Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

When James Katana returned from a church service to his village in the Bugiri district of eastern Uganda he was told that his three-year old son had been taken away by strangers.

“We were looking for my child for hours, but we couldn’t find him,” he said. “Someone rang me and told me my son was dead and had been left in the forest. I ran there and saw him lying in a pool of blood. His genitals had been cut off, but he was still alive.” A witch-doctor is now in police custody, accused of the abduction and attempted murder of the boy.

Despite the mutilation and terror the child experienced, police say he was one of the lucky ones. Uganda has been shocked by a surge in ritualistic murders and human sacrifice, with police struggling to respond and public hysteria mounting at each gruesome discovery.

In 2008 more than 300 cases of murder and disappearances linked to ritual ceremonies were reported to the police with 18 cases making it to the courts. There were also several high-profile arrests of parents and relatives accused of selling children for human sacrifice.

In January this year the Ugandan government appointed a special police taskforce on human sacrifice and announced that 2,000 officers were to receive specialist training in tackling child trafficking with the support of the US government. Since the taskforce was set up there have been 15 more murders linked to human sacrifice with another 200 disappearances, mainly of children and young adults, under investigation.

Both police and NGOs are attributing the surge to a new wave of commercial witch-doctors using mass media to market their services and demand large sums of money to sacrifice humans and animals for people who believe blood will bring great prosperity.

“Cases of child sacrifice have always existed, mainly in the Ugandan central region, but there is a new strain of traditional healers in Uganda and their geographical spread is mainly attributed to increased unemployment and poverty,” said Elena Lomeli. She is a volunteer with the British charity VSO who is supporting ANPPCAN Uganda, a child abuse NGO, in its work with victims in the capital Kampala. “My experience working with victims suggests that the abusers are greedy people who want to get rich quick. In rural areas, people can sacrifice their own child. In urban areas, educated and rich people will look for somebody else’s.”

Looming food shortages and famine hitting Uganda’s poorest in the north and east are also feeding the demand for sacrificial rituals. “These are not poor people paying for these rituals, they are the wealthy elite taking advantage of the desperate poor,” said Binoga. “In January a 21-year-old woman was jailed for 16 months for kidnapping a child and trying to sell him to a witch-doctor for a large sum. These cases are on the increase.”

Ugandan police are increasingly linking the sudden increase in cases to organ trafficking. The anti-human trafficking taskforce said many of the bodies found in the past few months were missing organs such as kidneys, hearts and livers, a detail not consistent with many traditional ritualistic practices.

Government officials have warned that perceived police inaction over the ritual murders could lead to political instability as mob justice takes over.

Roland Kakooza Mutale, director of special duties in Uganda’s state house, said the ritual murders of mostly poor children were “politically frightening” and that action had to be taken quickly.

This is an edited version of a story, which first appeared in The Observer on 6 September 2009. Click here to read it in full.


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Gloria Sherman was 13 years old when Charles Taylor‘s soldiers came for her in 2001. Flushed from her hiding place in the bush outside her village in Lofa, northern Liberia, she was forced to watch as her father and brother were skinned alive. Then she was taken into a captivity lasting nearly two years: a conscript child soldier and a sexual slave in the former president’s army.

She is 18 now, but the memories are still raw. “We used to do bad, bad things that they told us to do,” she said last week. “Sometimes even if you were only 10 years old they would put guns and ammunition on your head to carry to the battle; you have to do what they said or they’d kill you. They killed many children, many girls. All the time many soldiers would have sex with you, every night they would come and have sex and beat you, and if you said no they would kill you or hit you with guns.”




Two years of systematic rape and beatings have left Gloria with jagged scars and internal injuries so severe that she has little chance of ever becoming a mother. When she managed to escape from her captors and make her way back to her village, she found that she was now an outcast.

Labelled a “rebel wife” and accused of collaborating in the violence inflicted on her village by drugged and ruthless soldiers during the war, she says that the only way she can survive is by having sex with men – NGO workers, government officials and businessmen – who often pay her in food, sanitary towels or soap.

“They say we are bad girls because of what we did in the war and what we do now,” Gloria said. “But they took me and I had no choice.”

This is an edited extract of an article on Liberia’s former child soldiers first published in The Observer on 12 July 2009. Click here to read the original article in full and to watch the video.

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The partially clothed body of Eudy Simelane, former star of South Africa‘s acclaimed Banyana Banyana national female football squad, was found in a creek in a park in Kwa Thema, on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Simelane had been gang-raped and brutally beaten before being stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs. As well as being one of South Africa’s best-known female footballers, Simelane was a voracious equality rights campaigner and one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian in Kwa Thema.

Her brutal murder took place last April, and since then a tide of violence against lesbians in South Africa has continued to rise. Human rights campaigners say it is characterised by what they call “corrective rape” committed by men behind the guise of trying to “cure” lesbians of their sexual orientation.

This is an edited version of a longer article investigating the phenomenon of “corrective rape” against lesbians in South Africa., which appeared on guardian.co.uk on 12 March 2009.

Click here to see the story as it appeared and watch the video

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To reach Zambia’s new frontline in its long and protracted battle against the HIV/Aids virus, you have to leave the hospital wards and government buildings of Lusaka and head out into the wide open expanses of the bush.

Eight hours west of the capital in the dusty Mouyo rural health centre, 62-year-old Baxter Kayombo Mubanga describes himself as a soldier waging war against the disease that has killed so many of his friends and neighbours.

“Out here we are fighting, fighting, fighting against this epidemic,” he says. “I am sick to the bone of seeing my community shrivel and die with this disease. When I discovered I was HIV positive in 2003 I told all my neighbours to take the test; most of them who refused are now dead. We have to say enough is enough.”


Transmission is still highest in Zambia’s urban centres and industrial copper belt. But it is in rural communities like Mouyo that a lack of access to health facilities, chronic shortages of trained healthcare workers, and cultural stigma and discrimination have ensured HIV rates remain stubbornly high.

This is an extract from a longer article on how Zambians are fighting back against the rise of HIV/Aids, which first appeared in The Guardian in October 2008.  Click here to read it in full.

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When 60 countries from around the world pledged their commitment to the new Millennium Declaration in 2000, Liberia wasn’t included in the handshakes and photographs. The small west African state was at war, in the grips of a bitter and bloody civil conflict that had killed hundreds of thousands of its own people and decimated its fragile economy.

Eight years on, the scars remain. Liberia is still one of the least developed countries in the world. Informal unemployment hovers around the 85% mark, access to health services, clean water and sanitation remains limited, and 76% of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

In 2006, a new government headed by former World Bank and UN director Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state, pledged to rebuild Liberia’s economy, heal the deep rifts caused by political corruption and tackle the chronic poverty faced by many of its people.

Speaking to the Guardian by telephone from Liberia, Johnson Sirleaf acknowledges that a history of persistent bad governance and an almost total lack of institutional capacity have chronically undermined Liberia’s chances of hitting any of the targets.

“When the world agreed to the millennium development goals, we were seeing our country regressing developmentally,” says Johnson Sirleaf. “Since then we’ve been trying to catch up.”

This is an extract of an interview with Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, which was first published in The Guardian in August 2008. Click here to read it in full.

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Kahssey Desta, a scared and apprehensive 16-year-old, arrived at London’s Heathrow airport on a dark morning in September 2002 oblivious to what awaited him. Five weeks earlier, his mother had paid a man to collect him from his village in a war-torn province of Eritrea and take him across the border into Sudan to escape the mandatory military service that had seen his three brothers disappear without a trace two years before. From there he was put on a plane to the UK.

“When I landed here I was alone, but I knew if I was made to go home I would be punished and thrown in jail,” says Desta, now a bright, articulate 20-year-old, granted indefinite leave to stay by the Home Office and currently halfway through an accountancy degree. “When I arrived at Heathrow I just turned up and told them what had happened. I prayed they wouldn’t send me back.”

His story is repeated day after day as unaccompanied children – terrified, often traumatised and speaking no English – arrive at airports across the UK. Desta is just one of the young asylum seekers looked after by Hillingdon council, a local authority in west London that, because of its proximity to Heathrow, the largest airport in Europe, is responsible for more than one-third of all unaccompanied minors arriving here.

The problem for public services posed by these young asylum seekers, according to Hillingdon, is not the number entering the UK – which is falling year on year – but the concentration. The average council has a duty of care to 50 young asylum seekers, but Hillingdon is responsible for around 1,140 and is warning that it is nearing financial crisis as a consequence.

Click here to read the rest of the article, which appeared in The Guardian´s Society section in January 2007

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