When pastors are more dangerous than sorcerers
Posted Sunday, February 17 2013 at 02:23
They looked about 10 or 12 years old, apparently not in a hurry to get home after the day’s school, and engrossed in conversation… “Kati nga Nakamya mbu baamuloga. Ayinza okuba nga atambula, omujiini negumukuba wansi, n’afuuka ekkonkome eddene…! Heee, nze oyo omwana nnali mmutya…”
The kids were talking about a scary former schoolmate, Nakamya, who had dropped out, and who they were told had been bewitched and was sometimes attacked by a jinnee, which would wrestle her to the ground before she turned into a gigantic lizard. Frighteningly, they seemed to totally believe this explanation of poor Nakamya’s illness.
A couple of months later, President Museveni was talking of increasing the salaries of scientists in government service; and a week or so later, senior educationists were lamenting that the 2012 O-level exam results reflected poor performance in science subjects.
Let us assume that the President and those senior educationists genuinely want a society that looks more to science for solutions to its development problems. We can grant them that. But in what kind of environment are they trying to pursue this objective?
During colonial rule, and until quite recently, figures of political and spiritual authority in our society generally discouraged a preoccupation with the supernatural. Only God and Satan were exempted, the supposed overall bosses of good and evil.
It was extremely rare to hear a headmaster, a government minister or a priest publicly attributing anyone’s troubles to the powers of mayembe, misambwa, majiini or witchcraft. I must not be misunderstood. I am not saying that there were no people who believed in the powers of these spiritual entities; there certainly were, even among figures of authority. But, in public, leaders felt more or less obliged to express a shift away from “primitive” beliefs.
One effect was that the young grew up in a society where dependence on irrational beliefs (except, as we have seen, regarding God and Satan) was gradually declining, and was indeed often something to be ashamed of.
It is under Museveni’s rule, and in spite of the hype about modernisation, that Uganda has seen a phenomenal resurgence of the worship of spirits and small gods, with their powers almost officially validated.
To exactly the same extent, Uganda has seen rapid growth in the influence of Born-Again Christianity and witchcraft. I often juxtapose the two, not for humorous effect, but because they are directly related, and in a very dangerous way.
All those pastors, apostles and prophets (generally self-appointed) have a direct business interest in accepting the literal existence of bad spirits. In their emotionally charged sermons, they dramatise and fill these spirits with “life”. Their congregations, who are about as gullible as Europeans were in Medieval times, are constantly reminded of an army of evil supernatural beings out there responsible for their poverty, ill-health, academic and social failure and what have you.
Thus brainwashed, it is easier to sell to them (and for good money) the idea of an equally dramatised Jesus, but a Jesus-cum-God who has more power than the rest of the spirit world.
Like the witchdoctor, the Born-Again pastor needs pagan spirits. However, for all his resurgence, the witchdoctor still faces a measure of public hostility. On the other hand, the pastor is generally (even at state level) approved of. And he has more money, more shrines and more media access. So, not only is his account of the spirit world likely to reach more people than a very similar account by the witchdoctor, but it has been made “respectable”.
The kids talking about Nakamya and her fits were using language in common currency, which now covers the whole range of experience from relatively innocent spirit activity to demands for human sacrifice. And it is all under the watch of a government that claims to promote a scientific view of the world.
Allan Tacca is a novelist and socio-political commentator. firstname.lastname@example.org