2014 Kitwit and Kanshasa Stampedes

congo stampedesThe Democratic Republic of the Congo has had its fair share of issues with human stampedes in 2014.  In April, the city of Kitwit hosted a music festival honoring the late singer King Kester Emeneya.  During the concert, two generators supplying power to the city failed.  This resulted in a venue blackout which triggered a panic and a rush to the exits.

The fatality toll was originally listed at roughly a dozen but eventually increased to at least 40.  The provincial government released a statement blaming the stampede on “a rush of enthusiasm due to the audience.”

Although the tragedy was linked to the failure of power generators, I wouldn’t term it an artificially generated stampede.  It’s merely a verbal coincidence.  However, take note of the trigger.  Observers are often too quick to label the cause of a stampede under the general heading of “panic.”

On May 12, 2014 the city of Kanshasa hosted a rival soccer match between TP Mazembe and AS Vita at the Tata Raphael Stadium.  Late in the game, down by a score of 1-0, the home fans became agitated and began throwing “missiles” onto the pitch.  Some claim that police officers on the field were being harassed and pelted with stones.  Security responded by launching tear gas into the stands.  Plumes of smoke temporarily blinded people and caused them to scatter in various directions.  The end result… 14 pronounced dead due to the crush.

Again, take note of the trigger.  On this occasion, it was disruptive fan behavior that escalated out of control.  Different reasons yielding the same result.

It’s tempting to conclude that the citizens of Congo are somehow more susceptible to stampedes.  Observers are more prone to stereotyping residents of central Africa as violent or lawless or less civilized.  These assumptions are dangerous and incredibly misguided.  Human stampedes are a WORLDWIDE phenomenon.

Stampedes are caused by a wide variety triggers.  Claiming that a stampede was caused by panic is similar to a coroner stating that an individual’s death was the result of his dying.  Once a stampede starts, it will run its course.  There are no cases on record where a real-world stampede has been successfully diffused.  It’s a stampede.  It would preclude the very definition.  The solutions lie in awareness and prevention, not mitigation and denial.  At some point in the future, a “cellularly induced” or artificially generated stampede is inevitable.  Wouldn’t it be a wise course of action to anticipate and plan accordingly?  Maybe just start telling people that emergency venue evacuation orders don’t come from cell phones?