Ghana witch camps shutting down, leaving accused in limbo
Fear of the power of sorcery makes reintegrating the accused difficult
Memuna Abukari sits at the door of a mud hut, accused of being a witch.
"My nephew's wife died," she explains in Dagbani, her native language, "My family said I was responsible, they accused me of being a witch."
A hen and a dozen chirping chicks brush by her feet while a neighbour woman pounds spices with a large wooden mortar and pestle.
But Abukari, an old woman who doesn't know her age, can't see any of it. She is blind.
People who are deemed different are often the first accused of practising dark magic.
Abukari lives in a "witch camp" in Kpatinga, a community in Northern Ghana, hours from her own village.
Here 46 women accused of witchcraft share 35 thatched-roof, one-room huts.
Abukari says she wants to go home, but only if her family wants her back. "I'd be happy to return," she says. Then her brow furrows. "But if my son doesn't ask for me to come back, anything could happen."
She has good reason to worry.
A letter was sent to her family and village, informing them Abukari is to be returned after four years at the witch camp.
The response from her own son was chilling, according to the traditional priest and landlord of the camp. "He told them he would not come for her," Adam Musah says. "He said if they released his mother, he would kill her on the way back."
He said if they released his mother, he would kill her on the way back.— Adam Musah, traditional priest
Abukari's story demonstrates the challenge Ghana is facing trying to shut down the witch camps and integrate the people in them back into society.
There are six of these camps, housing more than 500 women and a handful of men accused of being wizards.
Some of them have been there for decades.
Shockingly, there are also about 300 children in exile.
Some have been sent to aid an older or ailing relative with daily living, but many have been cast off because it's believed they are possessed by the evil spirits of their relative.
In Ghana, these are not considered irrational stories. Witches and to a lesser extent wizards are blamed for everything from causing deaths to the failing of businesses.
"The belief in witchcraft is pervasive in Ghana," Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin, the communications manager for ActionAid.
A century ago, those accused would have been killed.
In modern times, they are driven from their villages to become the most feared and least wanted members of Ghanaian society.
ActionAid is one of the agencies tasked with trying to shut down the camps, on the basis they are an unacceptable from a humanitarian perspective.
"The conditions in the camps are so terrible. They don't have access to food, no access to even clean water," Tawiah-Benjamin says from his Accra office, "They don't have any income, they don't work."
Indeed in Kpatinga, women are picking stones from maize they've picked up on the ground after a local harvest. Others are twisting raw cotton onto spools to sell to weavers for a pittance.
"The only real problem we have is getting enough food," Asana Tahiru says.
Like most of the other women here, she was accused of killing someone in her village by using witchcraft. She has no intention of ever going back to the community that cast her out. "I don't intend to leave here. I'm very comfortable."
In an effort to convince a village that a banished person is no longer a threat, they go through a cleansing ceremony by a traditional priest.
"The traditional people do some magical incantations to exorcize that spirit," Tawiah-Benjamin says.
There is a longer term plan to train those to be repatriated with a skill so they are not viewed as a burden on their family and community.
But, there is no illusion it will be an easy task.
If I go back and someone died, they will accuse me of killing them.— Memanatu Yagu, accused of sorcery
Of the 55 accused witches supposed to be repatriated after the smallest camp in Ghana was closed in December, only five remain in their villages.
Perhaps there's a solution in the story of Memanatu Yagu.
She has lost track of how long she has been at the Kpatinga witch camp, accused of sorcery in the death of a villager's son.
But her husband, a farmer who has been a single father to the couple's four children since, visits his wife regularly. "I love her," Suhuyini Baba says. "If I don't come to visit, it will look like I'm not interested in her."
The couple wants more than anything to live together again.
But they hold no illusion their home will ever really be safe. "If I go back and someone died, they will accuse me of killing them," Yagu says.
So her husband is planning to build a new house, a good distance from their village.
He hopes in a year or two, he will finally be able to bring her home, "I love her," Baba says, "How can one have a wife and then suddenly, he doesn't need her anymore?"