First watch this documentary:
I am late. This documentary was published three months ago, and granted, there have been even earlier articles on Ghana’s Spirit Children.
Given. This is a despicable traditional practice. No two ways about that, and it exists in other parts of the world like Bom Jesus da Mata in Brazil (Read Death Without Weeping by Nancy Schepher-Hughes. There’s a bigger book if you have time!)
But I disagree with a lot of things about this video documentary. And so with all the fanfare that goes on about Anas’ investigation, I ask the question – to what end? How does this documentary inspire the nation? Does it make us bitter and angry, vindictive and always vilifying individuals/finger-pointing? Or does it make us sit back and think, corporately on what a more permanent solution to this would look like? How has this documentary freed our minds, or given us the freedom to exercise our mental abilities and moral capacities on what “we” personally think about the situation? Honestly, when someone’s journalism requires that he wear a mask everyday of his life, I will question how much his journalism inspires “freedom”.
Listen to the things the elderly man at the beginning of the documentary says:
“An evil child? An evil child is one in which from the moment of conception is determined to kill everyone around it, especially it’s mother and father”.
Did you see the level of conviction with which this man, and every other person in the village talks about it? These are obviously highlighting that there is something deeper, something stronger, something more poignant about this issue – and it’s culture. Period. It’s tradition and a worldview, a sense of knowing and belief that what we hold is truth, and it is the way the world is. And these things are paradigms with roots decades or only God knows, perhaps centuries deep.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a post dedicated to deliberately bashing an individual who obviously is doing what he ‘thinks’ or ‘has been accepted’ as contributing his quota to building a nation but rather, this post is to get us thinking about what our ‘standards’ are for journalism or reporting as a nation? Is it okay if we asked for more than ‘finger-pointing, police clamp-down‘ journalism?
In this particular scenario, I agree that not only notion of spirit children is abhorrent, but also the humongous death toll attributable to it is all the more depressing.But rather than organizing a surprise police clamp down on the perpetrators of this injustice, we must begin to scrutinize the systems and the philosophies that allowed the injustice to take place in the first place, and we will soon find out that the police men, the government and even we ourselves may be robed into the bandwaggon of “culprits”. Yet still, some others will assert that the recruitment of police to clamp down on them was appropriately intended to instill fear as a disciplinary tactic to deter this act for occurring subsequently. And to those folks I’d say, I think it’s time to let go of medieval strategies and think 21st century nation-building.
In fact, come to think of it, in many ways, this way of reacting to the situation (arresting and damping them in a cell) is very reminiscent of what colonialism looked like. As a budding anthropologist that is being trained to understand things from a culturally relativistic point of view, I say that ultimately, our ideal solution to this particular situation is to change the mindset of the people/shift the paradigm and not clamp down on them or humiliate them to the extent of removing their clothes to be imprisoned. What then happens next? The police will continue these kind of raids and fill up their prisons, and then what? Our country becomes a better and happier place?
Given. My solution may sound ideal and very pretentious. Heavens, it may even sound self-righteous! However I see no other way, than taking this ‘road less traveled’.
We need to start lobbying the government to understanding the relationship between structure and agency. That is, rather than looking at the people as the culprits, we need to begin to analyze the structures within which the people live as the true culprits. As Anas himself said at the beginning of the documentary that in times of excruciating hardship and poverty, taking care of a child with disability becomes an extra-burden on the parents and so their response to their situation is to get rid of children who show any signs of abnormality. So this is the starting point. This is the problem.
Now that we have identified the problem, what are the ideal solutions we want both in the short-term and long-term?
1. We don’t want people to look at their children as burdensome because they have a disability so we set out to change that stereotype. (Public talks)
2. We don’t want people to feel so hopeless and despondent that they cannot cater to the needs of all their children and so they begin to select which ones are “the spirit children” who need to die. (Empowerment)
3. Perhaps then we should tackle the issue of how many children people are having? (Public health interventions like birth control, working at the local clinic to train skilled birth attendants. Have the number of children you know you can cater to. )
4. And then there’s the argument that in rural villages like that, marginalized up North, people have as many kids as they do to work on plantations, hence make a better living to feed every mouth. So obviously then, kids with disability become a liability to their parents, and this is why they’d chose to get rid of them. Well then, this is why government and many agro-business need to take mechanization and novel ideas to these remote places, to allow farmers benefit from knowing that they can make higher yields irrespective of the number of able-bodied children they have. Such an action also has powerful ramifications in health, migration patterns (he said in the video during the famine/drought they all move to the cities looking to sell cattle.), etc. (Government attention; policy reform)
5. And if all the points I have outlined above seem wishy washy, then just build a goddamn humanitarian outlet there. (NGO response). They should bring all their disabled children, it’s okay. We’ll take them in and bring them to the city and nurture them and let them make something of themselves as proof of evidence to their folks.
All I am saying is the real solution is breaking down stereotypes not filling up prisons!
So people, we really need to set our standards for journalism higher, rather than giving ourselves a pat on the back thinking that we saved the day! Ahhh. These are the things that raise my blood pressure! And just to put this out there, I support way more what organizations like AfriKids are doing in that community to stop the spirit child phenomenon than what Anas Aremeyaw went to do!
As Ghanaians, I strongly believe we need to get to a point where we ask highly of all individuals in civil society or government, and mediocre … just won’t cut.
So what happens the next time other issues in this community need to be changed? The people will be so resistant to outside help or an foreign person, breaking paradigms might be out of reach! Also, the next time some foreigner visits our country and thinks he has all the solutions to our problems, let’s not complain. We screw up like this too a lot of the time!