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Witchcraft and African Football

Leo Igwe, As the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) gets underway in South
Africa, it is pertinent to critically examine the role of witchcraft in
African football. In sub Saharan Africa, it is widely believed that
magic can affect the performance of players, that juju, charms or
muti can influence the outcome of matches. Though many Africans
acknowledge the importance of coaching and technical skills, talent,
training and team spirit etc in football, they also believe these are
not enough, and that some ‘magical abracadabra’ by a witchdoctor
or marabou, is needed to compliment a team’s effort to secure a
victory. Before embarking on major tournaments, some players and
team officials consult witchdoctors and spiritualists. The
witchdoctors subject them to some rituals or supply them with
charms or muti which they rub on their bodies, carry with them or
bury on the pitch. At the 2002 AFCON, the former goalkeeper of
Cameroun, Thomas Nkono, was caught:

“burying bones under the turf and spraying a strange elixir, in order
to cast a spell on the playing field’ before a crucial semi final match
with Zambia. He was arrested and detained by the police.

In fact some teams go to the extent of contracting and having
witchdoctors as part of the contigent. In most cases, the
witchdoctors operate secretly. But sometimes they openly and
publicly display their magical wares during matches to frighten their
opponents. There are claims in some African countries that a local
medicine man can make a team score a goal by making the players
of an opposing team weak and lacking the energy to play. It is also
claimed that they can prevent the goalkeeper from catching a ball
by turning it into a big stone or a frightful object.

So I ask, if witchcraft spells are so potent, why is it that an African
team has never won the world cup? Why are many African players
not doing well in Europe and America? Is African witchcraft only
effective within Africa, within African teams, and among African
players playing in Africa? I would ask teams that have fallen out of
the current tournament in South Africa: Where is the sting of your
juju, charms, magic and muti? Where are your witchdoctors,
spiritualists and marabous?

At the ongoing soccer fiesta in South Africa, the team Burkina Faso
has a witch doctor on the grounds. He came with his full magical
‘regalia and paraphenalia’. Now, does that mean that Burkina Faso
will win this year’s AFCON? The occult doctor with all his powers has
not said so.(Watch the interview here.) In fact none of the the
continent’s witch doctors including thousands of Sangomas in South
Africa have made any specific statement at this stage about who will
win this year’s AFCON, the numbers of goals the team will score or
who will score them. Does that not speak volumes about the
assumed ‘power of witchcraft’ in African football? Why have many
Africans refused to question the so called power of juju and magic
in the game? Why can’t we Africans begin to think critically about
the purported role of the occult in our lives?

Now if Burkina Faso fails to win, does it have anything to do with the
presence of the witchdoctor and the potency of his magic? If, by
chance, Burkina Faso wins, many will attribute it to the magic of this
witchdoctor and if the country loses, they will say that those who
defeated them had a superior magic or muti. So if Burkina Faso
wins or loses, witchcraft will always win. Either result will be
attributed to the spell of witchcraft. Explaining how he could use
witchcraft and magic to secure victory for his team, a local magician
in Cameroun once said, “All I have to do is cast a few shells and
contact the spirit of the playing field, then our own goal will be nailed
up and the opposition’s goal will be wide open,”

And one wonders why this magician did not use his spells to make
Cameroun qualify for the 2013 AFCON. If witchcraft is as potent as
most Africans believe, it should be provable beyond a reasonable
doubt. According to their claims, witchdoctors should be able to
specifically predicting the team that will win or lose and by which
number of goals.

I personally challenge all African witchdoctors including the
Sangomas in South Africa, the pastors ad prophets like T.B Joshua,
to come forward and predict specifically which team and country will
win this year’s AFCON. They should come out and tell us who will
score the first goal and at what time. This challenge is important in
order to get people across the region to abandon this superstitious
belief. Apparently belief in juju, charms and witchcraft have become
a liability to the African football and mentality. Players and team
officials need to focus their energy and resources on what matters,
what evidently works and is effective. There is no evidence at all
that witchcraft, juju or charms, prayers or rituals can make a team
win a match.

We need to combat the exploitation by charlatans and purveyors of
magical wares. Thousands of witchdoctors exist and operate across
Africa. So much money is spent in consulting and contracting them
by sports officials. This is money that could be better utilized in
improving training techniques and hiring good coaches and players.
Accusations of witchcraft are undermining team spirit and solidarity.
It is causing division and confusion among players. In the past
years, there have been accusations and counter accusations of
witchcraft among players and officials in the region. In 2012, Ghana’
s former Coach, Goran Stevanovic, attributed the country’s failure
to win the Cup of Nations to witchcraft accusations among the
players. He stressed the need to help change the mentality of the
players about using‘black power’ to destroy themselves. Going by
his statement, witchcraft tantamounts to black power. And if one
may ask, black power to do what? Lose a match?

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