When one speaks of witch doctors in Uganda, one thinks of ‘Abasawo abaganda’ as they are commonly referred to in the central region or ‘Abafumu’ in the western region. They claim to communicate with spirits of the dead and provide solutions to people’s problems. These range all the way from all manners of ailments and afflictions from cancer, infertility to HIV/AIDS, to offering success whether in business, politics, and education or just help someone seeking fame. These doctors usually demand a fee, on behalf of the spirits, before one’s problem can be addressed. This payment is usually a sacrifice in form of animals, most commonly hens and goats, but human sacrifice is sometimes demanded.
While witchcraft is a long-time custom in most cultures in Uganda, it was usually thought to be a practice for the rural, uneducated communities, but recently, it has become an almost commercial venture with an increasing number of the educated people turning to the practice. Many politicians, wealthy businessmen as well as celebrities in Uganda have been linked to witchcraft. A couple of years back, there was an increase in child sacrifice in Uganda, and this was linked to witch doctors. Many popular businessmen were said to be having children abducted and taken to witch doctors for sacrifice, being assured that they would get even wealthier. These particular witchdoctors catering to the elite class are very well compensated and have become very wealthy themselves.
In the rural areas, a number of communities still resort to witchcraft instead of hospitals when they get sick. Others go to witchdoctors to get revenge on their enemies, by having a witchdoctor for instance cast a spell on their enemy or the person who has wronged them. In some areas, it is used as a threat, to keep peace within the community. A thief would for example know not to steal anything from a particular village in fear of being cursed.
Witchcraft, although feared, is still a widely practiced custom in Uganda. Witchdoctors have come from as far as Tanzania, Congo, and Zanzibar to set up shop in Uganda.
Image Credit: Dave Catchpole