‘If you gave me a gun, I would finish them all’: Escape from Boko Haram

This article has an estimated read time of six minutes

Halima remembers that day all too clearly. It was 3pm and the air in her village in northern Nigeria was heavy with moisture.

She was giving water to her two brothers who had just arrived from Lagos. But before she could hear all their tales of the faraway metropolis, army vehicles rolled into the village.

“Lots of men dressed in uniforms got out. People thought it was the army. Then the men started shouting Allah Akbar and shooting,” she says.

“We hid inside the house. My brothers peeped out and were seen. I saw them both shot in the chest. They came inside and found my husband. They took him outside, held him down and cut off his head. Then they picked it up by the ear and flung it into the air.”

The gunmen belonged to Boko Haram, one of the deadliest terror groups on Earth. The jihadist loaded the 24-year-old, 30 other women and several children into vehicles and drove them away.

Halima Ali, 30, (not her real name) was abducted when jihadists raided her village, executing her brothers and decapitating her husband

Dressed in a bright purple Hijab, Halima sits on the outskirts of a dusty refugee camp in northeastern Nigeria. After allowing herself to cry for only a minute, she composes herself and tries to recount how she escaped after six years of being Boko Haram’s slave.

In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, prompting a huge international outcry. But as the world’s attention turned elsewhere, the group has continued to abduct thousands of women and girls.

Boko Haram – whose name means ‘Western education is forbidden’ in the local Hausa language – launched an uprising for an Islamic State in northeastern Nigeria in 2009.

After being driven out of Maiduguri, Borno State’s ramshackle capital, the group set up strongholds in the rough terrain of the Gwoza hills and the Sambisa forest.

Mariam, 17, (not her real name) was 12 when she was abducted. She was forced to watch and participate in executions and fighting

Abubakar Shekau, a gangster-like cleric, became the group’s leader in 2010 and launched a sadistic campaign of terror across the Lake Chad region into southern Niger, northern Cameroon and Chad.

Hamstrung by low morale and decades of corruption, the Nigerian military struggled to stop Boko Haram’s advance.

Despite frequent declarations of victory by the Nigerian government, Boko Haram and their breakaway group, Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) have proven extraordinarily resilient. Reportedly, the jihadists have killed thousands of local soldiers over the last two years.

Fatima, 17, (not her real name) was abducted when she was only 10 years old. By the time she was 14 she had been given an explosive vest and shown how to use it

Into hellfire

Women and girls have been at the heart of Boko Haram’s military strategy. In 2013, Boko Haram started to come under massive pressure from powerful vigilante groups. In response, Shekau sanctioned the use of girls and women as human bombs.

“They worked out that girls could get more explosives through checkpoints under their hijabs. It has been devastating. No one expected it,” says Bulama Bukarti, an analyst from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, who Shekau has threatened with death three times.

Abducted girls are indoctrinated with extreme violence and religious teachings for months on end. “They put you in a house for a year and brainwash you. After that, you would kill your own father,” says one survivor who was abducted when she was 12 and strapped with a suicide vest.

After being abducted and made to recite the Quran for a year and a half, seventeen-year-old Aisha, was given a choice to marry a fighter or blow herself up. “I said I would rather die than marry them,” says Aisha, a diminutive, softly spoken girl.

Fighters put an explosive jacket on Aisha and left her near an army checkpoint, saying they would hunt her down if she did not blow herself up. “All I could think about was the soldiers [who would] lose their lives. [I thought] if I do this thing, I will go directly into hellfire,” she says.

Aisha, 20, (not her real name) was abducted at the age of 16. She refused to marry so was instead forced to wear an explosive vest and told to detonate it at an army road block

At the checkpoint, she started to cry out for help. “Three soldiers came to help me take the bomb off. They said: ‘don’t cry, nothing will happen to you’,” says Aisha. “If I saw Boko Haram again in my life and you gave me a gun, I would finish them all.”

Many others have not been as lucky. Since the first reported use of a female suicide bomber by Boko Haram in June 2014, hundreds of girls and women have been forced to blow themselves up in crowded markets and near checkpoints.

Survivors told The Telegraph they had seen countless men and women executed by hanging, stoning or having their throats slit for trying to escape. People are also killed in Boko Haram’s bush camps for committing moral offences like smoking or adultery.

Usman, 14, (not his real name) was abducted age 12 and forced to participate in executions

Young girls said that they had to collect stones for the executions at first. But after a while, they were made to throw the rocks themselves. One 10-year-old survivor said children were made to cut adults’ throats and drink their blood from a calabash.

Even if Boko Haram wives and children manage to escape, humanitarians say they face huge stigma when they return to society.

“The Boko Haram children are often rejected by their mothers who see them as a permanent reminder of their times in the camps. If their own mothers don’t accept them, then the community won’t either.

“Some women who have been rejected feel it is better to go back to Boko Haram. We tell these women and their children that there is hope,” says Geoffrey Ijumba, Chief of UNICEF’s field office in northeastern Nigeria.

Fatou, 17, (not her real name) was abducted age 12. Hundreds of girls and women have been forced to blow themselves up in crowded markets and near checkpoints

Halima’s escape

Halima’s convoy moved through the bush for 10 days. Most of the children with them died along the way because of a lack of water, she says.

Finally, they arrived at the Shekau’s camp in the Sambisa forest. The camp was filled with hundreds of fighters and made up of mud huts with thatched or metal roofs. Survivors said the camp was full of hidden defences like underground tunnels and bunkers.

The women were raped by any man who wanted them and made to recite radical interpretations of the Quran. They were married off to fighters. “If you refused, they made you a slave for sex and hard labour,” Halima says.

In a desperate attempt to make herself less attractive to the men, she pretended to be mad. It worked for a year, but eventually, they forced her to marry a fighter, who raped and beat her.

When Halima became pregnant, she decided she had to escape with her unborn child, even if she died trying.

She tried to run away several times, but she didn’t know the area and every time she was caught, locked up without food and left with only a wrap to cover herself.

Halima with two of her children. She escaped Boko Haram after being held captive for four years

“After the third time, they said they would pass judgement and kill me,” says Halima matter-of-factly.

Knowing that she would almost certainly be killed with his unborn child, her jihadi husband decided to help her.

With his help, she managed to get out along bush trails. She walked for ten days into Cameroon, where she gave birth to twins.

Halima is deeply traumatised from her experience. When she eventually was taken to a camp for displaced people, she barely ate for months.

Pulling down her veil, Halima shows the clear outline of a bullet still lodged in the left-hand side of her back from one of her escape attempts.

“They are not human beings,” she says, looking down at the floor. “I am scared they will not forget about me. They chopped my husband like a block of wood.

“Everything I ever had is gone.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities

SOURCE: The Telegraph Uk

An injured woman and her children arrive at a hospital in Maiduguri, Borno State, after a Boko Haram suicide bomb attack. Audu Marte/AFP via Getty Images

Victims of Boko Haram feel like strangers when they return home to southern Nigeria

An injured woman and her children arrive at a hospital in Maiduguri, Borno State, after a Boko Haram suicide bomb attack. Audu Marte/AFP via Getty Images

By Oludayo Tade, University of Ibadan

During the past ten years of Boko Haram’s campaign against the Nigerian state, over 27,000 people have been killed, hundreds kidnapped and thousands displaced.

While a lot of attention has been devoted to understanding the reasons, causes and patterns of Boko Haram’s activities, very little attention has been invested in understanding their victims. More specifically, little research has been done on the plight of people who were originally from the southern states and lived in the north for decades until they became targets of Boko Haram. Research could inform efforts to help them adjust to the changes in their lives.

We conducted a study involving a number of people who had returned to Orlu, Imo State, in southeast Nigeria, after Boko Haram had forced them to flee from the north. Most of the returnees were economic migrants who had gone north in search of work opportunities. We found that on their return home many were considered “strangers in their own land”.

Our study added to others on forced-return migration in conflict zones and post-conflict reintegration challenges and coping strategies. We found that the connection maintained with the homeland – including phone calls and sending remittances – affected their acceptance or rejection by people at home.

Most of the returnees we spoke to felt like strangers on their return. The fact that they had not been physically present led them to lose touch with certain parts of their culture. They seemed like outsiders to people at home.

The study points to the importance of maintaining relationships between diasporas and home communities.

Victims’ experiences before forced return

Our interviewees experienced the violence caused by Boko Haram’s deadly attacks in northern Nigeria. They witnessed their friends and relatives being killed. One man who had lived in Kano State before escaping to Orlu told us how he had left Kano:

One day I came back from church service on Sunday (and) about to eat when I received a phone call that the church I left had been bombed by Boko Haram leaving 30 people dead. I was afraid and then I drove to my friend’s house and found him and his family dead … I could not think straight, all I managed to think was how to drive myself to Orlu … I left my shop and properties in the house but I thank God for my life.

A woman teacher stated:

There are times we went to hide inside gutter till morning … The last time we hid inside gutter was when my son died; they killed my only son before my eyes.

The experiences of others were limited to the economic effects of terrorism on their livelihoods. For example, shops sometimes had to be closed for fear of attack. People devised strategies to survive, such as reconstructing their identity to blend with host communities.

Challenges in the homeland

The people in our study didn’t experience a seamless reintegration when they got home. They came up against hurdles of identity, high cost of living and a lack of knowledge about local business conditions. These experiences varied according to sex, age and marital status.

We found that one major determinant of acceptance back home was whether they had sent remittances while in the North. Those that had done so had little difficulty being accepted and finding support. Their predicament of having to return home was viewed as a temporary set-back. They enjoyed empathy and sympathy from people who saw them as their own.

Those who did not send remittances home had little or no support.

A married woman who lived in Jos, Plateau State, told us about trying to make a living from selling “abacha,”, a salad, made with cassava:

You know if you stay away from people and suddenly come back to do business with them it will look as if you are a stranger in your own land. Some of them when they come to buy abacha they will be telling me to stop using this and that, start using this and that, even when nothing is wrong with the abacha, just because I have lived in the north. Even when you do what they asked you to do, they will not still be satisfied with the abacha.

Many displaced victims were unable to carry out their responsibilities at home. For example, they couldn’t pay their children’s tuition fees. Some also lost their relationships owing to financial incapacity. Others were alienated and poorly regarded in the community.

Many returnees expressed the view that they felt internally displaced. Even when they thought they were at home, their experiences were like those of strangers.

Governments, at various levels, should assist returnee victims of terrorism to make them stable and boost their economic and psychological re-integration into their society. This task can be handled by the victims’ local government through the registration of returnees, assessing their needs and organising programmes to meet those needs

Oludayo Tade, Researcher in criminology, victimology, electronic frauds and cybercrime, University of Ibadan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Economic policy remains hotly contested in South Africa: this detailed history shows why

Persistent rampant povery has been blamed on the compromises made by the African National Congress during negotiations to end apartheid.
EFE-EPA/Nic Bothma

Edward Webster, University of the Witwatersrand

Economic inequality in post-apartheid South Africa has deepened. This is not what was expected. Firstly, the African National Congress (ANC) won an overwhelming victory in the 1994 elections and promised to significantly reduce inequality in the world’s most unequal country. Secondly, the country’s constitution, adopted in May 1996, foregrounds the promotion of social and economic rights.

This paradoxical outcome has led to a ferocious political-economic debate on the nature of South Africa’s transition to democracy.

On the one hand, there are those who argue that in the 1994 settlement the leaders of the liberation movement sold out their socialist commitments to the white minority, in particular, international and local capital. This conserved the pillars of the apartheid economy, the minerals-energy complex.

On the other hand, there are those who argue that the ANC had no alternative to the Washington consensus approach to the economy in the 1990s. They say it was always a party of a mixed economy, the right to trade freely and the growth of a black business class.

Among the exponents of this view are Thabo Mbeki, the key figure in shaping ANC economic policy as deputy president from 1994 to 1999, and Trevor Manuel, finance minister at the time.

Simply put, the Mbeki camp maintains that a fundamental continuity exists in the economic and social policies developed after 1994. Critics say there has been a policy reversal in post-apartheid South Africa.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
AMISOM Photo / Ilyas Ahmed

A new book, Shadow of Liberation, by Vishnu Padayachee and Robert Van Niekerk, respectively Distinguished Professor of Development Economics and Professor of Public Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand, challenges both approaches. It revisits how economic and social policies were made from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. The authors draw on 35 in-depth interviews with participants in the policy process. This pool of original data is complemented by a rich archive of primary and secondary sources. Together, these data sets reveal a fascinating story about who shaped these policies and how.

The book is the first attempt to comprehensively document and interpret the origins and evolution of the ANC’s economic and social polices.

Evolution of ANC economic policy

The authors argue that the ANC lacked economic expertise – and spurned what little it had. In particular, it rejected the evidence-based analysis and recommendations of the MacroEconomic Research Group, which it had commissioned. They argue that it was less a case of the ANC “selling out” and more one of being outmanoeuvred. Policy makers were, Padayachee and Van Niekerk conclude (p. 135),

Intellectually seduced in comfortable surroundings and eventually outmanoeuvred by the well-resourced apartheid state and by international and local pro-market friendly actors.

The story of the evolution of the ANC’s economic policy is a complex one. The authors take us on a long journey that begins in the 1940s. The rest of the journey is spread over nine chapters. Chapter 2 shows how the party’s economic and social roots lie in social democratic policies. These ideals can be found in the bill of rights in African Claims, developed in 1943.

African Claims was a document with a recognisably social democratic impetus. It argued for state intervention to secure social rights to health, education and welfare for all. This was to be based on universal political and social citizenship. These aspirations can also be traced to what the authors call the
“Keynesian, social democratic welfare state, based on the social rights of citizenship” in the Freedom Charter adopted in 1955 (p. 22).

The next chapter connects the past to the dawn of democracy and the formation of the ANC’s economic planning department. The authors argue this consisted of a small group – Trevor Manuel, Alec Erwin, Maria Ramos, Neil Morrison, Moss Ngoasheng, Leslie Maasdorp – who came to believe that there

was no alternative to neo-liberal globalisation (p. 67).

The pace quickens in chapters 4, 5 and 6 – the empirical heart of the book. The authors show how the ANC distanced itself from the post-Keynesian MacroEconomic Research Group in December 1993, and then abruptly dropped the popular “growth through redistribution” Reconstruction and Development Programme in April 1996.

At the centre of the book is a powerful critique, not only of the policy outcomes, but also of the way in which the policies were made. Yet the critiques sometimes feel incomplete.


There is a substantial body of literature on the “politics of economic reform” that could have been drawn on to deepen Padayachee and Van Niekerk’s argument that widespread consultation and negotiation is vital for successful economic reform. In fairness, the refusal to negotiate the Growth, Employment and Redistribution macroeconomic strategy for South Africa in the National Economic Development and Labour Council is rightly criticised and the authors show admirable awareness of the issue.

The late post-Keynesian American economist Hyman Minsky’s famous observation, made over 30 years ago and rightly quoted by the authors, makes the point:

Economic issues must become a serious public matter and the subject of debate if new directions are to be undertaken. Meaningful reforms cannot be put over by an advisory and administrative elite that is itself the architect of the existing situation (quoted on p. xi of the book under review).

Tragically, it is precisely what unfolded in South Africa in the 1990s.

Speaking to the present

Although the book examines events nearly three decades ago, it speaks to the present where the demand for rapid economic reform has become widespread.

The lesson I draw from the book is that economic reform cannot be undertaken by a small group of people. Instead, policies must be formulated and implemented through negotiation and consultation of a social compact beyond the state and parliament to include unions, employers and other interest groups.

What I argued in 1998 remains true today:

Labour retains the power to block the imposition of economic reform – both at the national and workplace level. Any attempt to impose neo-liberal solutions unilaterally is likely to take the country down the path of ungovernability and civil war – it will ensure rather than avert chaos. If, at the same time, socialist solutions seem unfeasible, this conclusion points towards a class compromise between capital and the labouring poor: a Southern version of social democracy.

The insights in Shadow of Liberation complement this claim, while developing new interpretations based on evidence from face-to-face interviews with the key actors as well as new archival material. It is a necessary read for a new generation of policymakers as they confront the challenge of economic reform. Above all, this book is a major contribution to the growing body of literature on the appropriate policies required to reduce inequality in the global South.

This is an edited version of a longer article published in the June issue of the African Review of Economics and Finance.

Edward Webster, Distinguished Reserach Professor, Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Somalia’s coronavirus khat bans leaves chewers in a stew

Flights carrying the mild stimulant khat have been banned from entering Somalia, leaving chewers of the leaves in a stew, write the BBC’s Mary Harper and Bella Hassan.

In normal times, around midday, when the bunches of fresh leaves arrive in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, by plane from Kenya, men disappear from view, lounging in khat kiosks or chewing at home.

The leaf, also known as miraa, acts as a stimulant, sending users into a frenzy of excited chatter. Business deals are made and broken, tired fighters are kept awake.

In March, the government of Somalia banned international flights, including khat planes, as part of its efforts to contain coronavirus.

When it imposed a lockdown, it forbade people from gathering together to chew their beloved leaves as this would break social distancing rules. Officials warned that because khat is picked by hand it could help spread Covid-19.

Women sell bundles of the mild stimulant known locally as khat at a market in the Somali capital, Mogadishu on June 18, 2012.
Image captionKhat is a major source of income for many Somalis

But the stimulant is still finding its way into the country.

Some comes in by road from Ethiopia. Some is transported by boat from Kenya, where many khat growers and traders say they have lost their livelihoods. The situation is especially grave in central Meru county, the heartland of khat farming in Kenya.

Crafty dealers

The chairman of the Nyambene Miraa Traders’ Association, Kimathi Munjuri, said members of his organisation exported about $250,000 (£200,000) worth of khat a day to the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

About half-a-million farmers cultivate the stimulant in the Horn of Africa; many will be hit hard by the ban.

Although most khat sellers in Somalia have nothing to trade, a few crafty dealers have hit a goldmine.

“Before Covid-19, we got fresh leaves from Kenya,” says a woman who sells khat in Mogadishu. “Now we get it illegally from the port city of Kismayo, and because it is so limited, we can push up the price. I used to sell one kilo of leaves for about $20 to $25. Now I sell it for $120. This ban has been very good for us.”

Khat: Key facts

  • Floweringshrub native to East Africa and Arabian Peninsula
  • Usedas recreational drug since 13th century
  • Chewed until the juices are extracted
  • Increasesalertness, excitement, energy, and talkativeness
  • Effectsusually last for between 90 minutes and three hours
  • Chronic abusecan cause behavioural changes and mental health problems

Source: US National Drug Intelligence Center

“A man without khat is like a fish out of water,” says Mohamed Abdi, a committed chewer in Mogadishu. “I have to have my fix, no matter what. But I cannot afford the exorbitant prices, so I am going quietly mad.”

“I have stopped consuming khat because of the crazy prices,” says another chewer, Hassan Abdiwali. “Some of my friends have started using other substances like illegal drugs or homemade alcohol. Others have started to rob so they can afford to buy khat. For us khat lovers, this is the worst situation we have ever been in.”

Seized khat burned

The leaf is very popular among the security forces, whose pay is far too low for them to afford the current prices. There have been reports that some police and soldiers are stealing phones and money to pay for khat.

A khat farmer harvests shoots of khat at his farm in Maua, in Meru county on September 9, 2016 in Kenya's central province.
Image captionKhat has to be taken to the market quickly so that it is sold fresh

The stimulant is especially popular in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, where it has also been temporarily banned because of coronavirus. The authorities say it makes social distancing impossible and that they will reassess the situation after the Islamic holy month Ramadan.

Most of Somaliland’s khat comes in by road from Ethiopia. Trucks piled high with bunches of leaves race in, horns blaring, to make sure the delivery is fresh on arrival. Vehicles caught under the current ban are confiscated. Any khat that is found is burned.

I did not expect more than 30% of the population to be so addicted to khat that they would do anything they could to get their hands on it”Muse Bihi

President of Somaliland

Many of Somaliland’s major dealers have agreed to the ban, saying people’s health is more important than anything. But some sneaks into the territory, also fetching sky-high prices.

“I expected some people to try to smuggle khat into the territory during the suspension,” said the president of Somaliland, Muse Bihi. “But I did not expect more than 30% of the population to be so addicted to it that they would do anything they could to get their hands on it.”

Some people are delighted with the ban, especially anti-khat campaigners like Abukar Awale.

“The ban is a blessing from the skies. There is less domestic violence, less divorce and wives are happy because their husbands are spending their money on their families, not the drug,” he says.

“Productivity is increasing because men can no longer spend six hours a day wasting their time chewing khat. If Somalia wants to rise again, it should use the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on that awful drug for the development of the country,” he adds.

Khat sellers n75, Woqooyi Galbeed region, Hargeisa, Somaliland on August 4, 2019 in Hargeisa, Somaliland
Image captionMany Somali men chew khat

Mr Awale says khat also damages people’s health. It can damage teeth and there are concerns of a possible link to mouth cancer.

Some doctors say regular chewing can lead to addiction and psychosis, although a Home Affairs Select Committee in the UK, where the stimulant was banned in 2014 and labelled a class C drug, said there was no evidence of a direct link between khat and psychosis.

Mr Awale hopes the ban will last forever. But this is unlikely. Previous bans on khat flights from Kenya have not lasted.

There is a strong pro-khat lobby in Somalia. It is unlikely politicians will outlaw the drug as it is such a central part of the economy and of social life. Plus, many of those in powerful positions are not averse to a lively chewing session themselves.

VIDEO: What does lockdown mean for the world’s poor?

People in need wait for their turn to collect free rations and groceries in Bangalore, India.

By Alex Broadbent, University of Johannesburg

Severe restrictions on travel and economic activity have been imposed in many parts of the world. For the poor, recessions have always meant starvation, lack of medical support for diseases including HIV treatment programmes, and in particular the deaths of infants and children vulnerable to malnutrition and childhood disease. What do the restrictions mean for these people?


That’s the question a new 30 minute documentary seeks to answer – by asking the people who are most affected. The documentary is the result of a collaboration between the Institute for the Future of Knowledge at the University of Johannesburg, and the not for profit organisation Picturing Health. It features interviews with market traders, community workers, and ordinary people in Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, and India. Experts from international organisations like UNICEF are also interviewed.

The documentary offers a perspective that the world needs to see.


COVID on the Breadline.

Alex Broadbent, Director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge and Professor of Philosophy, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus in Africa: what happens next?

Just seven weeks after Africa recorded its first case of Covid-19 – an Italian national in Algeria – the virus is creeping across the continent, infecting more than 10,000 people and causing 487 deaths. Three of the region’s 54 countries – São Tome and Principe, Comoros, and Lesotho – remain apparently virus-free.

“Case numbers are increasing exponentially in the African region,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa. “It took 16 days from the first confirmed case in the region to reach 100 cases. It took a further 10 days to reach the first thousand. Three days after this, there were 2,000 cases, and two days later we were at 3,000.”


In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, coronavirus has spread beyond the capital, Kinshasa, to the easternmost regions of the country, which until recently were still in the grip of an Ebola outbreak, according to the WHO.

In South Africa, which has the highest viral incidence on the continent, all provinces are now fighting the outbreak of Covid-19. Confirmed cases in Cameroon, Senegal and Burkina Faso are also widespread.

While transmission rates are still low, the key fear is over what happens next.

“The issues with Africa – like many places but even more so – are that the lack of testing means we don’t have any secure understanding of the true amounts of infection,” said Dr William Hanage, professor of epidemiology at Harvard. “We would expect it to be in the early stages now, given that in general the major metropolitan centres are less connected than, say, New York.

“Without better understanding of the way the virus operates – such as the immunological or genetic factors that may protect some people – it is impossible to say how severe the impact of Covid-19 will be on the continent, said Prof Thumbi Ndung’u of the African Institute for Health Research.

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“We don’t yet have a good answer as to why rates are lower in Africa than in Europe or China. One possibility is that that coronavirus hit during the European winter and the virus doesn’t spread perhaps as efficiently in warmer and more humid climates, which one study has shown. Another possibility is that Africa, in general, has a much younger population [than Europe or China].Advertisement

“The last possibility is that it may just be a matter of time before it hits Africa as much as it’s hit other places. If that’s the case, and we get community transmission in sub-Saharan Africa at the rates that we’ve witnessed in Italy, we could be staring at a catastrophe,” Ndung’u said.

He added: “We don’t have the hospitals, the ICUs or the ventilators to deal with massive amounts of [infected] people, so if the spread is comparable to that seen in Europe or China, the outcome could be devastating.”

If the spread is comparable to that seen in Europe or China, the outcome could be devastatingProf Thumbi Ndung’u


In South Africa, which has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world and among the highest for tuberculosis, people have already been hit by lockdowns and reduced access to health clinics, according to Dr Michelle Moorhouse, of Ezintsha, Wits Institute in Johannesburg.

“We are telling people to stay home and avoid the clinics so this will impact testing, starting treatment, and potentially could see people interrupting treatment, if they are afraid to venture out and collect their medication,” she said. “We have been urging, where possible, that clinics dispense more antiretrovirals (ARVs) at each visit to try to keep people living with HIV out of clinics and so reduce their exposure.

“We do not really have any clear idea what Covid-19 will do in a population where overcrowding, TB and HIV are highly prevalent.”

In Uganda, at least 1.4 million people are living with HIV. Milly Katana, a public health specialist, told the Guardian that the coronavirus lockdown is “unfortunately” not locking up HIV.

“I have information from Ankole districts [in western Uganda] where patients are in a desperate situation, walking for seven hours, sleeping at health facilities and going back the following day,” said Katana, warning that the situation could lead to drug resistance.

“Many of our friends are running out of ARVs. This is more worrying given that dolutegravir (DTG), the first-line drug of choice, has a very short ‘temper’. Miss a few doses and one gets a resistant strain of HIV. The next HIV epidemic will be resistant to not only DTG, but the drugs in the same class.”


For Helen Jenkins, epidemiologist at Boston University School of Public Health, the suspension of research into – and vaccination of – infectious diseases is likely to have a profound impact. “I am very concerned for when the pandemic truly hits a high-TB-burden country, of which there are many in Africa,” she said.

HIV patients are in a desperate situation, walking for seven hours, sleeping at health facilities and going back the following dayMilly Katana

“There is likely to be greater severity of Covid-19 infection in people with TB, or damaged lungs from previous TB. In addition, research into all infectious diseases is stopping in many places, vaccination campaigns are stopping, so we are likely to see increases in vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles or polio.”Advertisement

Malaria symptoms can also present similarly to coronavirus, leading to confusion.

“Anyone whose body temperature is higher than normal is suspected to be infected with coronavirus and put in isolation wards and in quarantine locations where people who have arrived from abroad are being observed,” said Chris Macoloo,director for the US development charity World Neighbors in east and west Africa.

“The possibility is that a person who has merely a raised temperature (maybe unrelated to the virus) is likely to be infected when brought closer to people under isolation. There is a likelihood that lower-order health facilities such as dispensaries are referring malaria patients to the Covid-19 health teams. So in the incubation stage, a lot of confusion is occurring.”

Dr Joyce Samoutou-Wong of the Congo-based charity New Sight Eye Care says her charity has distributed more than 12,000 leaflets and posters and recorded several broadcasts in Congo and abroad regarding the virus.


“We had to close our clinic on 31 March and we normally serve 200 patients per month. Cargo supplies are still running, for now, but we depend on visits from abroad to bring a lot of our supplies, which have obviously been suspended, plus we’ve had to postpone the construction of an eye hospital.”

Samoutou-Wong said a European-style lockdown would be totally impossible in Africa. “A lot of myths are out there. People think Congo bololo (a plant) or lemon and garlic can protect them from the virus.

“We are on the edge of the rainforest, so there is no panic buying because people don’t have the resources to stock up on supplies, and quarantine is impossible because people share clothes, beds, floor space, utensils. Water pumps are a hotspot for the virus, so the hardest measure to implement is simply hand washing.”

A trafficked women’s painful story of survival

This article is a part of Meri Suno, a campaign to give voice to survivors of trafficking. The campaign is led by members of the Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking, a survivor-led organisation formed to combat trafficking. Visit ILFAT.org to know more.

Hashina was just 13 years old when she made the hard decision of joining a dance group to help her family survive. It was the day her favourite actor Balakrishna’s movie “Bangaru Bullodu” was released, and she had long planned to watch the first show of the day, without any inkling of the fate that lay in store for her.


Through a neighbour known to her mother, Hashina met Jani Bhasa, who was operating a dance group called Jani Bhasa Recording Dance Group. The same day, Jani took her with his troupe to Pamaru, a village in Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh, for a programme where Hashina, a self-trained dancer, performed to popular Telugu movie songs. Her dancing skills attracted many people’s attention that night.

Hashina was happy that she was able to entertain a huge crowd. But her happiness soon turned to shock when some youths climbed onto the stage and started dancing with her and touching her inappropriately. She tried her best to resist the harassment, but it did not stop. One of them even tore off her clothes, forcing her to run into the greenroom and hide until the programme ended.

The manager came to her and told her bluntly, “This is the business and this will remain the same. Accept it or perish.” Hashina decided not to join the dance group again. After returning home, she did not speak to anyone for weeks. Her mother, who was also in the same profession and was aware of the hazards, supported her and told her not to join the group if she did not like it.

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But the situation at home was getting worse, with her mother not finding any work and having a hard time keeping the family afloat. During this time, her father, who had been living separately with another woman for over 10 years, also returned home after his second wife threw him out. He was ill and was in urgent need of treatment, which required more than Rs 5 lakh. Hashina’s siblings – two sisters and a brother – discontinued their studies. Even arranging a day’s food for the family was a daunting task for Hashina’s mother, who by then, was running into several lakhs in debt.

Being the eldest sibling, Hashina decided to join the dance group again. She accepted her fate and felt that she had to work to save her family. “That day, I realised I was no longer a 13-year-old child. I felt like a middle-aged woman with a lot of responsibilities. I knew the path would be difficult. There would be harassment, but how could I see my family suffer? I accepted the professional hazards and decided to move on with it,” recounts Hashina.


Life continued as usual. Her love for dancing and her earnings kept her going, despite the occasional discomfort and pain that came along the way. But all her hard work came to a standstill after she was injured in an accident. Her doctors told her not to dance. Again, the burden of running the family fell onto her mother, but she emerged stronger this time. She also got Hashina married in her neighbouring district.

Seven years passed by. Hashina was happy in her married life and enjoying her time as a wife and a mother of two kids – a son and a daughter. But that did not last long. Her husband found out about her past through a photograph from her days in the dancing group. First, he started quarrelling with her and abusing her, and then he demanded that Hashina return to dancing and that he would work as her manager.

It was a difficult situation for Hashina, but she felt obliged to save her marriage and family. Whatever she could earn, her husband would spend on alcohol and gambling, and this continued for a few years. But soon it became impossible for her to tolerate. In 2015, she broke off the relationship and returned to her mother’s place with her kids.

“I continued to go with dance troupes, but I gave up that profession as it was physically and mentally very straining. But in this juncture of life, I received great support from a friend and started a small business, and life slowly came back on track again,” she says.


In the same year, she came in contact with HELP — a local Guntur-based NGO working on children and women’s rights — when they were conducting a community sensitisation exercise in Chilakaluripet. She met a representative of the NGO and got to know about Vimukthi, a collective of over 75 women and girls who were formerly sex workers. Their work inspired Hashina to join the group, and she started working as a “community mobiliser” in her locality, beginning a new chapter in her life. 

As a member of Vimukthi, which aimed at protecting children of women in sex work from getting into the trade, she tracked vulnerable children and encouraged their parents to send them to school. She also helped create several “child protection” groups in and around her community, who in turn took on the responsibility of identifying 15 other vulnerable children from their areas.

Her passion and commitment towards her work were highly appreciated and acknowledged by her peers, people from her community and within HELP. She is now the district coordinator of Vimukthi. She is also a member of Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT), a national forum for and by survivors of all forms of human trafficking and slavery who have come together with a common vision to collectively combat human trafficking and improve access to justice for survivors.


“The work not only helped change my own perspective on life, but also helped me to change many other lives. I am happy that I have managed to bring in some positive changes in my own capacity. It’s my contribution to society, and I am continuing to do so,” she says.

“I don’t want any other child gets into sex work, or dance to the tunes of item songs meant to titillate the men in the audience. I want all the children to go to school, complete their education and take up livelihood options as per their skills and ability.”

Saroj Pattnaik is a freelance journalist associated with grassroots organisations working on the issue of human trafficking in India.

From bombs to beats: how Nazar summed up the sound of Angola

Growing up in the aftermath of civil war, his father a controversial former general, the producer has channelled his shocking experiences into a vital electronic album.

The perkiest song on Guerrilla, the debut album by the Angolan artist Nazar, is an ode to deadly military technology. “This is a restricted weapon,” we hear on FIM-92 Stinger, a shaky kuduro rhythm brightened by synth marimba. In the murky world of Guerrilla – part war diary, part family memoir – acquiring an anti-aircraft missile is cause for celebration. “That thing symbolised a good time for people in the rebellion,” Nazar explains. “They didn’t have to be so scared of airstrikes because they had an umbrella over them.”

The son of a general in Jonas Savimbi’s Unita rebel group, Nazar was born in Belgium in 1993. He grew up in the relative safety of suburban Brussels – barring a foiled kidnap attempt on his sister and the spectre of street gangs – as the Angolan civil war raged. After the nation became independent from Portugal in 1975, it was engulfed in a war between the communist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), backed by Reagan and the CIA. Nazar’s mother worked two jobs to keep the family in a middle-class neighbourhood. When peace came to Angola in 2002 after nearly three decades of fighting and the loss of an estimated 500,000 lives, the family moved back and Nazar encountered his homeland for the first time.


As we sit in the London office of his label Hyperdub, he recalls the overwhelming volume of the journey from the airport to his family home, “radios, taxis and minivans literally shaking, creating mini earthquakes when they passed”. In a country ruptured by civil war and longstanding ethnic tensions, the rhythms of kuduro – a dense, explosive electronic music that first emerged in 80s Luanda – is a powerful binding force. He calls it “part of the DNA of Angolan culture”. But for the young Nazar, kuduro’s jubilant mood jarred with his state of mind. “In Angola I was faced with another reality. It was much more grim.”

An “alien with no friends” at school in Luanda – classmates were mostly children of the victorious MPLA – he occupied himself making beats on his dad’s laptop. Inspiration came from European music at first: the bombastic electro-house of Justice and Burial’s sample-heavy rave nostalgia, which got him through a long period of depression. But as he felt more at home in Angola and dug into his family history, he incorporated more African sounds. He calls the result “rough kuduro” – a caustic inversion of Angolan pride that packs the energy of kuduro down like gunpowder before blasting it apart, leaving distorted drums and pockmarks of dirt and noise, gun-cocks as percussion and whirring helicopter blades. As with Burial’s haunted memory scapes, it feels like a psychohistorical investigation, exposing the exhausted psyche underneath kuduro’s bright mask.

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Guerrilla is populated by many voices: his family; Nazar himself, pitched up to sound feminine; and the Hyperdub DJ Shannen SP, who adds a sullen rap to Bunker, a track about the bloody aftermath of Angola’s 1992 elections. On Diverted, Nazar’s father, Alcides Sakala Simões, reads from his war memoir, describing a tactical decision that could have cost him his life. “He knew he could die, but he accepted it without hesitation. I thought that was extraordinary,” says his son. In a pointed refusal of Portuguese colonial legacy, he speaks in Umbundu, the language of his people. The oral tradition is fundamental to African history, a process that Nazar is accelerating through music. “It’s like a bank of information for me – if I play the album, then I remember,” he says. “The more I know about my history, the more centred I feel.”


An adored but absent figure during Nazar’s childhood, Simões looms large over Guerrilla. His battleworn face appears on the album’s sleeve, captured in a film still from 2002 that was circulated by the MPLA to humiliate Unita’s vanquished leaders. Nazar says he is reclaiming the image – he has even had it printed on T-shirts. A weird look given the bloody legacy of Savimbi’s army, but a reflection of a filial bond. Simões’s reputation has recovered substantially; he is now an elected politician.

“Angolan society was very divided between people that supported the Angolan regime and the rest of us,” Nazar says. “Right after the war, stigmatisation, prejudice was extremely common to people that supported Unita. I’d grow up entering spaces knowing that my political affiliation would be despised. But also, I’d also go to spaces where it was admired – when I would just hang out with my dad, party events, regions of Angola that were strongholds.

“So in that sense, the ‘official’ story of the bad guy never got to me,” he continues. “I’ve always regarded my dad as what he is, and not what the rebellion or the party did. Both sides had horrible individuals. Both sides had remarkable people who, regardless of their involvement in the fighting, were doing it for final longstanding peace. My dad is one of them. And both sides recognise that.”


Having quit his studies to work on music, Nazar now lives in Manchester. “Culturally, there’s not much space in Angola for very abrasive songs,” he explains, plus the internet was too slow and expensive. Manchester also provided the isolation he needed to complete such a personal record. It has taken him most of a decade to process his family’s history and the war stories he heard on road trips around the country. “They would talk a lot about the war and they recalled it with a very upbeat approach, a lot of black humour. It comes from this perspective that if you’re alive to recount the story you should be grateful.”

They sold human beings here

For hundreds of years, enslaved people were bought and sold in merica. oday most of the sites of this trade are forgotten.

Photographs by Dannielle Bowman. Text by Anne C. Bailey

SARAH ELIZABETH ADAMS was around 5 when her mother was sold to a slave dealer in Lynchburg, Va. The auction took place in the mid-1840s, in the town of Marion, Va. Sallie, as she was called, was herself sold that day, but not with her mother: A man named Thomas Thurman purchased Sallie to take care of his sick wife. She would never see her mother again. For the remainder of her childhood, whenever she could, Sallie would slip away and find solace under a tall white-oak tree. All alone, she would wrap her arms around the tree’s wide trunk and cry. The tree became the place where she would recall the names and faces of her family members sold away; a place where she could grieve, but also a place where she could find shade and respite from her sorrow.

This story was told many years later by Sallie’s granddaughter, Evelyn Thompson Lawrence, a local educator and historian in Marion. Thompson’s efforts led to the founding of the Mount Pleasant Heritage Museum — housed in a former black Methodist church that Sallie and other freed men and women founded after the Civil War — to preserve the history and culture of African-Americans in the county. We know that Sallie was sold at an auction held at the Smyth County Courthouse, a brick building that was torn down after the turn of the century, when Mari­on’s current courthouse was constructed. And yet many details of her story have been lost: We don’t know exactly what happened to Sallie’s mother, or how much Sallie was sold for, or even exactly when the auction took place.The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. Read all the stories.


Sallie and her family were among the 1.2 million enslaved men, women and children sold in the United States between approximately 1760 and 1860, according to the historian Michael Tadman. After the American Revolution, cotton production grew rapidly, and demand for enslaved workers on the vast plantations of the Deep South intensified. This, along with the ban on importation of enslaved Africans that took effect in 1808, largely led to the rapid growth of the domestic slave trade. Auctions and the sales of enslaved people could be found near or along the major ports where enslaved Africans landed, including Richmond, Va.; New Orleans; Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C. But the enslaved were also sold in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and at New York City’s 18th-century open-air Meal Market on Wall Street. The sales took place all over the growing nation — in taverns, town squares and train stations, on riverbanks and by the side of the road. Before being sold, the enslaved were often kept in pens or private jails, sometimes for days or weeks. Then they were sold directly from the pens or marched to a nearby auction. Thousands of sales took place each year, right in the hearts of American cities and towns, on the steps of courthouses and city halls. As the historian Steven Deyle puts it, slave auctions were “a regu­lar part of everyday life.”


Many American fortunes were made this way. The largest slave-trading firm during the late 1820s and 1830s was Franklin & Armfield, whose Virginia offices and infamous holding pen were located at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria. In their heyday, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield sold between 1,000 and 2,000 enslaved people per year, and by the time Franklin died in 1846, his estate was valued at $710,000 — almost $24 million today — a fortune largely earned through the slave trade.

A photograph, circa 1865, of the slave-trading firm Price, Birch & Company in Alexandria, Va. Franklin & Armfield, one of the largest slave trading firms in the country, was headquartered in the same building until it was sold to a partner of Price, Birch & Company.

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Slave trading was a lucrative business, yet for the enslaved people themselves, the auction block represented a particular horror — the end to life as they knew it. Family was one of the few bright spots in the long night of slavery, and the auction was the event that ripped enslaved families apart. The very prospect of it cast a specter over the enslaved population like a slowly dilapidating roof: At any time, it could come down and destroy the inhabitants of an already-fragile dwelling. Sales were so common that some enslaved people could be sold as many as six times in their lives, if not more, often with little warning and no chance to say goodbye. In some cases, infants were literally torn from wailing mothers.

We know from enslaved people themselves — the relative few who were able to write or otherwise tell their stories — that the auction block was even more feared than a lashing. “Common as are slave-auctions in the Southern states,” wrote one formerly enslaved man, Josiah Henson, “the full misery of the event — of the scenes which precede and succeed it — is never understood till the actual experience comes.” The New Deal-era Slave Narratives project, funded by the Works Progress Administration, is full of terrifying memories like this one, from a formerly enslaved woman in Arkansas named Will Ann Rogers: “When Ma was a young woman, she said they put her on a block and sold her. They auctioned her off at Richmond, Virginia. When they sold her, her mother fainted or dropped dead, she never knowed which. She wanted to go and see her mother lying over there on the ground, and the man what bought her wouldn’t let her. He just took her on. Drove her off like cattle, I reckon.”


After the Civil War, most former auction sites quietly blended into the main streets of today. Except for the occasional marker or museum, there was no record of the horror of separation suffered by many black families. The emphasis on national unity and reconstruction created a desire to paper over the atrocities of the past, and many of these sites were forgotten. They were not forgotten, though, by the formerly enslaved people who had been sold there, or by their families. Immediately upon Emancipation in 1863 and the end of the war in 1865, many of these newly freed men and women set out on foot searching earnestly for their loved ones, and often the place they sought out first was the auction site. They took with them a lock of hair, a swath of clothing — small mementos that they had saved. They posted advertisements in newspapers and black churches searching for lost relatives. Their cry was “Help me to find my people,” as the historian Heather Andrea Williams documented in the book of the same name.

A photograph from about 1900 of the auction block on which enslaved people stood when they were sold at the St. Louis Hotel & Exchange in New Orleans.

But often the auction site was no longer there to find. The war had laid waste to much of the South; the auction blocks had largely been removed, and the auction houses that still stood had been repurposed. No one was eager to preserve these sites, or even remember them. And so they disappeared, year by year, generation by generation, until there was no living memory of what happened in these places.

Today, only a small minority of these sites have been properly docu­mented, recorded and preserved. There is no online database to find them. Countless remain completely unknown. When The New York Times Magazine asked the photographer Dannielle Bowman to document some of these sites, it quickly became clear that most of their locations could be pinpointed only through original research.

And so for the last five months, my research assistants and I at the Binghamton University/Harriet Tubman Center for the Study of Freedom and Equity have combed through archives — including volumes of narratives of the formerly enslaved, as well as post-Civil War ads placed in newspapers by the enslaved themselves — in an attempt to expand the historical record about America’s slave-auction sites. During that time, we have been able to identify fewer than 50 that have been marked and approximately 30 unmarked ones. Yet these are almost certainly just a fraction of the total, when you consider how many sales took place, over how many decades, during this chapter in American history.


Why is it important to excavate these sites? This is a question I have spent a long time considering. My second book, “The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History,” was about a horrifying event that took place over two days in Savannah in 1859. Four hundred thirty-six men, women and children, including 30 babies, were sold at the Savannah Ten Broeck Race Course, normally a playground for local elites. These enslaved men and women, Gullah Geechee African-Americans, had lived together for years on the plantation estates of Pierce Mease Butler, where they forged a community with its own norms, values and customs — many informed by their African heritage. But this auction, which they came to call “the weeping time,” separated them from their families and displaced them from the only “home” they had; it was a decisive moment, maybe the decisive moment, in many of their lives. Their family bonds may have mattered little to their owners, but they mattered to the enslaved. The extent to which several of them plotted and planned about how to stay together, or went looking for one another after Emancipation, spoke to the strength and resolve of black families.

An advertisement published in The Savannah Republican on Feb. 8, 1859, by the slave dealer Joseph Bryan for a two-day auction that became the largest in history. Four hundred thirty-six men, women and children were sold for $303,850, equivalent to about $9.4 million today.

Again and again, delving into each site, you find it to be a window into unspeakable suffering but also unimaginable resilience. Next to the I-95 highway in Richmond, there’s a fenced-in area that for about 20 years starting in the mid-1840s was home to a compound owned by the slave trader Robert Lumpkin. Called Lumpkin’s Jail, it included a pen to hold enslaved people — many of them fugitives — before they were sold in auctions and private sales on the property. The site, one of the few in the country that are marked, is part of a self-guided slavery tour in Richmond. The tour runs through the downtown area called Shockoe Bottom, where auction houses were concentrated. But you could walk through Shockoe Bottom today, a hub of restaurants, clubs and small businesses, and remain completely unaware of this history.


One person held at Lumpkin’s Jail was Anthony Burns, an enslaved person in Richmond who stowed away on a ship in 1854, escaping to Boston. When he was captured shortly after, thousands of local abolitionists tried to prevent him from being re-enslaved, but the courts ordered Burns returned to Virginia, where he was soon jailed in a small cell in Lumpkin’s Jail, painfully manacled much of the time. “The grip of the irons impeded the circulation of his blood, made hot and rapid by the stifling atmosphere, and caused his feet to swell enormously,” reports his biographer, Charles Emery Stevens. Burns was kept in this jail for four months until he was purchased there by a plantation owner from North Carolina. But he had not been forgotten by a black congregation and other abolitionists in Boston, who purchased his freedom. He went on to study at Oberlin College and spent his final years in Canada as a Baptist preacher.

Even well-known sites of slave labor look different when seen through the lens of the auction. When Thomas Jefferson died, on July 4, 1826, the enslaved people he owned at Monticello suddenly faced a perilous future. Jefferson’s will freed only five of them, including two children he fathered with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman at his Monticello plantation. But Jefferson had many debts, and to pay them off, his executors sold 133 people, scattering them across the country. The first auction was held in 1827, most likely on or near the West Portico steps of the mansion; another followed two years later at the Eagle Tavern, in downtown Charlottesville.


Peter Fossett, 11, was among the people sold. His father, Joseph Fossett, had been Monticello’s blacksmith, freed by Jefferson in his will. Although Joseph was able to emancipate much of his family, he was unable to secure freedom for Peter. Peter was purchased by Col. John Jones and unsuccessfully tried to run away twice. In 1850 he was once again put on the auction block, but this time, friends and family were able to purchase his freedom, and 23 years after first being separated from them, Peter finally rejoined his family in Ohio, where they had settled. He went on to become an ordained minister and a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Some 400,000 people visit Monticello every year, inspired, in part, by Jefferson’s legacy as a founding father and promoter of freedom. They take photographs and stroll up and down the famous West Portico steps — the image depicted on the United States nickel since 1938. Until they come, visitors most likely have not imagined a slave auction taking place on the property, let alone on those famous stairs. Perhaps Jefferson’s greatest contribution is not the realization of freedom for all but the creation of a blueprint for future generations to follow. Spurred on by the pioneering research of Annette Gordon-Reed, Lucia Stanton, Niya Bates and others, Monticello has more fully acknowledged Thomas Jefferson’s legacy as not just the writer of the Declaration of Independence but also an enslaver. At his plantation, the auctions are described in an exhibit, but in downtown Charlottesville, where the second occurred, there is no specific mention of the auction.

An advertisement that appeared in The Charlottesville Central Gazette on Jan. 15, 1827, for the sale of Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved workers. One hundred people were sold that day.

The lack of physical markers is just one obstacle to reclaiming the history of America’s slave-sale sites. Quite a few happened in places, including in Northern states, that the general public may not typically associate with slavery. On Main Street in East Brunswick, N.J., for example, a power station now stands on a site that previously was part of the estate of Jacob Van Wickle — a judge in Middlesex County who, along with a few collaborators, perpetrated one of the most infamous slave-selling schemes in the state’s history, selling off some 100 enslaved people in 1818.

At the time, New Jersey was moving to end slavery. State law held that children born to an enslaved woman were free, but had to remain in service to their mothers’ owners until they became adults. There were two loopholes, however. First, if their mothers were sold, their own enslavement could be temporarily extended; second, enslaved people could be moved from the state and remain enslaved, so long as they gave their consent. Van Wickle used these loopholes with cruel effectiveness. He and his collaborators often signed off on paperwork that moved unwitting people, including mothers and their freeborn children, to the South. Then he sold them to traders and planters in Louisiana, separating them from their families — most of whom would never see them again. Though there was local outcry when his dealings were discovered, he himself was never punished for his crimes.

An 1852 photograph of men in front of the slave pens of Bernard Lynch, who ran one of the largest slave markets in St. Louis.

Even though the story of Van Wickle and his slave ring was reported in newspapers at the time and has since been chronicled by historians like James Gigantino, many present-day residents of the area were not aware of many of the story’s details. But when the Rev. Karen G. Johnston at the Unitarian Society in East Brunswick learned about it a few years ago, she decided that something had to be done to acknowledge the pain and suffering of those who were sold away. Two years ago, members of the church, as well as the local N.A.A.C.P., the New Jersey chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and others, formed the Lost Souls Public Memorial Project, which is developing teaching resources for local schools and is raising funds for a permanent memorial. On May 25, 2018, members of the project gathered in a solemn ceremony to read the names of people Van Wickle sold into slavery. The names included: Claresse and her son Hercules; Florah and her daughter Susan; Hager and her three children, Roda, Mary and Augustus. “I believe by remembering these lost souls back into our community,” Johnston told those who had gathered, “that that is a healing act.”


More than a century and a half after Emancipation, there remains much more healing to be done, in part because America has yet to adequately memorialize slavery. At the new Smithsonian National Museum of African-Amerian History and Culture, an entire floor is dedicated to the slave trade and slavery; through the United States National Park Service, we have the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and the Harriet Tubman Home, which honor and preserve the resistance to slavery. There are some restored plantations, like the Whitney in Louisiana, that conduct excellent slavery tours. But sites of African-American focus currently represent just 2 percent of those registered on the National Register of Historic Places, and only a portion of those are devoted to slavery — even as some 1,800 monuments to the Confederacy still exist all across the country, an inequality that mirrors the social injustices that have haunted this country since its founding.


How can we create a more equitable map of American history? One clear way to do it would be to provide a fuller accounting of our shared past, one that gives voice to the experience of the enslaved and ensures that their experience will never be forgotten. To look at some of these images, which show former slave-sale sites in the present day, is to grasp how invisible some of American history’s most grievous wounds have become. If we were to mark all these sites for posterity, we would help to heal their dark legacy, in much the same way that 19th-century abolitionists, both black and white, depicted the trauma of enslaved Africans on the auction block in their art and literature. By foregrounding the image of an enslaved mother torn from her infant, those abolitionists reminded the public of the horror of slavery and helped influence the course of history. Their insistence on telling these stories helped America live up to its ideals and made it a more demo­cratic country. Perhaps marking these sites could do the same.

Pine and Fifth Streets, Macon, Ga.


In the 19th century, the slave trader John Jossey arranged the sales of enslaved people from an office located here.

Corner of Charles and William Streets, Fredericksburg, Va.


An auction block near the former site of the Planter’s Hotel, outside which slave auctions were held. In 1984, a plaque was placed here that reads “Fredericksburg’s Principal Auction Site in Pre-Civil War Days for Slaves and Property.” The City Council in June voted to relocate the block to a nearby museum.

Monticello, Charlottesvile, Va.


After Thomas Jefferson’s death, his estate sold 133 of his enslaved workers at two different auctions. The first took place in 1827, most likely on or near the West Portico steps of Monticello; the second in 1829 at a hotel called the Eagle Tavern, in downtown Charlottesville. Today these auctions are noted in an exhibition on the grounds, but not in the city.

Wall Street, New York


From 1711 until 1762, a slave market operated on Wall Street between Water and Pearl Streets. In 1726, the market was renamed the Meal Market to reflect the grain and corn also available for sale there. A marker was installed in 2015, near the original site.

1315 Duke Street, Alexandria, Va.


Once the Virginia headquarters of the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States — Franklin & Armfield, which operated from 1828 to 1836 — the building is now a museum called Freedom House, operated by the North Virginia Urban League.

621 St. Louis Street, New Orleans


Today this is the site of the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, but in the 1800s, it was the site of the St. Louis Hotel & Exchange, where slave auctions were held under its rotunda.

Corner of Broadway and Clark, St. Louis, Mo.


On this site were the slave pens of Bernard Lynch, who ran one of the largest slave markets in St. Louis. What remained of the pens was demolished in 1963 to make way for Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals.

11 N. Fourth Street, St. Louis, Mo.


Auctions of enslaved people were common on the steps of the Old Courthouse. The slave market of Bernard Lynch was nearby, and the enslaved were often marched from his pens to the courthouse to be sold.

Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, Richmond, Va.


Formerly the site of Lumpkin’s Jail, where the slave trader Robert Lumpkin began operating his business in the mid-1840s, this spot is one of 20 that make up the Richmond Slave Trail.

Cotton Avenue, Macon


In the 19th century, enslaved people were sold from the slave pen of James Dean, a major slave trader on Cotton Avenue. In 1956, this Confederate statue was moved to one end of the street.

188 Main Street, Savannah, Georgia


Over two days in 1859, on what was then the site of the Savannah Ten Broeck Race Course, 436 enslaved people were sold – the largest slave auction in history. The men, women and children had lived together as a community for years on the plantation estates of Pierce Mease Butler and called the auction “the weeping time.”

Anne C. Bailey is a writer, historian and professor of history at SUNY Binghamton. Her books include “African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the Shame” and “The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History.” Dannielle Bowman is a visual artist working with photography.

Additional design and development by Jacqueline Myint.

The 1619 Project examines the legacy of slavery in America. Read more.

“I get hit by car while crossing roads”: the story of Nigeria children selling on highways

STORIES of children being used in Nigerian mines have hit the headlines. But this phenomenon isn’t uncommon. About 15 million Nigerian children work –- the highest rate of working children in West Africa.


Globally there are over 168 million children, aged 5 to 14, that work. While most studies focus on child labour that happen in rural and agricultural areas, very few have reported the dangers experienced by children in urban areas of Africa where they work as street hawkers, hustlers, vendors and domestic servants.

But in a rapidly growing society such as Nigeria, where poverty is widespread, child labour in urban areas has become a systemic avenue for augmenting parental income. Though it may build the entrepreneurial skills of youngsters for later life, it can have detrimental consequences.


I set out to find out more about the lives of children who are working. Drawing on interviews with 1,535 children (aged 8 – 14 years) and their parents, my study documented their experiences. It showed that although child labour provides significant economic assistance towards the sustenance of the family, children don’t get a proper education and experience negative health and social consequences in the process.

Working children

Over half the children interviewed were female and the average age of all children was 12 years, though some were as young as 7-years-old. Most were engaged in sales (such as street hawking) and services (like car washing). While some of the children worked as much as six hours a day, the average daily hours of work was four.


When it came to the parents, more than two-thirds were engaged in trading and services, the remaining 28.4% were employed in administrative and professional occupations, indicating more education. Regarding parental income, an overwhelming 8 out of 10 parents earned about 20,000 Naira (about USD$55) per month. Such low earnings mean the households turned to using the labour of their children to supplement the family’s income.

Despite the economic benefits of child labour, the findings show that children face a variety of challenges in their daily activities.


More than a third had experienced accidents involving motor vehicles. “John,” a boy aged 9, complained that: “I get hit by car and motorcycles when I want to cross the roads.”

Surprisingly, 1 out of 7 children told our interviewers about attempted kidnapping. “Laide”, a 10 year-old-girl, narrated a scenario where two men wanted her to follow them by promising to give her 5,000 Naira (about USD$14).

The study also found that about 1 out of 10 children had been subjected to rape, sexual molestation, or assault while on the streets selling foodstuffs and fruits.


“Tayo”, a 13 year old girl said: “At times, some men would pretend that they want to buy things from me, but later would be touching my body.” “Kehinde”, a 14-year-old girl, said: “I was raped twice and became pregnant on one occasion by two men…My parents aborted the pregnancy so that it wouldn’t ruin my education.”

Gabiley District Health Center, Hargeisa - WVUK Visit

Because children spend considerable time away from their family and household, about one-quarter (22.8%) reported that gangsters would invite them to join in their bad activities. “Tolu”, an 11-year-old boy said: “Touts and gangsters would come to me and ask me to smoke Indian hemp (marijuana). Sometimes, they would ask me to describe my house so that they can come to visit me and invite me to join them in their activities.”


Almost one quarter (24.1%) of children miss one day or more of school each week. Moreover, 7 out of 10 of the working children attribute their poor school attendance to tiredness or sickness resulting from long distance walking due to their daily work activities, while the remaining 28% miss school because of their parents request that they should sell foodstuffs instead of attending school that day. This finding shows how child labour can have a detrimental effect on child health, which invariably affects their school attendance.


When children do go to school, about half are sometimes, or always, late. When asked why they’re late, 52.6% cited child labour as the major reason. Another one-third mentioned tiredness or illness as reasons for the lateness. Again, child labour appears to have a negative impact on their punctuality which does not bode well for effective learning and success in school.

Children were also asked about opportunities for doing homework after school. Just a little over 40% said that child labour does not hinder their time for homework.


Finally, interviews with the children reveal that two-thirds do not have time for recreation, although the remaining one-third manage to play with friends during the time they are engaged in child labour. Child labour disturbs children’s leisure time, hindering their optimal social development which they get through interacting with peers.

New policies

I recommend that policies need to be put in place that reduce the number of children working in Nigeria. Policy programmes such as credit facilities, poverty reduction schemes, by creating jobs for adults, and the provision of affordable medical facilities would improve the quality of lives and, consequently, reduce the need for child labour.


Existing laws should also be enforced, including compliance with the minimum working age and ensuring universal enrolment of Nigerian children in schools.


This story was written and published indepoendly with no affiliations with any media house or company, neighter does it generate fund for the Bloomgist as it is not an in-house original publication.

Disclosure statement

Prof. ‘Dimeji Togunde does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Branded for death: the children accused of witchcraft

Words and photography: Marc Ellison
Illustrations: Ozo Ezeogu

Warning: Disturbing content


Sitting on a chipped wooden bench, the three-year-old swings her legs excitedly. Her sandals barely touch the floor as she watches a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.

It is hard to believe Comfort is a witch.

Yet this is why she and her two older siblings are now living in an emergency shelter in the city of Calabar, in the southeast corner of Nigeria.

It’s little more than a basement with a television and half a dozen threadbare mattresses.

The door is locked most of the time for the children’s own safety.

The shelter was intended to be a temporary solution – a stop-gap until the children could be placed with extended family.

But no-one wants to risk bringing the children – all of whom have been branded witches – into their homes.

Once her cartoon has finished, Comfort totters outside and lifts her shirt to reveal a sea of whitened welts across her back.

These ragged scars trace the outlines of the red-hot machete that a neighbour used to force her to “confess”.

Names of the children in this story have been changed. Illustrations are superimposed on top of photos to protect identities.

Led into darkness

In early February, Comfort and her sister Hope, 15, and five-year-old brother Godbless had been living with their grandmother Christiana in nearby Akampka.

Their parents had died suddenly in unexplained circumstances, and while this had made Christiana wary of the children, she had agreed to take them in.

Already diagnosed as HIV positive and not taking her anti-retroviral drugs, Christiana’s health was failing and she was becoming increasingly thin and frail.

Blaming the children for her ailing health, Christiana took them to her local church for guidance.

There, a so-called prophet confirmed her worst fears – the children were branded witches.

For Christiana, this explained everything – the death of her daughter and son-in-law, her sickness, and the children’s rowdy behaviour.

Shortly afterwards, a neighbour called Rankin overheard Christiana accusing the children of cutting the rope of the washing line in the family compound – blaming their witchcraft for their actions.

After talking to Christiana and finding out more about the accusations, Rankin returned the next day with a friend.

“He started beating us and told us to untie our grandmother from the witchcraft world,” says Hope.

The children tried to escape through the surrounding palm trees but were quickly rounded up by the two men and taken to the neighbour’s house.

Their hands and feet were bound, and Rankin heated up a machete blade in the coals of a nearby fire.

“They then asked us if we were witches,” says Hope from the safehouse in Calabar. “We said, ‘No’.”


“So he started beating us in turn with the hot machete, from morning until afternoon.”

Blood bloomed black on the ground as again and again they were asked to confess.

“We eventually said, ‘Yes’,” says Hope. “Then they asked us if we are the ones that killed our father and mother – we said, ‘Yes’.


“They asked us if all these troubles in our family – we are the ones who caused them – we said, ‘Yes’.”

When I visit the mud-walled church where the children say they were branded and beaten, the prophet they say labelled them as witches is not there.

Instead I meet pastor Israel Ubi. He claims no-one at the church makes such accusations, or conducts deliverance ceremonies to exorcise alleged witches.

“There is no witchcraft here,” he says.


When pushed on the subject, he acknowledged that the church did deal with “marine spirits and demons” that many in the Niger Delta believe live in and around oceans, seas and rivers.

It was the children’s uncle Sunday who reported the machete incident to the police.

The taxi driver, who says he doesn’t believe in witchcraft, angrily dismisses the “prophet” who branded the children.

“As a result of her health, my mother believed in [his] words. Prophets – they are criminals, they are people who are destroying people’s lives.”

The stigmatisation of children as witches is a recent phenomenon in the Niger Delta region, which suddenly exploded in the 1990s. Before that, elderly women were the main targets of witchcraft accusations.

By 2008, it was estimated that 15,000 children had been branded in the southeastern states of Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers.

According to research from that period, cases that had been documented included children and babies who had had nails driven into their heads, been forced to drink cement, set on fire, scarred by acid, poisoned, and even buried alive.


A separate 2010 Unicef report notes it is typically vulnerable children with physical disabilities, or illnesses such as epilepsy, who are targeted.

Others are branded for appearing withdrawn, lazy, or unruly.

Nigeria’s criminal code prohibits accusing, or even threatening to accuse, someone of being a witch. And the Child Rights Act of 2003 makes it an offence to subject any child to physical or emotional torture, or submit them to any inhuman or degrading treatment.

However, while this piece of legislation was enacted at the national level, the country’s 36 states are still required to formally ratify it. This not only gives individual states exclusive responsibility – it allows them to make laws relevant to their specific situations.

Only about three-quarters of Nigeria’s states have domesticated the Child Rights Act, and to date only the state of Akwa Ibom has included specific provisions concerning the abuse of alleged child witches. Its 2008 law made witch branding punishable by a custodial sentence of up to 10 years.

And despite lobbying attempts, Cross River State has yet to amend its own 2009 version of the legislation to specifically outlaw the offence.

But regardless of the fragmented attempt to criminalise it, witch-branding continues under the noses of the state governments and police of Akwa Ibom and Cross River states.

Oliver Orok, minister of sustainable development and social welfare for the Cross River State government, told the BBC the ministry was “working assiduously to eliminate these practices”.

“The state government in partnership with Unicef and other development partners organised a summit to deliberate on amending the law to include, among other things, the issue of branding children as witches and its consequences,” says Mr Orok.

The minister says “criminal law has abolished such practices”. However, 10 years on, no-one has been successfully prosecuted in the courts.

There has been an increase in advocacy across the state to deal with the issue, Mr Orok says, and that money had been made available to build a home for children at risk.

He adds that if the government was made aware of cases, it “would move against such churches and their prophets”.

Lawyer James Ibor argues that the police are poorly funded, and not equipped to carry out these types of investigations.

“Often we have to push for investigations,” he says.
Ibor runs a local organisation in Calabar called Basic Rights Counsel Initiative (BCRI), which specialises in legal cases concerning child rights abuse – it also runs the emergency shelter where Comfort and her siblings are staying.

He tells me about two children who were poisoned by their father, who believed they were witches.

He pleaded guilty, but there were no resources to send blood samples to Lagos to confirm the children’s cause of death.

One year on, their bodies remain in the morgue, and the father has yet to be tried.

Ibor claims that cases have stalled for years.

He says his job is made harder by the reluctance of the police and government to investigate controversial issues combined with a lack of willingness from families and communities to provide evidence.

About a quarter of his ongoing cases relate to witchcraft, he says.

But this phenomenon is not just restricted to Nigeria’s more remote regions.

Just six months ago, the Nigerian media reported on 40 children who were rescued from a witchdoctor’s “torture camp” in the capital of Abuja.

And this May in Lagos, a boy was badly beaten by his mother with a koboko, or horsewhip.

“So we have the laws,” says Ibor. “The problem is not the laws – the problem is implementing these laws and until then our children are not safe.”

And he blames some of the “prophets” and “pastors” for sowing fear across the Niger Delta region where poverty and a belief in witchcraft are widespread.



Sweat slaloms down the girl’s face as she pirouettes across the cement floor.

A man catches her by the waist, before twirling her around the airless hall.

But this is no dance recital – this is a brutal ballet designed to deliver the child from witchcraft.

Welcome to the deliverance of Joy. Welcome to the Streams of Life Ministry.

It is a Friday evening and suffocatingly hot inside the hall of the Pentecostal church.

Three pastors have formed a tag-team to heal the 15-year-old.
Over the course of 30 minutes they take turns slapping her head, pinching her earlobes, and grabbing at her stomach.

“Your clothes are on fire, your head is on fire, your belly is on fire,” they repeatedly scream in her face as they twist her around and around.

Joy raises her hands in self-defence.

Four children have been identified by Pastor Eunice Emmanuel to be “exorcised” this evening. The youngest is just eight years old.

“The power comes from the Holy Spirit,” she explains before the ritual begins. “He empowers us to do His work, to administer salvation to the children.

“When you pray for the children you see the spirits manifest, speaking through them – you will hear them speaking.”

“By the time the deliverance is complete, the child becomes like a madman who has recovered his sanity.”

The pastor explains that her Calabar-based ministry is ultimately offering a service to the wider community.

These deliverances not only stop parents from disowning their children, they stop the spirits from leading them astray, she says.

“And who knows, they may go to marry your daughter,” she adds, “So before you know it, the witchcraft we are running away from is already in your house.”

Pastor Eunice addresses the spirit she accuses Joy of harbouring.

“Do you go to a coven? Are you a witch? Do you drink blood? Do you eat flesh? Do you kill?”

“I have destroyed one person,” Joy finally cries.
Only when the girl finally collapses on to the floor is the deliverance considered a success.

Lawyer James Ibor says Pentecostal churches like these encourage their congregations to blame witchcraft for their misfortune or personal failures.

One recent case involved a boy who was beaten when the family motorbike broke down; in another, a girl was accused, and flogged by her father after he lost his job.

“They sell fear so that they can keep members who continually pay offerings and tithes (weekly donations).

“That is the only way they will stay relevant and keep making money.”

Last year the UN convened its first workshop focused on witchcraft, both in Nigeria and other countries.

In its final report, it stated that “the exact number of victims of such abuse is unknown, and is widely believed to be underreported”.

It also recognised the role that “supernatural entrepreneurs” play in diffusing and legitimising fears related to witchcraft, and in particular, child witches.


Tied to a tree

Bassey recalls how two girls were accused by a pastor two years ago at the Divine Zion of God Church in the small town of Akpabuyo in Cross River State.

A pregnant congregant had gone past her due date by several weeks, and the seven and 10-year-old girls were held to be responsible and branded witches.

The woman had approached a pastor at her local church and paid for a consultation. Although she gave birth successful shortly after, the damage had been done.

A week later, Bassey heard the girls’ screams as he returned from his fields.

They had been tied to a palm tree, and were being beaten with canes and machetes by three men.


Ebe Ukara, a desk officer for the Child Rights Implementation Committee in Akamkpa, says that 60% of the child abuse cases that cross her desk are witchcraft-related, and more often than not prompted by a pastor’s declaration.

Those pastors, she says, can make a tidy profit from people who turn to them for help, although she stresses that not all Pentecostal churches are out to hoodwink their followers.

But for the “fake prophets”, children are the easy targets who can be blamed for the poverty and misfortunes that plague families and communities.

Judging from the billboards that adorn roundabouts – from the capital of Abuja to the Niger Delta – beer and salvation are big businesses in Nigeria, commodities to be bought and sold.

Every other poster promises some miracle – how to get that job, find a spouse, deal with miscarriages, cure infertility, and of course, eradicate witchcraft.

But these posters underline the two key
characteristics of the Pentecostal doctrine that has spread throughout Nigeria since the 1970s.

Firstly, this form of Christianity emphasises success and plenty – if someone is failing in life then this is a sign that something is suspiciously awry.

Secondly, Pentecostal churches portray the world as a literal battleground between Godly forces and demonic spirits.

So the new Pentecostal movement has since popularised the notion that material fortune is universally available, but that access to it can be blocked by supernatural forces.

But these Nigerian church leaders are not acting out any traditional African religion or superstition.

On the contrary, Nigerian Pentecostal leaders have copied their American televangelist counterparts whose churches often behave more like builders of economic empires than religious organisations.

This has resulted in a religious hybridisation where indigenous beliefs in the supernatural world have been combined with an extreme form of Christianity that critics say manipulates their congregants.

“Those ‘mushroom’ churches are a big problem – their prophets operate in profits,” says Ukara.

This phrase mushroom churches is often used to describe the smaller and more informal prayer houses that seem to sprout up quickly almost overnight.

These are largely unregulated.

One such church is the Ark of Noah, which operates from a house in Calabar South.

House of God


The tiny Winnie the Pooh slippers outside the front door are the only hint that a deliverance is underway inside.

In a canary yellow shirt, Prophet Gideon Okon stands praying over the three children accused of being witches.

“God opens my eyes to see people’s problems,” Okon says. “That’s how I know who is a witch.”

He says that nobody brings children to him, that his revelations come to him when he fasts.


End of the wicked

The film industry in Nigeria – known colloquially as Nollywood – is booming.

It pumps out more than 2,500 movies a year, making it the second-largest producer after Bollywood in India.

These movies typically fall into five distinct genres – romance, comedy, historical epics, gangster stories, and the so-called “hallelujah” category which promotes strong religious messages.

They can be seen in beauty parlours, bars, restaurants and on buses. They are not only popular in Nigeria, but across Africa and in the diaspora.

Evil School, Family of Witches, School of Witches are but a few of the more recent examples of Nollywood movies that negatively portray children as witches.

The most infamous is End of the Wicked, which focuses on the Amadi family which is living with the father’s mother – who we find out is a witch in a coven.

The family’s children are influenced to join the cult, and in the movie are shown eating flesh and plotting to murder their parents.

Produced by the Liberty Gospel Church, the 1999 movie also starred the church’s leader Helen Ukpabio as the pastor who ends up heroically exposing and destroying the coven.


The film was hugely controversial and, at the time, was widely blamed for the surge in witchcraft accusations against children in the years that followed.

It was criticised for blurring the line between fact and fiction. It not only used the real-life pastor starring as herself, but the film begins with a note that this is part of an expository series.

Nigerians themselves have criticised such movies for proliferating pernicious stereotypes about the continent.

In a recent book chapter on the influence of Nollywood films on culture, academic Françoise Ugochukwu references the viewpoint of one frustrated Nigerian in an online forum.

“Films of this type have painted an even more negative image of Nigeria…making it appear to be a nation bogged down by superstitions and primitive beliefs,” reads one post on the forum. “Isn’t it bad enough for the West to demonise every aspect of our traditions, and now we are doing it to ourselves?

“Does anyone seriously think that all our ancestors did was sit around performing so called satanic rituals all day?”

Lawyer James Ibor argues it was movies like End of the Wicked that not only popularised the notion that children could be witches, but that people could easily become witches by eating tainted food.

“The narrative changed with the influx of Nollywood in the 90s,” he claims. “Walk into any movie shop here, and select randomly 50 different films and I bet you 80% of them are on witchcraft and juju.”

But paradoxically one of the main reasons for the popularity of Nollywood films is that they provide a platform for Africans to tell their own stories.


One Nollywood film producer, Orok Atim, says that however “negative” the theme of witchcraft may be, it is an issue that affects the lives of Nigerians – hence they expect to encounter it when watching Nigerian films.

Orok Atim is sat in front of a makeshift shrine on the set of his latest movie.

While his latest film is actually a love story (pictured), Atim has a passion for making movies about the supernatural.

His next movie will be about a deceased friend’s experience of witchcraft.

“Witchcraft exists in our society today,” he says. “If you don’t show what is happening in society then you are just wasting your time.


“I use my movies to educate, entertain, and to tell the world that witchcraft is real.”

None of his films explicitly portrays children as witches.

Atim argues that, far from perpetuating traditional beliefs in the supernatural, his movies allow Nigerian audiences to face their fears.

Through special effects, his movies make the invisible visible; they give people a visual perception of something spiritual that is rarely seen but is regularly talked about.

And Atim baulks at the idea that movies like End of the Wicked could be responsible for a rise in child witchcraft accusations.

“[But what you are saying is] just a rumour to kill the Nollywood movie industry,” he adds. “No-one would just come up with a story that does not exist.”

Diana-Abasi Udua Akanimoh, who works for the NGO Way to the Nations in Akwa Ibom state, says she has witnessed first-hand the ripple effect witchcraft-themed films can have.

“I went to a church here in Eket and the pastor was talking about stopping marine spirits and witchcraft,” she says. “He started telling his congregation that he had seen such things recently in a movie.”

“So people who are ignorant will be thinking, ‘Oh, if the pastor is saying this then that means this is the truth’.”

Akanimoh, who manages a safe house for children accused of being witches, says that while films may not be the root cause of these accusations, they certainly build upon tradition to justify their actions.

And social worker Ebe Ukara claims that “people watch these movies and imitate what they see these advanced prophets doing”.

Ukara was involved in the rescue of Comfort and her siblings after they were beaten by the prophet and attacked with the machete.

“Movies today are teaching a lot of things that were never practised before,” she says. “Carrying a child to a church to beat them – that never used to exist.”

But minister Oliver Orok says the government doesn’t believe Nollywood is to blame for the problem, but rather the “long customs and traditions of some communities”.

Cast out


Charity is just one of the many children now living on the streets after being accused of witchcraft.

For the past two years, the 13-year-old has been living in a makeshift hut in the middle of a dump site on the outskirts of Calabar.

Inside four girls of a similar age are still curled up sleeping – there are no mattresses, there are no mosquito nets.

Life here is hard, but on a good day she can make 1,500 Naira ($4) foraging for recyclable plastic soda bottles and tin cans among the piles of trash at the site.

“I feel good living here,” Charity whispers. “Going back to live at my uncle’s house would be like putting me inside the fire.”

After her father died, she went to live with her uncle.

When he tried to sleep with her, she was accused by his wife of bewitching him.

“They tied my hands, and threatened to throw me down the pit latrine,” she says.

“They kept me like that for a day,” she says. “So I just told that I am a witch so that they would untie me.”

After her “confession” her uncle stopped feeding her, and she decided to run away.

The Lemna dump is home to a few hundred skolombo – street children – like Charity.

Many share a similar story – they were either thrown out or fled their homes after being accused of sorcery.


A handful of Nigerian organisations such as the Basic Rights Counsel Initiative (BRCI) and Way to Nations try to do more than just rescue youngsters accused of witchcraft – they try to reunite them with the very relatives who have ostracised them.

Such attempts are rarely successful, even with extended family members.

Back in Calabar, James Ibor is facing the dilemma of what to do with Comfort and her two siblings.

They want to leave the shelter, but none of their relatives wants them.

“How do we break the news to these children that your aunties, your uncles are not willing to even see you?” he says.

“These kids then maybe start to even think that they are witches.”


This article was made possible by funding from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting via Bloomgist and BBC Digital Publications. All materials are still the property of The BBC via The Bloomgist.

Author, Photographer & Videographer: Marc Ellison

Illustrations: Ozo Ezeogu (Comic Republic)

Producer: James Percy

Editor: Kathryn Westcott

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All images subject to copyright [BBC, Bloomgist]