BBC: "Tanzania arrests 65 'witchdoctors' over killings" (11)

12 March, 2019

Dear Neil and CHIFA,

Thank you, I am expressing suspicions that arose after I started to research these incidents when I was re-writing a grant proposal for a project with the Tanzanian Albino Society, about 8 years ago.

The only people who need to believe in the power of witchdoctors is their clients; the witchdoctors themselves may be charlatans. But those carrying out the violent assaults and murders need only believe that they will get money. They could be superstitious, of course. But apparently some of them are friends or relatives of the victim (the crime was opportunistic), and others were caught trying to find someone to buy body parts (the crime was speculative).

Here's a scenario: you go to the witchdoctor saying you want xyz and the witchdoctor says it will cost $10. They get you to pay for a goat sacrifice and perform their stuff, but you don't get xyz. So you go back to them and complain, and they tell you that they need something more powerful for you to get xyz, for example, human body parts. That will cost a lot more, and require you to be ready to pay for a person, perhaps more than one, to be maimed or murdered (but the person who gets the human body parts needn't believe in anything but the payment). You could complain that you still don't get xyz, but it seems likely you would say nothing, right?

In fact, there are many aspects to the story that should have been questioned by the journalist who carried out an 'investigation' in 2008 that most media coverage has mentioned in some way. The journalist posed as a businesswoman, so it was understood that she would be rich. She also wanted to be richer (or whatever she asked for). So the witchdoctor had to claim that his work was powerful, and more expensive.

Another scenario is that the witchdoctor gets hold of some offal from an abbatoir and claims that it's human/albino body parts, or makes a charm, potion or amulet and claims it's made of something that's hard to acquire. But the witchdoctor, faced with a rich and unscrupulous client, is hardly going to say that he can't do anything for the client, is he? The one the BBC interviewed could have just come up with what he thought was a good story, one he had probably already read about several times (several cases had already been in the newspapers by the time the interview took place).

In answer to your second question, yes, I think there is a lot of fabrication and a lot of stories that pretty much write themselves. Going back through BBC stories, there's satanism, witch burning, harvesting of body parts and skin, genitals, organs, devil worship, child sacrifice, etc, and constant talk about money, power, politicians, business people, foreigners, trafficking, etc. I think the journalist who did the 'investigation' was just supplying the BBC, and its audience, which what they are used to, and what they seem to want more of.

Again, this is not just a BBC thing, but the BBC is one of the most trusted and often cited media outlets in the world.



CHIFA profile: Simon Collery is an Independent Consultant working in Tanzania and is currently director of The Toa Nafasi Project, training young women to provide special needs education to children in their first and second year at Tanzanian state schools. collery AT