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"Graciously bestow upon all men felicity, the summit of which is the knowledge of the Gods." [Julian, Oration to the Mother of the Gods]

Category Archives: Africa

Catholic “Liberal” Paul Begala’s Vicious, Racist Slurs Against African Religions

“We (therefore) weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ where so ever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery.”
[The Bull Romanus Pontifex (Nicholas V), January 8, 1455. Full text here.]

For over five centuries, African slaves and their descendants have struggled to keep their religious traditions alive in the “New World”. They have prevailed in the face of unrelenting, and often murderously violent, efforts by their good Christian masters to “convert” them to the religion under whose aegis they were enslaved in the first place. The survival, against all odds, of vibrant religious traditions such as Santeria, Vodou, Candomble, and Palo, should be celebrated as an astonishing, almost inconceivable, achievement, and as a simultaneously humbling and inspiring monument to the indomitable spirit of these daughters and sons of Africa.

Sadly, however, instead of being respected and admired, the millions of 21st century adherents of African-Diaspora religions continue to face ignorance and derision from “mainstream” (that, is Christian) society. A case in point was the ugly, bigoted outburst by Catholic “liberal” talking head Paul Begala last Friday night (July 15) on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” show.

Begala wanted to express his (justified) disgust for the idea that homosexuality is a disease, an idea apparently embraced by Michelle Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, who works as a “Christian counsellor” at a clinic that claims to be able to “cure” homosexuals and turn them into “healthy” heterosexuals. Here is how Begals chose to articulate his disdain for Marcus Bachmann’s homophobia:

“Well, his position seems to be, I will practice a crackpot theory if people ask me to practice a crackpot theory. What if somebody comes in and says, will you try Santeria or voodoo or astrology or any number of other crackpot theories? Would he adopt them?

“And that’s what this is. The notion that — first of all, they call it reparative, like your sexual identity is like a muffler or something. You have got to take it in the shop and repair it. It’s a crackpot theory and it’s bigotry.

[“Michele Bachmann Under Fire”, CNN transcript here]

Begala is a Catholic, the religion that gave us the Inquisition back in the Middle Ages, but that today is more well-known for harboring, and otherwise aiding and abetting, an international network of serial child rapists. And it was the Catholic Church that provided the religious justification for the African slave trade, which was seen as just another way of spreading their bigoted, crackpot “gospel”.

>A Witch Burning in Ghana: How the role of Christianity has been obscured (Part One)

>In November of last year, Ama Ahima, a 72 year old Ghanaian woman, was brutally murdered by a mob who accused her of being a witch. After holding her captive and abusing her violently for hours, they doused her in kerosene and set her on fire.

Although there are some conflicting accounts, the main facts of the case are not in dispute. It is important to emphasize that the following have been agreed to by the accused themselves (a number of sources are listed at the bottom of this post):

  1. On November 20 Pastor Samuel Fletcher Sagoe accused Ama Ahima of being a witch.
  2. Sagoe gathered together a group of six people (including other members of his family) to “deliver” Ahima, that is to conduct an exorcism. Alternatively, this has been described as an effort to forcibly make Ahima “confess” through torture.
  3. The exorcism (and/or attempt to extract a confession) proceeded for several hours, until Ahima was doused in kerosene and set on fire.
  4. At this point a neighbor intervened and Ahima was taken to the hospital, where she died the following day.

Amazingly, an concerted effort has been made to obscure the role of Christianity in Ahima’s murder. Even more amazing is the fact that this has not only been largely successful, but at the same time many people have been convinced that African Traditional Religion, not Christianity, is to blame!

At first glance, this might seem to be an impossible attempt at full-bore Orwellian propaganda. After all, the accusation that Ahima was a witch was made by a Christian Pastor. The subsequent attempt to exorcise Ahima and/or force her to confess is in line with longstanding Christian traditional practice. Ahima’s execution by burning is also part of Christian tradition with respect to the punishment of witches, heretics and others accused of being in league with Satan.

But there is, already in-place and ready to go at a moment’s notice, a highly successful formula for damage control in situations like this.

  1. First and foremost it is insisted loudly and repeatedly that this kind of horrific violence is the sad result of the inherent ignorance and irrationality of Africans themselves.
  2. Then the role of Christianity is explained away by insisting that real Christians would never do anything like this, therefore what was at work was not real Christianity, but rather Christianity tainted by African ignorance and superstition.
  3. If further obfuscation is required it is then implied broadly, or, if necessary, explicitly asserted, that the Christians involved were “Pentecostalists” or “Evangelicals” and, therefore, not representative of modern, enlightened, well-behaved, “mainstream” Christianity.

These days, of course, it is not fashionable to present Christian apologetics openly and plainly. But that is just as well, since the whole purpose of this line of “reasoning” is precisely to obscure the role of Christianity in the first place.

Therefore the whole presentation, while primarily constructed out of the above three elements, is embedded within a master narrative whose theme is not the spreading of the Christian gospel to the Heathen, but rather the noble upliftment of ignorant savages out of their native state of mental enthrallment, in which their their poor deluded psyches are darkened by magical thinking, up, up to the bright new day of Modern Western Reason.

When properly “spun” like this, a glaring example of Christian mob violence, such as the murder of Ama Ahima, is turned into evidence that Africans are in need of more missionaries, more NGO’s, more “aid”, etc, and that this will be the caes until such a time, if ever such a time should come, that Africans are finally capable of thinking properly for themselves.

to be continued ….

Here are some of the media sources concerning this incident:

>Belief in Reincarnation in Sub-Saharan Africa

>From the 2010 Pew study on Religion in Sub-Saharan Africa. The following are the percentages, by country, of people who answered “yes” to the question: “Do you believe in reincarnation — that people will be born in this world again and again?”

Botswana 51%
Cameroon 43%
Chad 45%
DR Congo 38%
Djibouti 32%
Ethiopia 21%
Ghana 47%
Guinea Bissau 47%
Kenya 31%
Liberia 31%
Mali 28%
Mozambique 50%
Nigeria 37%
Rwanda 27%
Senegal 28%
South Africa 49%
Tanzania 32%
Uganda 51%
Zambia 17%

Consider this to be a follow-on to the post: A (very!) quick and dirty cross-cultural study of “supernatural” beliefs and experiences (with special attention to reincarnation).

Also, here is a handy map showing estimates for the degree to which there are “high levels of belief and practice” in African Traditional Religion in sub-Saharan Africa (reproduced from the post 200 Million African Pagans).

>Blood Libel Against Africans & African Traditional Religion

Al Jazeera recently aired a half-hour documentary (“Magic and Murder“) in which a British journalist, Charles Stratford, claims to expose the practice of ritual infanticide among practitioners of the Vodun religion in the African nation of Benin. Such an extraordinary accusation, especially when aimed so broadly (and recklessly) at an entire religious tradition, obviously requires extraordinary evidence. But Al Jazeera presented no evidence whatsoever that even one single child had been killed in anything like the manner claimed in the “documentary”.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, this travesty perpetrated by Al Jazeera has been taken seriously by many people, including some who should know better. Even more amazingly, there has been little or no criticism or serious scrutiny of this hatchet-job, let alone anything like the kind of outrage that such blatantly racist propaganda should incite.

But this was not an isolated incident. Earlier this year there was a spate of stories coming out of Uganda claiming that an “epidemic of child sacrifice” was underway there. A typical example is an item from the Ugandan press with the very subtle title “Uganda’s Epidemic of Child Sacrifice.” The story opens with a gruesome tale about a 6 month old child who was beheaded by the father and stuffed into a plastic bag. At first the article states that according to Police the murder was part of a “a witchcraft-inspired ritual.” But then we learn that: “Later examination, however, revealed that Sserubiri [the father] was a regular user of narcotics and had once been admitted to a mental health hospital.” So, just exactly how does an isolated murder by a mentally ill drug addict amount to evidence of an “epidemic of child sacrifice”?!?

How is it possible for such unsubstantiated lies to be perpetuated not only by the African press and Al Jazeera, but also by “respectable” western media organizations? I would suggest that a major reason for this is that claims of “child sacrifice”, “ritual infanticide”, etc are not viewed as all that extraordinary — so long as they are directed against Africans, and practitioners of African Traditional Religion in particular. Rather than being approached with anything like the kind of caution that such claims merit, these kinds of stories fit very comfortably with widespread preconceived notions about Africa, Africans, and their “superstitions”. This accounts for the readiness to believe in such outrageous accusations without any need for actual evidence.

And this eagerness to believe horrible things about Africa and Africans isn’t just a matter of pernicious racist assumptions about “Darkest Africa”, or bigoted preconceptions about “primitive” religions, although there is a lot of that. In addition there is that dirty little secret of the Western psyche: Blood Libel.

But before going any further, let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that allegations of violence against, and even murder of, children in Africa should be automatically discounted simply on the grounds of “cultural sensitivity” or political correctness or anything of the sort. Child abuse in any form is a terrible crime, and anyone who abuses, much less kills, a child should be treated as the worst possible kind of criminal. And raising awareness about child abuse is necessary in order to combat it.

But when allegations are made targeted at specific groups of people, such as Africans, or specific religions, such as Vodun, claiming that these actively encourage and engage in violence against children, that is a completely different matter. And this is precisely the kind of racist, and/or religiously bigoted, smear that I am talking about. Historically the most well-documented example of this kind of insidious accusation is that of Jewish Blood Libel.

Background on Blood Libel
Throughout the Middle Ages, European Christians perpetuated the horrendous myth of ritual child murders committed by Jews. Such accusations are generically referred to as “blood libel.”

The online Jewish Encyclopedia has an entry for “blood accusation,” which reads, in part:

The first case in which Jews were actually accused of having killed a Christian child for ritual purposes was that of St. William of Norwich in 1144. According to an account recently discovered (Jessopp and James, “St. William of Norwich,” Cambridge, 1899), the disappearance of the boy was explained by a Jewish convert, one Theobald of Cambridge, as due to a universal conspiracy of theEuropean Jews, who every year cast lots where the annual sacrifice of a Christian child at Passover should take place. In the preceding year the lot had been cast at Narbonne and had fallen on Norwich. Absolutely no evidence was adduced that a murder had been committed; it seems indeed that the lad had been merely in a cataleptic fit when found, and was buried alive by his own relatives. None of the Jews were tried or punished for the alleged crime, yet the mere statement of the Cambridge convert led to the bringing of similar charges at Gloucester in 1168, at Bury St. Edmunds in 1181, and at Winchester in 1192. In none of these cases was there any trial; but popular rumor was considered sufficient to establish the martyrdom of the lads, and this proved a considerable source of attraction to the cathedrals and abbeys of these towns.

In Dec., 1235, five children of a miller residing in the vicinity of the city of Fulda, Hesse-Nassau, were murdered, in consequence of which thirty-four Jews and Jewesses were slaughtered by the Crusaders. The Jews were accused of the deed, and those put to the torture are said to have confessed that they murdered the children, in order to procure their blood for purposes of healing (“ut ex eis sanguinem ad suum remedium elicerent”). It is necessary to note here (1) that the reports say nothing of the presence of witnesses; (2) that the confessions were elicited through torture, and were consequently worthless; (3) that these confessions speak only of the intention to procure a remedy (“remedium”), and contain no reference to ritualistic ceremonies; (4) that the German emperor, Frederick II., in order to sift the matter thoroughly, invited a large number of scholars and distinguished Jewish converts to Christianity from all parts of Europe, who, in answer to the question whether the Jews required Christian blood for their Passover ceremonies (“Judei Christianum sanguinem in parasceve necessarium haberent”), replied: “Neither the Old nor the New Testament states that the Jews lust for human blood: on the contrary, it is expressly stated in the Bible, in the laws of Moses, and in the Jewish ordinances designated in Hebrew as the ‘Talmud,’ that they should not defile themselves with blood. Those to whom even the tasting of animal blood is prohibited surely can not thirst for that of human beings, (1) because of the horror of the thing; (2) because it is forbidden by nature; (3) because of the human tie that also binds the Jews to Christians; and (4) because they would not wilfully imperil their lives and property.” The judgment of the emperor reads: “For these reasons we have decided, with the general consent of the governing princes, to exonerate the Jews of the district from the grave crime with which they have been charged, and to declare the remainder of the Jews in Germany free from all suspicion.”

This judgment did not suffice to clear the Jews of Germany from the general suspicion aroused by the Fulda incident.

The affair may, however, have been a symptom, not a cause; since the accusation soon after became still more frequent in other countries. As early as 1247 a trial, conducted in the little town of Valréas (Vaucluse, France), showed that the judges of the Inquisition there had heard of the blood accusation against the Jews. On the Wednesday before Easter (March 27) a two-year-old girl was found dead in the town moat, with wounds upon her forehead, hands, and feet. The fact that the child had been previously seen in the ghetto sufficed to fasten the suspicion of guilt upon the Jews. They were brought to trial, and, after being tortured, confessed even to the most absurd charges. One Bendig, for example, declared that the Jews had desired to celebrate communion on Easter Saturday, in accordance with a custom observed annually in large Jewish communities and particularly in Spain, where a Saracen was bought for this purpose whenever a Christian could not be obtained. This confession appears to have been based on the rumor set afloat by the renegade Theobald of Cambridge in connection with St. William of Norwich. Bendig further declared that, fearing detection, the Jews of Valréas had poured the blood of the child into the cesspool. In the same year (1247) the Jews of Germany and France complained to Pope Innocent IV. that they were accused of employing the heart of a Christian child in the celebration of communion during the Passover festival.
[“blood accusation” entry in online Jewish Encyclopedia]

If you have the stomach for it, check out Rabbi Ken Spiro’s History Crash Course #46 – Blood Libel.

“A recurring cultural pattern in Western history”

In the book Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend, sociologist Jeffrey S. Victor explains how the Jewish Blood Libel is part of a “a recurring cultural pattern” that also manifested itself in the so-called “Satanic Panic” in the US during the 80’s and into the early 90’s:

Satanic cult stories are part of a recurring cultural pattern in Western history involving the spread of subversion myths and a search for scapegoats to blame for social problems. These stories arise again and again during periods of widespread cultural crisis. The social process through which this pattern arises links the motifs of ancient legends to currently popular explanations for social problems.

Satanic cult rumor stories derive from an ancient legend, usually referred to as the “blood ritual myth.” It tells the story of children being kidnapped and murdered by a secret conspiracy of evil strangers who use the children’s blood and body parts in religious rituals. This myth is enduring because it offers universal appeal to the latent fears of parents everywhere. Variations of the myth are commonly elaborated upon with symbols of mysterious evil: graveyard robberies and the mutilation of corpses, secret meetings of people engaged in secret rituals, strange incantations, strange symbols, and people clothed in black robes with black cats, making ritual animal sacrifices and sometimes eating human body parts in cannibalistic rites. These are all interpreted as omens indicating that purity and innocence is being endangered by powerful agents of absolute evil . . . .

Today, the blood ritual myth is constantly being reworked by the mass media to serve as popular culture entertainment. Many horror stories in pop culture novels and movies are based on a theme of kidnapping and murder carried out for a variety of unsavory purposes, such as ritual sacrifice (The Believers), or the use of body parts (Coma). Similarly, some fairy tales depict children being kidnapped, usually by witches or monsters who may cook or eath them. In this way, popular culture keeps alive and makes familiar an ancient story’s themes and symbols. Satanic cult stories are fabricated out of these cultural materials.
[pp. 75-76]

The ease with which this “recurring cultural pattern” can take hold of the modern Western psyche is shown by events in France in the late 60s, as recounted by Victor in the same book:

In France in May 1969, rumors that Jewish clothing store merchants were kidnapping teenage girls in their stores and selling them into forced prostitution provoked a series of community-wide panics in several small provincial cities. Stores owned by Jews and even ones presumed to be owned by Jews were boycotted and a few had their windows smashed. Some members of the local Jewish population received anonymous death threats.

Researchers traced the rumors back to stories about white slavery gangs, which were published in a national sensationalist tabloid magazine. The original story didn’t mention Jews at all. Instead, the rumors built upon the folklore myths of European anti-Semitism which linked white slavery to Jews. As a result, the rumor stories were quite similar in different and distant provincial cities across France. Specific claims in different cities gave the stories local relevance, thereby providing the stories with apparent credibility …. Belief in the rumor stories persisted, even though no evidence could be found to support them and even though official sources continue to deny them.
[p. 74]

In addition to the “Blood Libel” mythos, there is a much more generic phenomenon sometimes referred to as “moral panic”, a term credited to Stanley Cohen, (professor emeritus at the London School of Economics). According to Cohen, a moral panic occurs when there is a “fundamentally inappropriate” response to some perceived social problem or event. In his now classic study, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, Cohen set out to investigate the response to a series of violent encounters between the “Mods” and the “Rockers” during the the summer of 1964 in the UK. In addition to Cohen’s now classic study, anyone interested in the theory of “moral panics” should also check out Moral Panic: The Social Construction of Deviance, by Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda.

“Moral panic” is a broad category that conceivably covers almost any kind of media frenzy, moral crusade, urban legend, etc. The difference between a simple “moral panic” and full-blown Blood Libel is (1) Blood Libel involves allegations of extreme forms of ritualized violence, usually fatal, against children, and (2) Blood Libel allegations are directed against some religiously and/or racially defined group.

The Mysterious Case of the Missing 40,000 Child Sex Slaves
Not long after the Ugandan press began running stories about an “epidemic of child sacrifice” (as mentioned in the Introduction to this post), a new meme was unleashed: that the World Cup games would result in a flood of 40,000 child sex slaves entering South Africa.

An early adopter of the “40,000 prostitutes” story was the New York Daily News, which ran an article on March 6th, claiming that there were “warnings” being issued by “officials”, “world cup organizers”, and even a United Nations agency. The Daily News wasn’t satisfied, though, with the luridness of mere prostitution, so they upped the ante with the claim that these prostitutes would, in fact, be child sex-slaves:

“Especially troubling was the prospect that impoverished children would be lured into sex work by the country’s sordid drug and prostitution underworld.”

But far from being “troubled” by this “prospect”, the international media couldn’t get enough of the 40,000 child sex-slaves story. It found it’s way into The Telegraph, The Huffington Post, The Hindustan Times, CBSNews, BeliefNet, The Christian Science Monitor, AssociatedContent.Com, GlobalPost.Com, etc.

There is no denying that prostitution and major sporting events go together. One can find similar, but much less sensationalistic stories, on prostitution related to the Super Bowl, the Olympics, NASCAR races, and even golf tournaments. But as time went on, more and more people came to suspect that there was something especially outlandish about the 40,000 prostitutes story.

Less than two weeks after the first major stories sporting the “40,000 prostitutes” claim, Brett Davidson at the wingspeed blog had pointed out that “The exact same claims were made ahead of the World Cup in Germany — but afterwards, an investigation by the Council of the European Union (documents 5006/1/07 and 5008/7) found a grand total of just 5 cases of trafficking — yes, just 5.” Davidson’s March 19 entry is titled: “40 000 prostitutes” – how rumours and lies become fact.

And when Davidson says “the exact same claims” he means just that. Prior to the 2006 World Cup in Berlin, media outlets were reporting that a very large number of prostitutes would be descending on that fair city. And just how large was that large number? 40,000. Exactly. Davidson also points out that he was not the first to notice this, uh, coincidence, and he provides a link to a spiked-online piece by Brendan O’Neill titled, very appropriately, “Stop this illicit trade in bullshit stories“! Bruno Waterfield, also writing for spiked-online, had written an earlier expose on the “lurid headlines” that preceded the 2006 World Cup: Exposed: the myth of the World Cup ‘sex slaves’.

Here are some other articles that have been written exposing this rumor:

The next installment of this series will focus on the two concrete examples of Blood Libel mentioned in the introduction: the allegation of ritual infanticide against Vodun practitioners in Benin, and the claims of an “epidemic of child sacrifice” in Uganda.

>Al Jazeera’s New Racist Documentary: "Magic & Murder"

>Child murder among Africans “is cultural. It is tradition. It is deeply rooted in the mentality of the people.” This is the claim made by a new 24 minute long documentary titled “Magic and Murder.”

But this crudely racist travesty wasn’t produced by some Neo-Nazi milita outfit in Bumfucque, Alabama. It is the handiwork of a British journalist with impeccable progressive credentials, and it is brought to you, complete with very high production values, by Al Jazeera.

The segment opens with a backdrop of dancing Africans apparently performing a traditional Vodou ceremony, the Al Jazeera presenter, doing an unintentionally hilarious send-up of Troy McClure, intones:

“Hello everyone, this is People and Power, and I’m Samah El-Shahat. On today’s program: Magic and Murder.” [They really could have used some Sammy Terry-esque organ music right here.]

[We now see on the screen an African woman holding a child in her arms. She beings to speak…] “I can’t bear the thought that even though it is so hard for a woman to give birth, she could kill her child.”

[Cut back to the studio with Samah El-Shahat.] “Can you imagine being so afraid of malign and evil spirits that you could allow your own child to be killed to save your family and community? To many it might sound like a practice from another century, but in the West African republic of Benin the murder of so-called child witches still occurs today. Of course infanticide is illegal in Benin, but accusing someone of witchcraft, allegations that can lead to the deaths of children, is not. And changing perceptions isn’t something easily achieved in a country where the belief in sorcery is widespread and often seen as fundamental to the nation’s heritage and identity. Charles Stratford has been to investigate this disquieting phenomenon.”

Already, one has many questions. Such as: Since Al Jazeera has a large and loyal viewership in Saudi Arabia, and other similarly enlightened Muslim nations (nations where large majorities believe in the use of caning, or cutting off people’s hands as part of the normal functioning of “justice”, and even that changing one’s religion should be treated as a crime punishable by death!), why does Samah El-Asshat say that acts of barbaric violence based on superstitious beliefs “might sound like a practice from another century”, when in fact they sound like everyday occurrences in the Muslim world, as everyone knows.

Also note well how the narrative is, from the beginning, framed in terms of claiming that belief in magic leads to the murder of children!

But let’s return to the program, which now switches over to crack reporter Charles Stratford’s dispatch from the field:

[After shots of ominously boiling pots and what appears, non-ominously, to be a goat skin staked out on the ground, the camera focuses in on a black man (is he supposed to look ominous?) squatting in a thatched roof hut…] “The ritual has been practiced for centuries.” [a small bell is rung, and then the man produces a chicken who appears to have some idea of what is coming next…] “A traditional healer, or so-called witchdoctor, recites incantations to the village spirit. He wants guidance on how to heal members of his community who believe they’ve been cursed.” [Then the chicken starts to squawk, and the scene cuts to what looks like a few moments later, with the chicken’s blood now spattered on the ground next to some cowry shells…] “After the sacrifice, the consultation continues. He searches for signs in the shells. The spirit is a source of good, which he can use to fight evil. But that evil is sometimes possessed …. by children.”

From this it goes to an interview with a man identified as a “traditional healer – witchdoctor”, who states plainly that he has never killed a child under any circumstances. But then claims, vaguely, that some “elders” are involved in such killings, “but nobody will tell you who is doing the killings.”

Indeed, throughout the entire 24 minute “documentary” we are never once told of even an allegation of a specific instance of a child ever being killed! Instead we are treated to lurid third hand reports which are passed along in a way highly reminiscent of Geraldo Rivera stationed breathlessly outside of Al Capone’s vault.

There is not one piece of actual evidence ever presented that in any way connects the practice of Vodou in Benin (or anywhere else) to violence against children. But this Al Jazeera after-school-special does not attempt to convince. Rather it merely appeals to a certain kind of prurient racist mentality that is eager to be regaled with stories of primitive African savagery and superstition.

Meanwhile, there does exist, tragically, a mountain of well-documented evidence demonstrating a very clear correlation between (1) the spread of Pentecostalism in certain parts of Africa, and (2) acts of violence, including killings, of (at least) thousands children who have been accused of witchcraft by Christians. In fact, the recent UNICEF report on “Children Accused of Witchcraft” explicitly warns that the phenomenon of violence against children accused of witchcraft is “often falsely associated with ‘African tradition'”.

I might write more about this later, but I’m not sure if I can bring myself to even think about this any more. It’s such a toxically perfect shit-storm of vile racist garbage and unfiltered religious bigotry. If you are up to it, you can check it out for yourself here.

Much more on the phenomenon of “child witches” in Africa can be found here (scroll down to “The Christian Roots of the ‘Witch Children’ Phenomenon in Africa”).

>"Should Christians in the U.S. support African preachers?"

>[I really don’t want to editorialize too much about this. The backstory to the issues raised in this article is that Christianity owes its dominant position in Sub-Saharan Africa to European colonialism, and also to the economic and political domination of Africa by western, Christian nations, including, especially, the United States, throughout the post-colonial period. Also, and if nothing else, this article demonstrates just how powerful money is in the world of religion.]

Should Christians in the U.S. support African preachers?
ERIK TRYGGESTAD | The Christian Chronicle (link)

TUBUNGU, SWAZILAND – Christians in the U.S. who provide salaries for African preachers believe they are doing the right thing.

“But unknown to them, they’re slowly assassinating congregations,” Stanley Shereni says.

Shereni, a native of Zimbabwe, is in his third year at African Christian College in this tiny African kingdom. After a day of classes, he and two other students sit under a thatched-roof pavilion and share big dreams.

Shereni and Ruregerero Nyahore, another Zimbawean, want to launch a publication for churches in their home country, to inspire them to keep growing.

Zimbabweans “don’t just want entertainment,” Nyahore says. “They want something that can comfort them, counsel them and give them direction. I think that is … why we have come to further our education.”

But preachers here aren’t guaranteed a living. Moses K. Banda, a 22-year-old student from Malawi, says that almost no congregations in his homeland support full-time ministers. After graduation, preaching alone won’t pay his bills.

The same is true in Zimbabwe, a once-prosperous nation crippled by hyperinflation. People there “now need the Gospel more than ever,” Shereni says.

The three students could appeal to Christians in the U.S. for support. Many of their predecessors have. But, growing up in Churches of Christ, the students have seen foreign aid bless — and curse — the family of God in southern Africa.

When a preacher receives his salary from the U.S., he is tempted to answer only to the source of his support — not the African congregation he serves, Shereni says.

Without proper oversight, it also is easy for evangelists to falsify reports to their supporters.

“We are not saying, ‘Stop supporting us,’” he adds. Instead, he suggests that U.S. and African churches form project-driven partnerships that involve entire congregations.

“Members of the church are the stakeholders,” Nyahore says. “They have fascinating ideas that can help improve the church. But, because they don’t have access to communication with some people who can help, they go nowhere.”


In the past century, mission efforts and Bible correspondence programs have yielded thousands of baptisms in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, the continent is home to more Churches of Christ than the U.S.

In such a Christian-rich environment, hiring local evangelists makes more financial sense to many U.S. churches than sending missionaries — especially in the midst of an economic downturn. Supporting African ministers also helps alleviate poverty.

“If you can’t eat, you can’t tell the people that God is able (while) you are suffering,” said Julius Mwambu, an evangelist in Mombasa, Kenya. Mwambu receives support from the U.S., but it is funneled through a ministry overseen by Kenyans.

Across the continent, foreign aid is a fact of life, Mwambu said.

“The Muslims from the Middle East are pumping lots of money into Africa for their religion to spread,” he added.

Funds from the U.S. can help African churches reach the lost, said Charles Ngoje, missions director for Winyo Christian Academy in Kenya. But money also can create disunity and lead to abuse, he said.

“It is common sense that someone will do a better job if his boss were around,” Ngoje said. “A situation in which one’s boss is thousands of miles away — in distance, world view, culture — is not an effective arrangement.”

But Ngoje noted that, in some cases, African church leaders who answer only to their foreign benefactors are mimicking the behavior of their American predecessors.

Ngoje remembers a meeting when African church leaders asked a foreign missionary how he was spending his time.

The missionary replied that he was answerable only to the people who sent him, Ngoje said.


In Kenya, foreign money is one factor that has contributed to “a big discrepancy between the African clergy and the flock,” said Ronald Wasilwa.
Wasilwa works for a non-governmental organization and preaches in Kitale, Kenya.

He cited a survey conducted by a council of churches in his homeland of various Christian denominations. The study found that many evangelists enjoy a standard of living much higher than the churches they serve. As a result, religious leaders often have difficulty motivating their congregations to perform good works, Wasilwa said.

“In Africa, the pew and the pulpit live in two different worlds — and we are all to blame,” Wasilwa said.


Dependency on U.S. dollars also can discourage African churches from contributing financially to benevolence, said Leonard Chumo Falex, a minister in Nairobi, Kenya.

When U.S. churches support works without contributions from African churches, “the African people are continually denied the opportunity to be blessed as givers,” Falex said.

African culture encourages people to share, even if they live in poverty, and the U.S. church often fails to “harness the beauty of a giving African spirit,” Falex said.

Because of dependence on American money, some rural African churches don’t practice sacrificial giving, said Fielden Allison, a longtime missionary in Kenya and instructor at African Christian College.

Allison informally surveyed Churches of Christ with about 40 members each and found that most collected the equivalent of one U.S. dollar each Sunday.

“That is an average of about 2.5 cents per person,” Allison said. “The same people drink several cups of tea per week (that) cost about 10 cents per cup.” Many pay tuition for their children and own cell phones.

“Will the African church be judged by God for their failure to give to support their own works?” he said. “Will Western churches be judged for enabling African churches to depend on outside help instead of shouldering their own responsibility? Tough questions need tough answers.”


The three students — Banda, Shereni and Nyahore — say they dream of a day when American and African churches can function as equal partners, identifying short-term projects and pooling funds to make them happen.

Sam Shewmaker, a longtime missionary in Africa, agrees that there is a need for “inter-cultural, church-to-church partnerships.”

“This will not be easy,” said Shewmaker, who lives in Kigali, Rwanda, and serves as African church-planting facilitator for Missions Resource Network. “It will take a humility and determination to build communication, understanding and trust … . But the payoff can be greater unity in the body of Christ and much more effectiveness in achieving God’s global mission.”

Though American money has created problems in African churches, South African evangelist Chris Burke warned against condemning the model of U.S. churches supporting missionaries in Africa.

Though not perfect, “it’s the model that effectively established the church in Africa,” Burke said.

“God used missionaries to accomplish great things, in spite of their normal, human shortcomings,” he said.

Ngoje agreed.

“We must not forget that there are trustworthy individuals who have been tried and tested and have (done) a great job with direct support from the U.S.,” he said. “The growth of the Kingdom is paramount and must not be jeopardized by paradigm shifts.

“Let the Holy Spirit lead willing supporters as to how best their donations can serve to bring a greater good to the missional need in Africa.”

>"Children Accused of Withcraft": New UNICEF Report on Africa’s "Witch Children"

>UNICEF has released a new 59 page report titled: Children Accused of Witchcraft An anthropological study of contemporary practices in Africa
(click that link to download the pdf of the full report). The report is dated “April, 2010”, but has only recently been widely publicized first in the African press, and now in the western media.

One of the main themes of the report is that widespread violence against children accused of witchcraft is a very recent phenomenon in Africa, and it is not related to African Traditional Religion, but rather is associated with the spread of Christianity and Pentecostalism in particular.

Unfortunately, the idea that traditional “African superstitions” are behind this phenomenon has been widely disseminated in the West, even by people who are supposedly committed to helping the thousands of victims of these accusations, who often suffer horrific abuse and death.

One man in particular, Gary Foxcroft, has made a career for himself out of sensationalizing this tragedy in the name of raising money for his Stepping Stones Foundation (which Foxcroft runs from his hometown of Lancaster in the UK). Foxcroft and his “charity” have consistently stated that the root of the problem lies in traditional African beliefs. According to Foxcroft, the solution is for Africans to become better Christians, because then they would stop being so ignorant and superstitious.

Below are two excerpts from the full UNICEF report. [Also check out other relevant posts from this blog collected here: The Christian Roots of the “Witch Children” Phenomenon in Africa.]

Excerpt 1. Predominance of Christianity [section 2.2. in the report]

Churches, especially those belonging to the Pentecostal and prophetic movement (charismatic, revivalist, etc.), play an important role in the diffusion and legitimization of fears related to witchcraft, and in particular, child witches. The pastor‐prophet is an important figure in the process of accusing children of witchcraft, by effectively validating the presence of a “witchcraft spirit”. Pentecostalists, for example, present their faith as a form of divine armour against witchcraft, and they participate actively in the fight against Evil that is incarnated through witchcraft.

Despite a lack of precise and detailed information, it would appear that this phenomenon is far less significant in Islamic countries. It is important to understand why reactions to witchcraft in countries of Islamic belief differ from those in Christianized countries. Certain writers believe the difference stems from the ability to translate their religious message. The translation of the Bible into the local language was a priority for early ministers and priests: “The Word of God: open to everyone” (Fancello, 2006:113). For example, in Burkina Faso, the policy of indigenization resulted in missionaries from the Assemblies of God learning the Möré language and investing in translating biblical text (ibid.). In contrast with Christian practice, Islam considers Arabic to be a sacred language and has rejected any attempt at translating religious texts into local languages. “Whoever wants to praise God,” comment Christine Henry and Emmanuelle Kadya Tall, “must do it in Arabic, and submit to learning verses at a Koranic school” (2008: 19). In contrast, by putting sacred texts within everyone’s reach, Christianity has facilitated the successful localization of its message and led to the creation of authentic African movements and churches.

Another possible reason is the difference in the perception of Evil in each of the religions. Witchcraft is able to integrate itself so well within Christian discourse because it has been personified and associated with the Devil or Satan. Do witches benefit from the same support from Satan or the Devil in Islamic discourse? While it should be acknowledged that in Islam there is reference to a satanic force, it is not attributed to a single figure who personifies Evil. Instead, Islam discusses “satans”, in the plural. The satans are generally incarnated as jinns and shayâtîn. The latter spirits are generally considered to be responsible for illness and madness that is attributed to satanic possession. However, it is clear that, although there is a difference in the perception of Evil, Islam does present itself as an antidote to witchcraft, by developing talismans or other counter‐measures to warn of or thwart witchcraft spells or attacks.

Despite the translation of the Christian message and the perception of witchcraft as the Devil’s work, the question remains as to why children are accused more frequently in Christian circles. And why are these accusations less common in Islam? There is not enough detailed data to answer these questions. However, it would appear that the response lies within the doctrines and representations that each religion has with regard to children and their place in the religious system. Generally speaking, the Koran does not address underage children, but rather older children with an understanding of responsibility, or the adults responsible for them. The power of the child thus appears to be reduced. Consequently, a child would not be capable of assuming the role of a witch. In contrast, in Christian belief, there has been a transformation in the perception of children’s power: previously children were considered too weak to practice witchcraft, as in current Islamic belief. Now, however, their “power” seems to be gaining in strength.

Excerpt 2. The Deliverance of Child Witches [section 4.1 in the full report]

Revivalist churches [subsection 4.1.1]

Since the end of the 1980s, there has been a rise of various religious movements in sub‐Saharan Africa. The most visible groups originate in the large “universal religions”: protestant movements (evangelical, apostolic, Pentecostal, Baptist or Methodist) and the charismatic renewal in Catholicism. In sub‐Saharan cities, the public space is filled with these churches. It is of course necessary to distinguish, state André Mary and André Corten, the “historical” Pentecostal churches (Assemblies of God or Pentecostal Churches), some of whom have been present for over a hundred years, and those churches belonging to the “Pentecostal movement”, such as revivalist, spiritualist or African prophetic churches (2000: 12).

Pentecostalism is a religious movement in which followers claim personal experience of a supernatural force, the Holy Spirit. Generally speaking, Pentecostalists believe that everyone can be saved by faith in Jesus. The force of the Holy Spirit within those who have been truly saved is the most obvious characteristic that distinguishes Pentecostalism from other forms of evangelical Christianity. During services, the Holy Spirit is called upon to descend on the faithful and is a necessary presence in ceremonies.

Followers attend services several times a week that can last many hours and take place in a highly charged atmosphere of singing, prayers, trances, sermons, revelations – testifying and confessions – healing rituals through laying on of hands, miracles and offerings. The “high” points are undoubtedly the public or private deliverance sessions, divine healing and testifying typically related to the forces of evil. Followers’ whole lives centre on their church, which integrates them in a new kind of community, the Pentecostal family. They call each other brothers and sisters. The main message of these churches focuses on their ability to use the presence of the Holy Spirit to fight against the satanic world that is incarnated by witches, evil spirits and ancestral spirits. Pentecostalism takes all these imaginary African characters seriously and gives them a new status through assimilation with Satan. These are of course highly syncretistic churches that have successfully integrated African beliefs into their discourse, as well as certain behaviour, such as trances and possession. According to André Mary and André Corten, Pentecostal discourse gains “its strength and ability to mobilize the two imaginary worlds of public space and invisible forces by intertwining them and inventing a new syntax” (ibid.: 17). By manipulating the forces of good to combat the forces of evil, Pentecostalism operates essentially in the universe of demonization.

Deliverance and the “spiritual war” [subsection 4.1.2]

Most Pentecostal churches (revivalist and charismatic) are centred around a pastor or prophet who claims to have been chosen by God through divine revelation. In their main objective to fight an omnipresent evil (witchcraft is an evil force that is still omnipresent), the pastor‐prophets offer their followers not only a better life – financial prosperity – but above all divine healing and deliverance (from where the commonly named, “healing churches”).

Maman Joséphine L. was born in 1954 and began working in 1974 in response to a miraculous divine calling. In 1997, she began to help children overcome bad spirits through deliverance. In her opinion, it is God who has given her this gift. The bewitching of children is shown to her by a spirit and through prayer. (Aguilar Molina, 2005: 27)

The phenomenon of deliverance is, according to Sandra Fancello, “at the heart of the explosion of Pentecostalism in Africa since the beginning of the 1990s” (2006: 147). The practice of deliverance is at essence based on a dualistic vision of the world between the forces of evil and divine power. It is closely linked with divine healing through the fight against genies and evil spirits that haunt African populations by inflicting physical and psychological harm. The personalization of the image of the demon, notably in the figure of the witch, enables churches to declare a “war against Satan” (Meyer, 1995).

Through increased reliance on therapeutic aspects – the miraculous healing – these churches’ discourse focuses on the healing and salvation of the soul, through “exorcisms” that are often accompanied by singing or performance that reduce anxiety. Many confessions by members involve visions or being possessed by evil spirits. While exorcism and promises of divine or miraculous healing apply to the individual – within the family – “deliverance” often contains a collective dimension, that of spiritual war and liberation from evil forces.

This healing by the Holy Spirit is interpreted as being miraculous, and forms part of the validation or certification procedure of the prophet, who is supposed to be capable of healing all kinds of illnesses. These include diabolic, satanic illnesses that modern medicine (that is, “the white man’s”) cannot cure, such as AIDS, cancer and diabetes. Accounts by people who have been “cured” of AIDS can be heard every day on the radio or television. They give hope to all those who have not yet received this deliverance from God. According to Fancello, “miraculous healing is at the centre of conversion strategies of Pentecostal churches” (2006: 148), but is equally valid for other revivalist churches.

The role of pastor‐prophets and “spiritual” treatment [subsection 4.1.3]

The role of pastor‐prophets in these churches seems to be of major importance in the “anti‐witch hunt”, not only through the possibility of bringing deliverance to people possessed, but also through their ability to identify witches. In several African cities, these pastor‐prophets play an essential role in witchcraft accusations against children. Although they are not always at the origin of the accusation – the person is already suspected by the family or members of the community – they confirm and legitimize the accusation. Numerous articles in the press, videos on the Internet64 and anthropological studies indicate that in Angola,65 CAR, DRC66 and Nigeria,67 as elsewhere in sub‐ Saharan Africa, these pastors detect witches through visions and dreams.

Maman Putu, from the Eben Ezer centre in Kinshasa, calls herself a prophet and explains her gifts in the following terms:

When a child first comes here, I first check the condition of his soul. I’m not only a prophet but also a clairvoyant. I start by praying with the child and then I ask him some questions about his dreams and his food situation. I use references and I can very quickly tell if a child is bewitched or not. (D’Haeyer, 2004: 37)

The “spiritual” treatment can only begin once the child has confessed. The confession is often obtained under duress or violence, as one accused of witchcraft, Bruno, explains:

For three days we were not allowed to eat or drink. On the fourth day, the prophet put our hands above a candle to make us confess. So I admitted the accusations and the harsh treatment stopped. Those who didn’t confess were threatened with whipping. (Interview by Human Rights Watch with Bruno, Kinshasa, 30 September 2005)

In exchange for money, the pastors then propose the “soul cure”, which consists of divine healing and the deliverance of the child. In the language of the Pentecostal churches, a child that is possessed by the evil spirits of “witchcraft” must be delivered “from the forces of darkness”. Deliverance ceremonies can last several days, and generally begin with the laying on of hands and prayers; they regularly transform into extremely violent “exorcisms”. According to de Boeck, “the space of the healing church enables the relocation and reformulation of the physical and psychological violence, sometimes extreme, that the accused child undergoes within the family group. In fact, the child is extracted from the threatening family situation in which his place has become very problematic, to be entrusted to a pastor. There, the treatment is often equally severe, beginning with a period of reclusion or quarantine, which may be individual or collective with other child witches.” (2000: 41)

The “spiritual” treatments described in studies carried out in Angola68 and DRC69 also exhibit a violent nature. The “healing” of children accused of witchcraft varies from one church to the next, and from one region to the next. Children are sometimes isolated in the churches for a period ranging from a few days to several months. During this time, they are forced to fast, deprived of food and water for such long periods that some children die.

The treatment can also consist of swallowing potions, administering perfume, spiced sauces, as well as injecting petrol in the eyes or ears. They are also often beaten.70 The surveys carried out by Ballet, Dumbi and Lallou in Kinshasa offer further evidence of the extreme violence inflicted on certain children. Glodie Mbete, aged eleven, recounts her “deliverance”:

The healing ceremonies took place in the revivalist churches. One pastor burned my body with candles. A prophet mama covered my body with a red cloth. In yet another church, they poured the sap from a tree into my eyes. It stung terribly. The healer said that the witchcraft had gone. My eyes hurt so badly. (Ballet, Dumbi and Lallou, 2007: 15)

In this way, the children are not only stigmatized because they are accused of witchcraft, they are also abused and tortured within the churches. The churches claim to eliminate the evil definitively from the child’s body. However, if the child survives this “spiritual” treatment, he will be stigmatized as being a witch and rejected by his family. The phenomenon of the child witches illustrates, as Facello rightly notes, “the paradox of churches that are themselves caught in the trap of witchcraft accusations while claiming to fight against witches. Between witch and counter‐witch, there is a constant switching of places (2008: 78). Another result is that parents sometimes doubt that their child has been healed after deliverance ceremonies in churches. It is not uncommon that after being initially convinced, after experiencing a single new misfortune, the child is once again accused.

Miracle Merchants [subsection 4.1.4]

All the “spiritual” treatments offered by pastors and prophets belonging to Pentecostal, revivalist and other churches require some form of payment. To my knowledge, no church offers these services for free. While the fee may vary from one church to the next, it is generally higher than most people can afford. For example, one Congolese family, for whom the pastor had detected five cases of witchcraft, had to pay the equivalent of €24 plus a piece of sheet metal for each child. Another family had to pay the equivalent of €27 per child, and so on. (Aguilar Molina, 2005: 29). One young believer explained it thus:

The hard‐earned money of the women selling vegetables in the market goes towards building the pastor’s villas or the upkeep of one or other of his mistresses. (D’Haeyer, 2004: 45)

The earnings from a deliverance ceremony, and also during a regular service when the collection plate goes around, are not insignificant. Consequently, a number of pastor‐prophets, including women, have found their calling in the anti‐witch hunt, as is the case with Prophet Helen Ukpabio in Nigeria. She founded the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, whose primary goal has become the detection and deliverance of child witches. For these pastor‐prophets, “detecting” child witches brings not only money, but also a certain social status and popularity that draws new members and “clients”, and leads to yet more income. Accusations against children therefore form part of this vicious circle of the prophets’ “business” and their status.

According to Marshal‐Fratani (2001), these days, pastor‐prophets are the new models of social success and power. They are associated with wealth, social status, connections with transnational networks and contacts among the political elite. Their conspicuous wealth – clothes, luxury cars, mobile phones and computers, villas, jewellery, etc. – escapes no one. They own television channels and radio stations, and they do not hesitate to advertise themselves, as the following billboard shows:

All this promotion is part of the goal to increase the number of members, who represent their “wealth in numbers”. Without ignoring their social function, while fighting evil, revivalist churches keep their members afraid of their neighbours and promote fatalism rather than action. Furthermore, although pastor‐prophets represent the fighters in the struggle against the forces of evil, they cannot escape from the suspicion that they are in fact collaborating with these forces. “Through healing gestures and other “miracles” that are supposed to replace the “charlatan witch”, these pastors appear to be endowed with the same extraordinary magical powers, and are therefore witches.” (Marshal Fratani, 2001: 43). This brings them, symbolically at least, closer to their direct “competition”, traditional healers.

>Human Rights Watch on "Children Accused of Sorcery" in DR Congo

>Below are two sections of the April 2006 report by Human Rights Watch titled “What Future? Street Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” First is the Summary of the report, followed by the section on “Factors pushing children onto the streets” which includes a major subsection on “Children accused of sorcery.” The entire report can be read online here, and is also available for download in pdf format. This post is part of a series on The Christian Roots of the “Witch Children” Phenomenon in Africa.


I. Summary

Our worry is this, what will become of these kids tomorrow? Thousands of children living on the streets with no supervision, no education, no love or care, accustomed to daily violence and abuse. What future for these children and for our country?
—Street child educator in Lubumbashi

After my parents died, I moved in with my uncle. But things were bad at his home. He was often drunk and would beat me. He took my parents things but he wouldn’t take care of me. I began spending more and more time in the streets.
—Street boy in Kinshasa

The [military] police bother us at night. They ask for money, and if we have none, they threaten us with arrest and beat us.
—Street boy in Goma

Tens of thousands of children living on the streets of Kinshasa and other cities of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) suffer extreme hardship and exposure to daily violence. Turned out of their homes and without family care and support, they are victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. With no secure access to food, shelter, or other basic needs, they are exploited by adults, including law enforcement personnel, who use them for illegal activities to the detriment of their health and welfare and in violation of their basic human rights. The government of the DRC has failed to meet its obligations to protect these children from abuses committed by its own police and military forces and by private actors. Of particular concern is the deliberate and opportunistic recruitment of street children to participate in political demonstrations with the intention of provoking public disorder, events in which dozens of street children have been killed or wounded. During the upcoming national elections tentatively scheduled for June 18, 2006, the government must protect street children from political manipulation. The government in power after the 2006 elections must begin to comprehensively address the many other abuses committed against street children.

This report is based on interviews with more than fifty street children––children who might not necessarily be without families, but who live without meaningful protection, supervision, or direction from responsible adults. Although many children spend some time in the streets, the term “street child” is used here to refer to children for whom the street, more than any family, residence or institution, has become their real home.

Many street children live in fear of the very state forces charged to protect them. The testimonies from children we interviewed revealed a common pattern of routine abuse by police, soldiers, and members of the military police. These figures of authority approach street children, often at night, and demand their money or articles of clothing, threatening them with their fists, boots and batons. One fourteen-year-old boy, who sleeps with his friends in empty kiosks near a Goma market, told us, “We are regularly harassed by the military police. In the evenings, they come to where we are sleeping and take whatever they can from us. We are chased and if caught, they beat us with their fists or a piece of wood.” In addition to physical violence, police and soldiers forcibly rape or sexually assault street girls. Girls can also be approached by soldiers or police officers who offer them small amounts of money in exchange for sex. The police use street children to spy on suspected criminals, provide decoys in police operations, and in some instances recruit them to participate in robberies of stores and homes. Children told us that they have no choice but to comply with whatever law enforcement personnel demand or risk further abuse and harassment.

The police routinely arrest street children when crimes are committed in areas where they are known to gather. While it is true that street children are sometimes involved in crimes, the police often hold them collectively responsible for crimes or knowledgeable about the events or the perpetrators. During interrogations, the police regularly beat children with their fists, batons, belts, or pieces of rubber to elicit a confession or information about a crime. Officials in the Ministry of the Interior also periodically order general roundups of street children under a colonial-era law that forbids vagrancy or begging by minors. Large groups of children, guilty of nothing more than homelessness, are apprehended and held in overcrowded and unsanitary police lockups. Once in detention, children are often kept together with adult criminals and receive little or no food or medical attention. They are rarely charged with crimes, but instead are released back to the streets after several days or weeks, in part because the state has no alternatives to prison or the street for vagrant children.

Civilians also exploit street children. They employ children as porters, vendors, cleaners, or laborers in homes and stores, often paying them little money for long hours and physically demanding work. Some street children told us that they are used by adults to work in hazardous or illegal labor, such as mining, prostitution, or selling drugs and alcohol. Street children also report that many adults, like the police, taunt them, beat them, and chase them from places where they congregate. The youngest street children we interviewed said that some of the worst treatment comes from older street boys and men. Both boys and girls are survivors of rape and sexual assault perpetrated by older street boys and men; some girls are the survivors of brutal gang rapes. Street children told us that the police fail to investigate these crimes or offer protection from abusive adults.

Conflict, internal displacement, unemployment, poverty, disease, the prohibitive cost of education, and myriad other factors have all contributed to the growing number of children living and working on the streets in the DRC. Two additional and interrelated factors, however, are helping to fuel the increasing numbers of street children: the abuse and abandonment of children accused of sorcery, and the impact of HIV/AIDS on families and children affected by or infected with the virus.

Boys and girls accused of sorcery are often physically and emotionally abused, segregated from other children, pulled out of school, and denied physical contact with other family members. Parents, guardians, or older siblings may accuse a child of engaging in sorcery or being “possessed” due to sickness or death in the family, loss of a steady income or a job, or perceived abnormal behavior in the child. In our interviews, we found that children who were orphaned and cared for by extended family members or children whose mothers or fathers had remarried were far more likely to be accused than those living with both their biological parents. Some accused children were forced out of their homes; others fled when the abuse became intolerable.

Many accused children are brought before pastors, cult leaders, or self-proclaimed “prophets” and forced to undergo often lengthy “deliverance” ceremonies in an attempt to rid them of “possession.” Deliverance ceremonies can take place in “churches of revival” (églises de réveil) found throughout Kinshasa and Mbuji-Mayi and rapidly spreading to other cities. The growth in the number of new churches of revival is both a consequence of child sorcery accusations and a cause of new allegations; more than 2,000 churches practice deliverance in Kinshasa alone. Some prophets who run these churches have gained celebrity-like status, drawing in hundreds of worshipers in lucrative Sunday services because of their famed “success” in child exorcism ceremonies. This popularity rewards them for their often brutal treatment of children. Children who undergo deliverance rituals are sequestered inside churches anywhere from a few hours to several days or weeks. Many are denied food and water to encourage them to confess to practicing witchcraft. In the worst cases, children are beaten, whipped, or given purgatives, to coerce a confession. One twelve-year-old street boy in Kinshasa, held in a church with dozens of other children, said, “We were not allowed to eat or drink for three days. On the fourth day, the prophet held our hands over a candle, to get us to confess. So, I accepted the accusations and the abuse ended. Those who did not accept were threatened with a whip.” After the ceremonies, children who do not confess are often sent away from their homes. Even children who do confess may be subjected to future abuse and abandonment. Despite the prevalence and seriousness of abuses stemming from accusations of sorcery in homes and churches, and despite the new constitution’s prohibition of accusations of child sorcery, the state has failed to stop the violence. In fact, the government has failed even to investigate the most serious cases of abuse by parents or prophets and bring those responsible for the mistreatment of children to justice.

The growing number of street children and increases in accusations of sorcery are strongly correlated with the spread of HIV/AIDS in the DRC. The estimated national HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is 4.2 percent, lower than many countries in eastern and southern Africa, but resulting in approximately one million Congolese children orphaned by the epidemic. The impact of the disease has been enormous and has strained the fabric of communities and families. Children infected and affected by AIDS face stigma and discrimination inside and outside their homes. They are likely be pulled from school to care for sick family members or to find work in the streets to support their families, leaving them susceptible to abuse and exploitation. Some children who have lost one or both parents to the disease are taken in by the extended family, only to be abused or neglected and end up on the street. Worse still is the link between accusations of sorcery and the epidemic. Several street children we interviewed whose parents had died of AIDS were blamed by family members for the deaths, told that they had transmitted the disease to their parents through sorcery. These children were physically and emotionally abused, thrown out of their homes, and had been denied their right to inherit their parent’s property and valuables, including the smallest mementos to recall their parents. Even children who are themselves HIV-positive and in desperate need of medical care and protection are targets of accusations, abuse, and abandonment. HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaigns stressing ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, and use Condoms) have to date failed to refute the commonly held view that HIV can be transmitted through sorcery and have done nothing to address the abuses experienced by children or to reduce their vulnerability.

In the first half of 2006, the DRC will face important democratic national elections. Political party leaders and their followers, opposed to the electoral process or the final results, may again attempt to recruit street children to intimidate voters, disrupt the elections, or contest the outcome. Street children who in past years were paid to join the ranks of party loyalists and march in political rallies and demonstrations faced sometimes brutal consequences. In several cities in the DRC in June 2005, troops and police killed or wounded scores of demonstrators, including street children, who were recruited to protest the extension of the transitional government’s mandate. In the worst example to date, at least twenty street children associated with one political party were massacred by angry civilians in Mbuji-Mayi in September 2004, while the police and the military largely failed to intervene. In the coming months there is a risk that street children, as in the past, will once again be manipulated, wounded or killed in political unrest. The Congolese government must protect these children from exploitation and, together with support from the international community, halt the abuse of street children and begin to address the underlying causes and violence that drive thousands of children into the streets each year.


VI. Factors Pushing Children into the Streets

An ever increasing number of children live and work in the streets of the DRC. Although exact numbers are unknown, child protection activists estimate that the number of street children in Kinshasa and other urban areas has doubled in the last ten years. They have identified multiple and sometimes inter-related causes to explain the increase. The two successive civil wars, one that began in 1996, the other in 1998, left more than 3.5 million Congolese civilians dead and has devastated the country. Some children living on the streets lost parents in the war––either directly in the conflict or due to hunger or disease––or were separated from them while fleeing violence, particularly in the war-ravaged east of the country. Entrenched poverty made worse due to the fighting has taken an equally heavy toll on Congolese families. Unable to feed their children, much less pay for their education, some parents send their children out into the streets to beg or look for work, or parents abandon their children when, faced with unemployment, they leave their homes in search of work in other regions or countries. Men and women who become single parents due to divorce, separation, or the death of a spouse often increase the vulnerability of their children to violence and abandonment when they re-marry. In many cases, a recently wedded second wife or husband does not want to care for children from a previous marriage, and the children are neglected or sent away. In the past, children not cared for by their parents would be taken in by extended family members. But some families, already struggling to care for their own children, are unwilling or unable to take on the additional burden of more children.

Violence in the Home

Street children we interviewed gave graphic descriptions of physical abuse at home, in some cases so severe that they had left because of it. Stepmothers or stepfathers were often the perpetrators of the abuse, giving differing treatment (including harsh punishment) to children from former marriages as compared to their own biological children. In interviews in Lubumbashi and Mbuji-Mayi, judges told us that physical abuse of children in the home is common in many Congolese families, but cases of child abuse and neglect rarely enter the court system. They reported that under Congolese law, a parent can be charged and judged responsible if a child is severely beaten but neither parents nor children generally report the abuse to the police. Rather, neighbors or extended family members will try to intervene to settle family disturbances. Emphasis in most family disputes is placed on reconciliation not retribution, in part because the state has no facilities to take children who are abused or abandoned into care.111

Jacques was eight years old when his parents divorced. He lived with his father in Lubumbashi after his mother left for Kinshasa. Soon after the divorce, his father remarried a woman who had several children from a previous marriage. He told us that not long after moving in with the family, his stepmother began giving him more and more work to do around the home. He was responsible for washing all the clothes and fetching water, while her own children were exempt from domestic chores. He said that she would often hit him and in some cases whipped him when his father was not around, telling him he was not wanted in their home. Although he complained to his father, the situation did not improve. Jacques left home because of the abuse when he was ten years old.112

Fifteen-year-old Aaron was born and grew up in Limete commune in Kinshasa. His mother died of complications from AIDS in 1999, and soon after her death his father re-married. He told us that his stepmother mistreated him from the very beginning, favoring her own children from her first marriage. She gave him less food than her own children, and when they watched television he was made to leave the room. She beat him for the smallest infraction, sometimes with her hands, sometimes with the handle of a broom, and one time, she slammed his hands in a door. Aaron complained to his father, but he was often not at home. His father eventually became sick, was hospitalized, and later died, presumably also from AIDS. During the time of his father’s illness, his stepmother blamed Aaron for the sickness and made him sleep outside the house. After his funeral, she chased him from their home.113

Street boys playing at a center for children in Kinshasa. © 2005 Marcus Bleasdale

Isaac lost his father during the war and his mother remarried after moving the family to Goma in the late 1990s. Using the term “uncle” to refer to his stepfather, he said:

My uncle never accepted me in their home. He would pick on me in front of the other children and say terrible things about my father. He refused to pay my school fees and instead would lock me in the house during the day when the other kids were at school. He would buy clothes and shoes for the other children, but never for me. When the abuse became too much, I finally decided to leave.114

Children Accused of Sorcery

Related to the increase in the number of children on the streets are accusations that children, through sorcery, are responsible for the various economic and social problems that plague families. Accused children throughout the DRC, but particularly in Kinshasa and Mbuji-Mayi, can be physically and verbally abused, neglected, and sometimes abandoned by their families. Individuals who work with children in Kinshasa estimate that as many as 70 percent of street children had been accused of sorcery in their homes before coming to live on the streets. One activist who advocates for assistance and protection of street children told us that there is no bigger factor in pushing children on to the streets today than accusations of sorcery.115

It is rare that children who live with both biological parents are accused of sorcery. In interviews we conducted with accused children, every one of them had lost one or both parents and had been living with extended family members who were facing extremely difficult economic problems. A Roman Catholic priest who shelters street children in Kinshasa conducted a survey of 630 children accused of sorcery in 2004. Of that number, only seventeen had both parents living.116 Children in the DRC who have lost one or both parents are traditionally taken into the care of stepmothers or stepfathers, grandparents, uncles and aunts, or older siblings. But numerous organizations that work with children told us that this tradition was being undermined as a growing number of families were being expected to care for their relatives’ children while at the same time facing increasing economic difficulties themselves. They told us that some families were simply unable to cope with the care of their relatives’ children, but stressed that sending children to the streets would be culturally unacceptable.

Accusations of sorcery, particularly by a religious leader, however, provided an excuse for guardians to chase children from their homes. The same Roman Catholic priest who conducted the survey of accused child sorcerers in Kinshasa told us, “I believe that for the most part, parents or guardians do not necessarily believe it is sorcery. They are just looking for a reason to get rid of the kids, the extra mouths they can’t feed. The children are the victims of larger social problems and the breakdown of the family.”117

Accusations of witchcraft and belief in the ability to cause harm to others through sorcery have existed in the DRC since before colonial rule, according to numerous Congolese we interviewed who are familiar with child sorcery cases. They reported that the major difference today is the age of the accused, and the number and location of the accusations. In the past, it was usually a widow or a woman who had remained single, not children, who were accused of sorcery. Accusations were usually made against rural women, who were made to live in relative isolation often at the edge of a village for fear that they would harm others. In the last fifteen years, however, children living in urban areas have become the primary targets of witchcraft allegations. Each week in the DRC, hundreds of children are accused of sorcery and endure abuse at the hands of their accusers––normally extended family members but, increasingly, self-proclaimed prophets or pastors as well.

In tandem with the increasing number of children accused of sorcery has been the creation of churches that specialize in the exorcism of evil spirits from the “possessed.” These églises de réveil or churches of revival combine prayers, fasting and abuse in “deliverance” ceremonies to rid children of “possession.” Approximately 2,000 churches perform “deliverance” ceremonies in Mbuji-Mayi and an even larger number operate in Kinshasa.118 Some of these churches and their leaders have attracted large followings and have become lucrative businesses. Although the deliverance ceremonies are reportedly performed for free, in reality, parents or guardians are strongly “encouraged” to make a financial donation or give a gift to the church in exchange for deliverance of a child. In addition, deliverance ceremonies are a way to attract new church members who may become regular contributors at Sunday services.119

Thousands of children in the DRC undergo “deliverance ceremonies” to rid them of “possession.”
© 2005 Marcus Bleasdale

Abuses in the home related to sorcery accusations

Children can be accused of sorcery for any number of reasons. The loss of a job, an illness or death in the family, or marital difficulties can lead parents or guardians to look to their children as the cause. Perceived “unusual” behavior in children, such as bed wetting, aggressive behavior, sleep walking, nightmares, or simply sharing food with neighboring children, can trigger sorcery accusations. Children who suffer from epilepsy, chronic illness, or mental illness can also be fingered. Once a child has been identified as a sorcerer, than he or she receives different treatment from other children in the family. They are sometimes made to eat their meals alone or sleep separately from the rest of the family. They can have food withheld or be given the least and last. They may be pulled out of school, made to do disproportionate amounts of domestic work, or be forced to work on the streets to earn their keep. Children accused of sorcery report particularly brutal behavior at the hands of their parents or guardians. They are beaten, whipped, or slapped in an attempt to rid them of the “possession” or to coerce them to confess to being a sorcerer. They are insulted, called derogatory names and made to feel less than human. Street children we interviewed about sorcery accusations expressed confusion and frustration about the accusations and the abusive treatment they received. Many expressed great sadness about the abuse by family members, and fear to return to their homes should reunification be possible.

Eleven-year-old Michael began living on the streets three years ago after he was forced from his home by his stepmother. Soon after he began living with his stepmother, she accused him of sorcery. He was forced to eat separately from the other children in the family and given smaller portions of food. He was not allowed to sit near his half-siblings and slept in a corner of the kitchen by himself. Michael told us that his stepmother insisted that this was necessary so he wouldn’t transmit the sorcery to his brothers and sisters. On several occasions he was beaten at night by his stepmother with the handle of a shovel on his hands and back so that he would confess to being “possessed.” He was told to leave home unless he turned over the physical items he used in conducting sorcery. Not knowing what to do, and of course not having such items, he left home when he was eight years old.120

Aubrey was twelve years old when he fled his home to escape abuse. After his parents died, he went to live with his older brother, his brother’s wife, and their children. He told us that his sister-in-law accused him of being responsible for the death of their youngest son, who died soon after his birth. She began treating Aubrey badly, not giving him the same amount of food as her own children. If he complained, she would slap him or beat him with the handle of a broom. She insulted him, calling him a sorcerer and a murderer. After she had convinced his brother that Aubrey was responsible for the death of their baby boy, Aubrey fled the house and began his life on the streets.121

We interviewed ten-year-old Albert at a center for vulnerable children supported by the Catholic Church. His mother died of tuberculosis and after her funeral he went to live with his father and his father’s second wife and children. According to Albert:

After my father left home on business, this is when the problem started. My half-brother, who lived with us, accused me of stealing food and practicing sorcery. We never had enough to eat, sometimes we ate only once a day and I was given less than the others. This is because my half-brother was the only one making money. He made sure that the others got food and clothes and I did not. He said I was a sorcerer and should leave. He would beat me with a large spoon that the mother would use to make fufu (cassava meal) to get me to leave…. I began spending more and more time away from the house at the compound of a church nearby. My brother found me there one day and beat me severely with his fists, telling me to leave the neighborhood. The pastor there told my brother to stop the beating, but seemed to believe him that I was a sorcerer and made me leave the church. I had no choice but to go to the streets.122

Abuses in churches

Parents or guardians who accuse children of witchcraft may send the child to a church for deliverance ceremonies organized by pastors or prophets. In the last fifteen years, self-proclaimed pastors and prophets have established numerous “churches of revival”123 that specialize in the deliverance of children from alleged possession. Many of these churches combine traditional Congolese beliefs and rituals with elements of Christianity.

The ceremonies that pastors perform range from simple prayers and singing to holding the children for several days at the churches, denying them food and water, and whipping or beating confessions out of them. Save the Children/UK has been active in attempting to change the behavior of the worst of these pastors. According to a Save the Children/UK project manager in Mbuji-Mayi, the most abusive pastors withhold food and water from children, whip or burn them to coerce their confessions, or pour salt water in their anuses or down their throats to purge the “evil” from their bodies.124 An organized group of pastors in Kinshasa which, through peer outreach, tries to change the behavior of abusive pastors confirmed these accusations. They additionally reported that sometimes children are tied up during their confinement at the churches and that in a few cases boys and girls have been sexually assaulted by members affiliated with the churches while in confinement.125

We interviewed several children who had undergone particularly brutal deliverance ceremonies. Twelve-year-old Brian never knew his real father but was accused by his stepfather of sorcery soon after his mother remarried. He told us that the accusations began the night after he wet his bed. In the following days his stepfather beat him, called him names, and later took him to a church for deliverance. Brian was not kept at the church at night, but had to come each day during a four-day period. He told us, “We were not allowed to eat or drink for three days [either at church or at home]. On the fourth day, the prophet held our hands over a candle, to get us to confess.” When it was Brian’s turn, he was told that he would be whipped if he didn’t confess. Weak from thirst and hunger, he admitted that he was a sorcerer so that he could leave the church.126

Malachi was only nine when he and his brother were brought by his stepfather to a deliverance ceremony. He told us that his stepfather brutally beat him and his brother in front of the pastor at the church. The pastor then agreed that Malachi and his brother were “possessed” and needed deliverance. Malachi told us only that his brother went through the painful ceremony, but refused to describe to us what had happened.127

Many of the children we talked with were unable to identify which church or pastor had performed the deliverance ceremony. One boy in Mbuji-Mayi, however, told us that his stepmother had brought him and his little brother to Prophet Kabuni Wa Lesa at the Charismatic Evangelical Center. The two boys were held for three days at the church and given no food or water, but were not otherwise physically abused. On the third day they were given some murky water, at which point his little brother began vomiting. His little brother’s expulsion of the water reportedly led the prophet to identify him as the source of sorcery in the family.128

Pastors or prophets who perform deliverance ceremonies blend elements of Christianity with Congolese traditions and rituals.
© 2005 Marcus Bleasdale

In an interview with Human Rights Watch, Prophet Kabuni told us that the vast majority of his clients at the deliverance ceremonies were children. He said that he was well known in the community as a successful diviner of sorcery, and that because of his reputation he had scores of children brought to him each week. He told us that it was necessary to withhold food and water from everyone undergoing deliverance ceremonies to decrease the evil power that held those who were possessed. When questioned about the practice and the harm this could cause a child, he replied that there had never been a death at his church and that they do not withhold food and water from young children––defined by him as less than four years old.129

After the accusations

Some children who undergo these ceremonies are reunified with their family members who believe that the spirits have been exorcised. Some families, though, appear unconvinced that the ceremony was successful. They may accept the child initially and wait to see whether another perceived evil occurs and if so, throw the child out. In other cases, children returning from the churches are immediately made to leave the home, whether or not the ceremony was deemed successful by the pastors.

According to a Roman Catholic priest working with street children in Kinshasa, many pastors who perform these ceremonies are most concerned with the wishes of the adults who bring the child in for deliverance. If they appear not to want the child to return, then the pastor may advise the parent or guardian not to take the child back, or may suggest the boy or girl may need to return to the church for further consultations.130 A prophet who “delivers” children in Kinshasa, confirmed that one challenge was reunifying children with their families after performing a ceremony. He told us, “Our biggest problem is that children come here, we do the service, but then the parents do not want the children back. This is especially true in cases where the child has ‘eaten’131 someone in the family. We try to convince the parents where we can.”132

Twelve-year-old Brian, who was abused during a deliverance ceremony, told us:

After I confessed to being a sorcerer, I didn’t have to go back to the church. But things at home got worse. My stepfather never believed that the prophet was successful. He would beat me when he saw me. Even my mother began to believe I was a sorcerer. One time when I was sleeping, she poured petrol into my ears.133 Another time, she brought me to a section of town I didn’t know and abandoned me there. I eventually found my way home but was not welcomed into the house. I decided at that point it was better to live on the streets.134

Activists who try to reunify street children with their families identified cases of children accused of sorcery as being the most difficult and least likely to succeed. Guardians or family members often refuse to listen to social workers or accept a child back once he or she has left the home. For these activists, the general failure to reunify children accused of sorcery makes successful prevention all the more important, but they told us that despite the efforts of some nongovernmental organizations, the government was doing very little to deter the abuse.

Small children at a deliverance ceremony. During the ceremony, children’s eyes and ears are blocked to disrupt the transmission of “sorcery.”
© 2005 Marcus Bleasdale

The police, judicial investigators and government officials rarely intervene in cases of child sorcery accusations and physical abuse in homes or in churches. Police personnel we interviewed claimed that cases of physical abuse were not generally brought to their attention since it was children who would have to make the accusations.135 Judges in the Courts of Peace in Mbuji-Mayi and Lubumbashi were aware of only a few cases of parents or guardians charged with physical abuse, and none related to accusations of sorcery.136 For abusive pastors and prophets, little has been done to curb their practices. In Mbuji-Mayi, Congolese human rights organizations, judicial personnel, and the police themselves knew of no case where a pastor or church had been investigated for abusing children. In Kinshasa in 2004, the then Minister of Social Affairs, at the insistence of children’s rights groups, reportedly led an investigation into a case where church leaders were abusing children. The pastor was arrested and the church temporarily closed, but the pastor was never brought to justice.137 Officials in both the Ministries of Justice and Social Affairs agreed that more needed to be done to curb abusive practices by both parents and pastors, particularly because such abuse is expressly prohibited and punishable by law under the new constitution.138


The ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic is increasing both the number of children who are orphaned, and the accusations of child sorcery. The estimated national HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is 4.2 percent in the DRC, lower than many countries in eastern and southern Africa, yet some one million Congolese children have been orphaned by the epidemic.139 Orphaned children are often taken in by extended family members who may not be able to properly care for them. These children are less likely to go to school, more likely to be working in the streets to support their families, and face other considerable disadvantages in comparison with other children.140 Additionally, stigma, discrimination against people living with or affected by AIDS, and misinformation about the disease are widespread in the DRC.

Many Congolese appear to believe that HIV/AIDS can be spread through sorcery. In the worst instances we documented, family members blamed surviving children for causing the death of their parents from AIDS through sorcery. For example, fifteen-year-old Timothy, whose parents both died of complications related to AIDS in 1995, has been living in an orphanage for almost ten years. Following his parent’s deaths, he briefly lived with his older brothers and sisters, but they accused him of sorcery, transmitting the virus to his parents, and “eating” them. He was shunned by his siblings, made to stay outside of their home, and not given proper care. A neighbor who noticed his wretched state eventually intervened and placed him in an orphanage.141

Many pastors and prophets who specialize in child “deliverance” reinforce the message that children can transmit the virus to family members through sorcery. They may explain to parents or guardians that a child is responsible for spreading the disease to a family member through witchcraft in an effort to convince them to allow the child to undergo deliverance at the church. When questioned about HIV/AIDS, a prophet in Mbuji-Mayi told us, “Child sorcerers have the power to transmit any disease, including AIDS, to their family members. AIDS is a mysterious disease that is used as a weapon by those who practice witchcraft.”142 HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaigns stressing ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, and use Condoms) have to date failed to refute the idea that HIV can be transmitted through sorcery, and have done nothing to address the abuses experienced by children or to reduce their vulnerability.143

The director of the Youth Movement for Excellence, a Kinshasa-based organization that cares for street children and widows, told us that nearly half of the children they care for are affected by HIV/AIDS. Many of those children have been accused of sorcery and held responsible for the deaths of their parents or siblings due to complications from HIV/AIDS. Accused children can be physically and emotionally abused by their caregivers and are either forced from their homes or leave the house on their own because of the abuse.144

Worse off still are children who are themselves HIV positive and are made to believe they are responsible for their illness and for the deaths of family members. We interviewed one boy and one girl, both infected with HIV, who, in place of care and treatment, were physically abused by their family members, accused of being sorcerers, and thrown out of their homes. One twelve-year-old boy who has been living with HIV for over a year said that because he was often sick, his paternal uncle accused him of being a sorcerer and held him responsible for the death of his parents who had died of AIDS. His food and care were withheld and he was forced from his home. A social worker familiar with the case told us that in discussions with family members, the paternal uncle told him that he had refused to accept that his nephew was HIV positive, and instead insisted that he was possessed, which for him explained the boy’s illness. The uncle told the social worker that the boy had put a spell on the parents which caused their sickness and eventual death, and that he believed that if he agreed to take the boy back, a similar fate awaited other family members.145

A street boy sleeping in a shelter in Kinshasa. © 2005 Marcus Bleasdale

Some children orphaned by AIDS and later accused by family members of sorcery are also victims of disinheritance and property grabbing by their relatives. Several children orphaned by AIDS and later accused of sorcery by their aunts or uncles told us that soon after the property of their deceased parents had been divided or sold, they were accused of sorcery and abused. Paul, an orphan living on the streets of Kinshasa, said that when his parent’s died from complications due to AIDS, his paternal uncle sold his parents’ house and refused to care for him and his siblings. His uncle accused them of sorcery, refused to properly feed and clothe them or pay for their schooling, and kept the money from the sale of the property as well as other valuables that belonged to their parents.146 Twelve-year-old Simon told us that his father had several parcels of land that he rented out for use by other farmers. When his father died from AIDS, his uncles divided up the land and sold it. Like Paul, Simon was accused of sorcery and thrown out of an uncle’s house where he had been living after the death of his parents.147 An official in the Division of Social Affairs in Kinshasa has observed a link between cases of children orphaned by AIDS, accusations of sorcery by relatives, and property grabbing of these children’s parents’ valuables. She told us that even though children under Congolese law are able to inherit their parents’ property, very few children know this right or are able to effectively challenge family members in court.148


Numerous officials and children we interviewed for this report stressed that the inability of parents or guardians to pay school fees and other related costs of primary education was one reason that children began spending time in the streets. The Minister of Social Affairs, M. Laurent Otete Omanga, told us that, “Many parents can not pay for their children’s education. These children stay at home with nothing to do and soon go out on the streets looking for work or amusement. They can easily be exploited by adults who pay them very little, often for very hard work. Or, they begin to associate with children who have lived on the streets for some time. They may begin drinking alcohol, using drugs and committing crimes. Once they are used to life on the streets, they leave home and join criminal street gangs.”149

Like many of the street children we interviewed, Peter, in Lubumbashi, told us that once he dropped out of school, he began exploring life on the streets. “I had to leave school after I finished the third grade. My parents could no longer afford the fees, so I started coming to the streets to look for something to do. Life here on the streets is hard, there is never enough to eat and I am hungry. I would like to return to school and continue my studies.”150 Similarly another street boy, Benjamin, in Kinshasa, told us that after his mother died, his father stopped paying for his schooling. He only finished his fourth year of primary school. With nothing else to do, he began working on the streets, selling matches and water.151

A children’s rights activist in Mbuji-Mayi who has done research on abusive forms of child labor around mining activities believes that lack of schooling for many Congolese children is what drives them into child labor and eventually onto the streets. He told us that many parents and guardians in the country are unable to afford the prohibitively high cost of schooling. In the DRC, a parent or guardian must pay several dollars a month to send a child to primary school and also supply a uniform and school materials––costs beyond the means of many families who survive on one meal a day. For this activist, the inability of adults to pay for school leads their children to begin working at young ages in activities around the mines. He explained that as some children begin to receive small amounts of money for their labor, they may not want to share it with their family members. As they begin spending more and more time away from home, they become habituated to the street and can become full-time street children.152

Albert is an orphan living on the streets of Mbuji-Mayi. He told us that upon the death of his parents he moved in with his older sister and her husband. He said that his brother-in-law was abusive, would beat him, and refused to pay for his schooling. He decided to seek work in the mines to bring in income for the family. During several months of working and sharing his meager salary with his family the abuse by his brother-in-law continued. He finally decided that he would manage on his own and began living on the streets outside of town.153

After years of warfare, economic decline, and limited to nonexistent state services, providing education for Congolese children, much less free primary education, remains a serious challenge for the government. Nevertheless, it must be recognized that the lack of educational opportunities for children in the DRC drives thousands of children into child labor each year, including hazardous and illegal child labor, and for some children, into the streets. The new constitution, adopted by the National Assembly in 2005 and overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2006, makes clear in article 42 that primary education must be obligatory and free in public schools.154 The government, therefore, should make every effort to provide education to the maximum number of children possible and create a national strategy to progressively reduce and eliminate school fees and related costs of education that prevent poor children from going to school.

[111] Human Rights Watch interviews with the president of the Tribunal of Peace, Lubumbashi, September 19, 2005, and with the president of the Tribunal of Peace, Mbuji-Mayi, September 26, 2005.

[112] Human Rights Watch interview with Jacques, twelve, Lubumbashi, September 18, 2005.

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with Aaron, Kinshasa, October 1, 2005.

[114] Human Rights Watch interview with Isaac, fourteen, Goma, September 13, 2005.

[115] Human Rights Watch interview with Remy Mafu Sasa, Kinshasa, September 28, 2005.

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with Pere Zibi, ORPER center, Kinshasa, September 29, 2005.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Human Rights Watch interview with Jean Valea, Save the Children-UK, Mbuji-Mayi, September 22, 2005.

[119] For more information on street children and accusations of child sorcery, see: Javier Aguilar Molina, The Invention of Child Witches in the Democratic Republic of Congo Social Cleansing, Religious Commerce and the Difficulties of Being a Parent in an Urban Culture, Summary of the research and experiences of Save the Children’s 2003-2005 programme funded by USAID, 2006; and Filip de Boeck, “On Being Shege in Kinshasa: Children, the Occult, and the Street,” in Theodore Trefon ed. Reinventing Order in the Congo. How People Respond to State Failure in Kinshasa (London and New York: Zed Books, 2004), pp. 155-173.

[120] Human Rights Watch interview with Michael, Mbuji-Mayi, September 23, 2005.

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with Aubrey, fourteen, Kinshasa, September 30, 2005.

[122] Human Rights Watch interview with Albert, Mbuji-Mayi, September 23, 2005.

[123] According to a group of pastors we interviewed, the majority of deliverance ceremonies take place in churches of revival (églises de réveil); other exorcism ceremonies are conducted in churches of black magic (églises de noir), churches of healing (églises de guerir), or Christian churches.

[124] Human Rights Watch interview with Jean Valea, Save the Children/UK, Mbuji-Mayi, September 22, 2005.

[125] Human Rights Watch interview with Reverend Gode and other pastors, Kinshasa, October 3, 2005.

[126] Human Rights Watch interview with Brian, Kinshasa, September 30, 2005.

[127] Human Rights Watch interview with Malachi, eleven, Kinshasa, October 1, 2005.

[128] Human Rights Watch interview with Francis, nine, Mbuji-Mayi, September 25, 2005.

[129] Human Rights Watch interview with Kabuni Wa Lesa, Charismatic Evangelical Center, Mbuji-Mayi, September 27, 2005.

[130] Human Rights Watch interview with a priest, Kinshasa, September 29, 2005.

[131] Children or adults who are blamed for the death of another person were often described as having “eaten” them, apparently referring to their soul.

[132] Human Rights Watch interview with Prophet Bisombolo, Eglise Viaka, Kinshasa, October 3, 2005.

[133] Children who have undergone “deliverance” ceremonies, pastors who perform them, and child welfare activists, all told us that blocking or covering the eyes and ears of a child is an integral part of deliverance ceremonies. It reportedly interrupts visual or audio communication from “evil spirits” and helps the message from the deliverer to be received.

[134] Human Rights Watch interview with Brian, Kinshasa, September 30, 2005.

[135] Human Rights Watch interviews with police, Goma, September 14, 2005, and Mbuji-Mayi, September 27, 2005.

[136] Human Rights Watch interviews, Lubumbashi, September 19, 2005, and Mbuji-Mayi, September 26, 2005.

[137] Human Rights Watch interview with officials in the Ministry of Justice, Kinshasa, September 30, 2005.

[138] Article 41 of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2005. Article 41 states that, “the abandonment and mistreatment of children especially pedophilia, sexual abuse as well as accusations of sorcery are prohibited and punishable by law.”

[139] Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and World Health Organization (WHO), Epidemiological Fact Sheets on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections: Democratic Republic of Congo (2004 Update), p. 2.

[140] Human Rights Watch, “Letting Them Fail: Government Neglect and the Right to Education for Children Affected by AIDS,” A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 17, no. 13(A), October 2005, [online], http://www.hrw.org.

[141] Human Rights Watch interview with Timothy, Kinshasa, October 1, 2005.

[142] Human Rights Watch interview with Pastor Kabuni Wa Lesa, Mbuji-Mayi, September 27, 2005.

[143] Human Rights Watch interview, Kinshasa, September 29-30, 2005.

[144] Human Rights Watch interview with John Lisumba, Kinshasa, September 29, 2005.

[145] Human Rights Watch interview with a social worker, Mbuji-Mayi, September 23, 2005.

[146] Human Rights Watch interview with Paul, twelve, Kinshasa, September 30, 2005.

[147] Human Rights Watch interview with Simon, Mbuji-Mayi, September 23, 2005.

[148] Human Rights Watch interview with official in the Division of Social Affairs, Kinshasa, September 29, 2005.

[149] Human Rights Watch interview with the Minister of Social Affairs, Kinshasa, September 29, 2005.

[150] Human Rights Watch interview with Peter, fifteen, Lubumbashi, September 16, 2005.

[151] Human Rights Watch interview with Benjamin, seventeen, Kinshasa, October 1, 2005.

[152] Human Rights Watch interview with M. Chimanga, Mbuji-Mayi, September 22, 2005.

[153] Human Rights Watch interview with Albert, twelve, Chimuna village, September 24, 2005.

[154] Article 42 of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2005.

>"A new Frankenstein religion"?? (More on Christianity and Africa’s Witch Children)

>Richard Hoskins is a frequently cited authority on “African witch children” and the origins of this phenomenon in the war-torn, HIV/AIDS ravaged urban centers of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990’s. Hoskins has been called upon as an expert by the London police in the course of investigations involving abuse and murder of children among Britain’s large African immigrant community.

Below is the final portion of Richard Hoskins’ February, 2005 piece for the UK Sunday Times, “Torment of Africa’s ‘child witches’” (emphases added):

Child exorcism in the name of Jesus has as little to do with mainstream Christianity as suicide bombers have with mainstream Islam. Nor has it anything to do with traditional African beliefs. Out in the villages of the Congo I found headmen and traditional healers horrified at what was happening in the name of the revivalist churches in Kinshasa. Traditional Congolese society rejects these exorcism practices.

“We believe in kindoki,” one told me, “but it’s something that merely troubles a person from time to time and hardly ever affects children. It can be treated with potions made from plants and herbs. It’s not a question of beatings and deliverance. [“Kindoki” is a generic term for any kind of spiritual power in the Lingala language] We think the churches put about this kindoki idea because it increases their influence. The whole thing is a racket.”

The phenomenon appears to spring from a new Frankenstein religion, an unholy marriage of perverted Christianity and an ingrained African belief in the spirit world, fueled by the grinding poverty and desperate need of the people of west and central African cities.

The family is the glue that holds African society together. If that bond weakens and breaks, chaos takes over. Whatever the reasons for it, the fact that children are suffering in the name of Christianity — not only beyond the horizon, but even in our own back yard — is undeniable and absolutely unacceptable.

The “new Frankenstein religion” that Hoskins refers to, however, did not start in Kinshasa in the 1990’s. Rather it started on Azusa street in Los Angeles in 1906. This Frankenstein religion is called Pentecostal Christianity.

As right as Hoskins is in stating that the “child witch” phenomenon does not have “anything to do with traditional African beliefs,” he is just as wrong in his sweeping acquittal Christianity in this matter. It is perfectly legitimate to in this way accept one part of Hoskins’ conclusion while rejecting the other because of the simple fact that Hoskins is an expert on the subject of African religions, but he is no expert on Christianity, much less on the specific form of Christianity at work here.

Once one takes a closer look at Pentecostal Christianity it is immediately obvious that there is no need to invoke “an ingrained African belief in a spirit world” in order to explain the existence of Pentecostal missionaries, pastors, “Prophets” and “Apostles” in Africa who claim that they can identify those who are possessed by the devil, and, moreover, can “deliver” these individuals by “casting out” the demons that afflict them. That is nothing more than standard issue Pentecostalism.

One of the world’s most famous “charismatic” Christians is undoubtedly Pat Robertson. Pentecostalism is decentralized to a fault, and so it should come as no surprise that Robertson is not formally affiliated with any official Pentecostal denomination. In fact, he is a Southern Baptist, and was an ordained minister in that denomination for many years. This is typical of Pentecostalism in the US, where only 5% of the population belongs to Pentecostal churches, but 23% of the population share the core beliefs and practices of Pentecostalists.

“Charismatic” is a looser term that refers to individuals and churches that may not be formally or officially “Pentecostal”, but which nevertheless share important, defining characteristics of Pentecostal Christianity, especially speaking in tongues, prophesying, exorcism, miraculous healing, and apocalyptic (“end time”) thinking. Technically, “charismatic” and “Pentecostal” are often used as mutually exclusive terms, and when this is done the umbrella term “renewalist” is used to refer to both.

While Robertson himself might technically not be a Pentecostalist (but, rather, a “charismatic”), the dean of the “Divinity School” that Robertson founded in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Regent University, is Vinson Synan, former General Secretary of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (the denomination that gave the world both Oral Roberts and Charles Stanley), and he is also author of no less than 15 books on the subject of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity. (Here is an interesting profile of Robertson, based in part on an interview with Synan.)

A brief review of just some of Pat Robertson’s antics over the years should put to rest any notion that this form of Christianity only became “perverted” once it came into contact with Africans and their “ingrained beliefs”:

In 1991, Robertson said, of his own fellow Protestants, “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.”

In 1992, Robertson explained his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment by stating that “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

In 1995, Robertson referred to Hinduism as “demonic”, and stated that the Hindu religion of India “has put a nation in bondage to spiritual forces that have deceived many for thousands of years.”

In 2005, he said of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, “I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.”

On January 6, 2006, Pat Robertson suggested that God had punished Ariel Sharon by causing him to have a stroke because Sharon had agreed to “divide God’s Land” in negotiations with the Palestinians.

It even turns out that Pat Robertson is personally associated not merely with Pentecostalist missionary work in Africa, but specifically with Pentecostalism in the Congo, going back at least to the early 1990’s. Robertson developed a close relationship with Mobutu Sese Soku, the dictator of DR Congo (then called Zaire) from 1965 to 1997. As soon as Mobutu was overthrown, however, Robertson sent a personal letter, written on Christian Broadcasting Network stationery, to the former Maoist revolutionary Laurent Kabila, the new president of DR Congo.

Robertson even had his letter to Kabila hand delivered by his own lawer, Pat Mitchell. The letter stated in part, “I would like to extend to you my cordial invitation to visit the United States as my guest in any way your schedule would so permit.” Robertson also offered Kabila the services of his attorney to “offer assistance to you in a wide range of enterprises which I hope would be of benefit to you and the nation of Zaire.”

Previously (here) I highlighted the 2006 report issued by the international charity organization Save the Children titled “The invention of child witches in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” That report stated that “A first step towards understanding the phenomenon of so-called child witches is to recognise that witchcraft is a real system of belief, rooted in popular mentality.” But this is highly misleading in the same way as Hoskins’ reference to a “marriage” between one variety of Christianity and “ingrained African beliefs”. The first step to understanding the child witch phenomenon in Africa is to understand the American-made religious phenomenon known as Pentecostalism.

Future installments in this series will look more closely at the history (and the prehistory) of Pentecostal Christianity and its missionary work/spiritual warfare in Africa. But it should also be kept in mind that “an ingrained belief in the spirit world” has been a common feature of the Christian religion all along, not to mention the fact that persecuting accused witches was a practice among European Christians (and officially condoned by the Church) 500 years ago. And memories of the great “witch hunts” in early modern Europe are still very much “deeply ingrained” in the collective psyche of Christians throughout the world.

[This post is part of a series. Click here for links to related posts, including much more on Africa, Christianity, Colonialism, and African Traditional Religion.]

>Africa and African Traditional Religions at EGREGORES

Alive and Well: African Traditional Religion in the 21st Century:

Angelique Kidjo on Voodoo and Catholicism
“Such is the relationship between Africans and foreign religions”

“African Traditional Religion Allows Syncretism”
“What exactly is it about traditional religion that we fear?”
“The Destruction of Christianity” (On the situation in Kenya in 1955)
“Why not leave them in peace?”
“Witchcraft holds out against modern age”
200 Million African Pagans
“Togo’s Voodoo Fetish Markets Do Brisk Trade”
“Africa became Christian by Submission not by Conversion”
“The first thing Christianity did in Africa . . . .”
You might be Pagan if …. (Part Deux)
You might be a Pagan if ….
Every picture tells a story
More On Traditional African Religions
Traditional African Religions Continue To Thrive
Fela Kuti and Traditional African Religion
Secret Knowledge, Sacred Knowledge (on Candomble)

The Christian Roots of the “Witch Children” Phenomenon in Africa:

April, 2010 UNICEF Report on “Children Accused of Witchcraft”
Human Rights Watch report on “Children Accused of Sorcery” in DR Congo
“A new Frankenstein religion”??

Christianity and the Invention of Witch Children in Africa
Overview, plus a timeline of events, sources, and media coverage

Heart of Darkness: Christianity, Colonialism & Africa:
Part Five: Preparing the Way for Genocide in Rwanda
Part Four: Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from Rwanda
Part Three: Doing the Lord’s Work In Rwanda
Part Two: Christian Demographics Fun Facts
Part One: “By This Sign We Prosper”

The Early History of Monotheism in Africa:
Muhammad (A brief history of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Four)
Constantine (A brief history of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Three)

Moses (A Brief History of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Two)

Akhenaten (A Brief History of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part One)