April 26th, 2008 12:36 EST
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo. No Congolese male can feel safe, especially those traveling by bus. But surprisingly, for a country bedraggled by years of wars, life is not the most important thing that a grown-up man can lose. How can you live when your penis has been stolen?
The police received the first phone calls a week ago. Dozens of men argued that the most valuable part of their body had either disappeared or shrunk to a laughable size. The perpetrator in all cases was the same person – an evil sorcerer whose one touch proved enough to deprive his victims of their manhood. “It's real. Just yesterday here, there was a man who was a victim. We saw. What was left was tiny,” a Kinshasha resident told the Reuters news agency.
Within hours the gossip spread all over the capital city and soon the police headquarters was besieged by droves of desperate men. After a careful examination, however, it turned out that none of the aggrieved had lost his manhood. Far from being placated, the men swore that even if their penises were still on the right place, they had significantly shrunk. What is more, the sorcerer not only took away the valuable inches, but also made the men impotent. “How do you know if you haven't gone home and tried it?” Jean-Dieudonne Oleko, Kinshasa's police chief asked.
True or false, the police had to launch a formal investigation. Reports that several people from nearby villages had been caught by an angry mob and lynched brought the capital and much of the country to the brink of another civil war. The local radio incessantly ran calls urging people to stay away from the public transport and beware of men with gold rings that sorcerers often wore. Oleko told a Reuters African correspondent that: “You just have to be accused of that, and people come after you. We've had a number of attempted lynchings... You see them covered in marks after being beaten.”
Thirteen suspects accused of practicing black magic were arrested on April 23. Along with them, 14 alleged victims were also put behind bars as the police feared they could kill random people who would resemble the mysterious sorcerer. The police admitted that it would be hard to press charges against the thirteen arrested, but detention was the only way to prevent bloodshed. The Reuters news agency, which first broke the story, learned that similar panic broke out in the western African country of Ghana in 1998 and resulted in 12 deaths.
Much like the rest of western Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo is dominated by Christian denominations. Half of the 66 million-strong population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, with twenty percent more being members of various Protestant churches. Nevertheless, traditional beliefs are widespread not only in rural areas but also in the country's capital of over six million residents. As central agencies are unable to provide basic economic and medical protection, people turn to black magic and sorcerers as an inexpensive but effective panacea for all problems.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been ruled by a stable government for only two years. Many experts say that even a small, artificial conflict could plunge the country back into a long period of violent wars. While the police are combing Kinshasa districts for the evil sorcerer, armed gangs plunder the rest of the country. Only one day after the thirteen suspected black magicians were arrested, renewed fights in the country's northern provinces made hundreds of civilians flee their households and stopped UN agencies from distributing food.
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