Cannibalism in DR Congo: Zainabo's agony

This tragic story from the UN Mission in DR Congo website:
Cannibalism in DR Congo: Zainabo's agony
Mathy Mupapa et Christelle Nyakura/MONUC

Zainabo, on the operation table after the drama. (MONUC) Zainabo, on the operation table after the drama.
When people speak in general terms about the atrocities and abuses committed against the Congolese population, it's not easy to empathize or grasp the scope of the issue. However when we hear of the specifics of individual cases, all of a sudden, the horror rings clear. Such is the case with the story of Zainabo Alfani.

It's June 5, 2003. Zainabo Alfani, a widow and merchant living in Kisangani, decides to travel to Bunia to sell 5 carats of diamonds, earrings, a necklace and three rings, all made of gold. She is carrying $480 on her. Zainabo boards a bus with three of her children, two girls and a six-month-old baby. Her five eldest children are to remain in Kisangani.

14 other women traveling the same road, on the same bus. Between Mambassa (135 km west of Bunia) and Irumu (56 km southwest of Bunia), a series of shots ring out. The passengers ask the bus driver to turn around, and head back to Kisangani. He suggests instead that they get out of the bus and hide in the jungle of Muvuta Bangi until the fighting ahead stops. After, he proposes, the passengers can continue on their way to sell their goods in Bunia as planned. Convinced, the women accept to get off the bus. As for the driver, he, for his part, pulls a U-turn and heads back towards Kisangani, abandoning the women, young girls and baby left alone to seek refuge in the jungle.

Approximately half an hour later, in the middle of the bush at Muvuta Bangi, armed men in army fatigues appear. They are about 18 in number. Only one speaks to the women in their native tongue, Swahili; the others remain silent. He who speaks tells the women to take off all their clothes, after which the armed men examine with attention each of the women's genitals. What are they looking for? Their war fetish: long vaginal lips. Zainabo is the only one who meets this criterion. Her life is spared; the others are ruthlessly massacred. Zainabo is alive, but is mutilated, the men cut off her prized vaginal lips. As if that were not enough suffering, she is then raped by the so-called spokesman of the group. The others follow his lead. Zainabo, in excruciated pain, believes she will die there in the fields. Instead, she faints.

When she regains consciousness, she sees her attackers sharing the piece of flesh they cut from her loins. They cut into her right foot, her left forearm, and underneath her right breast, in order to extract her blood. Five among her attackers, no doubt the leaders of the group, shallow a mixture of her blood and water, along with pieces of her flesh. After this ritual, they take her and her three children farther into the brush, some 2 kilometers away. Zainabo is totally lost. They arrive somewhere that seems to serve as a sort of kitchen, where she sees human bones. A "cook" is skewing pieces of a human body over an open flame. Meanwhile, more cooks are heating up oil and water.

The men in uniform seize Zainabo's two girls, 10-year-old Alima and 8 year-old Mulassi, and submerge them, one after the other, in the barrels. They mix them with a large iron rod used as a spoon and pierce their stomachs in order to ensure a proper "cooking". They eat one of the bodies with foufou (a Congolese specialty, dough made of manioc) and they save the other body for later in the night.

The "spokesman" explains to Zainabo that the ritual is to continue with her body, by cutting into her stomach and placing a piece of wood wrapped in white paper. Zainabo's baby, he promises, will be spared. Zainabo muster the courage to ask of him one favour: that her body and the remains of her baby be left on the main road, so that someone of good faith may find them and give them a proper burial. The man simply proceeds to cut her stomach open. She faints.

Zainabo awakes at Bujumbura's Nouvelle Espérance (New Hope) hospital. The staff explains to her that passersby found her and her baby alongside the main road, not far from where she first got off the bus. She had been taken to Bunia before being transferred to the Burundian capital for the appropriate medical care.

Zainabo, now HIV/AIDS positive, leaves the hospital two years later. At this time, an NGO called "Héritiers de la Justice" (Hiers of Justice) in Bukavu looks after her progress for a month. She travels then to the Congolese capital, Kinshasa where other HIV/AIDS organizations take care of her. Her son is now 3 years old.

On February 17th 2005, she presents her case before MONUC's Human Rights Section, in Kinshasa. She sobs as she relives her excruciating story, all the while unveiling the numerous scars on her body. Zainabo dies at Kinshasa's General Hospital on March 11th, at the age of 42.

Zainabo, in February 2005 with her 3 years old son. (MONUC) Zainabo, in February 2005 with her 3 years old son.