The Cost of Hunting Witches

We’ve blogged before about witches — mainly with respect to how economic conditions affect witch hunting. Writing for Worldcrunch, Rodrigue Mangwa investigates the practice and explains the economics of witch trials in the Congo:

It should be noted that the witchcraft trials are not free, and are an important source of revenue for the tribal chiefBefore the dispute can be brought to the court, each party has to pay a mandatory fee of $200 – the price of a cow – whether they can afford it or not.

The headmaster of a primary school situated in Rubanga, 10 kilometers from the village of Lemera, says the witchcraft trials are just a way to exploit the local poor farmers in order to generate revenue for the tribal chief. “It would be naïve to think this is a real test of witchcraft. The tribal judges, who are pawns of the Mwami, are bribed to hand out false verdicts,” he says.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

Melissa Belvadi

“It would be naïve to think this is a real test of witchcraft." As opposed to the other test of witchcraft which is real? "So, logically--
- If she weighs the same as a duck...
- she's made of wood.
- And therefore?
- A witch!"

Someone needs to bring Monty Python to the Congo.

Eric Norige

As opposed to what the JREF is doing with their million dollar challenge, which is as close to a real test of witchcraft, although the incentives are reversed; proving witchcraft would get a witch $1M at the JREF, while proving it in the Congo would get you... killed?


interestingly, they use waterboarding to determine witchiness, since it's not torture

Eric M. Jones

Regarding witchcraft--Google: Popular Science Monthly January 1880 Spiritualism in the Middle Ages .

steve cbealt

This scheme is not much different than nuisance trials (a person burned by coffee that is obvsiously HOT) that are trumped up to enrich plaintiff's attorneys. Anyone can file a lawsuit, no matter how trivial, and a company then must weigh the cost of defending it or settling to make the "witchcraft" go away.


I know the coffee lawsuit is cited as a nuisance lawsuit, but here are some facts to keep in mind: (1) the coffee was so hot that she received 3rd degree burns on her genitalia (and requiring skin grafts and an 8-day hospital stay); (2) she originally asked for McDonald's to pay $20k toward her medical expenses, but McDonald's declined; (3) McDonald's had 700 reports of similar incidents, but still required franchises to maintain coffee at 180-190 degrees (far hotter than anything you can drink or find elsewhere); (4) the headline $2.7 million in punitive damages was later reduced to $480,000 (for total damages of $640,000); (5) the parties eventually settled the entire case for less than $600,000; and (6) McDonald's has since lowered the temperature of its coffee to that commonly found at other restaurants.

There are lots of nuisance suits out there. The McDonald's case isn't one of them.



I can see why the chief brought back this practice.

The Congo's per capita GDP is in the $300 to $400 range. Each side of the case must pay $200 to the chief so he's making $400 per trial. At 3 -4 trials per month, he is getting a seriously large income boost.

Also if the defendent loses supply at least 3 weeks of labor. At any give time, he will probably have 1 to 4 free servants working for him