Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blood Libel Against African Traditional Religions: "Child Sacrifice" Accusations Surface Again in Uganda

0. A contemptible amalgam of racism and religious bigotry
Yet another variation on the tired old claims about "Child Sacrifice in Uganda" is now making the rounds. This time it is Chris Rogers, writing for the BBC, who has taken up the challenge of trying to pass this story off as legitimate. Rogers has already made a minor career out of lurid exposes involving sexual improprieties and/or violence against children (preferably both). More recently, though, Rogers has also attracted attention as a strikebreaking scab, when he took advantage of last winter's work stoppage by Britain's National Union of Journalists to get his mug on telly as a BBC One presenter (normally Rogers is restricted to those journalistic nether regions of radio and print).

Since Rogers' new piece, titled "Where Child Sacrifice is a Business", neglects to mention the recent slew of imbroglios involving precisely the same yellow-journalistic claims about "child sacrifice" in Uganda that he is now trotting out, I have taken the trouble to put together some links and brief summaries below.

As to Rogers' own contribution, the most important thing to know is that his two primary "sources" are (1) a Christian missionary (named Peter Sewakiryanga) who calls his headquarters "Jesus House", and (2) a rabidly fundamentalist Christian missionary group based in the UK called Jubilee Campaign.

In addition to the educational value of comparing Chris Roger's new treatment of this predictable, recurring "story" to the farcical travesties outlined below, there is the even more important and more educational comparison with that "recurring cultural pattern in Western history" known as "blood libel". Any student of history can immediately recognize the unmistakable parallels between the modern day accusations against practitioners of African Traditional Religions and those made against European Jews as a prelude to pogroms, mass expulsions and outright genocide.

It is sadly the case that horrific violence against children is a reality of modern human societies around the world (just as it undoubtedly was in medieval European societies). For example, the rate at which children in the United States die every day as a direct result of physical abuse and neglect has nearly doubled since 1998 (see the graphic at the top of this post, which is taken from the website). All those who honestly draw our attention to the objective realities of this problem are doing a great public service. But when our instinctual revulsion against all forms of child abuse (and especially the murder of children) is cynically manipulated to target specific religious groups (such as, in this case, followers of African Traditional Religions) that is a completely different matter. It is difficult to imagine that a more contemptible amalgam of racism and religious bigotry could be possible.

To learn more about the ugly pattern of Blood Libel accusations against African Traditional Religions in modern "respectable" media, see the following posts from this blog:
Blood Libel Against Africans and African Traditional Religions
Al Jazeera's Racist "Documentary": "Magic and Murder"

1. Two typical examples of the "evidence"
On February 25, 2009, The Ugandan Indpendent ( ran a story by Mubatsi Asinja Habati titled "Uganda's Epidemic of Child Sacrifice". The story starts out with the case of a 6-month old boy who was murdered by the child's father. But in the fourth paragraph we are finally told this: "Police later said that 30-year-old Sserubiri beheaded his son in a witchcraft-inspired ritual. Later examination, however, revealed that Sserubiri was a regular user of narcotics and had once been admitted to a mental health hospital."

The story then goes on to tell about an accused "witchdoctor" named Musa Bogere. Bogere "confessed" to engaging in ritual murders, but only after being beaten by a mob that was already convinced of his guilt. Soon after his confession, Bogere died in police custody.

With a straight face the Ugandan Independent story then states that: "It is clear that the stories of Bogere and Sseribiri represent just the tip of the silent morgue of ritual murders in Uganda"!

2. The best sources money can buy
On January 7, 2010, the BBC published a story by Tim Whewell titled "Witch-doctors reveal extent of child sacrifice in Uganda." Whewell's star witness for that story was a man named Polino Angela who claimed to be a "former witch-doctor turned anti-sacrifice campaigner". Angela claimed to have been "initiated as a witchdoctor" during a ceremony in which a 13 year old boy was ritually murdered. Angela then went home and murdered his own 10-year old son. In all, Polino Angela "confessed" to a grand total of personally conducting 70 acts of ritual murder.

When Ugandan officials heard about what Angela had told the BBC, they (quite naturally) decided to question this man who claimed to be a mass murderer. But the story that Angela told Ugandan police was somewhat different. He said that the BBC had paid him for his story, and that he had lied about the murders:
Uganda witch doctor 'lied to BBC' over child sacrifice 25 February 2010
Uganda priest nabbed for BBC hoax was paid to dramatize 25 February 2010, Afrik-News.Com

3. Digging up a good story
On April 16 of 2010, photojournalist Marco Vernaschi, associated with the Pulitzer Center, came out with three stories titled "Uganda: Child Sacrifice Not a Cultural Issue", "Uganda: Babirye, The Girl from Katugwe", and "The Man Behind RACHO". These three stories were part of the Pulitzer Center's "Child Sacrifice Uganda Project." But it was soon discovered that Vernaschi had paid the people he interviewed for his stories, and that the "graphic images that may not be suitable for all audiences" were in fact staged photographs. For more on the Vernaschi saga check out these stories and other sources found therein:
On digging up the truth, and Marco Vernaschi
Update on the Marco Vernaschi Uganda ethics discussion
Marco Vernaschi and a debate about ethics
Interview with Marco Vernaschi Retracted