Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hair fetishes, etc.

A quick update on the bizarre events that have been unfolding in Mbandaka. As you may recall, a group of rebels attacked the airport in the town, the capital of Equateur province, on Easter Sunday. The whole incident was an interesting exercise in how the media portrays the conflict.

According to the government, seven soldiers, three policemen, three UN workers, 21 rebels and two civilians were killed in the violence. Here are some of the titles of news stories:
  • Fighters kill UN peacekeeper in north Congo attack (Reuters)
  • DR Congo attack kills two UN workers (BBC)
  • Filipino doctor dies fleeing rebel attack in Congo (All Headline News)
  • South African bush pilot killed in DRC rebel attack (Sunday Times)
Ok, I understand that it's more newsworthy when a foreigner dies in the Congo than when dozens of Congolese die. Plus, some of the stories coming out later by the same agencies did talk about the political significance of the attacks and the displacement of the Congolese.

But this was kicker:
  • Spaniard seized by Congo rebels seeking war fetishes
By the New York Times! (Well, Reuters, but picked up by the NYT.) Anyway, apparently a poor Spanish doctor was vacationing on the Congo river (as people often do) when we happened upon some rebels. What did they do? They kidnapped our man, who was subsequently "shaved completely by Ibrahim (a rebel leader) who believes in magical fetishes made with hair and body hair of whites." Is this really newsworthy?

This story then dominated the news cycle for several days until today, the Congolese army announced that they had rescued the doctor in a "commando" operation. Again, the New York Times (via Reuters) picked up the story; here's the first paragraph:
Congo's army said on Tuesday it had rescued a Spanish doctor from rebels who had held him for nearly two weeks and reportedly shaved his hair for war fetishes.
Ahhh! What's up with his hair!?! Really, in the first paragraph? I know that no news sells like hair fetish news, but really?


Alex Engwete said...

I couldn't stop laughing reading this post... Well, it's the Congolese information minister Lambert Mende Omelanga who announced that the Basque physician Mario Zarsa Manresa had been abducted and shaved--his hair used as "nkisi" (Lingala = juju) to turn bullets into water. I think it's a news worthy item as the Enyele are led by shamans who made them believe they're invulnerable to bullets... I even wrote a post on the subject (you'd certainly disagree with it), quoting Ernesto Che Guevara who'd found the same belief in "dawa" (Swahili = juju) among the Congolese Marxist revolutionaries of Laurent Kabila in the 1960s in eastern Congo... The jump from hair to body parts of Caucasians could happen, especially as next door in Tanzania they hunt albinos for body parts to be used in the manufacture jujus...

schauzeri said...

Dear Jason,
thanks for your very informative blog (my guide to all thing related to DRC). As I have already told Alex Engwete, I have used your entries on this topic to write about the Spanish media coverage of the news on DRC (!

Colored Opinions said...

Mario Zarsa Manresa hairdo reminds me of "twitter offer", a poem by the popular Dutch tv poet Nico Dijkshoorn: "A shampoo company offered me 1000 dollars if I twitter that I don't use their shampoo"

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