In Gabon, politicians order ritual murders of children
Augustine with a picture of her daughter Catherine, who was killed and mutilated in October in the house of her former boyfriend.
In a small village hidden in the rainforest, forty kilometers from the Gabonese capital Libreville, I met Augustine Bendome. She takes me to a deserted road, adjacent to a dilapidated wooden house with no doors or windows. Here Augustine found late in October 2013 the body of her four year-old daughter with no heart, genitals and tongue.
Bendome Augustine is one of the many mothers in Gabon whose child has been a victim of a ritual murder. I traveled off to the former French colony to investigate this phenomenon. Research
Every year around thirty ritual murders are recorded in Gabon . The actual number should be much higher, because many of these murders are not reported or are misidentified. Ritual murders are committed primarily to children - their body parts - tongue, heart, lips and genitals - are removed and their blood drained. This occurs while the victim is still alive. It is suspected that especially politicians and other senior officials are ordering this kind of killings - they would then use the organs in ceremonies to strengthen their political or economic position.
The crimes are organized according to a pyramid : at the top politicians give the order for the murder of recruiters from the middle layer, which regulate people from the bottom layer to commit the murders and to supply the organs. The ultimate killers are usually poor people who are paid.
Ritual killings occur in several countries in West Africa , including Cameroon, Congo and Liberia. About the exact origin of the rituals is little known. It can be compared to the killings of albinos in Tanzania, where people also believe in the magical powers of body parts.
I agreed to meet with Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo, founder of the NGO Association Against Ritual Crimes (ALCR), in his office in the center of Libreville. He is serious and stiff - no trace of a smile on his face as he shakes my hand. Soon I understand why. Ebango Ondo had ALCR established after the lifeless bodies of his twelve year old son and his friend were found on the beach in Libreville, maimed, nine years ago. Since then he fights for justice for survivors and the fact that the perpetrators are often able to kill with impunity.
Ebang Ondo at the spot where his son was found. On this stretch of a deserted beach in Libreville, mutilated children bodies are regularly found. The tires with ferns (nine in total) are each symbol for a child that is found here.
According to Ebang Ondo, in 2013, more than thirty ritual murders were reported to his NGO. He says that the number of murders is increasing especially with elections or ministerial reshuffles, "because politicians want to get ahead and think that this is the way to increase their chances. "
The government refuses to publicly respond to the killings and takes no action to address the problem, so the perpetrators may continue in total impunity. The most notable thing so far is the conviction of an offender in 2009. He accused the Gabonese Senator Gabriel Eyeghe Ekomie of having given him the organs after he commissioned the murder of a twelve year old victim. The senator has still not been prosecuted, the perpetrator got a life sentence.
The offender is often someone known to the victim. That means he has easier access to the child, but in doing so, the effect is supposed to be stronger because the body is of a loved one. Augustine suspects her ex-boyfriend in the murder of her daughter. " He said he had to get on the plantation behind my house and took something with Catherine. A few hours later he had not returned, and then I went out to find them. I found Catherine dead on my way to his house ", Augustine says with tears in her eyes. Since that day, she never heard anything from her ex-boyfriend. I am guided to a spot behind her house, where she has had the grave of her daughter be built. With a wooden cross.
The tomb of Catherine, behind Augustine’s house. She has no money for a coffin or burial.
In a classroom of an elementary school, I listen to the story of the mother of the seven year old Atsame Astride. March of last year, Atsame's body was found among the rocks by the sea. Her mother often told her story to the police and other authorities, but more than ten months after the murder, there is still no investigation. "I'm distraught. The murderer of my daughter is still at large. The people who should help me are themselves involved in the process. My faith in everything and everyone is completely lost", she says with a breaking voice.
Until recently, it was a taboo in Gabon to talk about ritual murders. The establishment of the ALCR has changed that. More and more people dare to make their voices heard and to fight against the phenomenon in public. " Poor people who have lost a family member, are often bribed by people who are part of the criminal organization. Thus they are silenced. Now more and more people refuse the money, to make their story public instead", says Ebang Ondo. Last May, there was a huge march against ritual murders in the capital, where thousands of Gabonese participated. Anonymous did the same online by spreading a shocking film and hacking the Gabonese government websites.
By Marthe Lem
Translated from Dutch by this blog.
First published in Vice NL
January 24, 2014
Complement to the article: We have learned from the local Gabon’s newspaper «Echos du Nord» that the murder of Catherine has been arrested and he has given names of the sponsors who happen to be politicians. The story can be followed here.