Wednesday, 12 October 2011

heart of darkness

The horror! The horror!
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
It isn’t often that I comment on a contemporary news item, but I’ve just read this report on the BBC News website. I was so horrified that my immediate reaction was to post the link on a blog discussion forum in order to elicit comments from fellow bloggers. Among the comments posted was a link to an article describing a similar and equally appalling situation in the same part of the world.

I should warn you that you will need an exceptionally strong stomach to read either of these reports, which describe child sacrifice and the trade in albino body parts, respectively, in East Africa. Both practices are linked to a widely held belief in the efficacy of magic spells in bringing good luck, good health and, especially, increased wealth, even when they involve the cold-blooded and brutal murder of children and albinos.

I’ve always advocated respect for indigenous cultures and beliefs, even when to a Westerner these cultures and beliefs are no more than ignorant superstition, but there is a clear and sharply defined dividing line between harmless superstition and the kind of practices illustrated by these stories. Unfortunately, the revulsion that all people with a claim to being civilized are likely to feel when reading these reports is likely to be overlain by a feeling of helplessness.

According to the BBC report, a witch doctor in Uganda who has been identified by both a child survivor and a BBC sting operation as a leading player in the ritual murder of children remains free to commit further atrocities, on the pathetically weak grounds that the child’s testimony is ‘unreliable’. Given that the majority of the customers for the services of this disgusting specimen of humanity are alleged to be members of the country’s elite, it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that police corruption and/or collusion is a significant factor in the rise in demand for such services in recent years.

Although post-colonial development in sub-Saharan Africa has been patchy—one has only to think of such home-grown grotesques as Idi Amin in Uganda, Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic, Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe—and the legacy of colonialism still casts a shadow over the continent, this is one area where progress towards a more enlightened and humane world view ought to have been a priority.

It is difficult to imagine that the men now in charge in Uganda and other former colonies might be prepared to acknowledge that they have anything to learn from their former colonial masters, but the example set by the British in other parts of the old empire is instructive. In tackling superstition, the suppression of thuggee in India in the 1830s provides some useful pointers, while the paradigm for the eradication of corruption is the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong in the 1970s. Unfortunately, whether adopting these or other possible measures stands any chance of success must be remote, given that ignorance and greed form such a potent cocktail.


  1. Pour a good shot of ignorance and add liberal quantity of greed. It works every time.

  2. Hey Bruce. Good to hear from you again. My apologies for giving you such a bone-chilling story to read about.

  3. The sleep of reason breeds monsters, both far and near.

  4. Denis,
    Since I come from an environment that has a tradition to treat children terribly, I am always interested in knowing that where are such evil spirit come from? Is it something inside our nature, or, something to do with upbringing? In China, my answer for this is pretty much "upbringing", because if a person never received love on the first hand, it is very likely that he/she would develop apathy and hatred toward others. This analysis does fit my observation on Indian culture as well. However, I do not know much about Uganda tradition.
    Of course, upbringing may only be one of reasons, human nature is far more complicated than that. But I do believe how a child is treated (esp by his/her parents) play the most important role on shaping his/her view of life. And I hardly imagine such a cruel person would had a happy childhood with loving parents.

  5. I agree, Yunyi.

    Dennis, quite an illuminating article. I'm glad you don't have pictures!

    I think in some, not all, people, their abuse early in life leads them to these kinds of atrocities. Who knows why some and not others?

    I believe that the desire for power is one of the greatest motivators when discussing abuse to others (e.g., rape, child abuse, murder).

    What a world! I suppose people can be conditioned to accept almost anything, given the right circumstances...

  6. Great article.
    I gave up trying to understand what leads people to evil.
    Calling than psychopaths means nothing.
    I learned to accept that some people do evil. Period.
    We have to fight them.
    There is no excuse to harm children under any circumstance.
    This is top priority! Children must be treated the best way for they are developing and childhood affects our lives forever.
    In this case... they don't survive.
    I'm glad that BBC brought it to the public.


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