KINSHASA Police in Congo have arrested 13
suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or
shrink men's penises after a wave of panic and attempted
lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft.
Reports of so-called penis snatching are not uncommon in
West Africa, where belief in traditional religions and
witchcraft remains widespread, and where ritual killings to
obtain blood or body parts still occur.
Rumours of penis theft began circulating last week in
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo's sprawling capital of
some 8 million inhabitants. They quickly dominated radio
call-in shows, with listeners advised to beware of fellow
passengers in communal taxis wearing gold rings.
Purported victims, 14 of whom were also detained by police,
claimed that sorcerers simply touched them to make their
genitals shrink or disappear, in what some residents said was
an attempt to extort cash with the promise of a cure.
"You just have to be accused of that, and people come after
you. We've had a number of attempted lynchings. ... You see
them covered in marks after being beaten," Kinshasa's police
chief, Jean-Dieudonne Oleko, told Reuters on Tuesday.
Police arrested the accused sorcerers and their victims in
an effort to avoid the sort of bloodshed seen in Ghana a decade
ago, when 12 suspected penis snatchers were beaten to death by
angry mobs. The 27 men have since been released.
"I'm tempted to say it's one huge joke," Oleko said.
"But when you try to tell the victims that their penises
are still there, they tell you that it's become tiny or that
they've become impotent. To that I tell them, 'How do you know
if you haven't gone home and tried it'," he said.
Some Kinshasa residents accuse a separatist sect from
nearby Bas-Congo province of being behind the witchcraft in
revenge for a recent government crackdown on its members.
"It's real. Just yesterday here, there was a man who was a
victim. We saw. What was left was tiny," said 29-year-old Alain
Kalala, who sells phone credits near a Kinshasa police station.
(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on
the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ )
(Editing by Nick Tattersall and Mary Gabriel)