Security forces have been called onto the streets of Cotonou after a spate of horrendous murders connected with suspicions of witchcraft. Many people in Benim, and other parts of Africa, believe that witches use magical powers to make a man’s penis shorter, or disappear altogether. It is widely believed that witches can exert these powers through a handshake or by casting a spell.
All that is necessary to spark off such attacks is for a man to cry out in public: “My penis has gone!” and the mob which quickly gathers attacks the first suspicious-looking passer-by, who is stripped naked, smothered in petrol or another inflammable liquid, and torched.
Another practice is to “necklace” victims, in which a rubber tyre filled with fuel is tied around the victim’s neck, and set on fire. There have been ten such attacks in recent days in Benim, which has started a wave of hysteria. In these attacks, five people have died, four of whom were torched, and one hacked to death.
Ignorance begets the superstition and hysteria which give rise to incidents such as this, which take place in other parts of Africa. This is one of the main reasons why it is so difficult to implement world health programmes, such as combating AIDS, because of local beliefs and superstitions.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru