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In the United States, we’ve just seen Halloween come and go, the time when youngsters dress up in their costumes and go from house to house in their neighborhood, ringing doorbells and singing out  “Trick or Treat!”

My bride and I always enjoy the very little ones who are always accompanied either by an older sibling or who have a parent standing well back and slightly in the shadows.

Each child’s wonderment at all the sweeties on offer is akin to seeing their faces on a Christmas morning.  In short, I’m one of those who thinks this is all just good fun.  It also gives the community an opportunity to remind the very few what one says when something nice is bestowed upon them.

Our own experience?  “Thank you” always rings out and unbidden, and very often with the passion and volume of the Hallelujah Chorus.

Witches and goblins have not always been such a fun and docile matter, however. Indeed, in many parts of the world these non-people are still perceived as walking the land, and doing terrible things or causing such to occur.

In the Isn’t-this-game-rigged? or Can’t-win-for-losing departments, I’ve always considered that the Ordeal of Cold Water ranks near the top in cynically perverse beliefs.

Witchcraft Ordeal by Water

Most associated with the witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries, any accused who sank was considered innocent, while the luck of floating and not dying indicated witchcraft.  Only after having lived through the watery, starkly terrifying ordeal would the poor person be put to death by another foul means.

America had its round of witches and controversies, but none more famous than the so-called ‘trials’ of witches in Salem, Massachusetts.

By contrast, even today in Africa, witchcraft has played a role in rebellions, fighting wars, gaining independence, and it is still often seen at election time.

Some people also consult witchdoctors to cure diseases or find a husband.

Gambia witchdoctor[Gambian witchdoctor – Since when do filth and frightening faces heal anyone of anything?  If this extremely off-putting chap offered to set you up on a blind-date, would you go?]

However, the practice of witchcraft has even more strongly negative sides. Mutilated bodies are often found in Africa, with their organs removed presumably for use in magic charms.

[Those magic charms sometimes mean human sperm, a quirk about which I wrote previously, here: http://wp.me/p28uli-6g%5D

And recently in the UK, three people were jailed over the torture of an eight-year-old Angolan girl.

Why?  Yep, her local community of Angolans had accused this wee thing of being a possessed witch.  [Quite why Britain is accepting Portuguese-speaking immigrants from Portugal’s former colony in Africa is another line of enquiry entirely.]

Indeed, belief in witchcraft is very common in West Africa, a place where traditional animist beliefs coexist with Islam and Christianity.

One of the venues concerned is the wriggling-snake-shaped nation of The Gambia, which is also known for beautiful Atlantic beaches.

West-africa-map including Gambia

Gambia-map-l

Back in the 1970s, an airline called British Caledonian made The Gambia into a very popular and indeed, in part, a rather swish holiday destination.

All that said, this piece by The Sunday Telegraph’s chief foreign correspondent set me thinking.

Gambia poisons ‘witches’ and peddles bogus Aids cures. Its best friend? Taiwan

Witches as accused protesting[Suspected ‘witches’ protest their innocence]

Recently I was reporting from Gambia, one of the few remaining habitats of what might soon be an endangered species in Africa: the eccentric despot. With Gaddafi dead, and [Zimbabwean President Robert] Mugabe increasingly infirm, the Cold War relics are approaching extinction, and there may come a time when the continent is bereft of rulers with their own crackpot personality cults.

In the meantime, though, Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh is gamely flying the flag for the old school. A former army officer who came to power in a coup in 1994, he hit the headlines in August after reversing a 27-year moratorium on the death penalty, executing nine prisoners by firing squad in the notorious Mile 2 Prison.

But even before that, he was something of a card in the “Top Trumps” pack of African Big Men. On the personal ego rating, he scores pretty highly, with giant portraits of him adorned by such modest slogans as “voting for Jammeh is a sacred national duty”. On the “vanity motorcade” front he excels too, favouring a massive stretch Hummer backed by a convoy of SUVs and a truck with anti-aircraft guns.

Gambia dictator Yahya_Jammeh_with_Obamas

[Happy Trio:  H.E. Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, President of the Republic of The Gambia with U.S. President Obama and Mrs. Obama during a reception at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City 23 September 2009]

And then, in addition to the usual fat human rights dossier at Amnesty International, there’s the extraordinary witchcraft accusations.

In 2009, Mr Jammeh allegedly rounded up more than 1,000 suspected “witches” and force-fed them hallucinogenic potions after suspecting them of using sorcery to kill his aunt.

Worse still, though, he believes in magic as a power for good as well as bad. In 2007, he outraged world scientific opinion by announcing he’d found his own spiritual and medical cure for HIV, a spot of homeopathic quackery that not even Prince Charles would probably endorse.

Hundreds of Gambians have since undergone the programme – which requires them to give up normal retrovirals – although Mr Jammeh has been somewhat cagey on the results. This despite various medical experts pointing out that if he only shared his secret “recipe”, he could make both Gambia and himself very rich indeed.

Anyway, to the point. One might have at least have thought that unlike his Cold War predecessors, such a man might be getting very stern lectures from the various aid donors on whom Gambia still partly relies. And sure enough, Britain and the EU, which give Gambia roughly 16 million euros a year [US$21Mil, £13Mil, ¥1.7Bil] – a lot for a country of just 1.8 million – have made their displeasure known. In 2010, they cut funding 20 per cent, and in the wake of the executions, they would ideally like to pile on the pressure more.

The difficulty, though, is that if they threaten more drastic cuts, Mr Jammeh knows he can always turn for support elsewhere. In his case, though, it’s not to China, the country normally criticised for offering “no-strings” loans to dodgy African regimes. Instead, it’s to China’s arch-rival, Taiwan.

Gambia is just one of four African countries that recognise Taiwan diplomatically, and in exchange, Mr Jammeh’s government receives funding running into tens of millions a year. It may possibly be more, as no one is quite sure if a few million goes direct into ministers’ private bank accounts.

The interesting thing, though, is that in the West, Taiwan is normally seen as the plucky democratic underdog compared to big, nasty, Communist China. Yet in Gambia, Taiwan is acting in what diplomats say is a somewhat unprincipled fashion, insulating a questionable regime in exchange for official recognition and the odd supporting vote at various UN forums. As one diplomat in Gambia put it to me: “If we did scale back aid to Gambia, the Taiwanese will just come in with even bigger blank cheques, and Jammeh probably knows that.”

I should point out here that both Gambia and Taiwan insist their partnership is simply a case of two sturdy little nations banding together. In fact, Gambia’s minister for Presidential Affairs, Dr Njogu Bah, made that very point back in October, in an interview with the pro-government Gambian Daily Observer, which quoted him as saying that the relationship was not about “cheque book diplomacy”.

“The two countries will continue to work together in strengthening the cooperation between them,” he declared.

Fair enough. Readers who plough on through this less-than-fascinating article will, though, find the following little gem further down.

“Dr Njogu Bah made this remark in his office at State House, while receiving a cheque of US$300,000 [£186,000, €229,000, ¥24.6Mil] donated by the government of Taiwan.”

How nice of them. Clearly, with friends like these, Gambia has no need to worry about enemies…

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Frankly, this is no joke, of course, but it is certainly beyond immediate remedy by any traditional Western thought process or action.

As to Taiwan, it strikes me that The Telegraph’s man, Mr. Freeman, is a bit overly-selective in terms of nations who seek to recruit supporters within the increasingly upside-down world of the United Nations, or perhaps corrupt sewer is a better description.

As UN Watch reminds us, the membership of the UN Human Rights Commission “already includes such systematic abusers of human rights as China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia,” as well as slavery-infested Mauritania.

The most high profile of those nations which are slated to come aboard next year are Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela (Iran’s chief sidekick in the Western Hemisphere) and Pakistan (a frequent shill at the U.N. for the anti-Semitic, despot-driven Organization of Islamic Cooperation).

China is quite effectively buying huge influence, enough to dictate policy, with several other resource-rich African countries.  China sends tens of thousands of Red Army troops to these places and stations them on-site to protect China’s interests.

And Mr. Freeman offers his petulant quibble of tiny Taiwan?

If China’s buying up swaths of nations in Africa is too obscure for you to really grasp onto,  consider this which perhaps is an example of China’s furthering not only a kind of witchcraft, but also a myriad of other human rights abuses elsewhere across the globe.

The China National Machinery Industry Corporation (Sinomach for short) plans to construct a technology zone south of the airport in Boise, Idaho, USA.

Boise Idaho

And the size of this technology zone?

Ultimately, it will be up to some 50 square miles (129.5 sq.km.)

How big is that?  For Americans or for those from abroad who do business in Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia is a mere 68 square miles (176 sq.km.)

The Chinese Communist Party is the majority owner of Sinomach.

As a result, the 10,000 to 30,000 Acre (4,047 Ha. – 12,149.6 Ha.) self-sustaining city that is being planned would essentially belong to the Chinese government.

The planned self-sustaining city in Idaho would include manufacturing facilities, warehouses, retail centers and large numbers of homes for Chinese workers (read: only Chinese workers).

Those recession-hit, long-unemployed Americans across the country who are desperate to work need not apply.  Indeed, one is certain that the deal being cooked kow-tows to the whimseys of the paymasters in Peking.

Basically, this madcap notion would bring a slice of communist China and drop it right into the middle of the United States.

In short, all this leaves me agog, not only at the most brazen evidence of Chinese assertiveness, but also the naïf of The Great and The Good of the once-great State of Idaho. Can or will the average Idahoan and other Americans grasp all of what this means and portends?

Color me bewitched, very bothered and far more than bewildered.

Enough of the all-too-damned serious.  Does that last phrase ring any bells?  Okay, sure, let’s waft our cares away for a few moments and enjoy Broadway’s songstress suprema Patti LuPone:

If this fails to play my apologies.  Please click here:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9lSvkYAZEY

Not even a Gambian witch can say ‘boo’ to that, much less to the lovely La LuPone!

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Hat-Tips to:

Mr. Colin Freeman and The Daily Telegraph: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/colinfreeman/100192420/gambia-poisons-witches-and-backs-bogus-aids-cures-its-best-friend-taiwan/

The Gambia Daily Observer article referred to, above, is here:  http://observer.gm/africa/gambia/article/gambia-taiwan-relations-exceed-cheque-book-diplomacy-minister-bah

Patti LuPone’s website is here: Ms. LuPone’s website  Twitter: @pattilupone

From November 2012 through February 2013 Ms. LuPone is top-of-the bill with Debra Winger in David Mamet’s play, The Anarchist, at The Golden Theater in New York City.  The Anarchist website