Ritual killings in African countries

When I first exposed the ritualistic murders committed by a small number of people in Liberia it was neither my intention to stigmatize a particular group of people or tribe nor did I want to suggest that ritualistic murders only happen in this West-African country. In fact, I am convinced that they happen in many, if not all, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa – and presumably also in countries on other continents.

In the Republic of South Africa everyone knows what ‘muti-murders’ are: ritual murders. ‘Muti’ is the Zulu word for ‘medicine’. The belief in the magical powers of muti is not a recent phenomenon as demonstrated in a study on muti ritual murders in Natal (1900 -1930). Estimates of the number of muti murders in South Africa range from one per month to one per day. Also in Botswana, Eswatini (formerly called Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe muti murders occur although it is not known at what scale. In mid-February 1995 the ritualistic killing of a young girl, Segametsi Mogomotsi, in Mochudi, a village near Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, led to the most serious civil disturbances in the country’s history. The 14-your old Segametsi Mogomotsi had been found dead, seriously mutilated and with several parts missing. Also in 1995, the inhabitants in Livingstone, Zambia, rioted and looted Asian shops after police had found a child’s heart and other human organs in an Asia shop. Six children had mysteriously disappeared and the local people accused some Asian shopkeepers of being implicated. And in June 2003, King Mswati III urged Eswatini’s politicians not to engage in ritual killings to boost their chances in the general elections later that year. Reportedly, also in Eswatini (Swaziland) the number of ritual murders increases at election time.

Also in 2003, it was reported that MLC rebels in North-east Congo had killed and eaten people – both for ritual purposes and in order to frighten their enemies. A special team of the United Nations, sent down to investigate the accusations, confirmed the rumors.

Elsewhere on this site cases of ritual murders are presented or persistent rumors reported covering a long list of African countries (in alphabetically order): Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini (former Swaziland) Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The list is long and very likely incomplete. There is serious underreporting of ritual murder cases in francophone and lusophone African countries since the focus of my research lies on English-speaking countries. However, a number of cases have been identified in French and Portuguese-speaking countries. I apologize to readers who do not read French or Portuguese; if possible a translation will be provided.

Moreover, two reports have been included of alleged cases of ritual killings, which took place in Europe. The first case concerns a young Nigerian boy whose mutilated body was found in the Thames, London, England, in 2001.

The other victim was the daughter of a Malawian Chief Justice whose headless body was discovered in Ireland in 2004. In both cases Nigerians seem to have been involved. It was also reported that in Germany and in Belgium three similar cases had been discovered involving young children.

Medicine men, ordinary people, rebels, army personnel, politicians, even presidents allegedly have been implicated in ritualistic killings. The accusations against former Liberian President Charles Taylor (1997-2003) have already been reported. He is in illustrious company: former Ugandan President Idi Amin (1971-79) and Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the short-lived Central African Empire (1977-79) also were accused of ritualistic practices and cannibalism.

The sad list is long – too long to continue here – and will not be final since this concerns an ongoing practice. Readers who are interested may follow the links below to know more about ritual murders in various African countries. It is just a sample and, without any doubt, just the tip of the iceberg. Some links relate to concrete, proven cases of ritualistic killings, others refer to unproven rumors. Be that as it may, it is certain that for many people in Africa ritual practices is a reality – a frightening reality.

People have a right to live without fear. They are entitled to protection by the State. Governments have an obligation to protect their citizens and to uphold the rule of law – prosecuting offenders. We see – increasingly – in many countries the occurrence of mob justice, sometimes even encouraged by those in government who fail to protect their citizens. Both ritual murders and mob justice must stop – and governments must enforce the rule of law.

Regrettably, international opinion does not pay much attention to the phenomenon of ritual killings – educated Africans being too ashamed to talk about it whereas policy-makers and politicians from western countries prefer to ignore the problem. People like former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan must have known about it, however, the Ghanaian Annan never raised his voice against these practices.

In 2008 a wave of ritual killings of albinos in Tanzania and neighboring countries – Burundi, Uganda and Kenya – have led to a storm of international protests. Newsmedia widely covered these criminal acts and UNICEF and the European Community condemned the ritual murders of albinos, but the problem is much more widespread as the following shows.

More… Ritual killing in other African countries

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