I have heard a lot about an Africa, about a side of Africa- the dogmatic side, the faith filled, blindly believing Africa. There has been an overwhelming focus on the magical, ‘witch-bound’ African continent. A lot has been said about an Africa that makes sense and can only be understood, in its ancient and modern forms, through the lens of witchcraft, mysticism and superstition. This notion of Africa looms large, but it is partial and one-sided. It ignores and overlooks so much. It leaves out a lot from its image and impression of Africa.
Interestingly, there has been a lot of attention paid to the religious-Christian, Islamic and traditionalist Africa even though the word religion is an English, not an African word. The byword for Africa has incidentally become piety or better prayerfulness. Religion has mistakenly become the only prism for understanding this region and its peoples.
However, I am interested in another Africa, the questioning Africa or better the critical and inquisitive Africa. This is the Africa that thirsts for explanations, answers and truths. The Africa that is not contented with received wisdom and seeks to understand the source and credibility of the said wisdom. I am fascinated by the debating, questing Africa, the Africa that doubts and disbelieves; the Africa that challenges claims and demands evidence for claims.
Indeed, this Africa that is of interest to me exists. It has always existed in some form or another. But it has often not been highlighted by Africans and non-Africans alike. Instead many have largely taken the one sided view, the magical Africa, as a complete picture, as the essential Africa. The typical Africa.
To correct this imbalance one should not deny or refuse to acknowledge that the magico-religious Africa exists. Yes, the superstitious African society is there, and visibly there. But it is important to recognize that it exists alongside the other, the counter magical and magic-critical Africa. For instance, many across Africa believe in God or gods. The notion of a theistic Africa is a fact that cannot be disputed. At the same time, there are Africans who doubt or disbelieve the existence of some gods, and of all gods. Such persons may not identify openly and publicly as skeptics. They go about their daily business as if they are believers in all respects. Such persons do not take the idea of god or religion seriously.
In addition, there are Africans who think that faith healing is fraud. There are those who think that the idea of witchcraft is nonsensical.
In all, doubts underpin these views and perspectives.
Africans who doubt especially religious beliefs have largely been invisible because of the price placed on such exercise. Critical examination of religious claims is a dangerous undertaking. In some cases, it is a matter of life and death. Questioning religious and superstitious claims could lead to overt and covert sanctions from individuals and the society. In muslim majority communities where sharia is implemented, comments that are critical of Islam or of Allah could lead to violent reactions, prosecution, and execution.
It is important to note that there is more to dubious claims than religion. There are questionable cure claims, dubious or biased media reports. Some companies use false and misleading information to advertise and market their products. So skepticism is important in navigating through life.
To enhance the cause of skeptical inquiry into paranormal claims in Africa, an online face book group, the African skeptics, has been created. It provides a forum for skeptics in Africa or skeptics who are interested in African issues to share their thoughts.
The African skeptics’ forum on Facebook encourages the application of critical inquiry in all areas of human endeavor. This forum is open to all who entertain doubts about issues whether religious or secular. This includes those who are critical of other people’s criticisms; those who are skeptical of other persons’ skepticism. Those who demand evidence or question what people present as evidence.
The African skeptics’ forum will feature posts, news and reports that are of interest to skeptically minded people. So, are you one of such people in Africa or elsewhere who entertain some critical thoughts? Do you have issues with the claims and activities of African faith healers, medicine men and women and other peddlers of fake claims? Do you have some doubtful news?
Then come on board this ship of African skepticism and share your ideas with us. See you there!