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CHARISMATIC WITCHCRAFT!

Most people associate prayer with moral good: benevolence, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. Yet in some cases, people deliberately pray against others in forms of what are called in these parts, "dangerous prayers,” that aim to harm or remove another party. These cases raise interesting questions about the shadow side of prayer.

Attention to dangerous prayers and to the unspoken, negative aspects of prayer reveals interesting insights into how we might more fully understand prayer as a part of lived religion. Take a blatant and public example of dangerous prayers. In January of 2012, the speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, Mike O’Neal, forwarded an email message urging his Republican colleagues to “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109.8.”

That scripture reads, “May his days be few; may another take his office.” This is hardly a prayer offered for Obama’s flourishing, and the next line is even more malicious: “May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” What? Are you kidding me! No, sir! I kid you not. That indeed happened. And, Psalm 109 is real. You may want to crack open your Bible and have a read. But, be warned.

Reader discretion advised for strong and graphic language that might upset the sensitive. This speech form is known as imprecatory prayer, from the Latin, imprecate, “invoking evil or divine vengeance; cursing.” The use of scripture as a form of imprecatory prayer has long been covertly practiced by both Christians and non-Christians.

But the slogan to “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109.8” circulated openly on t-shirts and bumper stickers during the 2008 presidential race. Similarly, Reverend Wiley Drake, the second vice-president of the First Southern Baptist Church, issued in 2006 a statement claiming that his prayers for the death of a slain abortion provider George Tiller had been answered. Here in Africa, there are numerous of such accounts.

Testimony times in many Churches are filled with rejoicing believers testifying about how their enemies have died after messing with them. These instances give us a rare display of imprecatory prayer not only in the public sphere, but also constitute prime examples of the use of negative prayer in political circles and beyond. These bizarre cases caught my attention, since cursing and imprecation are usually associated in the popular imagination with my longtime area of fascination: the traditional Afro-Haitian religion called Voodoo.

The negative image of Voodoo as sorcery is one that many have worked to dispel as part of a project of ethnographic re-description. They have worked to humanize Voodoo and portray its full role in Haitian society, writing of elaborately developed prayers, liturgical rhythms, and songs, dances, and ritual that serve to mediate between life and death, to construct family, and to heal.

In this non-dualistic Afro-Caribbean philosophical system, good and evil are not understood to be essential absolutes. When one develops the ability to heal, one automatically learns the way to harm. While priests in the Voodoo tradition focus on healing, there is a branch of disreputable specialists – disavowed by Voodoo priests – who practice a set of prayer rituals and wanga (material “working” objects) that purport to impose the will of the religious or shamanistic actor onto another person.

The Haitian ritual expert who performs this is called a malfaiteur, (literally: “evil-doer”) and the term for this form of prayer is “malediction” (lit: “speaking evil”). One form such prayer can take – as in the Kansas case – is the reciting of Old Testament psalms for a specific malediction against a person or group. Here are two very different religious formations – evangelicalism and Afro-Haitian religion – both using Psalms to pray against others.

They force us to consider dangerous prayers as a part of lived religion. I have employed the term “dangerous prayer” as a conceptual, second-order category that encompasses both spoken addresses to the Christian God (or other deities and spirits), and ritual actions that aim to harm, debilitate, stop, remove, or weaken another party or to impose the speaker’s will onto another party or series of events.

This umbrella term allows us to compare groups that are ordinarily kept quite distinct, such as Christians and self-identified sorcerers. Just as sorcerers are famous for their deployment of malediction, evangelical Christians are well known for a branch of thought and practice known as “spiritual warfare,” which is also a form of aggressive prayer. Here in Africa, especially with the strong Nigerian influence on the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement, this warfare has been taken to wild excesses. It is not uncommon to see an entire hour of prayer dedicated to "killing enemies" through prayer.

The catchphrase is, "Back To Sender!" This is similar to how witches and warlocks engage in exchanges of spell casting, often resulting in the demise of one or both parties under strange circumstances. Well, the Church has joined in! We have also entered into the ring and if witches can make incantations and hexes, we too shall fight fire with fire! Except that sometimes these "enemies" are imaginary. Consequently, there are bound to be casualties of "friendly fire." Prayer was never intended to settle personal scores or even as a defense mechanism against enemies, whether real or perceived.

Sadly, it is not uncommon in our day to receive chilling warnings of, "I'll pray!" Traditionally, such a statement has been a positive one. It's good that someone should pray.

However, in these interesting times, it carries both overtones and undertones of, "Watch your back! I'll kill you through praying for evil to befall you." How is this threat from a Christian different from the warning of a warlock? Shouldn't the Police now consider "I'll pray for you!" as a case of threat to kill? That would be interesting. It's not uncommon in our Churches today, as earlier stated, to see teary-eyed devotees testifying about how God killed their enemies after they prayed! What? Yes, sir! Licensed to kill and with no evidence to warrant an arrest on a criminal charge.

Talk about the perfect crime! Spiritual warfare is a precise term in the evangelical and neo-Pentecostal networks known as the Third Wave Evangelical Movement, or the Revival Movement, whose best-known theologian is C. Peter Wagner of Fuller Theological Seminary. Spiritual warfare is the aggressive prayer needed to fight evil directly in the invisible realm. This can take the form of “casting out evil” through “deliverance prayer,” in which the Christian casts out evil or actual demons from another person under the authority of Jesus (as depicted in Matthew 10:1, for instance).

More ambitiously, warfare prayer also enables Christian “prayer warriors” to “pray down” more powerful demons – those who have taken over entire areas of geographical territory such as the Islamic world, or propagate widespread sinful activity such as alcoholism – and allow for revival and Christian flourishing to surge in a given area or place.

A group of divinely “anointed prayer warriors” understand themselves to be doing battle in the “spiritual realm” with Satan’s high ranking demons, and take their understanding of this war from Ephesians 6:12: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Prayer warriors believe we are in a new age in which God is calling prophets and apostles to become intercessors and to usher in the Kingdom of God through warfare prayer.

Spiritual warfare evangelicals have elaborated a complex theology and prayer practice with a highly militarized discourse and set of rituals for doing “spiritual battle” and conducting “prayer strikes” on the “prayer battlefield.” Warfare prayer may take place in Church, in large revival events, at semi-public conferences in hotels, or in private spaces such as homes.

Prayer warriors may pray openly in “prayer walks” through public spaces, often in cities where poverty and crime are rife. Warriors may also do covert actions in public spaces when they are “on assignment” from the Holy Spirit, in which case they might pray in small groups at key “demonic strongholds,” such as massacre sites, neopagan temples, or abortion clinics.

Is warfare prayer a form of negative prayer? Well, it does seek to impose “God’s will” on others, in specific detail. Muslims are meant to convert to Christianity, Masonic lodges (seen as long standing demonic institutions) are meant to close down, and bars and strip clubs to go bankrupt. In some evangelicals’ narratives, warfare prayer ends with God killing people who are working for demonic causes, such as an Alaskan woman who protested the use of prayer in school board meetings and then died of a heart attack. In such cases, violence or death are God’s judgment, and are part of the overarching cosmic system of perfect justice that evangelicals long to help bring about.

Evangelical prayer warriors the world over teach vehemently against taking a course of physical violence in the material world and becoming actual vigilantes. But in a tragic trend, witchcraft killings and related incidents are on the rise worldwide. United Nations reports show that in locations as diverse as New York City, London, Congo, and Papua New Guinea, people are accusing others of being witches and attacking or murdering them, including Christians! Often the violence is gendered, with male witch-hunters attacking female “witches.”

Sometimes people are brutalized or killed during exorcism ceremonies, in which the demons are beaten out of the accused witch. Studying prayer as it is actually lived in the world means paying attention to such aggressive forms of prayer, and exploring how ideas about dangerous and aggressive prayers change over time in a given society.

We must also open up questions about the negative implications of prayer. Logically, even if one prays for positive results in a certain area, it is possible that if it came to pass it would be harmful for someone else.

For instance, praying for victory for one side – in war, or in sports – is necessarily to pray for defeat of another side. A prayer for one person to be chosen for a job is a prayer for the other applicants to be rejected. Researchers might ask whether the people praying in any given tradition take into account any possible negative effects of their prayers.

Studying aggressive forms of prayer may mean asking how religious actors engage with supernatural forces they perceive to be destructive, such as in exorcisms, or magic, and how they control the ritual so they are not themselves harmed. It means figuring out how explicitly negative prayer is rationalized or even justified by the person praying.

Does someone praying negatively imagine themselves to be partnering with destructive or evil forces for their own gain, or do they imagine themselves to be neutral, or even righteous? Perhaps they imagine themselves to be in alliance with forces of ultimate good, which demands an aggressive form of prayer. How is negative prayer tied to conceptions of justice? More and more studies are considering the positive effects of intercessory prayer and healing, and some argue for tangible results that positive prayer can facilitate medical recovery.

It bears considering whether negative prayer has similar negative effects. While it is tempting to imagine that the religious people of the world are all praying beneficently for peace and love, the fact is that all are not. As you read this, someone may be praying against you, wishing you to fail, hoping to be hired in your place, that you convert to their religion, or that “your days be few, and another take your office.” As things stand, you either learn how to fight back or risk dying young. Interesting times!

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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