The Zombies of Kinshasa – Victims of a Bizarre Artisanal Drug

Authorities in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, are worried about the growing popularity of bombé, a new artisanal drug that allegedly turns energetic youths into mindless zombies.

While the rest of the world is battling the Covid-19 pandemic, police in Kinsasha are struggling to contain an epidemic of their own – the rapid spread of a new and dangerous drug that threatens the lives of millions of youths. Known as ‘bombé’, which means powerful in the local Lingala language, this dubious concoction is based on a brown powder obtained from crushing the ceramic core of catalytic converters, a car part designed to cut the emission of toxic gases in vehicle exhaust pipes. Mixed with a variety of pills, this powder reportedly puts users into an almost catatonic state, where they will stand motionless for hours, sometimes days, or just move aimlessly like zombies, which has earned them the ominous nickname “zombies of Kinshasa”.


“Once they consume it, young people become like zombies,” toxicologist Prof. Ndelo Di Panzu told Radio Okapi. “The state of unconsciousness sets in, their gait changes, they sleep standing up, they start scratching their arms. Their facial expression changes as well, sometimes they cry, and sometimes they laugh, for no apparent reason.”

“The users of bombé behave strangely, they are no longer aware of cleanliness, so they get all dirty,” Di Panzu adds. “They no longer want to eat, they sleep almost all day, anywhere.”


The toxicologist’s claims are confirmed by a bombé user interviewed by German newspaper Der Spiegel. The man said that they mix the crushed catalytic converter core with appetite-boosting pills, to make sure they eat while under the influence of the drug. “If we didn’t include them, we wouldn’t eat anything for two days,” the anonymous youth said.

Since its main ingredient is essentially waste material from a used car part, bombé is very cheap – around $1 per dose – which makes it widely available. And since the long-term consequences of snorting or smoking the brown powder are unknown, not even those youths somewhat concerned about their health worry about it. They just want something to forget about poverty and bombé is a much-needed escape from reality.


“Bombé helps us forget everything. In the West, they have bank accounts, I have nothing. With bombé everything is easier,” one user said.

While bombé may not be responsible for any fatalities or serious health conditions, that’s only because it has only been around for a few months now. Since catalytic converters contain an array of toxic, cancer-causing substances and rare metals, doctors fear that it is only a matter of months before the first serious symptoms become apparent in consumers.


But until that happens, authorities in Kinshasa are struggling to stop the spread of the drug by busting both dealers and consumers. Unfortunately, the hundreds of people they have rounded up so far are merely drops in a bucket that keeps getting larger.

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