Two out of every 10 Ugandans – about six million people – believe in witchcraft or the protective power of sacrifices to spirits or ancestors, a survey shows. The survey, conducted by the US-based Pew Research Centre, however, also shows that Uganda is one of the most religious countries in the world, with nearly nine out of 10 people saying religion (Christianity or Islam) plays a key role in their lives.
Titled ‘Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa’, the report shows that Uganda ranks 15th in Africa and 20th worldwide in the ‘most religious’ tables.
However, the report notes that Uganda takes second spot in East Africa and 11th in Africa in the worship of evil spirits, sacrifices to ancestors, and paying homage to traditional religious healers. Almost one in four Ugandans believe in the protective power of juju such as charms or amulets.
In recent years, there has been a sharp rise in the number of child sacrifices in Uganda, many of them carried out by traditional healers (witchdoctors) and mediums to allegedly help their clients attain wealth and success.
Some 15 children and 14 adults were killed in ritual murders in Uganda last year, up from three cases in 2007, according to police statistics. Some 154 suspects were arrested last year in connection with ritual killings and 50 taken to court. The report is the first to show how many Ugandans believe in worshipping spirits and could be useful in helping combat ritual murders.
The report notes that Ugandans switch religions more than any other people in Africa. At least five per cent Ugandans have at one time changed religions. The least religious people in the world, according to the report, are the Czechs where only seven out of 100 people claim they are religious, closely followed by Sweden (eight out of 100). Tanzanians are the most believers in alternate gods with nearly 60 out of 100 people admitting that they make sacrifices to spirits and dead ancestors followed by Mali, Senegal, South Africa and Cameroon. Kenyans are ranked 15th.
According to the poll that was released last week, Rwandans are the least superstitious in Africa with only five out of 100 people interviewed confessing they believe in juju. “Many people also say they consult traditional religious healers when someone in their household is sick, and sizable minorities in several countries keep sacred objects such as animal skins and skulls in their homes and participate in ceremonies to honour their ancestors,” says the report.
While the survey finds that both Christianity and Islam are flourishing in sub-Saharan Africa, the results suggest that neither faith may expand as rapidly in this region in the years ahead as it did in the 20th century, except possibly through natural population growth.
Also the survey finds that on several measures, many Muslims and Christians hold favourable views of each other. Muslims generally say Christians are tolerant, honest and respectful of women, and in most countries half or more Christians say Muslims are honest, devout and respectful of women.
In roughly half the countries surveyed, majorities also say they trust people who have different religious values than their own. Eight out of 10 people in Uganda said there is nothing that stops them from practicing their religion but in Djibouti almost half the people said there is no religious tolerance.
On the other hand, the survey also reveals clear signs of tension and division. Nearly five out of 10 Ugandans, who are Christians, view Muslims as violent while just three out of 10 Muslims view Christians the same way. But much as this is present in the Ugandan society, just three out of 10 Ugandans say the conflict between the religious groups is a big problem. In Rwanda, 58 per cent of the people commented that religious conflict is a problem to their country.
More than 25,000 people were interviewed during the survey in 19 sub-Saharan African nations from December 2008 to April 2009. In Uganda alone, 1,000 people were interviewed; 700 Christians and 300 Muslims.
The general secretary, Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, Rev. Canon Grace Kaiso, said yesterday that the phenomenon is a reflection of the Church’s failure. “The fact that people go to witchcraft could be taken as a judgment on the Church that it has not been able to help the flock appreciate the power of the risen Christ,” he said.
He said it is high time the Church reached out to such people to help them know that in Christ other powers are nothing.