Sunday, April 25, 2010

"in Christ other powers are nothing"

Uganda's leading independent national newspaper, The Monitor, has run a story based in part on the recent Pew Religion Forum report on Sub-Saharan Africa. The title of the story is "Six Million Ugandans Believe in Witchcraft." Recently I also wrote in this blog about a similar story in the Tanzanian newspaper This Day.

I think it is very significant that in both Tanzania and Uganda the media coverage of the Pew report has highlighted the continued survival of Traditional African Religion. This is in spite of the fact that Pew went out of their way to minimize and marginalize Traditional African Religions, even going so far as to title the report "Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa", even though one of their major finding is that fully one quarter of those surveyed "exhibited high levels of belief and practice" in Traditional African Religion! Pew also includes in their report historical background data that shows that the majority of Sub-Saharan Africans were still followers of Traditional religions as recently as 1955.

Below are three excerpts from Mark Kirumira's article in The Monitor (dated April 20). Notice how Kirumira makes no pretense of objectivity as he crudely denigrates Traditional religion and simplistically promotes Christianity. Kirumira seems to be especially obsessed with accusations of "child sacrifices" being carried out by traditional healers. But Uganda is just next door to Rwanda (which at 3% has the lowest percentage of practitioners of Traditional religion of all the countries surveyed by Pew), and "in 1994 an unimaginable darkness descended on Rwanda. The most Christianized country in Africa became the site of its worst genocide. Christians killed other Christians, often in the same churches where they had worshiped together." That was written by Emmanuel M. Katongole, a Catholic priest, in the January, 2010 Sojourners Magazine (for more about Rwanda, see Doing the Lord's Work in Rwanda). But now here are those excerpts from Kirumira's article on Uganda:


Six Million Ugandans Believe in Witchcraft: Report

By Mark Kirumira

Posted Tuesday, April 20 2010 at 00:00


Two out of every 10 Ugandans – about six million people – believe in witchcraft or the protective power of sacrifices to spirits or ancestors, a survey shows. The survey, conducted by the US-based Pew Research Centre, however, also shows that Uganda is one of the most religious countries in the world, with nearly nine out of 10 people saying religion (Christianity or Islam) plays a key role in their lives.

Titled ‘Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa’, the report shows that Uganda ranks 15th in Africa and 20th worldwide in the ‘most religious’ tables.

Double face
However, the report notes that Uganda takes second spot in East Africa and 11th in Africa in the worship of evil spirits, sacrifices to ancestors, and paying homage to traditional religious healers. Almost one in four Ugandans believe in the protective power of juju such as charms or amulets.

In recent years, there has been a sharp rise in the number of child sacrifices in Uganda, many of them carried out by traditional healers (witchdoctors) and mediums to allegedly help their clients attain wealth and success.

Some 15 children and 14 adults were killed in ritual murders in Uganda last year, up from three cases in 2007, according to police statistics. Some 154 suspects were arrested last year in connection with ritual killings and 50 taken to court. The report is the first to show how many Ugandans believe in worshipping spirits and could be useful in helping combat ritual murders.


According to the poll that was released last week, Rwandans are the least superstitious in Africa with only five out of 100 people interviewed confessing they believe in juju. “Many people also say they consult traditional religious healers when someone in their household is sick, and sizable minorities in several countries keep sacred objects such as animal skins and skulls in their homes and participate in ceremonies to honour their ancestors,” says the report.

While the survey finds that both Christianity and Islam are flourishing in sub-Saharan Africa, the results suggest that neither faith may expand as rapidly in this region in the years ahead as it did in the 20th century, except possibly through natural population growth.


More than 25,000 people were interviewed during the survey in 19 sub-Saharan African nations from December 2008 to April 2009. In Uganda alone, 1,000 people were interviewed; 700 Christians and 300 Muslims.

The general secretary, Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, Rev. Canon Grace Kaiso, said yesterday that the phenomenon is a reflection of the Church’s failure. “The fact that people go to witchcraft could be taken as a judgment on the Church that it has not been able to help the flock appreciate the power of the risen Christ,” he said.

He said it is high time the Church reached out to such people to help them know that in Christ other powers are nothing.

[The photos above are of Dr. Yahawa Sekagya, president of PROMETRA (PROmotion de la MEdicine TRAditionelle) in Uganda.]

Other posts on Traditional African Religions:
You might be a Pagan if ....
Every picture tells a story
Traditional African Religions Continue To Thrive
More On Traditional African Religions

Fela Kuti and Traditional African Religion
Secret Knowledge, Sacred Knowledge (on Candomble)