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Opinions of Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Juju on Akufo-Addo

“…My candid advice to you is to stay away from this kind of sensationalism. It does not do us any good. God willing our prayers will be answered. Go Nana…,” writes Victor A Attah, of Syracuse, New York, USA to the Accra-based “The Statesman” (14/09/2007) following reports that a juju paraphernalia containing “horse tail on which a horse tongue was tied to, in which the paper with Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo's name was buried and fastened… The voodoo composite had salt, bird feathers, a corroded needle, two black stones, a white stone, and a rare wood, which according to some observers, is usually found up north. Also tied to the dry horsetail was undigested food, which appeared to have been wrenched from the stomach of a mammal.”

Cultural/Juju watchers interpret it as an “evil spell against Nana Akuffo-Addo.” In the Ghanaian scheme of negative culture, juju is real and not “sensationalism,” as Mr. Attah said, and it is a “socio-cultural phenomena of great importance” in Ghana’s development process. To play the implications of juju down in the larger progress of Ghana is to have weak grasp of certain inhibiting cultural values impeding Ghana’s progress. The juju phenomenon is more or less played among leaders and elites and their power politics. As Ghanaians increasingly open their culture for progress, it is coming under intense scrutiny – the good parts and the inhibiting aspects being critically discussed openly. Why would somebody put “juju on Akuffo-Addo”? The reason could range from power to the material. Press reports indicate that polls after polls put Nana Akuffo-Addo, the high-profile former Foreign Minister and Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, ahead of other 17 presidential candidates attempting to replace the incumbent President John Kufour to lead the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) to the 2008 general elections. A December 22 NPP congress to choose a flagbearer is on the offering, and this has created in its wake not only horse-trading but also, in the context of Ghanaian culture, the activation of juju, marabouts, Malams, Shamans, prophets, spiritualists and “Men of God,” some coming from other parts of Africa and as far as the Middle East. Naturally, leading candidates like Nana Akuffo-Addo become a target of juju-marabout and other deadly spiritual mechanizations to either “neutralize” or “block” his chances of winning the NPP flagbearership by unleashing, in the context of Ghanaian culture, “evil spirits against him.” Dirk Kohnert, of the Hamburg, Germany-based Institute of African Affairs, argues that the use of juju-marabout mediums in “intra-elites competition for political power is quite common” in Africa - the Senegalese marabout Kebe at the “court” of the late President Mobutu Sese Seko of the then Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) or M. Cisse, the highly influential Malian marabout and minister of the then communist President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin Republic. Sometimes, the use of juju-marabout against political opponents, according to Kohnert, is done by wives of the leaders or elites or politicians or “baron du regime.”

True to the Ghanaian culture, aside from the “Juju on Akuffo-Addo,” for some time, Nana Akuffo Addo, 63-year-old, has become the subject of all kinds of Ghana’s booming prophetic talks to the extent that it is beclouding his image as one of Ghana’s leading intellectuals – the impression in enlightened circles being that top intellectuals do not succumb to the forces of juju-marabout mediums as manipulable objects. In July, the Accra-based “Crusading Guide” reported that one Kumasi-based Prophet Sarfo Adu prophesied that Nana Akuffo Addo has being chosen by God to be President of Ghana. “The Almighty God told me that He (God) has chosen Nana Akuffo Addo to be the President of Ghana from 2009 to 2016,” Prophet Sarfo Adu is quoted as saying. Such predictions, true or not, could attract other rival politicians to employ juju and other spiritual mediums to neutralize the prophet’s prediction by letting loose “evil spirits against” against the alleged God-favoured one (s). While in Ghana a “Juju on Akuffo-Addo” may even elicit a Mr. Attah calling it “sensationalism,” in Liberia, Africa’s oldest Republic, it can be deadly, drawing scary newspaper headlines that speak of deadly juju rituals involving human sacrifices: “Ritual Killings in Maryland Defy President Sirleaf,” “Ritual Killings Increase in Nimba County,” and “Bryant Warns Presidential Candidates Against Ritual Killings.” Locally called “Gboyo,” it is a practice of killing people so that their body parts can be extracted and offered as sacrifices to bring power, wealth and success. Pretty much of this involve Liberian “Big Men and Women” against each other for power and influence. On 29 June 2005, prior to Liberia’s current democratic dispensation, its interim leader, Mr. Gyude Bryant, “warned any aspiring presidential candidates tempted to boost their chances by carrying out human sacrifices that they will be executed if caught.…If you think you can take somebody's life in order to be president, or the speaker (of parliament) or a senator, without anything being done to you, then you are fooling yourself." Various Liberian Presidents, from the late William Tolbert to Gyude Bryant, “have signed the death warrant of several government officials, accused of procuring human body parts for Gboyo rituals.”

This makes “Juju on Akuffo-Addo” not only an all familiar challenge in Africa’s development process but the disturbing fact is that it is growing despite modernity and further civilization. Dirk Kohnert, of the Hamburg, Germany-based Institute of African Affairs, argues that in spite of widespread belief, the frequency of juju and other negative spiritual rituals does not necessarily decrease in the course of modernization. “According to many Africans, it has rather increased, both in terms of frequency and effectiveness over recent decades.” Still, Florence Bernault, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA tells us “that Public rumors depict sorcery (juju and other such practices) as the most common way to achieve personal success, wealth, and prestige in times of economic shortage and declining social opportunities. Political leaders are widely believed to perform ritual murder to ensure electoral success and power, and many skillfully use these perceptions to build visibility and deference.”

In the Ghanaian/African cultural setting the use of juju-marabout isn’t “sensationalism” and, rightly, “it does not do us any good,” as Mr. Attah says in the “The Statesman.” Experts such as Kohnert argue that juju-marabout has implications for democratization and poverty-alleviation. Development-wise, the use of juju-marabout is due to social stress in the struggle for power and control over resources, as Ghana attempts to develop and the development fields increasingly getting opened and competitive. Still, the use of juju-marabout, in terms of Ghana’s emerging democracy, indicates not only shaky balance of power, whether intra-elite or inter-elite among the political parties, but also an indication of hidden social conflicts which is difficult to detect by other rational methods. That’s why there was “Juju on Akuffo-Addo” and that’s why it’s not sensational and that’s why Ghanaian elites should work to refine it in the larger progress of Ghana.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.