DRC: Magic, murder and the lost boys of Congo’s long war

David Wroe wrote an astonishing article on child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), or Congo-Kinshasa, as it is also called (to distinguish it from its neigbour, Congo-Brazzaville).  As the author describes, these youngsters ‘were tricked into fighting, forced to perform brutal rituals, and killed by the thousand in battle.’ Unfortunately, this is not unique for the DRC. 

‘Meet the child soldiers who have helped fuel the world’s longest running conflict.’

We will not reproduce here the entire article, which is highly recommended literature,  but will just focus on the phenomenon which is the focus of the current website: superstition, ritualistic killings and the absence of the rule of law. (webmaster FVDK)

Magic, murder and the lost boys of Congo’s long war

Published: December 23, 2018
By: David Wroe

Former child soldier Olivier at a farm that is run by a local organisation helping teenagers and young men, including former militia members to learn a trade. (Photo: Kate Geraghty)

At night, the boys of Congo’s children’s militia would take the heads of the soldiers they had killed and place them in a ritual circle around the campfire.

Then they would mock them.

Belittling the heads of their enemies made boys such as 15-year-old Victor* feel powerful and brave.

He was part of a group of youngsters who brought down a government soldier one night in March last year in the city of Kananga in the south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). They let him shoot until his rifle ran out of bullets, then they charged him with machetes, sharpened sticks and garden hoes. Victor says he was given the job of cutting the dead soldier’s head off.

“The commander of the camp said I had caught someone who was very strong. And when we caught him he was no longer very strong and they started laughing at the soldier, saying, ‘Show us now how strong you are,’” Victor recalls.

What they did next cranked up their courage up to a frenzy.

The boys rolled the head into the embers of the “Tshiota”, the holy campfire. After the man’s skull had burned, the commander made Victor collect the ash, grind it into a fine powder and mix it with wine.

“Then they gave it to us to drink,” Victor says. “You become furious and can fight without fear. That is the way it was.”They call it “manga” – the magic that made them invincible.

Victor, whose name has been changed, is one of thousands of children recruited into militias that rose up in the southern DRC region of Kasai in 2016 against a corrupt, neglectful and repressive government.

In a region where families are large and poor, where the social fabric is threadbare and where government services barely exist, it is easy to convince or coerce children to join armed groups. Their recruitment is helped by a widespread belief that arcane rituals – sometimes involving cannibalism – confer magical powers that prevent their being harmed in battle.

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Source: Magic, murder and the lost boys of Congo’s long war

Liberia’s elections, ritual killings and cannibalism (2011)

I have written extensively about Liberia’s history of ritual killings, in books, articles, and on my website ‘Liberia: Past and Present of Africa’s Oldest Republic‘, notably in the section ‘Past and Present of Ritual Killings: From Cultural Phenomenon to Political Instrument‘.

I was confronted with the phenomenon of ritualistic murders in Liberia when living in Monrovia – where I taught at the University of Liberia – and, later, in Harper, capital of Maryland County, in the second half of the 1970s. In Harper I witnessed the public execution of the Harper Seven, in 1979. They were convicted of the ritual murder of a fisherman and popular singer, Moses Tweh, and sentenced to death by hanging. The trial of the Harper Seven turned out to be Liberia’s most notorious ritual killing case.

Big shots’ were involved, such as Maryland County’s Superintendent, Daniel Anderson – son of the Chairman of Liberia’s only political party, the True Whig Party – and Allen Yancy, member of the House of Representatives for Maryland County and cousin of former Liberian president William Tubman (1944 – 1971). Reportedly, Allen Yancy had been involved in previous ritual murder cases but he was never convicted, allegedly because of Tubman’s protection.
Ritualistic killings in Liberia have been rampant, and I fear the gruesome practice has far from disappeared – as is demonstrated by the article reproduced below.

The article reproduced below summarizes well Liberia’s recent history of ritualistic murders. What used to be a cultural phenomenon – human sacrifices for the well-being of the clan or tribe – has become a political instrument, used by unscrupulous politicians and businessmen to further their interests.

I will not dwell too long here on these atrocities and outdated but persistent beliefs in supernatural powers. Readers are invited to visit my website for more details.

Last but not least, my publications on ritual murders in Liberia became the prelude to the present website on ritual killings in Africa in general. See the site’s menu, notably the section ‘Why publish this site?

Public execution by hanging of the ‘Harper Seven’, including Maryland Superintendent Daniel Anderson and Representative Allen Yancy, at dawn in Harper, Liberia on February 16, 1979. Picture taken by Fred van der Kraaij (copyrights).


Liberia’s elections, ritual killings and cannibalism

Published: August 01, 2011 · 10:52 AM UTC
By: Emily Schmall and Wade Williams

MONROVIA, Liberia — The pregnant woman was found dead in the shallows of Lake Shepherd. The fetus had been removed.

A candidate for Liberia’s Senate and a former county attorney are among those standing trial for the 2009 murder, the latest in a long history of ritual sacrifices performed for political power in Liberia.

In this case in southeastern Maryland County, prosecutors were tipped off by a witch doctor who provided a list of 18 people allegedly connected to the killing, including Fulton Yancy, the former county attorney, and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Special Envoy and Ambassador-at-Large Dan Morias.

Vials of blood were discovered in Yancy’s home. Nine were charged with murder but were released earlier this month following a Supreme Court ruling.

Liberia will have general elections later this year and the ritual killings tend to flare up during election season, according to Jerome Verdier, former chairman of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

”Unfortunately it happens during elections time because people are competing for political power, they don’t know God and they believe that these supernatural powers will come to them once human blood is shed,” Verdier said.

During Liberia’s two-decades-long civil war hundreds were killed for ritual purposes, the TRC discovered during its hearings.

”During our research at the TRC we found out that bloodshedding was very, very common during the conflict. People killed indiscriminately women and children believing that it would give them some power to continue fighting and that they would be protected,” said Verdier.

Liberia’s Maryland County has traditionally been the hub for the country’s ritual murders. The killings have haunted the southeastern county for decades. In recent years, however, ritual killing cases have cropped up across the country.

Verdier said some of those who confessed at the TRC hearing gave graphic accounts of ritual killings they carried out.

“People went as far as eating their opponent’s body — when such person is killed in battle they cook their body to eat, believing that the spirit, the powerful spirit of that person, will come to them and by eating them, the person’s power is completely destroyed, so there can be no reemergence in that person’s family line or their ethnic line.”

‘General Butt Naked’, a notorious warlord in Liberia’s First Civil war (1989 – 1997) testified and confessed before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he committed numerous ritualistic murders and ate body parts of his victims.

A former warlord who calls himself General Butt Naked and who fought against former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, confessed in 2008 to taking part in human sacrifices that included the killing of a child and “plucking out the heart, which was divided into pieces for us to eat.”

In 2005, the leader of Liberia’s transitional government, Gyude Bryant, pledged to hang anyone found guilt of ritual killing.

Dispatched to Maryland County by President Johnson Sirleaf to calm residents’ fears earlier this year, Justice Minister Christiana Tah acknowledged that “there are still lots of unresolved cases of this nature,” according to a report in the daily New Democrat.

In a case from the 1970s known as the Maryland Murders, seven people, including Fulton Yancy’s older brother Allen Yancy, a member of the House of Representatives, were hanged for killing a fisherman (see picture above). The following year Defense Minister Gray D. Allison was convicted of killing a police officer whose body was discovered on the Bong Mines railroad, apparently used in a ritual sacrifice. The government at the time displayed blood drained in gallons believed to be that of the dead man.

Dan Morias, one of those accused of the 2009 killing of a pregnant woman, is planning to run for senator in the upcoming legislative elections in October. He has maintained that the charges against him are politically motivated. He must be cleared of the charges to be eligible to run for office.

Morias is listed in the TRC report for alleged abuses committed while he served as Minister of Internal Affairs for the Charles Taylor regime. When reached by GlobalPost, Morias said he could not comment on the case as it would be “prejudicial,” but insisted that the evidence against him — namely the testimony of a witch doctor — was “weak.”

Earlier this year, President Johnson Sirleaf warned Maryland County citizens against seeking retribution for the killings with a traditional practice called “sassywood” or “trial by ordeal.”

The government insists that trial by ordeal is illegal and Johnson Sirleaf banned the practice in April 2007. Since then traditional leaders have been pleading with the government to allow them to practice the act which they believe is the only way justice can be served in cases like these.

“Sassywood” is the insertion of an accused person’s extremity into hot oil or the placing of a heated metal on a suspect’s body. If the suspect is burned then it is concluded that he or she is guilty but if there is no burn then the suspect is deemed innocent and set free. Those found guilty are killed.

The police are working to stamp out both the ritual killings and the “sassywood” practices, said George Bardue, spokesman for the Liberia National Police: “The police are doing everything possible to make sure that these things do not happen.”

Emily Schmall is a multimedia journalist now based in Monrovia, Liberia, where she serves as country director for New Narratives, a journalism mentorship project for women. Wade Williams is a New Narratives fellow and an editor at FrontPage Africa, Liberia’s most widely circulated newspaper.

Source: Liberia’s elections, ritual killings and cannibalism
GlobalPost

Zambia: Cannibals in Matero? Suspected ritual killer arrested in Lusaka

Unfortunately, Zambia is no exception. Ritual killing of human beings – children, adults – takes place in Zambia too. I’ve been following events in Zambia since quite some time. Many suspected cases of ritual killings as well as real cases have been reported over the years. Without a shadow of a doubt the tip of the iceberg – as in many other countries. Many ritual murders are not discovered, or not reported as such. One of the cases in my archives dates back to 1996. An excerpt: “(…) Early this year, another spate of mob justice hit the country, especially Lusaka and the tourist capital Livingstone, after children started disappearing. Some of the children were later found, horribly mutilated. These murders were believed to be ritual killings. Angry mobs again took their justice, beating to death some suspects who the police say were innocent. This ended only when the police arrested and had several men convicted.(…)

More in the near future. Read here (below) one of the more recent cases. Matero lies a few miles west of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital.
Readers are warned, the details are gruesome.

Ritual killings, superstition, mob justice, absence of rule of law, ignorance, they’re all interrelated. Let’s hope that the Zambian government continues on the good road taken, as shown by the appearance in Parliament and the frank statements of Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo.
(webmaster FVDK)

Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo: “Between October 21, last year, and February 24, this year, seven suspected ritual killings were reported to Police (…)”

CANNIBALS IN MATERO?…POLICE RECOVER COOKED HUMAN HEART, LIVER AFTER ARRESTING A SUSPECTED RITUAL KILLER IN LUSAKA

Published on March 2, 2018
By CHILA NAMAIKO and JANE MWANSA
Times of Zambia

A COOKED human heart and liver have been recovered by police in Lusaka after arresting a suspected mastermind in the spate of suspected ritualistic killings of seven people in Matero, Parliament heard yesterday.

Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo said some of the cooked body parts were eaten by the suspect, who also shared with his unsuspecting neighbours.
Mr Kampyongo informed the House that the suspect also led the officers to the recovery of ears and several private parts, which had now been submitted to the forensic laboratory for examination. Updating the House in a ministerial statement on recent suspected ritual killings, he said all the victims of the murders were found with their chests ripped open and internal parts missing.
He said the security situation in Matero was generally stable until October, 21, last year, when the first suspected ritual killing was reported.
Between that date and February 24, this year, seven suspected ritual killings were reported to Police, with the victims in all the incidences had been males aged between 25 and 40 years. “By 24th February 2018, the Zambia Police Service investigation unit had with the help of the suspect recovered suspected cooked human heart and liver, “he said.

Mr Kampyongo said police visited and processed the crime scene, and preliminary findings suggested that the people behind the gruesome murders used the same method of killing.
For instance, at every crime scene, a concrete block was found. The officers believe the same block was one of the weapons used.
“The ripping open of the chest, cutting off of the ears and the private parts also appear to have been conducted in a similar manner. The preliminary findings suggest that these murders have been carried out by the same group,” he said.
Mr Kampyongo warned that false beliefs of human body parts helping one to accumulate wealth had no place in Zambia, and the law would catch up with the perpetrators.

To bring the perpetrators of such barbaric crimes, the House heard that police had instituted investigations, which had so far resulted in the arrest of one suspect.
He said the suspect, believed to be the master-mind, was assisting the officers with further investigations and would appear in court soon.
Police had taken a number of measures to enhance security in Matero such as foot patrol and motorised patrols, increased presence in high-density townships, and sensitisation to members of the community on personal security. He assured the public of police protection.

Meanwhile, residents of Kitwe woke up to a rude shock yesterday after a human head was found along the banks of the Kafue River.
When contacted for a comment, Copperbelt Commissioner of Police Charity Katanga said police were waiting for the family of the deceased to come and identify the head. And scores of residents living near the river thronged the scene to have a glimpse of the bizarre finding, which was later picked up by police.

Source: Times of Zambia, March 2, 2018