by Abu-Jahlil Astrid Chacha
The protagonists of cybercrime in the western part of the African continent are teenagers or even younger, high school students, boys, girls, men and women from all social classes. The majority of them for the past decade dropped out of school to devote themselves to cybercrime so as to earn a lot of money rapidly.
Their office is the internet café, where they quarrel and joke in an ambiance of noisy excitement. When they earn money – up to millions of U.S. dollars – they loudly demand respect from everyone. They rent apartments and buy new cars and laptop computers.
They invite their friends to get together daily in the night clubs, hold extravagant birthday parties, drink local beer continually, spending $3,500, $4,500, $5,000 U.S. dollars in one night. For sex, they pay money to the pretty girls of the city. They declare that even football stars and government ministers would like to have their girlfriends.
They make movies that they broadcast on their YouTube channels. After this “boucan” (buccaneer) life, many become poor again. Some claim to have investments.
They give themselves boastful new names referring to large nations’ currency, such as “Chala Dollar,” “King Euro,” “Mighty Rich,” “Mamadi of New York,” “Beauty Money,” “Check the Check,” “Money Lover,” “Dollar Castel.” They listen to coupé-decalé, a music genre that celebrates the richest cybercrime heroes. They dress like the coupé-decalé music stars.
Before starting their operations online, the cybercriminals visit a mystic wizard who recommends they commit a “zamou,” a “gbagbadji,” a murder, a bloody sacrifice or some other wicked action to perpetrate against some person or animal or make a pact concluded through mysticism, summoning the power of the devil to guarantee the success of their new venture.
The “zamou” is a ritual of black magic, a bewitchment, a pact with evil spirits to oblige the person targeted through the internet to believe and easily accept all the perpetrators’ requests. In exchange, when they earn money, they reward the wizard marabout (a person believed to have supernatural power). When they succeed, they have to faithfully renew the “zamou” and “gbagbadji” pact; otherwise the “zamou” power would not be reliable any more.
The rule is to strictly obey whatever the wizard recommends; for example, he will tell the person who wants to have money permanently in his pocket to bring a human organ or not to bathe. They go along with it. Many families support them and live on the money gained by fraud.
These young people proudly identify themselves as “brouteurs.” This fraud activity is called “broutage” and “bara.” “Brou” means “bread” in Dioula, an old local language of ethnic traders. So “broutage” literally means “looking for his bread.”
“Broutage” is a mixed word invented from two languages, Dioula and French. “Bara” in Dioula means “to work.” The words “broutage” and “bara” were conceived in Ivory Coast, a French speaking country of Western Africa.
Broutage became a fashion, a religion for youth in all of Western Africa. Broutage started in Nigeria with Ibo people who, fearing their state police repression, migrated to the neighboring countries to develop their corruption. Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana, Benin, Togo, Burkina-Faso, Mali, Nigeria – all are sanctuaries for broutage.
They appear on a red list of dangerous countries considered highly risky for money transfers. The victims – companies, multinationals, embassies, banks, businessmen, online marketing websites and citizens – are located not only in Europe and America but also in the brouteurs’ countries.
An impressive number of victims from France, Switzerland, USA, Canada and even Africa have complained to their own governments and travelled to West Africa to file their lawsuits in a court of justice. The Western African governments have adopted laws to inaugurate a police strategy based on computer technology engineering skills in order to arrest the brouteurs. Lots of brouteurs have been arrested and jailed, but many are still free and active in internet cafes or at home.
In 2013, Stephane Konan, the chief of the PLCC, the Côte d’Ivoire anti-cybercrime agency, arrested two famous brouteurs who are well known internationally, Bahi Fulgence and Doudou Herman, who could escrow more than $2 million in U.S. dollars. Bahi had already spent five years in prison in Senegal for having a stolen credit card.
As CIO-MAG, an Ivorian telecommunications magazine, related, according to reports by Col. Guelpetchin Ouattara, head of the DITT, a department of the Côte d’Ivoire anti-cybercrime agency, 1,459 cases of cybercrime were solved in 2016, 1,409 in 2015 and 509 in 2014. The global total of money stolen has increased from January to June 2015 to the same period in 2016 from $1,830,000 to $1,863,000 U.S. dollars, as revealed by Col. Guelpetchin.
The chief of DITT had been invited in 2015 by Francopol, a French police agency, to the national police school in Nicolet, Quebec, to negotiate a cooperation plan against cybercrime between the police in Canada and Côte d’Ivoire. The French and Swiss police also provide training to the Côte d’Ivoire anti-cybercrime agency.
AVEN is an association in France of internet escrow victims that struggles to widely spread warning messages to help people avoid becoming new victims. In Côte d’Ivoire, SYNECCI is an association of 750 internet cafes against cybercrime. People are more prudent today.
How do the brouteurs act? They never create email accounts with their own picture. Male brouteurs exploit a pretty young Black woman’s picture to chat with white men, “blofouês,” whose dream is to marry a Black miss.
The fake Black miss sends him love messages, exactly as a young woman would do, for many long months to seduce the white man, to make him fall in love with the Black miss in the picture, the queen he thinks is so lovely. White men seem naïve and trust too easily.
The brouteur using the picture of a Black miss, once he is sure that the white man has really fallen in love with the Black miss, “she” alleges that “she” is sick or needs money to cure her very sick mother and begs the white man for financial assistance. Convinced of having met the Black princess of his dreams, the white man quickly transfers money to a fictitious identity.
The brouteur sends him some false ID documents. The white men never detect that the ID documents are false because white men currently living in Europe aren’t familiar with African ID papers.
The brouteur has a friend, a partner working in a Western Union office. When the white man transfers the money, the brouteur runs to see his partner at the Western Union office to pick up the money. Of course, the partner in the Western Union office benefits. Policemen are suspected of being partners in crime with brouteurs. Women brouteurs can use the same plan.
Brouteurs using the picture of a Black miss incite white men to masturbate in front of a webcam. Brouteurs record the masturbation scene. They threaten to post the movie to the white man’s family, his work colleagues or on YouTube. Brouteurs require huge amounts of money to keep the shameful movie secret. Two young French men committed suicide under the pressure of the brouteur’s blackmail.
In a chat with religious people, brouteurs show a picture of an old mosque or church and say they need funds to restore it. They show pictures of cars, buildings and land, pretending they’re for sale. They send fake documents to give the impression of being the owner of the object for sale. When people interested in buying it transfer the money, the brouteur stops having any conversation with the pitiful customer.
They convince people with preposterous stories about having inherited a fortune. They promise a percentage to the one who would finance the inheritance administrative procedures. They ask for the victim’s secret bank account information and signature and create a fake letter to the bank ordering a money transfer to their bank account in the victim’s name. They pretend to be lawyers, policemen. They have a limitless ability to lie.
Brouteurs justify their behavior arguing that they are recovering from white men the money the colonialists stole in Africa – revenge for the slave trade. They call it “colonial debt.”
They mention the high rate of unemployment and European responsibility in the wars and the poverty in Africa. But would public opinion respond favorably to these brouteurs who attack their own country’s citizens? Strangely, brouteurs become poor again after a brief life of luxury. They sink into mental illness, madness. Tragically, they are dying one by one from amazing accidents and complicated diseases too.
Abu-Jahlil Astrid Chacha, a freelance journalist and columnist based in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the three-day “Google Days” conference held in Côte d’Ivoire in May 2012, Ivorians taught the Google team to dance the coupé-decalé.