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.
Magic, murder and the lost boys of Congo’s long war
Published: December 23, 2018
By: David Wroe
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.