Channel 4's Unreported World last evening broadcast this about how human traffickers are using black magic to coerce and trap Nigerian women into a life of prostitution in Europe. I am informed via Twitter by Krishnan Guru Murthy, @krishgm, a news anchor at the channel, that the Unreported World programme is the only show on 4oD (4 on Demand) that is not geo-blocked.
Follow the link and watch the film, it is available for 29 days yet. Click here to see it.
Basically, the film shows Nigerian women who are made to swear an oath of loyalty to their traffickers in an elaborate ritual that compels them to pay back extortionate sums of money. They feel bound by this oath and fear that should they break it, they will be cursed. It is suggested that as many as 20,000 Nigerian women work as prostitutes on the streets of Italy.
I think that the film provides valuable insight into a really important subject, but the attempt by the film's makers to blame this heinous activity on indigenous African spiritual tradition, misses the point completely and perhaps also plays into culturally oppressive stereotypes. Prostitution in Europe by African women is nothing to do with indigenous African cultural tradition. The real reasons for it are poverty, coupled with the demand in Europe for prostitutes.
There are prostitutes working in Western Europe who come from Russia, Moldova, Belarus and the Ukraine and as far afield as the Philippines and Vietnam. But to suggest that all of those women too have been subjected to an oath of loyalty by a babalawo (witch doctor) would clearly be nonsensical. The motive for all of these women, yes, including those from Nigeria, is money, the search for a better life and for many, the ability to support the families they leave behind in their home countries.
And while this may be their original intention, I did not see from the film that the lives of the families the women left behind in Nigeria were improved in anyway at all, since the families seemed still to be living in abject poverty, despite the fact that they had relatives working abroad.
The truth is that all over the world, poor people are being taken advantage of by the wealthy, through a globalised system of capitalism, which forces people to sell their souls in order to put food on the table. In Bangladesh, Afghanistan and others, it is normal for poor families to put to work children as young as 7 years of age, to contribute to the family income. In parts of Africa, out of poverty, some mothers are forced to sell their own children into slavery. This is the harsh reality for the poor in today's world.
I think that the makers of the film, rather than trying to blame African spirituality for prostitution in Europe, should have taken the time to explore the true causes of the problem. It is not surprising, nor is it unreasonable that the particular manifestation of this misfortune in Edo State in Nigeria, would be articulated in a characteristic and localised form, i.e., through a distortion of juju, which in fact is a part of the local traditions of the people.