncle stood up and said, ‘Thank you for providing the explanation — we will not go for sanguma’. It was a hard thing for the family to hear’ — and, the priest admits, a nerve-wracking thing to say to a riled Simbu family — “but otherwise some innocent will be tortured and killed.”

Anecdotal testimony, discreetly shared, points to a substantial and growing underground movement of self-proclaimed human-rights defenders working within communities to identify and hide people who are at risk of attack, or who have survived. In some of the most fraught parts of the highlands aid agency Oxfam engages in a range of programs that support some of those evolving networks.

But people operate in this sphere do so at some personal risk. In a locally infamous case in 2005 highlighted by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Anna Benny, a woman in Goroka who had a reputation for fearless work protecting and supporting rape victims, tried to defend her sister-in-law from allegations of sorcery. Both women were killed. Police took no action.

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Emate Sekue was accused of using sorcery to kill her husband. She survived the brutal attack that followed, but has to pay for her own treatment, as the government offers neither support programs nor shelters.

In his interviews surveying survivors of sorcery-violence, including Angela — the woman likely rescued by the intervention of Sister Gaudentia and some heavy rain — Philip Gibbs identifies a consistent, fortifying thread. Those victims who lived to tell the tale owe their lives either to individual police members or to a strong church leader who intervened for them. “In effect it means that, if sufficiently motivated to act, the power of the police and civil authorities, or the power of the church, can be enough to defend a person who is otherwise powerless.”

Supporting people with the will and courage to exercise their power at the grassroots to tackle violence in any of its manifestations — domestic, social, sorcery-related — is the focus of Bal and Jaworski. Parables of successful interventions become their currency of hope. But they admit they are often despairing.

Jaworski blames much of the escalating violence in all spheres on deeper social malaise, in particular the angry frustrations of young men, and for which there are no easy remedies. “Today 70 to 90 per cent of young people are unemployed. They went to school, but there is no future for them. They don’t fit back in their gardens and their villages.” They are without prospects in the new world, and without skills for the old one.

On bleaker mornings, navigating broken roads strewn with rocks from a night of fighting, or stitching up the casualties in the operating theatre, Jaworski worries that the rage of young men will one day propel the community back to the tumbuna (the time of the ancestors).

“I hope I am a wrong prophet.”


#SaveTheMiniskirt: Uganda Proposes Miniskirt Ban

2 May

The Ugandan government is proposing legislation that would forbid women from wearing miniskirts in public. Women could be arrested for donning skirts above the knee if the law is passed.

Instead of teaching men not to rape, Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister, is supporting the legislation. “It’s outlawing any indecent dressing including miniskirts,” he said to the Mail & Guardian.

“Any attire which exposes intimate parts of the human body, especially areas that are of erotic function, are outlawed. Anything above the knee is outlawed. If a woman wears a miniskirt, we will arrest her.”

Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, also blamed sexual assault on ‘indecent’ clothing. “One can wear what one wants, but please do not be provocative,” he said. “We know people who are indecently dressed: they do it provocatively and sometimes they are attacked. An onlooker is moved to attack her and we want to avoid those areas. He is a criminal but he was also provoked and enticed.”

The legislation would not extend to men because it’s a woman’s onus to avoid rape.  “Men are normally not the object of attraction; they are the ones who are provoked. They can go bare-chested on the beach, but would you allow your daughter to go bare-chested?” Lokodo asked.

The miniskirt-ban would return Uganda to the Idi Amin-dominated days when “provocative clothing” was prohibited by degree. A similar proposal was mulled in 2008 to “combat prostitution and reduce traffic accidents” according to The Guardian.

James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda’s former minister of ethics and integrity, said miniskirts promote immorality and distract drivers.

“Women of 60 years and below are putting on miniskirts and this is crazy. The miniskirt can cause an accident when you are sitting with a woman in a car. Men while driving gaze out when they see these women and this causes accidents,” he told The Guardian.

The government-sponsored anti-pornography bill would also ban many films and TV dramas and all pornography. It “proposes that anyone found guilty of abetting pornography faces a 10m shillings (£2,515) fine or a maximum of 10 years in jail, or both” according to The Guardian.

Popular entertainers, including Beyoncé and Madonna, would be banned from television for being scantily-clad. “We are saying anything that exposes private parts of the human body is pornography and anything obscene will be outlawed. Television should not broadcast a sexy person. Certain intimate parts of the body cannot be opened except for a spouse in a private place,” Lokodo explained.

Internet monitoring is also included in the anti-pornography bill. “A lot of photos, television, films will be outlawed. Even on the internet, we’re going to put a monitoring system so we know who has watched which website and we know who has watched pornographic material.”

Lokodo is confident in the bill, but other Ugandan legislators are concerned. Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper reports the Parliamentary Committee is worried about the bill’s infringement on constitutional freedoms. The law’s perimeters might also outlaw some traditional cultural practices by labeling them pornographic.

Many Ugandans are opposed to the legislation and are expressing their discontent through the Twitter hashtag, #SaveMiniSkirt.

Sam Akaki, international emissary of Uganda’s opposition Forum for Democratic Change, sees the bill as sexist discrimination. “This law will create an apartheid system by stealth,” he explained to The Guardian. “Whereas the former apartheid system in South Africa discriminated [against] people on the basis or race, this one will discriminate people on the basis of gender. Any law that discriminates people in any way is a bad law.”

“If Lokodo or anyone in Uganda is serious about fighting immorality, they should fight corruption,” he concluded.

The proposal set off a firestorm on Twitter, with many mocking the bill and criticising it for infringing on women’s rights.

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Nigeria’s uphill battle to spread the country’s wealth – Amanpour’s interview with Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala:

18 Apr

By Samuel Burke & Claire Calzonetti

Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, is full of promise. But fulfilling that promise is often a struggle.

Plagued by corruption and mismanagement, the resource-rich country has a poverty rate of over 50%.

Maternal mortality is shockingly high and more than half of Nigerians don’t have access to electricity, according to the World Bank.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the country’s finance minister and the former World Bank official has been lauded as the reformer Nigeria needs.

But she too isn’t immune from Nigeria’s problems – her own mother was kidnapped for a terrifying five days before being released.

President Goodluck Jonathan promised to address corruption in the country. Nevertheless, a former governor – an ally of Jonathan – has been convicted of embezzling million in public funds and has since been pardoned.

“Nigeria does have a problem with corruption and so do many other countries,” Okonjo-Iweala told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Tuesday. “I don’t like the fact that when people mention the name Nigeria the next thing they mention is corruption.” 

Technology could be the answer the problem, Okonjo-Iweala believes.

“We must build electronic platforms. We must distance people from the money. These things were recommended by the world bank and IMF,” she told Amanpour. “We are doing them.”

President Jonathan is calling for the judiciary, the legislative and the executive arm to meet together about this issue all together for the time first Okonjo-Iweala said.

“Because even if you catch somebody, if they go to courts and they are let off lightly the president can’t do anything about that. The judicial system also has to be strengthened,” she said.

“This is a country of 170 million people; 99.9 percent of them are honest, hard-working citizens who just want to get on with their lives,” Okonjo-Iweala said, proudly. “And they want a government that delivers for them.”

Oil should be Nigeria’s saving grace, but oil leakage causes a significant drain on the economy.

“We are still a poor country,” she admitted. “We can’t afford any leakage.”

On tap of that, there is immense oil theft, which Okonjo-Iweala puts at 150,000 barrels stolen a day. She compared the situation to Mexico, which sees tens of thousands of barrels stolen each day.

“We need them to treat this oil like stolen diamonds. The blood diamonds,” she said – calling on the international community for assistance. “Make it blood oil. Help us so those people don’t have a market to sell this stuff.”

Nigeria is also plagued by problems with its electrical grid.

When the country’s president last appeared on CNN, he told Amanpour, “That is one area that Nigerians are quite pleased with the government, that’s a commitment to improve power. It’s working. So if you are saying something different, I’m really surprised.”

That interview caused an uproar in Nigeria, with many of the county’s very active social media citizens taking to Twitter and Facebook to voice their frustrations with the power grid and President Jonathan’s comments.

Okonjo-Iweala said the power problems all come down to previous government’s lack of investment.

“If you’ve neglected a sector for that long, you’ve not invested, you’ve not even maintained your basic facilities, it’s not going to happen that fast. It takes time,” she said.

While Nigerians often complain of power outages – telling CNN they often have to use generators to watch the news channel –  Okonjo-Iweala maintained there has been improvement.

“That month, when you interviewed the president,” she said, referring to Amanpour’s previous interview of Jonathan, “the polls showed, independently, scientifically that they are in technical partnership with dialogue. That 54 percent of Nigerians felt there was some improvement,” she told Amanpour.

“Nigeria is not the only country. Almost every developing country has a problem with power, as you know. India has it. South Africa has it. South Africa is far better off because they’ve invested much more.
But many developing countries, even China, they are struggling with keeping up with infrastructure,” she said.

Okonjo-Iweala said that the administration has accepted that the government is not the best place to run the power sector.

“If we want this country and this economy to do better, we just have to get out. And Nigeria is pursuing one of the most sweeping privatization programs in any country in the world,” she said. “We are selling off everything.”

That said, the lights even went out on President Jonathan during a speech he gave a speech in front of cameras just this past Easter day.

Top 10 Myths About Africa! Did You Really Just Say That? Listen to Yourself!

23 Mar


Myths and misconceptions about Africa are commonplace in the West.

Most of us have probably taken geography in school and been bored as hell hearing the teacher explains where the different countries are. Though we took it for granted then, we gained a lot of global knowledge that is now considered common knowledge. For instance, Australia is a continent and a nation; Portuguese, and not Spanish, is the national language of Brazil; and my favorite, the capital of Djibouti is Djibouti. But somewhere along our formal education, misinformation snuck in; whether it was through television specials that were supposed to be educational or teachers who were reading straight from the textbook without processing the information first. Y’all know where we’re going with this, as the title says there are many untrue ideas about Africa, the continent. Much of this is due to a dearth in interest/research which leads to fabrication, and of course our good friend Euro-centrism. What we tried to do here is come up with the top ten myths about Africa that are insulting and, if taken as fact, will make you look like a fool.

Growing up, I never realized the ignorance that surrounds people when they are only aware of where they are from. I can’t fully blame them, especially if they’ve stayed in one place for the majority of their lives. I also can’t blame them when pictures of hungry children in books and on TV show children with big bellies swollen from malnutrition. I would like to take the opportunity to dispel the myths or misconceptions surrounding Africa.

Below are ten of the most common myths I’ve heard over the years, and now you can help shed some light on what too many people still think of as the “dark continent”.

1. Africa is a country

Let’s clear this up first and foremost, I know all you Afroscandic’s know this one, but we need to start schooling more people.

“What country are you from? Africa?” I absolutely detest that question! Even if you don’t know much about a place, I would think people would at least get this question right. Please do yourself a favor and take a look at a globe or a map. Please note that Africa is a CONTINENT and not a country, its not an Island, colony, or a nation. In fact, if you take a closer look, you will see that it is made up of quite a number of different countries, and home to 54 independent, with diverse ecosystems, biomes, cultures, and people.  Each country has its own currency, flag, anthem, history, cuisine, music, identity and blend of cultures. In fact more than 2000 languages are spoken in Africa, and its 1 billion inhabitants are made up of over 3000 distinct ethnic groups. Africa is also bigger than most people think it is, even if they know it covers 30,221,000 sq km (11,679,000 sq miles). If you combine the USA, China, India, Europe and Japan – they all fit into Africa. In fact the USA fits into the African continent three times!

 2. People in Africa don’t wear clothes or shoes

I find this one to be funny at times. Sometimes people think that when an African comes to this part of the world for the first time, that this is the first time they’ve worn clothes and shoes. Well, let me just say that we do wear clothes and shoes in Africa. We may wear our native garb or choose to wear the same clothes you have on right now. This is not to say that there may be remote tribes that dress different or may not be as fully covered when it comes to clothing. But for the most part, Africans in Africa wear clothing and shoes.

3. All Africans speak the same language “Everybody Speaks African”

False. Though English and French are the primary languages spoken in African nations, each ethnic group has its own unique language and among them various regional dialects. We do not all speak the same language. But somehow, many people in the West get the idea that African is one language composed of mainly click ‘noises’.

In fact, within one country alone, you may have different tribes speak different languages. For example, the Ashanti tribe of Ghana speak Twi (sort of pronounced like “tree” but not quite) but people from the capital of Ghana (Accra) who are of a different tribe speak Ga. Another tribe speaks Ewe. There are still more languages and dialects within Ghana alone. That’s just one country and just a few languages. So no, we do not all speak the same language.

4. Everyone Lives in a Jungle
Again, living situations might vary from place to place depending on the landscape, with some more isolated tribes, and they may live more closely to wild animals. But how is that any different from someone who lives out in the country who lives more closely to bears and mountain lions? We have beautiful cities in Africa where one does not need to worry about those animals unless they choose to go out looking for them. Africa is undergoing an explosion of urbanization, high rises, shopping malls and new housing developments are springing up with regularity in a concerted effort to cater to Africa’s growing middle classes. Cities like Lagos, Nairobi, Accra, Mogadishu, and Johannesburg are crowded with millions of people in search of education, jobs, or just a good time; such locations behold striking sky scrapers, lush beaches, and a colorful nightlife. The only time I’ve seen a lion or tiger in my life was in the Zoo and when I was on safari in Uganda.

5. Africa is All about Poverty
Enough with the starving Ethiopian jokes! Such comments are simplistic and insensitive to one of Africa’s (and the world’s) more serious issues. Africa is rich in natural resources and mineral wealth and so it goes without saying that, theoretically, it’s a wealthy place. But exploitation by outsiders – corporations and governments – and power hungry leaders have robbed the land dry. Sierra Leone, Congo, the Great Lakes region, the list goes on.  African creativity is at its peak, from fashion and music to art and culture, the continent’s creative talent is in abundance. Websites like Jamati, Naija Bella and Mimi showcase what the continent has to offer while Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s New News Out of Africa subtitled Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance does all it can to prove beyond doubt that the basket case scenario that’s often presented in the media is unfair and unbalanced. The (soccer) World Cup in South Africa in June will be a chance to show the world that Africa can put on a global event on a massive scale and do it well. It will be Africa’s chance to party to the world, something the continent is rarely allowed to do in the Western media.

 6. Africa is Dangerous and Violent

With wars, revolutions, pirates and child soldiers making the news, it’s really no wonder that the myth about Africa being a dangerous place is a common one. If New York City was judged by reading the New York Post, few tourists would dream of visiting. Of course bad news is news, so you don’t get to hear enough about the good things that happen on the continent. How often do you hear about Botswanaor Ghana in the news? How often is the middle class in Africa given any air time? Never really. As a visitor to Africa it’s likely you’ll avoid certain countries  no one would suggest you spend a week at the beach in Somalia. There are countries, some cities and borders that are very dangerous, but given the size of the continent, it is not hard to see that there are many perfectly peaceful and safe places to visit. Violent crime against tourists in all African countries is quite rare. As a visitor you are much more likely to be killed with kindness than anything else.

7. The Whole Continent is at War/There’s No Democracy
Contrary to what you see and read, Africa has a number of thriving democracies. Ghana is often heralded as a beacon of hope for democracy on the continent with President Obama offering a personal seal of approval on his visit to the country last year. Botswana, the world’s biggest diamond producer, has also been hailed as an example to its continental peers. Let’s also not forget, that the majority of African nations have been independent for roughly 40 or 50 years, meaning we have a ways to go, but as you can see many of us are on a great start.

8. Women are Repressed
This is so not the case. Women have traditionally been held in high-esteem in African society as the matriarchs and foundations of a community. A case in point, Rwanda has the highest number of female parliamentarians in the world while all over the continent women sit in positions of high power.

9. Everyone Practices Voodoo
Contrary to popular belief, modern day missionaries didn’t bring Christianity, in particular, and religion, in general, to Africa. In fact, the roots of Christianity on the continent can be found in the Bible and Ethiopia’s last remaining Jewish community, the Falash Mura trace their roots back to the biblical King Solomon. Today, Christianity is the most widely practiced religion in Africa, with Islam and traditional religions following closely behind. While church attendance in some parts of the world continues to decline, in Africa, the opposite is in fact true. Mission analysts at the Free Methodist Church of North America say their African churches are the fastest growing in their denomination and the largest Anglican province in the world is in Nigeria. That’s not to say that Christianity civilized the so-called ‘the dark continent. African Traditional Religion has been demonized as being evil and destructive but, as with all faiths, there’s the good and the bad, the literal and the figurative. Many Africans, though defining themselves as Muslim or Christian, incorporate some elements of traditional religion in their faith.

 10. Egypt Was the Only History Maker
Being that history is one person’s account of controversial events of the past, a great deal of integral information often gets left out. Like how Africa had many nations and empires prior to colonization that thrived in culture, scholarship, and commerce (check any Nas album for musical commentary). We often get this idea that Africa’s greatness rests in Egypt where fair skinned pharaohs surpassed the entire continent. In the 11th Century a flourishing kingdom we know now as Great Zimbabwe was built in southern Africa. Its walls are still standing today. In the 12th Century, while Oxford and Cambridge were just getting founded, Timbuktu in Mali already had three thriving universities and more than 180 Quranic schools. But let’s not forget the Songhai, Ashanti, Zulu, Igbo, and Shona empires that have made vast contributions to all of human history. (FYI: Those were just a few ethnic groups, please share any others you have come across in your studies).

While there are many more other misconceptions surrounding Africa, those are the most common ones. I ask you the reader that instead of allowing TV or books to be the only ones to mold your thinking, please, ask an African about their culture.  So the next time you hear some deceptive fact about Africa, ask yourself, “did they really just say that?”

In Some Parts of Africa, Black Is Not Beautiful

19 Jan

Skin bleaching has exploded across countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, where dark skin is seen as ugly.

Recently, a study by the University of Cape Town found that over a third of women (35%) in South Africa bleaches their skin, and most of them have admitted  that they do it because they want “white skin.”

The World Health Organization has reported that Nigerians are the highest users of such products: 77% of Nigerian women use the products on a regular basis. They are followed by Togo with 59%; South Africa with 35%; and Mali at 25%.

Skin lightening do come at a high cost for people that do bleach themselves. Legal and illegal skin bleaching creams can cause blood and skin cancers and many dermatologists across the African continent have reported seeing increasing numbers of skin damage such as  burns, skin and ochronosis, which can cause the skin to turn a dark purplish color.

 Dr Noora Moti-Joosub from South Africa told the BBC: “I’m getting patients from all over Africa needing help with treating their ochronosis. There is very little we can do to reverse the damage and yet people are still in denial about the side-effects of these products.”

A Local musician in South Africa Nomasonto “Mshoza” Mnisi, that is  now several shades lighter, says that her new white skin makes her feel more beautiful and confident.


The Local musician Nomasonto “Mshoza” Mnisi has been criticised in the local media and on social networking sites for bleaching her skin, but she says that skin-bleaching is a personal choice, no different from breast implants or a having nose job.

 “I’ve been black and dark-skinned for many years, I wanted to see the other side. I wanted to see what it would be like to be white and I’m happy,” she says.

But skin-lightening is not only done by women, a Congolese hair stylist Jackson Marcelle says he has been bleaching his skin for the past 10 years.”I pray every day and I ask God, ‘God why did you make me black?’ I don’t like being black. I don’t like black skin,” he says.

Mr Marcelle –  is known as Africa’s Michael Jackson – he  says his mother used to bleach his skin when he was young in order to make him appear “less black”.”I like white people. Black people are seen as dangerous; that’s why I don’t like being black. People treat me better now because I look like I’m white,” he adds.

 Senegal Skin Lightening / Zed Nelson              

Dermatologist in Dakar, Senegal with pictures of patients whose skin was damaged by lightening treatments.

In India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes.

30 Dec

The gang-rape of a medical student on a moving bus last week in New Delhi has triggered mass protests on the streets of India, with calls for change and justice for a young woman.

She was raped for about an hour and thrown out of the bus. She is recovering in the intensive care unit after undergoing multiple surgeries.Her injuries were so bad that she was only recently able to give a statement to the Indian authorities.

The 23-year-old told police six men took turns sexually assaulting her. The suspects allegedly used a metal rod to assault the victim and her friend.

Angry Indians are hitting the streets, defying a ban on mass demonstrations. Police have been using tear gas and water cannon against the protesters.

So, just how widespread a problem is sexual abuse against women in India?

There are reports that suggest that in India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes.

More than 24,000 rape cases in the country were reported last year alone, of which 570 were reported in the Indian capital, where already this year 635 rape cases have been registered. The legal news service Trust Law says India is the worst country in the G20 to be a woman. It says women and girls continue to be sold, married off at a young age, exploited and abused as domestic slaves.

The number of crimes recorded against women, including kidnapping, abduction, and human trafficking exceeds 2.5 million.

Many activists say Indians are protesting against what they say is a culture of impunity.

There are 40,000 pending rape cases in the country and survivors have to wait years for their cases to be heard – even then the conviction rate is just 34.6 percent – according to the National Crimes Record Bureau.

The Indian Penal Code lists punishments of up to life behind bars, but those convicted are often let off after serving a short sentence.

Undercover reporters in India gathered evidence of how the police in the Delhi region view rape survivors. The investigation published by the Indian weekly Tehelka exposed how the system often blames the survivors.

Senior police officers were caught on hidden camera talking about survivors, saying: “She asked for it”; “It’s all about money”; “They have made it a business”; “It’s consensual most of the time”.

Seventeen officers in over a dozen police stations were caught on spy cameras blaming everything from revealing clothes to having boyfriends or going to pubs as the main reasons for rape.

The investigators came to the conclusion that the officers encountered do not fulfil the basic standard of policing, which requires investigating a case without any cultural, class or gender bias.

source; aljazeera

How Do Africans Kiss?

12 Dec

”How do Africans kiss” is a video from a British Nigerian writer, filmmaker, Zina Saro-Wiwa (also daughter of the late Nigerian human rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa)

How do Africans kiss? A reasonable question, since we don’t much go in for public displays of affection.

Is kissing an African culture or is kissing a borrowed culture?

I am originally from Uganda, kissing is not something you see on the streets of Kampala. Couples showed their love differently, usually by teasing one another, you could see the emotions in their eyes and in their laugh. But yeah, I never saw people kissing.

In Uganda kissing in public is strange, abhorable, repugnant, stale and even insane. It is disgusting to say the least.

I think that most Africans think that kissing is something you try to keep between yourself and your partner by privatizing it. In other words, it is not something for public consumption, unless you are kissing at the Alter and for that one moment in front of witnesses when you make vows and say “I do”. But to Europeans, there is no big deal in kissing in public, which differentiates between coloured and white “romance.