A Cruel Tradition In Congo: When Kids Die, Witch-Hunts Target Parents

A child waiting to be examined at a hospital near Bandundu
A child waiting to be examined at a hospital near Bandundu
Désiré Tankuy

DISASI As the little coffin leaves the hospital morgue in this western Congolese town, there is total silence.

Yves Ibama was 14 years old when he was taken from his parents suddenly, after a short illness. On Buzala Avenue, in the densely populated town of Disasi where the wake is being held, everyone is uncharacteristically serene. Usually, young hoodlums heckle the adults and accuse them of being sorcerers who “eat the body of the deceased.”

A few meters away, some of Yves’ former schoolmates, dressed in their blue and white uniforms, are keeping watch. Around their heads, they are all wearing a white ribbon that reads “Adieu Yves.” They sing funeral songs around the coffin.

Suddenly, a group of older youths appears. They point to Yves’ parents and shout: “They are the ones who ate their child, we must punish them.”

It is a tradition here in the western Congolese province of Bandundu. When children die, their friends retaliate by attacking their parents. They beat up the parents, wreck and burn their houses, or the house of an uncle who is suspected of having eaten the dead child.

Last year, two houses were burned down in Camp Onatra, a Bandundu neighborhood. Two years earlier, several fathers were killed and dozens of houses burnt to the ground. These last months, however, some children have started rebelling against the violence, taking action to protect the families of their dead friends.

Protecting the families

“Nothing bad is going to happen this time,” say Yves’ friends, determined to protect the parents of their deceased comrade. “No one can fight death; it is everyone’s destiny. Please respect the dead,” they say.

Their courageous spokesperson, 14-year-old Tansele Manda, reminds the hoodlums that they are here to mourn the death of their friend and share the family’s grief, and that no trouble will be tolerated. His words managed to dissuade the youths, who leave one after the other. The parents and those who were worried about being attacked and pelted with stones are relieved.

The province’s officials have started cracking down on these young delinquents. Esperant Sanduku, Mayor of Disasi, says there is a new decree that bans these kinds of indecent demonstrations. “The troublemakers will be heavily sanctioned, and the prison gates are wide open to welcome the offenders,” he says.

Yayo-Yayo, 27, has just served six months in Bandundu’s central prison. Since being freed, he has turned his life around, and has a hard time accepting that youths could be so cruel during a funeral. “They shouldn’t be breaking the law. I assure you it’s not fun to go to prison,” he says.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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