The So-Called Prophets Tearing Apart Congolese Families

In the province of the Bas-Congo, southwest of Kinshasa, "prophecies" blame innocents for the misfortune of their loved ones.

Church-going in Bas-Congo
Church-going in Bas-Congo
Dieudonné Mwaka Dimbi

LUKALA - It was an ordinary day in late May. Isabelle Lusalakio was cooking in her kitchen when her parents burst into her home, in this city south of Kinshasa. They asked her to leave immediately.

“Pack your bags and come back home to Boma. The man you've been with is not the one that God has chosen for you," her father said.

The parents explained that the self-declared prophet of their church, Jacob Dumbi, told them of God's will, which manifested itself in the fact that the couple hasn't had children in 10 years of marriage.

Isabelle did not disobey her parents, and left without even waiting for her husband to come back. An open feud has since erupted between the two families.

A few months back, in the town of Matadi, a woman forced her nephew to drink rooster blood mixed with oil, before his uncle threw him out. The couple accused him of being responsible for the death, two weeks earlier, of their 6-year-old daughter who was struck by lightning. The mother reacted this way after she came back from a morning church service, where her prophet told her that her nephew was to blame for her child’s death. After she heard what the couple had done to her son, the mother of the boy came to her brother’s house and broke her sister-in-law's arm in the ensuing fight.

In almost every big city or mid-sized town of the Bas-Congo province, these kind of stories are growing more frequent. “They illustrate the blind belief of the population in certain prophets, whom they take for little "Gods', even though most of them are frauds,” complains Didier Mambueni, a Bas-Congo activist. Some ask for money for their services, others do it for free -- following, as they say, God’s will.

Most of the time, those who trust the self-declared prophets tend to have an interest in doing so: It allows them to blame their misfortune and mistakes on others.

Extreme poverty

It is usually extreme poverty that pushes people to believe in such preaching. “Those who believe in prophecies are generally people who come from very poor families, looking for happiness, work or even a spouse,” says Gustave Ngoma of Boma, a port town on the Congo River. However, a farmer from Tshela who was visiting family members in Matadi -- the capital of the Bas-Congo province --, claims he has seen well-known political leaders and top businessmen going to see a famous prophet of Matadi.

The bishop Damien Lukoki is the local responsible of Awakening Churches in the Bas-Congo area. For him, “a prophet does not announce only bad things, but with divine inspiration, he can predict future events.”

The self-proclaimed Prophet Kavungu from the Eglise de Jésus-Christ par l’Esprit de Vérité Bima is more cautious than some of the others. He cites the Bible's saying that “a Church with no prophecy is a dead Church,” although he advises his colleagues from other churches to “try and avoid specifiying names of people in their prophecies…”

He says it is the only way the prophets can “protect themselves from prosecutions that do not honor the profession of God’s servants.”

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!