In many parts of Africa, political liberalization seems to have given new impetus to the “politics of belonging,” leading to an obsession with “autochthony.” Thus the continuing relations of urban migrants with their home area tend to be reaffirmed. However, these relations, marked by an explosive mixture of intimacy and inequality, continue also to be a hotbed for witchcraft rumors. In this article we compare two different cases, from different parts of Cameroon, of witchcraft threats and efforts to contain them in the context of rural-urban relations. In both cases, the accusations are the same—they refer to a novel form of zombie witchcraft attributed to the nouveaux riches—but they are dealt with in a strikingly different manner. A Grassfields chief from the Northwest challenges the authority of the state by arresting three witchcraft suspects among his subjects in the faraway Southwest. In the segmentary societies of the southern forest area, urban elites appeal to the state for protection against vicious witchcraft accusations.
The increased importance of “belonging” and “autochthony” in national politics makes witchcraft more and more a public issue, triggering new efforts to contain it in which the new associations of urban elites play a central role. However, the effectiveness of such efforts remains doubtful: the increased importance of the relations between urban elites and the home area tends to reproduce witchcraft, which is, indeed, thriving on such an explosive mixture of intimacy and blatant inequality.