Border-Crossing Beliefs: African Witchcraft in the Trans-Regional Arena of Asylum
My project explores an array of legal and anthropological sources that demonstrate a startling fact about international asylum procedures involving African asylum-seekers—that these asylum-seekers, appearing in immigration courts in North America and Europe and before UNCHR protection officers across the globe, increasingly mobilize witchcraft beliefs as a basis for their asylum claims. I demonstrate how allegations about witchcraft beliefs have important ramifications for African asylum-seekers’ success in traversing the borders – legal, physical, cultural – of host nations.
My research shows that numerous African asylum-seekers have claimed that they have been, currently are, or will be the victims of witchcraft in their respective countries of origin. Additionally, substantive numbers of African asylum-seekers have claimed that they have been alleged to be past, present, and/or potential witchcraft practitioners in their respective countries of origin. African asylum-seekers have consistently asserted that despite having longstanding anti-witchcraft laws on the books, their respective countries of origin offer protection neither from violence perpetrated due to witchcraft beliefs nor from violence directed against those believed to be witches.
This project engages my earlier work on the history of anti-witchcraft law and policy across twentieth century Anglophone Africa to situate and assess present day African asylum-seekers’ claims about the failure of their respective countries of origin to provide protection from violence driven by witchcraft beliefs.
The interaction of African witchcraft beliefs and transregional asylum can only be understood through an approach that crosses disciplinary and geographical borders, and CRASSH offers the ideal environment in which to develop and refine such an approach. During the fellowship term, I will continue to research and write about African witchcraft beliefs and transregional asylum protocols with the end goal of producing the introductory chapter of a book-length manuscript on the anthropological history of witchcraft and sanctuary-seeking. I anticipate that this monograph will be valuable to members of the academy – anthropologists, historians, legal scholars, human rights scholars – and useful to legal and development practitioners.
Katherine Luongo is a Visiting Fellow at CRASSH, Easter 2013.
She has been Assistant Professor of History (Africa) at Northeastern University, Boston since 2007. She was awarded her PhD from the University of Michigan in 2006. Her recent publications include Witchcraft and Colonial Rule in Kenya, 1900-1955 Cambridge University Press, 2011. “’Slow Punctured’ Provocation and Polling Places: Witchcraft Cases in Postcolonial Kenya’s High Courts,” Journal of Eastern African Studies. 4.3 (2010): 576-590.