I have long hesitated to create this site on ritual killing in Africa. It all started in Liberia, West Africa, in the 1970s. Upon arrival in the country, I first lived in the capital city, Monrovia, and was surprised and shocked reading about ritual murders in the local newspapers. Some articles were accompanied by graphic pictures showing victims, invariably with ‘certain parts missing’. Later I moved to Harper, the capital of Maryland County, in the eastern part of the country, bordering Ivory Coast. Here I witnessed the public execution – by hanging – of seven convicted ritual murderers. It was in the year 1979, a year before the Liberian President William R. Tolbert Jr. – then also Chairman of the Organization of African Unity – was brutally murdered in a military coup. Was he ritually killed? We will never know the answer with certainty. I asked a colleague at the University of Liberia and close friend from Zimbabwe, about these ritual murders. Was it a phenomenon that occurred in Liberia only? He did not give me a straight answer. He returned my question: ‘Do you think it is different in other African countries?’ It was only later that I would learn of ‘muti murders’. He never mentioned this practice to me. ‘Muti’ is the Zulu word for ‘medicine’. Muti murders are ritual murders and occur not only in the Republic of South Africa but also in other countries in Southern Africa.
In Nigeria, ‘money rituals’ often imply ritual murders and trading in body parts for rituals. Albinos in Eastern Africa fear for their lives for the same reason. Some years ago the world was shocked by incessant reports on albino killings and mutilations in the Great Lakes region and in Eastern Africa, notably in Tanzania. Have these practices since disappeared? No, unfortunately not.
For nearly forty years I have studied the phenomenon of ritualistic killings in Africa and I’ve come to the conclusion that these practices are widespread across the continent. Ritual murders are also committed beyond the African continent, but that is not the focus of my research. So now I come back to my initial question: Why this site on ritual killing in Africa?
The answer is simple. The basis of these cruel practices, which have no place in the 21st century, is superstition, belief in witchcraft. Its prolonged existence is the result of a combination of factors, most important of which are lack of education and the absence of the rule of law. What results is the unpunished violation of human rights. The freedom of fear is one of such human rights. In 1979 the people of Harper where dancing before the gallows after the executioner had done his work, relieved. They told me that now they were no longer afraid to walk the streets of Harper and to return home after sundown. The trial and hanging of ‘The Harper Seven’ was an exception, even in Liberia. African governments seldom investigate ritual murders and trials of accused suspects occur even less frequent. Impunity for the perpetrators of these atrocities has almost been systematic. Why? Is it because of the often observed increase in ritualistic killings during election time? I will not dwell here on the reasons for this lack of action of African governments and their failure to enforce the rule of law. At a later stage I will do. But let it be understood that I am not driven by a desire to reveal sensational practices, nor do I want to stigmatize or humiliate certain groups of people. All I want is an end to these practices which are rejected by the majority of the African people as well as by people in other parts of the world. Freedom of fear is a human right, the rule of law an obligation of the state.
Governments in countries where ritual murders frequently happen must be held accountable if they fail to react to these crimes, when for this reason their citizens live in fear and perpetrators of these crimes and their accomplices go unpunished. To hold these African governments accountable is an important objective of this site.
Furthermore, the lack of education makes it difficult to completely wipe out ritualistic murders and the related belief in witchcraft. This site aims to contribute to end these cruel crimes by exposing perpetrators and revealing their motives for killing and mutilating innocent people. Education starts with facts and awareness.
Last but not least, I want to break the silence on ritual killings in Africa. Nearly every day one can read about ritualistic murders that have taken place somewhere on the continent (!), but only in a few countries there exists organized resistance to these crimes which are often perpetrated by powerful and rich people.
The information on this site will be based on publicly available sources, predominantly reports published by local and international media. I will make an exception for previously reported cases of ritualistic murders as presented on my website ‘Liberia: Past and Present of Africa’s Oldest Republic’. If reported cases of ritual murders have not been confirmed and are merely based on rumors, I will specifically mention it.
If readers find information on this site incorrect, incomplete or biased, I invite them to react and bring it to my attention, bearing in mind a famous quote of the Irish novelist and poet Oscar Wilde: ‘The truth is rarely pure and never simple’.