October 24, 2005

Tanzania’s witch-doctors cast spells for votes

By Helen Nyambura

BAGAMOYO, Tanzania (Reuters) - The witch-doctors in the
former slave port of Bagamoyo on Tanzania's coast are busy
concocting spells to help the east African country's
politicians win votes in this month's elections.

"Some (politicians) started making regular visits five
months ago. Others come at the last minute and expect me to
help them win," said Pandu, an almost toothless witch-doctor
who boasts that he is one of the best in town.

Usually Pandu sees around 10 patients a day, mostly people
looking for help with illnesses they believe are caused by
demons. The politicians come at night or send a representative.

"One comes and asks, 'Will I win or lose?' If I say he will
lose, he asks me to make his opponent fail," Pandu said.

"I can't say their names, why do you think they come at
night?" he said, declining also to give his own last name.

Tanzania holds presidential and parliamentary elections on
October 30, with fears running high of violence in
semi-autonomous Zanzibar, an opposition stronghold that has
already been shaken by bloody clashes between rival supporters.

Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa will step down after the
poll and most analysts expect Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete,
55, of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) to win the vote and
replace him. It's a prediction Pandu supports.

"Kikwete has already been chosen. I saw that a young person
would win this election," he said.

A majority of Tanzania's 35 million people are either
Christian or Muslim, but most also respect the animist beliefs
of their ancestors and often consult witch-doctors for help
with money problems, affairs of the heart and illnesses.

The coastal region of Bagamoyo northeast of the capital Dar
es Salaam is renowned for the quality of its witch-doctors.


Pandu's spells usually involve sewing a few verses written
with a sharp stick dipped in red ink into the clothes of an
aspiring legislator. The floor of his tiny consulting room is
littered with unused pens and white paper strips.

But seeking other-worldly help to secure political victory
should not be left to the last minute.

"You have to come even before the party nominations begin
and make frequent visits after that if you have any hope of
winning," he said.

Other witch-doctors backed his prediction of victory for
Kikwete, who is from the Bagamoyo district.

"(The age) 55 is a good number as he has crossed from 4
which is a negative number," witch-doctor and astrologer Sheikh
Yahya Hussein said in a weekly television program


Hussein said the number 55 signified that Kikwete would
help develop Tanzania, a poor country that has nurtured its
image as one of Africa's most stable countries despite what
critics call a record of brutality and electoral dirty tricks
in Zanzibar.

Others were less optimistic, echoing the gloom of analysts
who say the elections could trigger more violence in Zanzibar,
where dozens of opposition supporters were killed in clashes
with police in 2001.

"Where we are going is not good," said Rajab Kibuna. "I
have predicted that there will be fighting after the elections
up to June next year. What I see is that this election doesn't
offer peace. I don't know how many of us will survive."

Already, two people have been killed and scores more have
been injured in pre-poll clashes between supporters of the
opposition Civic United Front (CUF) and the ruling CCM in
Zanzibar, which will elect its own president and parliament.

The CUF has promised Ukraine-style protests if it deems the
October 30 election to be unfair.


A majority of Tanzania's witch-doctors are Muslim. Their
magic includes recited verses from the Koran -- a practice that
Muslim leaders say is acceptable if carried out respectfully.

"There are some verses in the Holy Koran that should be
read out when praying," Mzee Ruga Mwinyikai, a leader of the
Council of Imams in the Dar es Salaam suburb of Kinondoni,

"But it is forbidden that they should write down any of
these verses in blood, whether of animal or human beings."

In poor Tanzania, witch-doctors can enjoy a good living
thanks to their popularity. Hussein said he got clients from as
far away as Washington and London.

Kibuna, who is the leader of a local branch of the CUF and
says he has 12 clients in positions of power, does not ask for
payment. Instead, his clients give him what they think is a
appropriate amount for his services.

They seem to be quite generous: the witch-doctor lives in a
stone-brick building with a corrugated iron roof in his dry and
dusty Mlingotini village with his two wives and 14 children. A
CUF flag sways in the wind outside.

His neighbors live in mud huts covered with palm fronds.

But with the relative wealth comes responsibility,
especially when dealing with requests from politicians.

"You have to evaluate whether the candidate is right for
the people," Kibuna said. "You can help the wrong person go up
and earn money for yourself but create problems for everyone