A man, circled in red, was killed by a mob who accused him of having "stolen" another man's penis. All photos were taken by Cyrille Zoma, a reporter for Observateur Paalga in Burkina Faso.
A man was killed by a mob Monday in Koudougou, a town in central Burkina Faso, after being accused of making another man’s penis “disappear”. It was not an isolated incident: there has been an increase in the number of these strange accusations being made in recent weeks.
This lynching took place in the 10th district of Koudougou, in the city’s west. It all started with a fight at a restaurant between two men: one accused the other of having cast a spell on him simply by touching him. The first man, a local mechanic, claimed that his penis had been "stolen” by the second man, who was not from the district. The first man called the police. But by then, a crowd had gathered around them. Incensed, the residents decided to lynch the man in the middle of the street.
Police and medical staff at the scene of the crime. Photos courtesy of Cyrille Zoma, a journalist for the Observateur Paalga newspaper in Koudougou.

"The police did all they could, but there were not enough of them to control the crowd’s anger"

Cyrille Zoma is a reporter for Observateur Paalga in Burkina Faso.
The first ‘genital disappearance’ case in Koudougou [during the last decade] was on May 2. Since then, I have counted a dozen similar cases in the city. It’s always the same story: someone complains about being approached and touched by a stranger, someone not from the neighbourhood. Immediately, the alleged victims complain of lower stomach pains, tremors, and say they can’t feel their genitals anymore. This only happens with men, and I have been told of it happening in several different parts of town.
After a fight at a restaurant, the alleged ‘penis thief’ was taken to the mechanic’s workshop before being apprehended by the angry crowd.
On Sunday, there was an incident in which the police had to save an accused man from being lynched. Upset residents went to Koudougou’s central police station, where the man they accused was being kept for protection. Over the next few days, many people said that these “penis thieves” should be killed in order to discourage other alleged thieves. And that’s what happened on Monday. The police did all they could, but there were not enough of them to control the crowd’s anger. Later, when medical staff examined the alleged victims of “penis thieves” [including the one from Monday], they couldn’t find anything wrong with them.

A lot of people at the scene on Monday told me the alleged penis snatcher was a foreigner: some say he was Congolese, others say he was Rwandan or Burundian. Without any explanation, people blame “a foreigner”. It turns out that this person was a Burundian marabout [Muslim holy man] from Koudougou’s 8th district.

“Con artists often say they’ve stolen someone’s genitals in order to sell them a miracle product”

Yameogo Baggio, who lives in Koudougou, knows the problem well. As a representative for a French NGO, he has been studying this phenomenon for several years.
Often, con artists take advantage of people’s gullibility and scam them. There are usually two or three accomplices who carry out this scam in three parts: first, someone who claims to have magical powers touches a victim and persuades him that they’ve stolen his genitals. Then, another accomplice approaches the victim and drives home the point by saying that if the victim doesn’t buy a specific product, he’ll lose his ability to reproduce. Finally, the victim pays a hefty sum [Editor’s note: around 30,000 CFA Francs, or 45 euros] for a Viagra-like medicine that is supposed to make his genitals work again.

It had been several years since I had heard of any such cases in Koudougou. There were a few isolated cases in nearby areas about 10 years ago, but they quickly stopped. This time, though, the first cases in the beginning of May were handled very badly: local authorities didn’t intervene immediately to calm the crowds, and a lot of people were caught up in the hysteria. I don’t think the lynching of this man has calmed tensions.
Koudougou’s deputy mayor, Gaston Kagambega, told FRANCE 24 he had gathered local leaders to call for calm. The mayor has also set up a crisis cell at Koudougou’s medical centre to meet with people who say they’ve been victims of “penis thieves”.
The accusations of penis snatching are nothing new, and they don’t just happen in Burkina Faso: several cases have been alleged over the past 15 years, from Abidjan to Accra. Experts who have studied the question say that such rumours have led to nearly 300 deaths and more than 3,000 injuries in West Africa alone.