Zambia, a relatively quiet yet poor African country, experienced rioting of its own yesterday when residents in the town of Mansa in the Luapula Province near the border with D.R. Congo attacked several local businesses. IRIN reports:
Two Zambians and a Congolese national had car tyres and plastic bags hung around their bodies before being set ablaze by irate Mansa residents after a local radio station, Yangeni, broadcast rumours that local business people had hired ritual killers to abduct children and use their body parts to make charms that would boost their wealth.
Another Indian merchant was targeted but managed to escape the mob. Since yesterday, Zambian police have arrested 70 people in connection to the rioting.
According to IRIN, a local economic analyst argued that the riots had little to do with ritual killings, which he claims are a scapegoat for pent-up frustrations with the economic situation in one of Zambia’s poorest provinces. According the Zambia’s Labor Force Survey 2008, Luapula province has among the highest percentages of informal employment in the country (97%) and unpaid family labor (50%). As a result, over 91% of the employed persons in the province work less than 40 hours per week and over 70% are considered underemployed. However, Luapula has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Zambia, 6% versus the national average of 15%.
It’s hard to say whether the looters were driven by economic or security motivations. It does seem plausible that there was a growing sense of animosity toward these few rich merchants in a community plagued with poverty and that the radio story about ritual kills was simply the catalyst. But the most haunting part of the story is the method by which the rioters were rallied – the radio. This has been a common tool throughout African history for stirring the masses into action. Most notably, radios programs were used to insight the Rwandan genocide which just marked its 17th anniversary this month.
Necklacing is one of the most gruesome mob tactics used within sub-Saharan Africa. Unlike recent demonstrations across Africa, riots in Mansa are by far the most violent reported thus far. Hopefully calm has returned in Mansa and we won’t see any more killings of this nature.