Reports on some websites claim that the injury that ruled out Ghana's football Superstar, Michael Essien, from the 2010 World cup is a result of a spell cast by his own father in revenge for being neglected by the Chelsea star. I have gone through your earlier mails explaining the power and the wonders of witchcraft in Ghana, but I don't see how this supposed curse fits. You may be cursed by enemies, soothsayers and all, but not your own Dad. Does the man hate his son so much?
Then there are reports that this world cup is jinxed as many high profile players keep falling before the games. Apart from Essien, Ballack, Drogba, Mikel, Robben , Ferdinand, Pirlo, and Nani have either been ruled out of the world cup or have been declared doubtful. Ogyakromian, what is going on in African witchdom as far as the world cup is concerned? Yours from the North Pole,
Dear Brutus my brother from another mother,
There is little I can say about Essien's case, but what I know is that, the curse of a parent is not taken lightly in Ogyakrom. When your mama tells you don't step at my funeral if you marry that girl, you may have to choose to stay celibate for the rest of your life. It is worse if she shouts your name as she sweeps the sandy red floor with her bare buttocks, 'you will never turn well'. The confusion in Essien's matter is that, the father claims he has been fasting for his son. But does that matter? In this part of the world, when society says you are a witch, then that is what you are. For me the bigger question is, have the witches of Africa cursed the tournament?
The day FIFA declared the World Cup in South Africa as an African world cup; I knew they were courting trouble. For most of us in West Africa, hosting the football festival in South Africa doesn't bring it closer. It doesn't only take the same number of hours (six) to get to Johannesburg and London, but also costs us much. With an economy that is slowly but surely moving to the beat of the President's orchestra, there is little chance of going to South Africa to experience the World Cup. But that is the case for most of us. This leaves our neighbors who exist in the fourth dimension- the witches (lower your voice). In their world, time and space exists on one horizontal plane, meaning South Africa is closer to them than for the average Ogyakromian. They can afford to participate in the world cup with little or no hindrance, and with FIFA's invitation, the extent of their participation will underscore the usual role they play in African football. The tournament would have been challenging enough with only the witches from South Africa participating, but it is another ball game if you call for an ensemble of African witches. Let me give you an indication of their role in football as I have come to understand it.
In Western Europe, there is only one way of fixing matches - compromise any of the agents of the game. In Ogyakrom, there are three ways of influencing the outcome of matches beyond the relative abilities of the two teams on the field. It is either by God, juju or compromising the human agents. You may combine them as you wish. You are quite familiar with human intervention in the system, I will tell you a bit about the other two.
The God factor in the Ghanaian game is phenomenal. Ghanaians believe that we must win all games regardless of the strength of team we present because God is on our side. I do not envy God in these circumstances. What is the bearded old man expected to do when two teams compete in a game and both call on him for help. How does he resolve this conflict? By doing what we did as kids when we had to make a choice? "Cee, cee ,cee. Cee nana…"? Many times in the past, I tried fixing some games using the God method myself. I used to sit behind the radio or TV monitoring the fortunes of Asante Kotoko or Black Stars, and for the duration of the game, I will be stopping balls from entering our goalposts in the name of Jesus! I overcame that stupidity when I asked myself, "Why should God be interested in the result of football matches?" "There are real problems like incurable diseases confronting the descendants of Adam that need his attention, why should he be bothered by a game to determine who earns the bragging rights on a day?" Since that day, I got my liberty and I enjoy my games better. I have been waiting for the day a Ghanaian coach will soar with the Black Stars to prove that the colour of a Man's skin is irrelevant to the game. After winning the world cup with Ghana's supposed youth side, I thought Selas Tetteh was the one. But when the man confessed that the selection of the final game was done by a certain Prophet T.B . Joshua, I didn't know how much of the success to attribute to Coach Tetteh's soccer prowess.
Unlike the God factor which is generally considered to be positive because the aim is to get your team to win, the juju factor can be very destructive. That is where the witches pitch their camp. Brutus, you should have been in Ghana during CAN 2008 soccer fiesta. Many nonentities gained popularity by their ability to convince a huge number of Ghanaians that they had the ability to see into the crystal ball and win Ghana's matches. All manner of prophets appeared on radio and TV programs claiming that God revealed the scores to them during a church service. I saw a few of these wanabes holding chickens at the stadium to symbolize the score line in a game. Even when the number of chickens didn't reflect the actual scores, they explained away the discrepancies. But at the end of the day, new prophets and new juju men are discovered. Their churches and shrines will burst at the seams, and their fame will travel with the game.
In Accra New Town where I grew up, tales of how Juju and witches influenced the game at the colt level were not difficult to find. Rumours that boys, many below the age of sixteen, were taken through all manner of rituals including passing the night in a cemetery to fortify them for a game of football gave me the jitters. The Mallams had a field day 'crafting' the career of many of these youngsters with talismans. When a footballer seems to have lost his scoring boot, it was common to attribute it to what his rivals had done to him through Juju. It was at one of the colt games at the SWAG Park that I realized that my Physical Education teacher in school worked as a part time juju man. I saw him reciting incantations as he paced up and down the field and he didn't appear to have noticed me when I attempted to speak to him. A friend later told me he "worked' for one of the teams. It was common practice for owners and coaches of some colt teams to pick up boys from the street and nurture them into good footballers. The coach of one club in Kotobabi had a few of these players in his house. One of them rebelled and left him to join another team. Unfortunately, the boy later fell sick and died. Guess who killed him. After spending on this player for years and getting no thanks for it, the poor chap gets tagged as a wicked man who kills through Juju. On the way to the cemetery, the crowd sang and chanted, calling on the spirit of the dead boy to avenge his death.
With that kind of introduction to football at an early age, the footballer's belief in juju stays with him for life. It therefore didn't surprise me when Theophilus Jackson a goalkeeper for the then premier division side Sekondi Eleven Wise turned Samuel Affum , an Accra Hearts of Oak striker into a punching bag because the latter dropped an object in the former's goalposts. Recently, there had been calls to find a successor to one of the national teams' goalkeeper. A new goal tender who was tried in a friendly match performed so poorly that rumours were rife that he had been 'worked'. By who? Only the witches can tell. The story is told of a cup match in a neighboring West African country that was rudely interrupted twice because the Juju men were not happy with the results. In the first match, The Juju Man for 'Team A' caused the flood lights to go out when his team was two goals down, and the game was rescheduled. The second game didn't have better luck because 'Team B's Juju man conjured heavy rains to stop the match midstream when his side was losing the match. Before the game was called again, the football association called all juju men for a meeting and appealed for clemency for the game. In the Democartic Republic of Congo, lives were lost over a witchcraft allegation in a game in 2008. The story is also told of a club playing in the the final of an important competition. A rival management faction within the club, who feared that success delivered by their rivals would obliterate their own chances of running the club, hired a juju man who sent word around that the player that scores the first goal dies. They lost the cup.
Brutus, if there is a force in Africa that can influence the outcome of football matches, shouldn't that force be working to get an African State to win the World Cup on African soil? Shouldn't that force preserve the African Greats in the games to showcase our greatness? If in its destructive fervor it consumes Michael Essien, Mikel Obi and Didier Drogba whiles threatening the likes of Sulley Muntari, what can we say about that force? From an Ogyakromian perspective, I can only conclude that it bears all the vestiges of 'Bayiee' or witchcraft (remember to keep the voice low). It is the only force known in Africa that destroys its own. 'Bayiee kɔɔɔ; threatening to glow'. Personally, I'm not surprised the story of Essien's curse and the world cup jinx caught up on some very popular websites. That is the image the western media wants of Africa- the Dark Continent with self destructive tendencies. Poetic imageries, that question the Continents suitability to host the competition for the football World Cup. As usual, the ammunition for such stereotyping is provided by no one else than Africans.
I believe mind games are important to winning in the modern game. Teams use it to great effect to create a winning mentality and to deflect pressure away from the playing body. However, when the team that is supposed to benefit from these psychological antics become a victim of these tools, then, it goes beyond psychology. It doesn't matter if it exists or not, neither does it matter if it can be seen or not; it is called witchcraft. When players attribute loss of form and injuries to juju, when supporters are made to believe that some weather patterns spell doom for their team, then juju hangs over our game like the sword of Damocles. The gods of football are created on the field of play, they are not formed in a shrine . It is a tragedy for young people aspiring to greatness in the game to grow up with the belief that there exists an enchantment that is a fitting substitute for talent, hard work and discipline . This fact is well expressed in the old Jama song in Ga, that says "all that matters in football is what you can do with your legs, not juju". The game was made for men and played by men.
So Brutus, in South Africa, we will chant the psalms and declare the oracles, but play the game of men.