Chemistry is one of the most rewarding sciences in the world, in the sense that it can yield visible and sometimes spectacular results from simple experiments.

For instance, when the colour blue changes to red or green after a chemical has been added to it, or when en explosion occurs under water after certain chemical agents have been brought together one is I pressed, whether one believes in science or not.

That being the case, how can a teacher of chemistry refuse to believe that vaccination works in humans and other animals? Is the concept of immunity from disease a hoax?

I ask because the late President of Tanzania, Mr John Magufuli, not only denied the existence of Covid-19 but at the same time (rather illogically) he prescribed the breathing of steam as well as other “traditional” methods, for curing the (non-existent) disease! 

But – wonder of wonders – Magufuli, according to Wikipedia, “earned a bachelor of science in education degree, majoring in chemistry and mathematics as teaching subjects, from the University of Dar-es-Salaam in 1988. He also earned his masters, and doctorate degrees in chemistry from the University of Dar-es-Salaam in 1994 and 2009, respectively.”

After graduating, he became a secondary school teacher. The question is: was he tutoring his students in subjects he did not believe in? Or did he think tat there was a “dichotomy” of reality in the world – one which produced accurate results in scientific experiments and another reality in which the only laws that operated were those laid down by the God in whom he fervently believed as a Catholic?

For he was quoted as saying that Covid-19 was “a devil, [which] cannot survive in the body of Christ… It will burn instantly!” Was he, in saying this, denying the validity of the concept of science, mastery of which had earned him his degrees? 

The contradictions that filled Mr Magufuli’s mind are, of course, vibrantly present in many other Africans. I became aware of this very early in my own life. 

My mother’s sister was a life-long Methodist. She would come and wake us all up very early in the morning and drag us to “morning service” (anᴐpasɔre)!

Now, I loved the Fanti songs that the Methodists sang, with all those beautiful unwritten improvisations that the women singers invented to add to the actual hymns. But I resented being torn from my dreams at such an early hour! I had no choice, of course, but to tag along. 

One year, however (when I was about five) my young mind was thrown into a whirl when I heard, to my astonishment, that despite her obvious devotion to God and Jesus, this aunt of mine had travelled all the way from Asiakwa to Nkwantanang (in the Kwahu District: first, by truck to Bosuso; next, by train to Nkawkaw; then up the dangerous hills to Mpraeso and finally, to Nkwantanang) to go and “eat kola-nuts” and become a cult member of the Tigare fetish! 

She went to the fetish because she wanted to have a child and her prayers in the Methodist Church were apparently not producing the goods – despite all those early morning devotions.

I learnt in later life that many so-called Christians in fact try to “insure” themselves against evil times by also paying their respects to several deities passed to them by their elderly family members, who believed in several deities at the same time. 

There was, for instance, an old woman who was the priestess of a sacred River in our town called Twafoɔ. This old lady got presented with a lot of fowls from people who wanted to thank the River for all sorts of favours they had obtained from it.

Indeed, when the Second World War ended in 1945 and the men from our town who had gone to fight in Burma came back, one of them brought an amazing story about the River. He told our townspeople that the army truck he was driving had one day been hit by a bomb and blown into a deep valley. It caught fire after he’d been thrown out of it. He lay in a field unconscious. 

But as the fire came nearer and nearer to him, he heard faintly, “from very far away”, a bush-cat calling him by name: “Kwaku Petro! Kwaku Petro! Get up!” 

The cat wouldn’t stop calling his name until its cries got nearer and nearer to him. Finally, the cat’s cries became so loud that he woke up. He was able to drag himself away just as the whole truck blew up with a huge bang! 

The noise brought some ambulance men to the site, and they laid him on a stretcher and carried him to hospital. “See these scars on my hands!” he showed the townspeople.

“It was River Twafoɔ who came and saved my life!” Kwaku Petro explained. He bought a sheep and slaughtered it, draining the sheep’s blood into the River’s water until the water was drenched red. He also poured libation into the water with a bottle of Schnapps. 

How did he know it was the River that had saved his life? Silly question. How often do bush-cats talk and call someone by the name?

But by far the most amusing story in this country about juju – or “African electronics” as some smart-alec friends of mine call it – occurred during the days of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) in the early 1970s. A chap was caught and put on trial for attempting to overthrow the government of the SMC by recruiting the Army Commander of the regime to carry out a coup. 

The chap apparently resided in Nigeria, where he had made a lot of money by dealing in crude oil. When he had convinced himself that indeed the Army Commander would like to succeed his head of state as “Number One”, he brought the Army Commander a huge sum of money and said the Commander should take it to a particular jujuman in Northern Ghana, so that the jujuman would “fortify him” and make him impervious to fear., during the coup operation. 

But the coup-inciter had somehow not been able to fortify his own self, and so, was picked up on the instructions of the Army Commander during their final tête-à-tête! 

At his trial, the then Attorney-General, a very humorous lawyer called E N Moore, made great play upon the superstitious elements in the coup plot. People laughed a lot when they were asked by their friends, upon undertaking some mission or other, “Have you taken the trouble to get fortified yet”? 

In the midst of the trial, I attended a cocktail party given by the Government at the Castle, Osu. Whilst going round greeting people, I came across Mr E N Moore.

“Cameron, how have you been?” he queried.

Quick as a flash, I replied: “Unfortified, but still going strong!” 

Mr Moore exploded into such loud laughter that people everywhere turned round to look at the two of us. I very swiftly slipped out of his company, leaving him to explain why he had laughed so loudly.


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