The discovery of a young girl's mutilated body on a beach in Gabon's capital city of Libreville has renewed the fight in this Central African country against the superstitious practice of ritual killings.
Ritual killing in Gabon is based on the belief that retrieving a living person's organs allows someone else to get strength. Though it is unclear if the girl, who was discovered on 19 March, 2013, was a victim of a ritual killing, the case ignited fears that the practice is on the rise.
There have been as many as 20 instances of ritual killings so far in Gabon in 2013.
Social media networks rose up en force on Twitter, using the #OpGabon and #SOSGabon hashtags to demand justice for the victims. The issue gained even more attention after hacktivist group Anonymous stepped in and posted a graphic video about ritual killings on 11 April, 2013, urging net users to take action:
An attempt to organize a protest against the killings for 13 April, 2013 [fr] was denied by the minister of the interior, fueling criticism that the Gabonese government allows ritual killings to occur with impunity. Gabonese communities in France and Canada joined in the outcry, thrusting ritual killings into the international spotlight.
The global scrutiny force the normally tight-lipped Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba to issue a statement that avoided mentioning ritual crime but condemned crime in general. First Lady Sylvia Bongo Ondimba has spoken out against the ritual killings specifically, however.
The government also relented on the protest, and the Association for the Prevention of Ritual Crime plans a peaceful march in Libreville on 11 May, 2013 [fr].
The problem of ritual killings is not exclusive to Gabon — all of Sub-Saharan Africa is affected by these murders. For instance, the following video by Youtube user xpxr5 reports on ritual killings of albinos in Burundi [fr]:
It also isn't a new problem. A major protest [fr] against the practice swept through the city of Lambaréné in January 2013. Since May 2012, Gabon's National Observatory for Democracy has called for the establishment of a commission to identify all instances of ritual killing that have occurred in the the last 22 years and for the recognition of such offences as crimes against humanity [fr]. Gabon Review notes in that post that people in high power should not get away[fr] with it:
personne d’autre de haut placé n’a été cité, indexé ou inquiété au cours de ces sessions spéciales. L’opinion nationale a pourtant une conviction intime : les crimes dits rituels sont commandités par des acteurs politiques.
No one in position of power has been charged or convicted during the court session (dedicated to ritual killings). Yet public opinion knows that the so-called ritual crimes are often ordered by politicians
Journalist Olivier Herviaux, writing on his blog “Africamix la Case à palabres” (The Debate Hut) hosted by French newspaper Le Monde, described Gabon's fight against the killings in recent years [fr]:
Depuis plusieurs années, le crime rituel fait régulièrement la « une » des journaux, notamment au Gabon. Le 3 mars 2005, deux corps d'enfants sont retrouvés, mutilés, sur une plage de Libreville. L'un des corps est celui d'un des fils de Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo, âgé de 12 ans. Quelques mois après le drame, Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo fonde l'Association de lutte contre les crimes rituels (ALCR).
For several years now, ritual killings have regularly featured in the front-page news, notably in Gabon. On 3 March 2005, the bodies of two children were found, mutilated, on a beach in Libreville. One of the bodies was that of Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo's 12 year-old son. A few months after the disaster, Jean-Elvis Ebang Ondo founded the Association for the Prevention of Ritual Crimes.
Herviaux went on to condemn the practice [fr]:
C'est l'un des actes les plus marquants de la barbarie et de l'obscurantisme des sociétés humaines, l'un de ceux qui nourrissent tous les fantasmes, en Afrique, en Occident et ailleurs. Nous sommes bien Au cœur des ténèbres, comme l'écrivait Joseph Conrad.
This is one of the most striking acts of barbarity and obscurantism in human society, one of those that feeds all kinds of myths, in Africa and in the West as elsewhere. As Joseph Conrad wrote, we are deep into into the Heart of Darkness.
Le crime. En droit, c’est le fait de donner la mort ou d’ôter la vie à quelqu’un. Il est, par conséquent, considéré comme un homicide, un acte prémédité.
Et le crime rituel? C’est un crime qui est commis sur la base d’un certain nombre de pratiques, soit traditionnelles ou religieuses, soit culturelles ou mystiques. Dans tous les cas, le crime rituel, est commis dans le but d’utiliser une partie de l’organe du corps humain, pour des sacrifices ; ou, tout simplement, pour des rituels. C’est, malheureusement, à cette pratique que s’adonnent certaines personnes pour, selon plusieurs interlocuteurs, devenir riches. Leurs principaux conseillers : les marabouts ou féticheurs. A chacun son marabout ou féticheur. Souvent, paradoxalement, ce sont les mêmes. Qui exigent la tête, la langue, le sexe, les ongles…le cœur ou les cheveux de l’être humain, femme comme garçon. Pour préparer la potion…magique. Le plus souvent, les personnes convoitées sont les albinos et les handicapés physiques.
Murder. Legally speaking, it is the act of causing someone's death or taking someone's life. It is thus thought of as a homicide – a premeditated act.
And ritual murder? It is a murder that is committed on the basis of a certain practices, whether they be traditional or religious, cultural or mystical. In all cases, ritual murder is committed in order to use part of the organs of a human body for sacrificial purposes or simply for ritualistic ones. This, unfortunately, according to some citizens commenting on the issue, is the practice that some people engage in to become rich. Their main guides in this venture: marabouts [traditional Islamic religious leaders] and witch-doctors — each to his own (paradoxically, the same person will often play both the role of the marabout and that of the witch-doctor). They might seek to use the head, the tongue, the sexual organs, nails … the heart or the hair of the human witch-doctor — maybe of a woman, maybe of a boy — all to prepare the magic … potion. The organs of albinos and handicapped people are the most often coveted.