Newsnight on Human Sacrifice in Uganda

BBC Newsnight has a piece about human sacrifice in Uganda by witchdoctors – a mere three years after I noted Ugandan media reports on the subject. The BBC’s journalist, Tim Whewell, spends time with a certain Polino Angelo, a reformed witch-doctor who now persuades other witch-doctors to destroy their shrines. But the report raises some questions:

One witch-doctor led us to his secret shrine and said he had clients who regularly captured children and brought their blood and body parts to be consumed by spirits.

“They capture other people’s children. They bring the heart and the blood directly here to take to the spirits… They bring them in small tins and they place these objects under the tree from which the voices of the spirits are coming,” he said.

…We saw a beaker of blood and what appeared to be a large, raw liver in the shrine before it was destroyed, although it was not possible to determine whether they were human remains.

…He told us he was paid 500,000 Ugandan shillings (£160 or $260) for a consultation, but that most of that money was handed over to his “boss” in a nationwide network of witch-doctors.

…Head of the Anti-Human Sacrifice and Trafficking Task Force, assistant commissioner Moses Binoga of the Ugandan police, said he knew of the boss referred to – involved in one of five or six witch-doctor protection rackets operating in the country.

…Mr Angela told us he had first been initiated as a witch-doctor at a ceremony in neighbouring Kenya, where a boy of about 13 was sacrificed.

…Asked if he was afraid he might now be prosecuted as a result of confessing to killing 70 people, he said:

“I have been to all the churches… and they know me as a warrior in the drive to end witchcraft that involves human sacrifice, so I think that alone should indemnify me and have me exonerated.”

Something’s not right here – why didn’t Whewell suggest that a possible human liver ought to be handed over to the police as evidence of murder, rather than burnt? Why wasn’t Binoga interested in calling the witchdoctor in for questioning? Who is the supposed “boss” behind it all? And – most obviously – how can someone who has confessed to 70 murders be let off the hook simply because he now goes around churches? On that last point, Uganda’s preposterous Minister for Ethics,  James Nsaba Buturo (previously blogged by me here), provides a non-explanation:

“To punish retrospectively would cause a problem… if we can persuade Ugandans to change, that is much better than going back into the past”

I find myself concurring with Jason Pitzl-Waters:

the… portrait painted by the BBC, with help from Mr. Angela, raises many of my old “Satanic Panic” red flags. How often did we see former “Satanists” who claimed to have participated in murders and kidnappings, yet never bothered turning themselves into the police for one reason or another. There are other flags, a “nationwide network” of witch-doctors, with a “boss” who takes a cut of all the money, for example. To reiterate, I do think children are being harmed, and I think some of those harming children may in fact be witch doctors, but I’m deeply skeptical of some of the claims being raised here. They sound a little too perfect and well-organized to be fully true.

8 Responses

  1. “To punish retrospectively would cause a problem

    Straight out of GW Bush and Obama’s playbook. Whenever the leads or evidence points to higher ups as those who are gulilty, always say we’re looking to the future and not the past and decline to prosecute.

    It’s good to be the King!

  2. This is a narrative of a very despicable practice. There is kidnapping going on here and no one seems to be noticing it. They steal other people’s kids and then kill then and actually take their heart and blood to this accomplice to burn?

    I guess there is no government there and everyone seems to be doing whatever they want without caring about others.

  3. There is kidnapping going on here and no one seems to be noticing it.
    Perhaps because it’s not actually happening?

  4. […] it’s looking more and more like my suspicion over this story was warranted. Religion-blogger Richard Bartholomew is also skeptical, and he notes that one of the supportive government officials in the original story is a notorious […]

  5. “To punish retrospectively would cause a problem”

    Yes. Proactive punishment is the thing. Lock em up before they start sacrificing babies. PS anyone who disagrees with this policy is obviously not a right thinking christian and should report for proactive punished, immediately.

  6. […] Human Sacrifice Report Posted on January 14, 2010 by Richard Bartholomew A few days ago I blogged on a recent Newsnight report about human sacrifice  in Uganda by witchdoctors. Without wishing to […]

  7. […] blogged on the January Newsnight report – and raised some concerns about it – here. A sceptical piece also appeared in the London Review of Books blog, by anthropologist Adam […]

  8. […] in Uganda – both ritual killings and as a means to acquire body parts for magical purposes (the BBC recently reported on this, albeit in a problematic way). However, so have “witch […]

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