‘Witchcraft and its Impact on Development’ Seminar to Combat Superstition-Based Atrocities in Africa

For Immediate Release: May 26, 2009
Contact: Henry Huber, Assistant Director of Communications
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

Seminar Launches New Ongoing Campaign in Fight Against Fear and ‘Magic’

  • What: CFI Seminar, “Witchcraft and its Impact on Development”
  • When: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Thursday, May 28, 2009
  • Where: SWAA-Ghana, Kokomlemle, near the Challenge Bookshop, Accra, Greater Accra, Ghana
  • Note: Anti-Superstition Campaign Launches Days Before U.S. President Barack Obama’s Visit

In an effort to combat one of the most prolific human problems on the African continent, the Center for Inquiry, an international organization dedicated to education, reason, and secular ethics, is holding a groundbreaking day-long seminar May 28 to launch a continuing campaign against ongoing atrocities, educate the public about the issue, and sound a call to arms against the violence and tragedy fostered by belief in witchcraft, unchecked superstition, and fear of malevolent magic.

The CFI seminar, titled “Witchcraft and its Impact on Development,” will be held Thursday at the Society for Women and AIDS in Africa (SWAA) branch in Accra, Ghana. U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to visit Accra June 10-11 on his first official African soiree. The SWAA is an international organization with 40 branches and headquarters in Senegal. CFI comprises dozens of Centers, Communities and campus groups throughout the United States, and maintains a worldwide presence with 21 international branches on six continents. CFI is dedicated to its mission of advancing positive social development through rational thought, reason, modern science, and proven progress based on sound secular experience.

The seminar will mark the beginning of an ongoing campaign, including protest marches, communiqués and meetings with officials, letter-writing movements, and aggressive widespread consciousness-raising efforts. Students, lecturers, scholars, teachers, human rights activists, policy makers, and traditional and religious leaders are expected to be in attendance. The goal is to advance the call for an end to the persecution of alleged witches and superstition in general.

Organizer Leo Igwe will continue to promote the campaign, traveling to Cape Town South Africa Aug. 29-30 for a workshop, and to Lilongwe, Malawi Sept. 4-5 for a conference on Humanism, Religion, and Witchcraft.

“Superstitious ideas, many of them rooted in religion, continue to thwart social and economic progress throughout the African continent,” said Norm R. Allen Jr., executive director of African Americans for Humanism and the Center for Inquiry/Transnational Programs. “What African humanists and skeptics are doing is uncompromisingly challenging these harmful ideas and offering a humane and rational alternative, drawing upon humanistic ethics and an appreciation for scientific methods of investigation.”

Superstitions—including belief in witchcraft—are based on fear, magical thinking and inadequate education, and are regularly exploited in Africa by unscrupulous individuals in positions of influence. Through the centuries, superstitious beliefs in Africa have been—and continue to be—used to oppress women, abuse children, support racism and xenophobia, justify torture, murder and genocide, and to exploit the poor, the weak and the aged. Those decrying accused “witches” still orchestrate death and destruction of lives and property for the benefit of their own power. These unfounded beliefs are being used as a tool to incite hatred and cause division and conflicts in families and communities across the continent.

In Angola, Malawi, Nigeria, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, those accused of witchcraft have been murdered, tortured or banished by their communities—often by their own families. Left unchallenged, the harmful, dark and destructive effects of superstitious belief have become common and recurrent problems in Africa.

Until now, there have not been any major organized efforts to critically analyze, debate and dispel superstitions, myths, misconceptions and other deeply harmful practices in Africa.

For basic illustrations of the depth of the problem, and of the struggle facing opponents of superstitious beliefs, please visit the following links for published news articles and photo essays:

“Witch Hunts and Foul Potions Heighten Fear of Leader in Gambia”

(New York Times, May 20, 2009):

“The child ‘witches’ of the Niger Delta”

(20-picture photo essay from the U.K. Guardian):

“Children are targets of Nigerian witch hunt”

(Article on child-geared violence):

“Abuse of child ‘witches’ on rise, aid group says”

(CNN article on fear-based attacks):

For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact Leo Igwe at nskepticleo (at) yahoo (dot) com or humanistleo (at) hotmail (dot) com; Ebou Sohna at gawsaca (at) yahoo (dot) com; or, in the United States, Norm Allen Jr. at nallen (at) centerforinquiry (dot) net.

To contact the Society for Women and AIDS in Africa, e-mail info (at) swaagh (dot) org or swaaghana (at) hotmail (dot) com, or call 0233 021 250912

The Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York, is also home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in 1980; and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), founded in 1976. The Center for Inquiry’s research and educational projects focus on three broad areas: religion, ethics, and society; paranormal and fringe-science claims; and sound public policy. The Center’s Web site is www.centerforinquiry.net .

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.