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10 Extreme Practices That Africa Has Struggled To Leave Behind

Updated on October 14, 2014
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Denis is a freelancer addicted to football ('s not soccer!). He thinks POLITICS and REALITY TV were invited to dumb us down.


The Africa of today may be more modern and accessible, but some outdated practices still linger. Moreover, some of these controversial practices form part of the fabric of African community life. Thus, they are very hard to eradicate! Examples include the following ten:

10 Trial by Ordeal

Known locally in Liberia as ‘sassywood’, this strange custom seems more suited for the dark ages than modern day Africa. Liberians use the practice to expose witches – Salem without the Bible-thumping and overdressing.

The ritual comes in different forms. In one instance, the interrogator places a red-hot machete on a suspect’s thigh. You are innocent if you remain unharmed. Scream in agony, and you are definitely guilty! Another form involves drinking a deadly concoction that supposedly kills the witch.

Locals see the practice as simple way to solve a crime. However, the Liberian government has finally made the practice illegal.

9 Mob Justice

It’s no great secret that Police forces around Africa tend to be inept and easily corruptible. Thus, a search for justice leaves most people frustrated. Imagine a whole crowd full of pent up anger and frustrated. When one adds a kleptomaniac into the mix, what you get is vigilante justice –and not the fun kind that involves a cape and leotard.

Unsurprisingly, gory images of charred bodies and thieves stoned to death are very common. Nobody ever bothers to call the police because they realize the culprit will serve a little jail time and be back on the street. Furthermore, the police rarely intervene (self-preservation) when a mob is in the mood to hang someone.

8 Child (Forced) Marriage

It may be a common scourge around the world, but unsurprising, Africa leads the way. Of the 20 countries prevalent with child marriage, more than 15 are from Africa.

Due to such factors as poverty, girls as young as seven end up marrying men – some old enough to be their grandfathers! It even worse when they are forced into sex before puberty. Worse still, a girl can end up married to an abusive pervert!

7 Rape ‘beading’

This practice is a variant of child marriage that is common among the Samburu of Kenya. A man (most of the time, a relative) approaches the child’s parents to propose marriage. He then places an intricately beaded necklace on the girl to mark her as his own. At this point, the man can have his way with her.

Beading’, as it’s known, leaves the young girls at the mercy of their ‘fiancé’ who end up raping them if they don’t consent to sex.

Normally, Samburu girls who get pregnant outside wedlock rarely get married. Consequently, the practice of ‘beading’ is supposed to prevent this. However, all it does is expose more girls to pre-marital pregnancies. Then the girls either end up aborting or give up the child for adoption. Some even die during childbirth.

6 Child Soldiers

Child soldiers have played an integral part in many African conflicts - from the concluded civil war in Liberia that sent Charles Taylor to the ICC to the continuing rebellion in Northern Uganda led by the infamous Joseph Kony. Usually, soldiers abduct children from their villages. Girls end up as sex slaves while the young boys become fighters.

Sadly, most of the boys end up as human shields for the older soldier. Refusal to fight means punishment that includes limb amputation or worse, execution!

5 Polygamy

This has always caused controversy around Africa. Some say it promotes poverty when a man with insufficient income marries too many wives. The famous Kenyan polygamist, Akuku Danger, boasted of having more than 100 wives! Most Christian denominations don’t allow polygamy. On the other hand, Muslims are allowed to marry a maximum of four wives (depending on their income).

With some countries are legalizing polygamy, many gender activists see it as a move backwards. Certainly, polygamy is one practice that is destined to stay for the near future.

4 The Use of neck rings and lip plates

In some African communities, having a long neck is a sign of beauty. Some tribes like the Ndebele in southern Africa use extreme means to achieve such beauty. Women wear the neck rings in an attempt to elongate their necks.

In other African tribes like the Mursi of Ethiopia, women ‘enhance their beauty’ by wearing a lip plate. A young girl of 15 or 16 has her lip pierced and a wooden plug inserted in the wound. Once the wound heals, a larger plug replaces the old one. This becomes an ongoing process, as the girl grows older. Unfortunately, the lip plates eventually become redundant and the women look deformed after removing them.

3 Wife Inheritance

Women tend to have few rights in many African communities. Traditionally, most of the power lies with the husband and only men tend to inherit property. In some tribes like the Luo, inheritance may broaden to include the wife of the deceased.

One form of inheritance involves the widow requesting her husband’s family to pick a spouse for her. However, the most common form of wife inheritance doesn’t require the widow’s consent.

Supposedly, the practice ensures that the wealth of the family stays in the family while the widow and children remain protected. However, the practice has proven to be one of the major contributors to the AIDS scourge in Africa – potentially wiping out whole households!

2 Cannibalism

Cannibalism was once widespread in Africa but now happens sporadically across the continent. It is most prevalent where there is a conflict. In recent times, cannibalism has occurred in places like the Central African Republic and Nigeria.

During the religious violence in the CAR, a Muslim man became the victim of a Christian mob. Once he was dead, one of his assailants started eating the raw flesh on his charred leg – a bizarre scene that even left seasoned soldiers puking! While in Nigeria, a restaurant was serving human flesh to its customer. Disturbingly, the human flesh was the most expensive delicacy on the menu.

1 Female Genital Mutilation

An extremely disturbing practice, FGM involves the removal (whole or partial) of the external part of female genitalia. Girls targeted range from as young as four to puberty. It’s thought to limit a pubescent girl’s sex drive. Why don’t they just sit them through one of those disturbing ‘sex ed’ videos?

In countries like Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Guinea, the practice acts as a rite of passage for girls. In addition, Muslims in countries like Somalia see FGM as a part of Sharia Law.

FGM has severe complication for the women affected. Some short-term complications include dangerous infections and excessive bleeding while long-term effects are even worse. Mainly, because the scar has to be opened up when the girl has intercourse or gives birth.


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    • KMSplumeau profile image

      KMSplumeau 3 years ago

      Very interesting article - Africa is such a fascinating continent and it would be wonderful to see some of these outdated practices eradicated, and for the true beauty of Africa to shine through.

    • mdscoggins profile image

      Michelle Scoggins 3 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Good morning underthedome. Great article. Cultural practices are really interesting but I do find it disheartening as well. I also have an article about FGM since that is a very dangerous practice that many times ends in death. I find myself interested in practices that are harmful and should be exposed with the hopes of reducing the damage created by these old cultural acts. You did bring forth a vast amount of facts that I have never heard before and I will certainly do my own research to gain more knowledge. Thanks again for all the information. Voted up and shared.