Skeletons discovered in home of deposed Central African Republic president

April 10, 2013

A rebel colonel points to two holes in the garage of one of the houses of ousted Central African President François Bozize in the northern Bangui neighborhood of Sassara. (PATRICK FORT/AFP/Getty Images)

Francois Bozizé spent 10 years as president of the Central African Republic before, last month, one of the country's rebel groups ousted him from power. Bozizé's rule was notoriously corrupt, so the world was not too sad to see him flee to neighboring Cameroon.

It's not uncommon to find a few skeletons in the closet of a departed leader. But, in Bozizé's case, this was literally true: rebels entered one of his homes in the capital found two human skeletons carefully hidden underneath the house.

The house is thought to have been occupied by Bozizé's wife, Monique Bozize, although it was empty when rebels arrived. The rebels told the Agence France-Presse that they discovered the skeletal human remains tucked into two rectangular holes that had been carved out of the garage floor. Cement slabs were covering the holes. The Red Cross took the remains away, presumably to be buried.

The rebels, who are now the governing authority of this Texas-sized country, say they want to verify who the bodies belong to. Although the rebels have not accused Bozizé of foul play in regards to these two people, that's not an unreasonable inference when you discover dead people underneath the house of a corrupt head-of-state.

Or maybe it's just a couple of deceased loved ones, although it's difficult to understand why they would been hidden or wouldn't at least have a grave marker.

The AFP suggests a different possibility, however. "Ritual killings are a known phenomenon in Central Africa, designed to empower or bring good fortune to whoever orders the murder," the story notes. "Bones belonging to those killed are sometimes also trafficked for use in witchcraft."

That's not necessarily as crazy as it might sound. Witchcraft, or rather a belief in witchcraft, is so common in the Central African Republic that an estimated 40 percent of Central African court cases are witchcraft prosecutions. Human rights workers have actually urged legislators to maintain the law banning its practice. Not, they told The Atlantic's Graeme Wood, because they believe in witchcraft, but because they say that many Central Africans will fear and seek to punish witches with or without the law, so better to do it through a legal system that can at least keep the sentences modest.

Of course, that tends to be more common in remote areas, not in the capital where this house-cum-graveyard was found. But it's not clear if we'll ever find out what happened. Bozizé isn't talking.

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Max Fisher · April 10, 2013