Congo’s Churches and Child Witches

The Observer reports on the continuing tragedy of children accused of witchcraft in Congo:

Tens of thousands of children live in the cemeteries, markets and streets of Kinshasa feeding on rubbish, begging and stealing. Most are there because of witchcraft accusations – mostly from their own families.

So why is this happening?

…As Congolese society has disintegrated, undermined by the country’s rulers and ravaged by Aids and poverty, the family has collapsed. Children have been the main victims, often accused of witchcraft when families suffer misfortunes.

But the reporter also points the finger at specific religious ideas:

The roots lie in a distorted development of African culture…Traditionally in Congo, every community had mediums who communicated with spirits in the other world.

…Then there are the new fundamentalist Christian sects, of which there are thousands in Kinshasa. They make money out of identifying ‘witches’ and increasingly parents bring troublesome children to the pastors.

…Children who do well in school can also be accused of witchcraft. The common charge is they have been seen flying or eating human flesh. Their confessions of killing and eating relatives are broadcast live on TV channels owned by evangelical churches. What once seemed aberrations from extremist sects now seem to be becoming commonplace.

The Observer report comes a week after an essay the Sunday Times by Africanist Richard Hoskins, who has been following the problem for a while:

I knew about the dark side of some Christian revivalist churches and the exorcisms carried out on west and central African children in London either by the churches or on their say-so. I had heard rumours that British children were being taken to Africa, particularly to Kinshasa, for exorcism, and I knew of at least one case where the child was snatched off a London street and taken unwillingly.

…I travelled to Kinshasa and reported back on what happened in these “deliverance” ceremonies…I went from church centre to church centre, seeing evidence of exorcisms. I saw children cut with razors, stamped on, beaten, shouted at and forced to drink pigeons’ blood. Chillingly, I was often given open and unfettered access to these scenes by pastors and practitioners who plainly believed that what they were doing was in the name of God and thus could do no harm to the children.

The Congo witch-hunting problem has been on the radar for a while now (and I very briefly blogged the same phenomenon in Angola back in July). A bit of religious context was provided in the New Humanist in 2004:

On almost every street in Kinshasa there are small churches where preachers and pastors say that Satan and witches are the source of all ills. Congo has four main religious groupings: Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and the Kimbangists, who blend traditional African beliefs with Christian worship. It is mostly the newly emerging Protestant churches and the Kimbangists who advocate belief in witchcraft and identify children as witches.

The magazine also noted the antics of one those directly responsible for the suffering, a certain Prophet Onokoko:

Prophet Onokoko is one of many Christian ministers in Kinshasa offering to exorcise children. He prefers to purge children of demons by making them take laxatives and emetics. They are forced to swallow and later regurgitate foreign objects, which Onokoko then displays as proof of demonic possession. He told BBC investigators: “We had a girl here who vomited a large prawn. When it came out she was at peace.” Prophet Onokoko has over 200 children on his books that have either undergone or are awaiting exorcism.

Mahimbo Mdoe, a Save the Children representative in Kinshasa, told the BBC: “[in Onokoko’s church] children are made to vomit up things that have been inserted into them unnaturally. Two eyewitnesses have told us of objects like bars of soap being inserted into the anuses of children. It all shows just how vulnerable children in Kinshasa are if they get thrown out of their families accused of being child witches.”

The BBC report cited dates from 1999. A 2003 follow-up notes that some efforts were being made to counter the abuse (link added):

A group of former street kids turned musicians are now trying to do something about the situation.

Their band, called La Chytoura, backed by a Unites States NGO Centre Lokole, has released a song and a video to change people’s attitudes.

A British documentary on the subject has also just been made, while Hoskins’ investigations are due to be broadcast on BBC television.

One church that Hoskins is particularly concerned about is Combat Spirituel, which has 50,000 members and a branch in London. He discusses the case of Sita Kisanga, a Congolese immigrant to the UK currently in prison for torturing a girl – Kisanga claims she was only following the instructions of Combat Spirituel, which had diagnosed witchcraft. He also tells us about Londres, a boy similarly diagnosed by the same church in London and taken by his mother to the main church in Kinshasa, where he was held for a month and given very little to eat. Combat Spirituel, however, denies connections to abuse:

Back in England I asked Pastor Raph about the matter. He denied that the church had any involvement with the Londres case.

When I confronted him with my knowledge of the life of the church and its belief in exorcism and what this entailed, he immediately stopped the interview.

Mr Molobo, president of Combat Spirituel in Kinshasa, believes that witchcraft is clearly attested in the Bible, but he insists that it is completely against the doctrine of the church to harm children in any way or to force them to undergo deliverance ceremonies.

That view was repeated to me by one official after another of Combat Spirtuel, including its founders and global leaders, Mama and Papa Olangi, with whom I gained an exclusive interview.

Details about “Mama and Papa Olangi” in English are scarce, but an anonymous 2004 report on “Christian fundamentalist groups” in Africa notes that:

Today in Kinshasa, poorest of the African metropoles, priests and pop stars are the idols of the youth. It’s only logical that Congo’s biggest singing star, Papa Wemba, joined forces with the biggest female church leader, Maman Elisabeth Olangi, whose gigantic mass events are frequently visited by the higher ranks of politicians.

A Christian attack on Maman Olangi’s teachings can be seen in French here. On the other hand, a glowing account of the Olangis is given on the website of the South African branch of ETHSA (End Time Handmaidens and Servants International, link added):

Mama and Papa Olangi…are transforming this nation. They have a ministry here that is incredible. The Olangi foundation reaches into over 35 nations, and sponsors branches, orphanages, Bible schools, Aid’s [sic] care, and churches. People are taught to pray and fast and are delivered from the bonds of witchcraft. The Olangis are changing the face of this nation, one person at a time. This is not a nation of darkness, but where the light of Christ is emerging.

This first ETHSA Congo Convention hosted by Papa and Mama Olangi was held at the “Stadium of the Martyrs” which is the largest outdoor stadium seating 200 000 people. There were about 70 000 people present and how exciting to be a part of the worship of these people here in the middle of Africa! The theme was “The Light has Come”. Bishop Tudor Bismark preached an apostolic message on dominion that seemed to blow the heavenlies apart!…Sister Gwen [Shaw] encouraged us all with her messages on vision and the prophetic word.

This is particularly interesting as Gwen Shaw, the founder of ETHSA, is a white American neo-Pentecostal whose organisation is based in the Ozarks. Unfortunately, most of the information about her available on-line comes from hostile sources connected to anti-Pentecostal Christian strands (I prefer more neutral sources), but it does seem that she is pretty prominent within the movement. Let Us Reason provides a list of “the current members of the Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders in 2003”:

Beth Alves, Mike Bickle, Paul Cain (honorary member), Stacey Campbell, Wesley Campbell, Joseph Garlington, Ernest Gentile, Mary Glazier, James Goll, Bill Hamon, Cindy Jacobs, Mike Jacobs, Jim Laffoon, David McCracken, Bart Pierce, Chuck Pierce, Rick Ridings, John Sandford, Paula Sandford, Michael Schiffman, Gwen Shaw, Dutch Sheets, Jean Steffenson, Steve Shultz, Sharon Stone, Tommy Tenney, Hector Torres, Doris Wagner, Peter Wagner, Barbara Wentroble, Dominic Yeo, Barbara Yoder.

Wagner in particular is famous for his teachings about demons and the need for Christian “deliverance”, and I profiled him here. The link between Shaw and Olangi raises an important issue: it’s clear that social upheaval has caused traditional beliefs about witchcraft to have become more extreme, but is there another element in the dynamic? Have heavily-supernaturalist neo-Pentecostal teachings (and perhaps fundamentalist “Satanic conspiracy” literature) from abroad also played a role in this new development?

16 Responses

  1. […] Rights Watch, the organisation has a new report out on Congolese street-children. As I blogged a couple of months ago, many of these children have been thrown out of their homes following accusations of witchcraft, a […]

  2. […] as I blogged a few months ago, has also been at the forefront of exposing this problem (taking a certain amount […]

  3. […] including some we have blogged before: there’s Sunday Adelaja, the Ukraine-based Nigerian pastor; Gwen Shaw, who has links with a controversial church in Congo; and Prosperity Gospel promoters such as Myles […]

  4. God bless Papa and Maman Olangi so much for the work they’re doing for Jesus. I love this couple. God has chosen them to bring back light on earth.

  5. […] is something I’ve blogged on previously. The abuse of children accused of witchcraft is also an alarming development in Congo, where […]

  6. […] I’ve blogged on the “EndTime Handmaidens and Servants” previously; the organisation has links with “Mama and Papa Olangi”, two Congolese evangelists […]

  7. […] also blogged on child witches in Congo and on a minister famous for getting women to “confess” to being witches in […]

  8. […] also blogged on child witches in Congo and on a minister famous for getting women to “confess” to being witches in Cameroon. […]

  9. New documentary “Children of Congo: From War to Witches”
    Over five million people have died during the past decade as a result of the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Few people are aware of the unimaginable scale of human suffering, death, and destruction that has occurred in this vast country deep in the heart of Africa. In the aftermath of this brutal war, children have endured the brunt of the suffering. This 67 minute film documents the plight of thousands of street children living in Kinshasa and confirms the wide-spread accusations of child witchcraft, torture and child prostitution. The film also examines the efforts to reintegrate demobilized child soldiers, displaced refugees, and orphaned children following the eruption of the massive Nyiragongo volcano, near the city of Goma in Eastern Congo. These heroic efforts are finally bringing some measure of hope and stability to the lives of the Congolese people.

  10. eu sou o david escrevo apartir de luanda em angola e sou membro do minisyerio do combate espiritual fundada pelo papa e mama olangi quem conhece ou convive com papa e mama olangi sabe tudo que dizem contra eles sao puras mentiras. nao adianta criticarem coisa que nao sao verdade por que embora as criticas a evidencia que les sao na verdade servos de DEUS vivo pos que o seu ministerio esta a se espalhar em toda africa europa asia e america e brazil lembrate tu critico que a biblia diz que te combaterao mas nao te venceram por mas que tentam empidir esta visao nao consiguirao por que DEUS esta com eles.

  11. […] And it’s not the only unfortunate association with “child-witches”; in 2006 I noted links between a Wagner associate named Gwen Shaw and Combat Spirituel in […]

  12. […] many of the cases of child-witch stigmatisation I’ve blogged about, mainly from Nigeria and Congo (and spilling into the UK), can be traced back to the  teachings of powerful neo-Pentecostal […]

  13. mama ngai florry bondela

  14. maman ngai florry na vandi luanda sikoyo naza na espagne nazo sufrir mama naya baka nganga na belgique 2mois sima batindi nga awa naza ville ya sevilla nazo sufrir mama nazo senga bazongi sanga pasport ezo monanate mama aza na cofiance ya nzambe nayo bondela ponanga mama na silisi chao

  15. Nos somos de Ministerio de Combate espiritual câ em Moçambique e a nossa sede encontrg na Cidade da Beira.
    Nos agredecemos ao mama olangi e papa olangi da obra do Ministerio que estam a desempenhar e o senhor lhe abençoe grandemente. E Testemunhamos a todo mundo que o Ministerio e verdadeiro.

    pastor Gimo Mapenda

  16. […] Neither church was identified in the programme, although both appeared to be small and ramshackle. Church members wore distinctive items of clothing; at the first, a while sash marked with red crosses, and at the second, white dresses with gold trimmings and blue head-scarves. There did not appear to be any connection to wider neo-Pentecostal networks, which was a subject I raised in relation to Congo here. […]

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