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For Ghanaian Kasue Kalahari, a vote in this election will be her voice to improve the water situation at her home in the Kukuo Camp.
For the past 20 years while living in the Witch Camp, the 80 year old walks daily to carry water pumped from a community well.
Kasue is one the accused Witches living in Kukuo, located in the Namumba South District of Northern Ghana. On election day today, a mixed feeling of joy and bitterness has engulfed two major witch camps, the home of hundreds of accused witches.
“I was a widow. I moved into my sisters house to care for her while she was sick. After she died, my nephew said to me ‘Auntie- stop chasing me in my dreams. Stop it or I will take my own actions.’ The next morning everyone in my family had left and I was in the house alone. The chief came and banished me as a witch.”
The remaining Witch Camps in Ghana are vastly separated from other communities and become home to all the women accused of Witch Craft and exiled, often because of inheritance issues or becoming a burden due to age or being widowed. Their only trial is community mob justice which is almost impossible to over turn by these vulnerable women. Once in the camps, they will work on local maize or henna farms until they are too elderly, then they will turn to drying and bagging maize daily and relying on the younger women for food and donated clothing.
There are currently hundreds of alleged Witches living in the five camps across northern Ghana. In the Kukuo camp the women are about to exercise the only right they have remaining- the right to vote, which sadly for those living in the Tindan-Zie camp is another right that’s been denied this election.
Those at the Tindan-Zie camp have fallen victim to electoral corruption, as the police have decided not to bring a ballot box into the camp this year or to allow the women to take part in early voting for fear that the camp’s chief is of support of a particular party and has influenced the womens voting. As half of the women in the camp are over 70 years old, a two hour walk in the heat to queue for hours will be too much for them.
Awabu Issaheku of Kukuo was accused to be a witch by her sister in law after she was widowed and moved in with her brother, “I pray for the Government to help” she said. Although the lack of TV and radio prevent vast exposure to the campaigns, the camp still remains littered with Political posters for NPP NDC and PPP campaigns, many of the women using the posters to decorate their homes and add colour to their walls.
So far, the Political Campaigns have avoided the Witch Camps for fear of controversy or discouraging voters by speaking on politics against Witches. ActionAid reports that in 2016, Witch accusations now only increased but became common in developed cities such as Tamale, a shock to the international organization who have been working in the camps since 2006.
Shani Abdul Kasiru, the head of policy and program for NGO Songtaba, a close partner of ActionAid, expressed his surprise at the new accusations in urban areas, stating the NGO’s had perhaps “overlooked that urban areas were enlightened”.
The Tindan-zie Witch Camp based in the Ipatinga community, landlord Sampa Asammusa explained “The government have the power to help, but the government isn’t everywhere to put their policies into force. The people will do what they want. Our communities lack social infrastructure and most of the women here have been accused by their own family- so how can they turn home?”.
For women such as Awabu, there is no hope in returning to her community. ActionAid have worked extensively to move her back but her brother and sister in law her banished and accused her refuse, and her other brother is too old to care for her. It is crucial for Pastors, Imams, Chiefs and Politicians to speak about about these issues and desensitize the situation so that the accusations stop and the stigma changes so these women are able to return home.
“Whether or not the camps close depends on peoples attitudes.” Says Adamu Dasana, who with the help of ActionAid has been rehoused back into her community for the past two months after living in the Witch Camp since 1968, when she was first sent to take care of her Grandmother, an accused Witch. After her grandmother died, her community refused to take Adamu back for fear the Witch powers had passed through to her. “I am able to sell more things and have a pipe for water. I spend time with my four grandchildren everyday, so yes life is better for me now.”
But at least for today, 80 year old neighbours Fatima Neidoo and Awabu Mahama who have lived banished in the Kukuo Camp for a combined 35 years were able to walk together to the ballot box in the center of their community and cast their vote in the Presidential and Parliamentary election before returning back to their daily duties drying maize and collecting water. When asked what she voted for, Awabu responded simply: “Housing, food and clothing”.