"I stumbled on the witches' camp at Gambaga in 1995 when I was working as a stringer for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service in Ghana. I was shocked that, not far from where I was born in Tamale, there were refugee camps for women assumed to be witches.
"After spending a sleepless night at Gambaga, I decided to make a film about the plight of the women," Yaba Badoe, a Ghanaian former civil servant, a documentary filmmaker and journalist revealed as the basis for the conceptualization of the film, The Witches of Gambaga, in an interview with Colorfultimes.
Yaba ayeekooo for joining the crowed of advocates who have dared to
reveal the dehumanizing circumstances of the unfortunate women
branded as witches and dumped in what you term "refugee," camp.
In many Africans countries older women are accused of having spiritual powers to cause all kinds of calamities and misfortunes, from infertility to impotence, drought to death.
What was even more horrifying was the fact that women were adjudged as witches through a ritual by which a chicken is slaughtered and depending on how the chicken dies, whether its wings face the sky or the ground a woman is convicted.
But what the film director failed to appreciate was the traditional justice system, which the indigenous folks reverend. It's their justice system, we may disagreeYlets rather condemned the dual justice system what is the difference between some one accused of murder with a gun, and one accused of murder through spiritual means? They are both assumed innocent until proven guilty, but what means remains the biggest challenge.
Most people feel better having something or someone to blame for life's misfortunes - and in Northern Ghana that blame often falls on elderly women.
The film does not tackle the fundamental issue of the existence of
witches, as it's no longer the traditional authorities who accuse some women of indulging in witchcraft practices, some pastors and religious
groups have also joined the fray.
Hence commendations for Yaba for maintaining the momentum on abolishing of the witches camp, but in the attempt, I dare to ask, were the human rights of these already abused women respected in the documentary?
They had been condemned to conferment at the camp, are we not worsening their plight or exploiting their already precarious condition by exposing them to the whole world as witches?
The full exposure of the innocent children, especially the young boy who had managed to enter into a Senior High School, what would be the effect on his academic pursuit? Was the right of the children respected in the documentary?
It also calls to the fore how to protect the fundamental human rights of victims in such crusade especially the use of the medium of film in projecting the plight of victims of circumstances.
Was it a feminist perspective of the atrocious outmoded traditional practices?
As most of the people interviewed in the documentary Dr Takyiwaa
Manuh of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, Dr Rose Mensah Kutin of Abantu for Development, Naana Otoo-Oyortey, the Executive Director of Forward in London and the co-producer Amina Mama are all strong gender advocates. Dr Yao Graham of Third World Network in Ghana was faintly introduced into the documentary to create a resemblance of a gender balance, "men play key roles in gender mainstreaming and advocacy, and let's include more men in this crusade".
The producer also failed to acknowledged some of the positive developments in the camp including the works of a young American Peace Corps, volunteer Miss Carolyn Abdenour. In collaboration with the Rural Enterprises Project in the district and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), she has trained some of the inmates of the Camp in soap making and modern techniques in charcoal production etc.
"If the women say they are comfortable it's because the alternative is much worse. If return to their communities they will be ostracized and face further accusations or even worse, they may be beaten to death. At least in the camps they have a ‘family' who understands," society, researchers, journalists must be sensitive to their predicament and join Yaba and others for the abolishment of witches camp.
Published on Wednesday 03 March 2011, Bulletin Africiné n°15 - Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), FESPACO 2011 - n°4, pp. 1 et 7.
with the support of French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (France) and Africalia (Belgium).