Early last year, a relieved Samuel Bamuzibire handed over command of Luweero to Godfrey Ninsiima, the then new district police commander.
In his speech, Bamuzibire warned his successor that, among other things, he ought to watch out for witchcraft, which he said had given him the hardest time over his three-year tenure.
Bamuzibire said he had fought drug abuse, theft and burglary but he was on the verge of admitting defeat with regard to witchcraft.
“Most people in the area flock to [Christian] worship centres but still seek demonic powers … as they bring immediate results, ranging from elimination of enemies and luck in their businesses,” Bamuzibire said, to murmurs in the crowd.
The matter caught the attention of the area Catholic Bishop Paul Ssemogerere, who used his Christmas day homily to ask the faithful to refrain from witchcraft. He said several of his faithful also saved time for the traditional faiths, which allowed for witchcraft in local shrines.
What was left unsaid by both officials was that belief in witchcraft has pervaded all spheres of life. The working atmosphere at the Luweero district headquarters recently became poisoned after Emily Luswata, a witch doctor from Rakai, confessed to police that he had been hired by Godfrey Segawa, the Luweero district Chief Finance Officer (CFO), to cause the death of two district councillors by bewitching them.
Those supposed to die are the district speaker Proscovia Namansa, who also doubles as Katikamu sub-county female councillor, and Kisekwa Sonko, who represents Makulubita sub-county. Segawa had reportedly paid Luswata Shs 20m to bewitch the councillors to block a heated investigation into his academic qualifications, suspected to be forged.
In return for the money, Luswata gave Segawa some fetishes, which failed to claim his targets. A furious Segawa then reported the matter to police, arguing that Luswata had conned him. Instead of getting his money back, as Segawa had asked, both men were recently arrested, with Rakai District Police Commander Nelson Sooma insisting that investigations were ongoing.
After the confession, several civil servants were seen in small discussion groups, wondering about the extent to which their lives had been affected by witchcraft; some of it caused by their superiors.
For their part, Namansa and Sonko say they are now living in fear, wondering whether to drop the investigation altogether. Several civil servants from other departments declined to have their identities disclosed, but admitted to The Observer that the revelation had also scared them from working in their offices.
However, they said that the only benefit from this saga was that even usually dishonest colleagues are scared to engage in fraudulent accountability activities.
These officials insist that the situation is rife across the country, although others suffer silently, unlike in Luweero, where the matter has ignited debate, among some district staff. And matters are worrisome as a few have threatened to deal with those they suspect to be practising witchcraft against them, following some recent misfortunes.
Concerned, the Luweero deputy chief administrative officer, Christopher Oketayot, admitted to The Observer that he had witnessed witchcraft tendencies among his staff.
He said he was compelled to call them all to the compound one day to witness as he set a brownish paper bag ablaze after he found it in his car. The bag held a bunch of fetishes.
Oketayot added that a sub-county chief had approached him with a claim that his colleagues had planted fetishes in his office.
The law and witchcraft
“I only advised him to pray to God,” Oketayot said.
He explained that he had been targeted over his tough disciplinary stance. He said several civil servants were overheard remarking, “akasajja nga katujjiridde, ffe tunaalya wa?’’ to mean “This new CAO has come with tough measures, where are we going to reap from?”
But Oketayot is unbending in his determination to move on: “I don’t believe in witchcraft and no one should.”
Aware of his predecessor’s warning, current District Police Commander Godfrey Ninsiima, is watching the situation cautiously, refusing to comment for now. But he is also aware that he has little ammunition in fighting back – an old law called the Witchcraft Act of 1957.
This law states that any person who directly or indirectly threatens another with death by witchcraft or by any other supernatural means commits an offence and is liable on conviction to life imprisonment.
Clearly Ninsiima has nothing to do if the person threatening has not promised to visit death on their would-be victim. The law also defines witchcraft as an action of magic usually associated with pagan worship, religion or sorcery that is likely to result in death.
The earliest records of witchcraft can be traced back to the early days of mankind after it was invoked for magical rites which ensured good luck and protection against diseases among other reasons.
However, by 1000AD, the practice invoked the wrath of Catholic priests. It was often seen as the faith of the ancient and traditional pagans, who were mostly illiterate. The belief in the existence of witches was strengthened after Pope Innocent VIII’s 1498 declaration, which led to the inquisition, the large-scale killing of witches.
In 1988, the Catholic Church’s Brother Anatoli Wasswa of the Bannakaroli brothers, a renowned herbalist, condemned witchcraft in public as fake. He staked a brand new Toyota Corona to anyone who would turn up, at what was then known as the City Square, and show that witchcraft works. No one has ever turned up to claim the prize.