I read a lot of negative reviews about the Minister-designate for Gender and Social Protection’s proposal to rebrand witches’ camps. I didn’t listen to the entire vetting so I cannot tell what form this rebranding would take. However, with the mere mention of rebranding, I am confident that she has some level of appreciation of the situation at hand.
In 2013, I had the opportunity to work with three students from Germany, two of them were native Germans and the other, Ghanaian schooling there. We spent about five days in Gambaga and thanks to Hon Sheriff Duodu, Former MCE of Ga South, we managed to contact someone who led us to the chief’s palace. We were hosted by the chief himself and so we had people informed enough to give us some background information on how the camp came about even before we set out to engage the inmates.
Prior to setting up the ‘witches’ camps’, persons accused of witchcraft were forced out of their communities and in many cases, lynched to death.
To protect these people, the ‘witches’ camps’ were established by some of the chiefs. The situation was such that in some cases, family members could not intervene even when outsiders accused their aged of witchcraft. The chiefs therefore had to step in.
This is why some of the camps are very close to the chief’s palace. Gambaga is a classic example and the chief there is in formal terms, its patron who provides occasional support to keep the camp running.
The primary objective of the camp was to save the victims from possible death. It’s a solution that has saved thousands of lives. Some of the inmates have given birth in the camp, raised the said children there, and the children have gone ahead to live decent lives.
What we sit in Accra and refer so negatively to is a safe haven for those there and from our research, most of them would not accept reintegrating into the larger society because in the camps, they have made friends and families who don’t judge them or treat them as evil people, all are victims seeking solace in each other.
Collapsing the camps is the most ill-informed suggestion I have heard and it rarely comes from people who have had firsthand information about what the camps represent.
I just hope that it is not lip service, if she meant it, then her tenure would be remembered for some positives. In fact, when she is approved, I am going to share some ideas with her on how to succeed. I have friends here with a deeper knowledge of almost all the camps. A friend works with an organisation that provides various forms of support for these camps and after many years of consistent engagement with them, he is qualified to be called an authority in that area.
In view of this, I am all with the minister for the rebranding because it is consistent with the science, and various researched works have arrived at a similar recommendation.
The name must change; we should be looking at something like Community for the Aged translated into the respective local dialects of the communities these camps are located. It should be a place where the aged without quality care from families can be taken to regardless of their gender. The place should be seen as where the government provides help for needy aged and persons in the position to be unjustly maligned by society due to superstitions. This though cannot be the long-term solution, yes, we can keep the place running as dedicated communities for providing quality care for the aged.
We also need laws that criminalise the very pronouncement of witchcraft upon another with huge financial rewards for whoever is accused. I have a tall list of recommendations but let’s focus on the substantive issue of rebranding the witches’ camps.
It is the most progressive step towards protecting the victims and changing public perception about these camps. Government should invest in improving the quality of life there for the residents. The idea that it is a community for witches should be dealt with, it is a place where love is given to people who need it the most, especially the aged.
The best hospital in Gambaga for instance should be in the camp, the finest schools should be there. Conditions should be such that people in the adjourning communities would have to go there to access certain social amenities.
In short, the camps should be places people go for good reason.
This is what the rebranding is about, it is not about legitimising a bad practice, it is about taking the lemons thrown at people and making lemonades out of them.
Before you type from the comfort of your home in Accra, Kumasi and Takoradi to prescribe solutions to problems over 600 kilometres from you, problems you have never had first hand encounter with, problems you only see by the power of televisions, please relax and educate yourself a little about the problem.
We do great disservice to victims when we prescribe solution to problems we lack appreciation of.
By Isaac Kyei Andoh