The African Executive, Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, 6 April 2008.
The eerie image of one-month-old baby called Mercy accused of being a witch and afterward abandoned to die in Ghana’s Upper East Region reminds me of the biblical Book of Job, where God and Satan talk to each other about how much pain Job should go through before he gives in. Baby Mercy is no Biblical Job. She is too young to not only know what is wrong and right but also why she should go through any pain and death, more so for not causing anybody pain but a culture that accuses her for nothing of being evil.
Baby Mercy’s ordeal is set in a certain part of the Ghanaian culture, which believes in witchcraft as the cause of misfortune. She is dumped in a dark room to die and go away with her evil. The Accra-based Daily Guidereports that baby Mercy is believed to come from a family of witches after her mother, Zoyen Teiva, was accused of being a witch while in primary school. Baby Mercy and her mother’s witchcraft ordeal, emanating from the irrational part of the Ghanaian culture, becomes doubly disturbing when even schools, as centres of reasoning and rationalisation, refuse to admit Teiva because her family and community have accused her of being a witch.
Ghanaian schools have become supporters of irrational deeds – a reflection of a nation trapped between forces irrationality and forces rationality. Reason fails to enlighten in the face of certain dark cultural practices. In baby Mercy and Teivan, 51-year-old Ghana is simultaneously darker and progressive. A dilemma! Before Teiva died, at only 22, from incessant stigmatisation and discrimination, her attempts at being enrolled in schools were unsuccessful, stifling her talents, killing her psyche and cutting short her future that culture is supposed to nurture and develop.
The Baby Mercy and Teivan ordeal reflects the irrational parts of the Ghanaian culture inhibiting Ghana’s progress. Baby Mercy’s senseless suffering personify not only her Asunge-Zanerigu community that threw her into the dark room to die but a community that “shunned and hooted at by community members and even immediate neighbours” that attempted to rescue her.
Despite advancement in science, technology and mass communication, evil still marches on, sometimes neck-to-neck with advances in human thought and progress. That’s why baby Mercy and her mother faced such tribulation in 2008 in a Ghana that is supposed to be the “Black Star” of Africa and presumably the continent’s centre of enlightenment. In Modernisation, Cultural Change, and the Persistence of Traditional Values, Ronald Inglehart and Wayne E. Baker argue that despite economic development connected with “shifts away from absolute norms and values towards increasingly rational, tolerant, trusting, and participatory” society, certain destructive cultural practices “endure.”
All cultures have their elements of evil but to comprehend it and refine is a great human dilemma. How do you comprehend baby Mercy and Teivan’s ordeal? These are thought-provoking and often unanswerable questions – “Is there anything like evil? If so, why?” The journalist and scholar Lance Morrow explains in Evil: An Investigation that evil is amorphous, intellectually unmanageable, difficult to comprehend and attempts by geo-politics and sociobiology to define it have not borne fruit. But the community in Ghana’s Upper East believe evil is witchcraft that causes misfortune and, therefore, should be tackled – a trouble and counter-trouble. A complication!
But what is witchcraft in the Ghanaian culture? How did it come about? Why is it linked to misfortune? What is misfortune? Who are witches – men or women, the rich or the poor? Answer! Yes! You don’t have to go too far. In Baby Mercy and her mother Teivan, evil is simultaneously micro (attempts to kill Mercy by her family) and macro (Teivan’s community terrorising her in such a way that she died). And to solve it is to draw from the humanism within the Ghanaian culture.