Black History Month: Irene Kouame

In honor of Black History Month I’m profiling one African-American MP every day on this blog for the month of February. Today’s case is Irene Kouame, a seventeen-year-old girl who disappeared from Pasadena, California on August 23, 2001. She’s from the sub-Saharan African nation of Cote d’Ivoire aka the Ivory Coast, and was in the U.S. on an exchange program.

Irene is classified as a runaway. Perhaps she simply didn’t want to return to her home county, a third-world nation that saw a coup in 1999 and, after her disappearance, two civil wars inside of a decade.

Irene would be 33 years old today.

ET entry for would-be assassin Moustapha Lo

For today on Executed Today it’s one of my entries: Moustapha Lo, who drew a loaded gun on Senegalese prime minister Leopold Sedar Senghor in 1967. He later claimed, rather unconvincingly in my opinion, that he wasn’t trying to kill Senghor, only to scare him. He was executed by firing squad on this day in 1967.

Yesterday I realized ET had only one entry for Senegal (and it’s also mine) and went to see if there were any other executions for that country. I saw Moustapha Lo and realized his death date was only one day away and of course I just had to write the entry for him in a hurry. I think it turned out pretty well.

In addition to being a statesman, Senghor was a good poet. I took a course on comparative literature at Wright State University the summer before I went to college, and we studied his poems. One, called “New York”, was good enough that I memorized a verse:

New York, I say New York! Let black blood flow into your blood
Let it wash the rust from your steel joints, like an oil of life
Let it give your bridges the curve of hips and supple vines
Now the ancient age returns, unity is restored
The reconciliation of the Lion and Bull and Tree
Idea links to action, the ear to the heart, sign to meaning
See your rivers stirring with musk alligators and sea-cows with mirage eyes
No need to invent the sirens. Just open your eyes to the April rainbow
And your ears, especially your ears, to God
Who in one burst of saxophone laughter
Created heaven and earth in six days
And on the seventh slept a deep Negro’s sleep.

Uganda Martyrs Day

As written by me on Executed Today: on this day in 1886, twenty-two Christians were martyred for their faith in what is now the country of Uganda. They were burned alive. Most of them were only in their teens or early twenties.

There was one survivor, a boy who was inexplicably pulled from the flames at the last moment. I couldn’t find any reason for this, other than that he was only thirteen years old, the youngest of the group. But the chief executioner’s own son, who was fourteen, wasn’t spared. The only break he got was being clubbed over the head before he was burned.

The king who arranged this, Mwanga II, was only sixteen himself at the time; the martyrs were mostly his own pages. He was later overthrown and exiled. Ironically, Mwanga converted to Christianity himself a few years before he died.

I never know what to think about such stories. I prefer the Jewish point of view. Judaism does NOT invite martyrdom and they explicitly allow you to deny your faith and break religious law if that’s what you have to do to save your own life. I can understand and even kind of admire the strength and solidarity displayed by these boys, but at the same time…what a senseless waste of human life.

Kenyan MPs

I was writing up the case of a missing Kenyan-American guy, Eugene Bush Wekesa, when I stumbled across the website Kenya Missing and Unidentified Persons, or KMUPS. They also have a Twitter account. I thought I’d give KMUPS a shout-out here, since little is said about missing people from outside the US, Canada or Great Britain. Thanks for getting the word out, KMUPS!

Article about missing South African girl

I found this article about Mbali Nkosi, a fifteen-year-old girl from Dube, South Africa who vanished without a trace seven months ago. She went to the grocery store and never came back. Later that day her mom, Zodwa, got a (text?) message saying “please call me.” She did, and Mbali said “Mama” and then the line went dead and she was never heard from again. Reminds me of Maria De Los Angeles Martinez. Or Diane Augat.

Mbali’s sixteenth birthday was on February 7. The article says, “Her disappearance has since affected Zodwa, who was admitted at Chris Hani-Baragwanath Academic Hospital.” From that sentence I’m not sure if it was depression or just health problems caused/exacerbated by stress. I checked the hospital website and it doesn’t have a psychiatry/behavioral health department listed. It is, in any case, very sad.

There have been anonymous calls from people saying they saw Mbali, and one wanted 1000 South African rands (about $123) to reveal her whereabouts. Her father arranged to meet up with the man, but he never showed. I looked up her name on Google and found several people with that name, but most of the results weren’t about this Mbali. I did find this article written shortly after her disappearance. She was a Grade 9 student at Orlando West High School in Soweto, and was considering a career in nursing.

It sounds as if Mbali might have been forced into prostitution. I certainly hope not. I know the crime rate in South Africa is very high — as is the HIV infection rate, which Wikipedia says is at 18.10% compared to .60% in America.

Another MP from South Africa

Found this article about Edna Elaine Piercey, a sixteen-year-old girl who’s been missing from Rustenberg, South Africa since 2001. She was last seen walking to a friend’s house. The article has an AP drawing of her, as well as a letter written by her mother, Janine Lottering.

Just months after Edna disappeared, Lottering’s other daughter, Blanche disappeared and soon after her body was found.

Blanche was brutally murdered and her face was removed. “There was a hole where her face was,” Lottering said.

She also believes that her daughters’ tragedies are connected, that Blanche might have been taken by the same people who took Edna.

Holy crap. That’s horrible. Reminds me of the Debra Jean Cole disappearance and her sister Frances’s murder.

South Africa’s missing children

I found this article about missing kids in South Africa; apparently it’s a very serious problem. One paragraph didn’t make sense though:

The Pink Ladies group said less than 70 percent of missing children are found within the first week, but the rest never. The figures are conservative, they said. Many more went missing and were never reported.

So, a child is NEVER found after the first week? I understand the chances of them getting found go down the longer they’re missing, but I have a hard time believing NO ONE gets found after a week. But the idea that less the 70 percent get found in the first week is pretty scary.

Here are a few South African missing children and teens, whose posters are on the NCMEC site:

Veronique Adams, missing since 1989, when she was only a year old. She was abducted by her nanny, named Beauty. I found an article that talks about the disappearance: Veronique Adams was barely a year old when she was abducted. Her mother Junice returned from work to find the house in shambles, the nanny gone and Veronique with her: ‘The people in the street saw her walking down the road with Veronique on her back and a suitcase in her hand, and nobody has ever been able to trace her,’ says Junice.

Shaunice Robin Adams, missing since 1990, when she was a year and a half. The same article I linked to above talks about her case as well: 19-month-old Shaunice Adams was playing with her cousins. Her parents Vincent and Joyce Adams haven’t seen her since. One of the children told Joyce that ‘a woman with an orange overall’ took her by the hand and walked off with her – leaving behind a shattered family.

Maria Blaauw, missing since 1998, when she was fifteen. Classified as a runaway. I found a person by that name on Facebook, residence listed as Johannesburg, but the photos are of a white woman and the missing Maria is black.

Tracy Boucher, missing since 1998. I’m not sure how old she was, because the posters give a default DOB of January 1, 1970 when they don’t know. She appears to have been in her mid- to late teens. She apparently ran away from a children’s home, where she was sent to stay temporarily after her boarding school closed.

Sikumbuzo Cenga, missing since 2000, when he was nine or ten. He was sent out to buy bread and never came back home. I found an Afrikaans-language article that, translated by Google, says: Sikumbuzo Cenga (10) disappeared after his mother took him to a store sent. He was never seen again. The day of his disappearance he was in a blue shorts and a gray shirt dress.

Melusi Dladla, missing since 1999. No idea as to his age, though from the picture he looks to have been not older than his early teens. He left for school, never arrived there and never came home.

Lungile Dlamini, missing since 1999, when she was two. She disappeared while playing with some other children.

Charl Duister, missing since 1994, just short of her third birthday. A man her mother had laid a criminal charge against apparently kidnapped her: witnesses saw her getting into his car, and he turned up later without her and said he didn’t know where she was and she had never been with him in the first place.

Hester Du Preez, missing since 2001 on her nineteenth birthday. She was in a car with a man who said he dropped her off near her home, but she never arrived home. Like the Kimberly Moreau case.

Chantelle Gordon, missing since 1996, when she was ten. Suspected family abduction by her father; he might have taken her to Cloetesville.

Renata Ismail, missing since 1999, just before she turned five. (The poster says “Renate” but I found several articles that mention her and all called her “Renata.”) She was abducted by a strange man who climbed through the window and took her from the bedroom. A sketch of the suspect is provided.

Innocenta Lungelo Kentane, missing since 1994, when she was eight. She was supposed to meet her aunt, but never showed up.

Danie Labuschagne, missing since 2000, when he was eighteen. He had AIDS and was living in a home for people with AIDS. He just walked out one day without saying where he was going, and never came back.

Kwesi Lobeloane, missing since 1997, when he was fifteen. It looks like he ran away from home after he crashed his mom’s car.

Francois Louw, missing since 1999, when he was five. He disappeared from the farm where his uncle worked. Farm workers saw him, and then he was suddenly gone. It reminds me of the Richard Ray Barnett case.

Siphesihle Farewell McHunu, missing since 1999, when he was six. He left school without permission with a man he called “Uncle” and was never seen again. Like Bianca Lebron.

Kamogelo Mogane, missing since 2000, when she was five. Presumed family abduction by her father, who took her to London for a vacation and never returned with her.

Nobuhle Mokone, missing since 2001, when she was only six weeks old. Taken from her mother’s home under false pretenses by an unknown woman. There’s no photo available for Nobuhle and a sketch is used instead.

Mighael Myburg, missing since 1997, when he was two. He was kidnapped from his front yard by a strange man.

Mgondana Nkosi and her sister Nhlanhla, missing since 1999. The date of birth for Mgondana is given as 1984, which would have made her fourteen at the time; however, if she was fourteen that photo is seriously out of date. Nhlanhla was a year old. The girl were abducted by their father and taken to Mozambique.

Vuyokazi Nolili, missing since 1999, when she was seven. A suspect was charged in her abduction; he maintained his innocence and it’s unclear how the criminal case went.

Zephany Nurse, missing since 1997. She was kidnapped from the hospital only three days after birth. I found this article about her disappearance with a better picture, and also this article. In 2009, someone called Zephany’s family and said she had information and wanted money in exchange for it. It turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a neighbor of Zephany’s grandmother.

Ranelle Terblanche, missing since 1998, when she was fourteen. She left a note behind saying she was running away because she was very unhappy and didn’t want to go to school anymore.

Sindiswa Jennette Walaza, missing since 2001, when she was sixteen. She was on a bus to Bloemfontein and apparently did arrive there, but vanished after that and was never seen again.

Conviction in Onyango case

Ernest Troy Freeby has been convicted in the murder of his wife, Edwina Onyango, an immigrant from Kenya who disappeared in December 2007 from Pennsylvania. The case was strong because, even though there was no body, they found quite a lot of Edwina’s blood in Ernest’s basement and coal bin and he had no explanation for it. Their marriage was apparently mostly for convenience, so Edwina could get a green card and get on the path to citizenship.

Ernest’s defense was that Edwina wasn’t really dead and instead had just dropped out of sight for reasons of her own; he claimed to have heard from her as recently as July 2009, eighteen months after she vanished. The prosecution pointed out that Ernest couldn’t prove his claims and they could find no one else who claimed to have seen or heard from Edwina. They flew her dad all the way over from Kenya to testify that Edwina had been in regular contact with her family back in the old country, and this contact had abruptly ceased in late 2007.

This Morning Call article provides a good summary of the case, as does WFMZ-TV. No word on how much time Ernest Freeby is expected to get.

Edwina was 34 years old when she died. One of her relatives said, “She was killed. She was killed for apparently stupid reasons.”

Child sacrifice murders in Uganda

This is going a little far afield, but this article about a (technically) unsolved kidnap-murder of a child in a Ugandan village is too interesting to pass up. I feel a bit tentative commenting on it here, as I’m so unfamiliar with the culture etc. But at the bottom, this appears to be no different than any other case where the apparent murderer(s) got away.

(My quotes are from not only the article linked above, but from other articles I encountered whilst researching for this blog entry.)

Kayugi village is known for child disappearances. As an unwritten rule in the area, children under the age of seven are not left unsupervised and are not allowed to venture far away from the homestead at night.

Of course, in America, if you left your seven-year-old unsupervised or let it leave home at night alone, you’d probably find yourself in trouble with Child Protective Services. But things are different in other countries; children get more responsibility and therefore have more maturity at a younger age. (Which is how it ought to be in my opinion. Perhaps not to the point of letting seven-year-olds run wild, but the way American infantilizes their children and adolescents is ridiculous.)

In any case, the unwritten rule didn’t apply to Joseph Kasirye, the victim. He was twelve.

Although Uganda, an impoverished if stable Central African nation, is difficult for me to imagine from my cozy seat in the midwestern U.S., the statements by Joseph’s grandfather, who apparently raised him, sound just the same as what American parents say when they have lost their children.

“It has been three agonising years and I really don’t want to talk about these things,” Mulondo said in his native Luganda, as he slowly settles on what looks like a broken wooden box, now a makeshift seat of sorts. “Speaking of these things open painful wounds which take long to heal again,” he added.

There was an uncomfortable silence; the old man began to silently tear. “What more can the media do? The boy is dead; those who killed him are happily alive and free,” Mulondo grieved.

Supposedly, a neighbor, Umar Kateregga, committed the murder after being paid twelve million (or fifteen million, depending on who you listen to) Ugandan shillings by a local businessman, Godfrey Kato Kajubi, who wanted the child’s head and genitals for a ritual sacrifice.

Twelve million Ugandan shillings is the equivalent of about $4,340 American dollars, according to the Universal Currency Converter. I should note that Wikipedia says the average annual per capita income in Uganda is only either $514 “nominal” or $1,226 in “purchasing power parity.” (Christ, in America, that’s not even rent.) I’m not sure what those terms mean, but regardless, it’s clear that for a Ugandan villager, 4.3k is an enormous sum. One enticing enough, apparently, to cause the said villager to kill a neighbor friend’s grandchild and dismember the body.

Some of the articles I found about the case are written in some language that Google doesn’t translate. Those that were in English said Kateregga and his wife were indicted for Joseph’s murder but never faced trial. From what I can tell, the prosecution planned to try all three together, but the judge wouldn’t allow it and withdrew the charges against Kateregga and his wife until after Kajubi’s trial.

Kateregga’s guilt is obvious: they found Joseph’s bloodstained clothing at his house, he and his wife confessed, and he lead the police to where he’d hidden the child’s remains. However:

Masaka High Court judge Moses Mukiibi later acquitted Kajubi on the basis of “no case to answer” apparently the trial judge had not anything beyond reasonable doubt to convict Kajubi. The nation was outraged.

This article has pictures of Kabuji, Kateregga and the judge. This one, a summary of the judge’s ruling, talks about why Kateregga was acquitted.

And perhaps Kateregga should have been acquitted. Perhaps the case really wasn’t as strong as it appeared, a la Casey Anthony. And it appears the judge let the other two go because they only supposedly committed the murder at Kabuji’s behest, and since he had been found not guilty, then it would be kind of paradoxical to lock up the other two. But Kateregga, anyway, was plainly guilty of killing Joseph for SOME reason, even if he hadn’t really been paid by Kabuji to do it.

It’s a mess.

The State appealed this decision, saying the trial judge had failed to sufficiently evaluate the evidence on record. Led by Justice Amos Twinomujuni, three Court of Appeal judges later ordered a retrial of Kajubi who by this time was a free man and his whereabouts unknown. Police summons, visits to his numerous homes yielded nothing. Kajubi had allegedly disappeared.

And his whereabouts are still unknown.

In the past three years, about 60 people have been killed in suspected ritual murders and only one person was convicted of murder. In 2007, the Police reported three cases of ritual sacrifice, 25 in 2008, 29 in 2009 and three cases have so far been reported this year. The three victims of 2010 were all children, while 15 of the 29 deaths recorded in 2009 were of children.

I have read that, according to some anthropologists, human sacrifices tend to be conducted by people/civilizations in desperate circumstances, those who are constantly living on edge. This may apply to Uganda. However, I’m not sure of this theory: the Aztecs did quite well for themselves, and they did loads of human sacrifices. (Admittedly, not of their own people. Does that make a difference? Shrug.)

I found this website for something called the Gideon Foundation, which is dedicated to stopping child sacrifice in Uganda. The website was made by a sixteen-year-old girl named Samara Madhvani, who apparently attends the International School of Uganda and has won a lot of awards for activism-type things, but I don’t think she actually founded the organization. The site makes for fascinating, if horrific, reading.

At first I thought “wouldn’t a more appropriate name be the Isaac Foundation” but then discovered that it was named not after the Biblical Gideon, but after a four-year-old child named Gideon who was a sacrifice victim. I think the org was founded by Gideon’s parents. Anyway, from the website:

The Police define human sacrifice as the removal of organs or body parts of human beings for purposes of witchcraft, harmful rituals or practices. Available statistics indicate that in 2006 there was one murder reported. This rose to three in 2007, 25 in 2008, 29 in 2009, and seven so far in 2010.

In the year 2009, which had the biggest number of ritual murders, some 123 persons reportedly went missing without trace. Ninety (90) of these were juveniles.

During the same year, 125 suspects were arrested for interrogation, 54 of these were taken to court and charged with several criminal offences, including murder, abduction, and attempt to sell children, kidnap and causing harm/death through practising witchcraft, according to the Police’s annual report of 2009.

The numbers have, however, significantly gone down in 2010. Police point at increased vigilance on their part, as well as awareness of civilians.

One post I found, written by a Ugandan, blames Janet Museveni, the country’s First Lady since 1986, for supposedly introducing human sacrifice to country. I kind of doubt that.

The whole thing is utterly incomprehensible to me. The Gideon Foundation site says “elitists such as medical doctors, well-to-do tycoons, politicians, journalists…are involved with the practices of occultism and ritual murders in order to get economic prosperity, blessings and luck from the underworld.” In other words, people who really ought to know better. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that these murders are ordered by the elites of the country. They would be the only ones who could afford to pay for them.

One of the articles on the site talks about a guy who sacrificed his own oldest son as well as other family members, acts which were supposed to bring him wealth, but (big surprise) did not. Perhaps the Western equivalent would be somebody bumping off various relatives for their insurance money.

But for me, this sacrifice thing…I just don’t get it. It sounds like something out of a bad horror movie to me.

If I have any readers from that part of the world, or who have studied it, I’d love to hear what they have to say about all this.

South African toddler missing for almost a month found under unusual circumstances

I hadn’t heard about this case before today, but a three-year-old girl named Chante Christoffels was abducted in Bellville, South Africa several weeks ago, on June 3. According to this account, a woman whom her parents knew by sight offered to buy her some yogurt, then walked off with her, and this was all captured on CCTV. There’s a picture of Chante here. Her parents are “car guards,” whatever that is, and apparently homeless.

The police found her over the weekend, playing alone not far from where she disappeared, wearing the same clothes she’d been wearing at the time of her abduction. They were clean. It looks like they’re still trying to figure out what happened. In the meantime, Chante is not being returned to her parents’ care, although they’re being allowed to see her. I don’t know if the police think they were involved in the abduction, or whether it’s just concern about their living situation, or what.