Given to ritual murders and a sedentary lifestyle, African serial killers are quite peculiar. And with most countries lacking the resources to keep DNA profiles and fingerprint records, Africans are much less protected than their U.S. or European counterparts against serial killers. Both in past and recent years, many crimes in Africa have been dismissed as ritual murders while some serial killers have been described as by-products of western civilization. French serial-killer specialist, Stephane Bourgoin who has traveled the length and breadth of the continent, talks to Afrik-News.com about a phenomenon that is widely misunderstood across Africa.
“I Still Have 83 More Women to Kill” lamented Kenya’s Philip Onyancha after he was nabbed in June. Philip had gone on a killing spree after a “supernatural power” ordered him to slay 100 people. Fortunately, his deadly campaign was stopped short by the police after his seventeenth murder. Whilst receiving his education at high school in 1996, one of Philip’s teachers made him promise to kill anytime he was called upon to do so. To seal the pact, Elizabeth Wambui Kimani, his teacher, cut his chest and applied black powder to the bleeding wound. After his initiation into Elizabeth’s satanic sect, Onyancha says he became possessed and started sucking blood from his victims, obeying the evil spirits that were instructing him to kill. If he had succeeded in his bid to kill 100 people, he would have been able to meet the sect’s high priest.
Serial killers live in their own world, a world that sound reason cannot fathom. The vast majority of serial killers are in fact not half as mad as we may want to believe, and particularly so in Africa. “About 99% of African serial killers are not psychotic, but organized killers. Their murders do not only respond to impulses, but also needs,” says Stephane Bourgoin, who has met with about 50 convicted serial killers. Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mozambique, Lesotho, Mali … Almost all African countries have experienced panic waves in recent years linked to serial killers.
But South Africa, which has a fairly effective crime unit and a proactive media, is by far Africa’s most popular country when it comes to serial killers. Moses Sithole and his ABC murders is one of the most disturbing cases. Posing as a businessman, he raped and strangled at least 38 people in the space of a year, between 1994 and 1995, from Atteridgeville through Boksburg to Cleveland. And the fact that they are often nonchalantly dismissed as a products of western civilization, Africa’s serial Killers are free to roam the continent’s streets in broad day light without much concern.
Stéphane Bourgoin, who feeds his website on daily basis with information concerning this phenomenon on the continent notes that “African serial killers are generally less mobile as a result of their culture and also due to their way of life. And while American serial killers kill across state lines, Africans engage in these activities in a city or their areas of residence.”
Their geographic limitation means that they can easily be identified. But the continent lacks mean to protect citizens against serial killers, that is, “with the exception of South Africa which keeps fingerprints and DNA profiles and Algeria which is soon to follow”. Apart from South Africa, the continent lacks profilers and the police is not always well trained in that field. “Without these tools, it is difficult to link crimes that do not necessarily look like they come from the same person. There are certainly more serial killers in Africa than in western countries”, Stefan tells Afrik-News.com.
In fact, Stefan who has studied African serial killers on a case by case basis believes that many of Africa’s serial killers just do not get any international media attention. “To be aware of cases in Africa, one must consult the various local media of the countries concerned on daily basis… It is the language barrier that prevents us from knowing what is happening elsewhere.”
And while these rampant murders are are sometimes not linked to tradition, most of them are. In southern Africa, sangomas [midwives, healers and soothsayers] call on hired killers who, for the pleasure of killing end up as serial killers, provide them with some of their tools of work. The sangomas sometimes prepare concoctions containing human body parts. A beverage brewed from a child’s sexual organ, for example, is believed to cure impotence.
“Muti killings”, murders committed by puncturing the organs of a living person, is the cause of hundreds of deaths per year. “Africa registers more crimes related to cannibalism and vampirism than anywhere else in the world”. Eating someone means capturing the soul and spirit of that person. And the victims’ blood are believed to contain life. It is no secret that fetish priests and some traditional worshipers believe that by drinking human blood they either become immortal or are reborn. “This kind of belief explains the acts committed by the two Kenyan serial killers: Philip Onyancha, who drank the blood of his victims and George Otieno Okoth, who collected human hair.
Besides the “muti killings”, it can be noted that across Sub-Sahara Africa, many of those often labeled as witches or wizards, mostly by fetish priests, are poisoned, drowned, hacked to death with machetes or buried alive at will in an attempt to deliver their souls from the snare of the ‘devil’. Here again, a killer could evoke witchcraft in order to be given the leeway to kill to satisfy his whim. Only last year, a Zimbabwean judge, Justice Ndou, ruled that 32 year old Vusumuzi Ndlovu’s unshakable belief in witchcraft was an extenuating factor to spare him from the southern African country’s legally imposed punishment, after he killed his neighbor whom he accused of witchcraft.
Despite the murders having an air of randomness, “they are not”, although “serial killers generally do not know their victims”. It is therefore of great importance “to know what fuels the mind of the killer”. Stefan Bourgoin explains that when he interviewed “serial sniper” [South African Velaphi Ndlangamandla, sentenced in 2000 for 19 murders and nine attempted murders], he began by beating about the bush talking about his love for weapons. “Then he told me that he had been rendered impotent after falling victim to rape whilst in prison. His wife reproached him. Whenever they quarreled, he would go out and kill someone to calm down his nerves. “And he got sexually aroused as he killed his victims.”
According to the serial killer crime expert, the criminals accept to talk to him because he is often seen as a form of distraction for them. “Others are manipulators, liars who want to confront someone. And we should not kid ourselves, for some, talking about their crimes procures them sexual satisfaction.”