Monday, January 19, 2015

Body lauds ban, but says more needs to be done

Earlier this month, the UN voiced its concern

Earlier this month, the UN voiced its concern about the new wave of attacks on people living with albinism following the abduction of a girl with albinism in Kwimba District.  Speaking during a tour of the Lake Zone, UN Resident Coordinator in Tanzania Alvaro Rodriguez urged the government to step up efforts to curb discrimination and attacks against disabled people, especially those living with albinism. 

Dar es Salaam. A prominent global organisation working to achieve fair treatment and social integration of people with albinism has welcomed Tanzania’s latest move to protect albinos.

Ms Coumba Makalou Keita, executive director of the Mali-based Salif Keita Global Foundation, which works to achieve fair treatment and social integration of people with albinism, said Tanzania’s decision to ban witchcraft was a step in the right direction, according to Britain’s International Business Times. She added, however, that the persecution of albinos is widespread in several African countries.

“Tanzania has been the best country in terms of documenting the persecution, but incidents are happening everywhere in Africa, including in Mali.

“We spoke with the government in Mali about putting a ban on witch doctors, but there is a lot of resistance so we are very proud of Tanzania and we hope it could influence other countries,” Ms Keita said.

However, she added that a lack of education and misconceptions also must be addressed to successfully tackle the persecution of albinos.

Albinos are not considered as human beings, Ms Keita explained, and they are often regarded as ghosts.

She said: “Many people believe that albinism is a spiritual problem and not a genetic disorder. They believe that albinism can be separated from the body and there is a value in albinos’ blood.

“Some people call albinos ‘walking ghosts’ as they think that they don’t really die, so they cannot really be killed. That’s the justification for their murders. Killing albinos is not seen as homicide.”

The government last week banned witchcraft-related activities and launched a special operation to arrest those linked with the practice. The move comes after a four-year-old girl was abducted in Mwanza and amid a rise in attacks on albinos.

Home Affairs minister Mathias Chikawesaid the government would be taking tough action against those targeting albinos for purposes of witchcraft. According to Mr Chikawe, the first recorded killing of albinos was in 2006.  A taskforce formed to tackle the matter is expected to travel countrywide consulting street and village leaders on albino killings. Village leaders are expected to offer direction on the local practice of witchcraft.

The taskforce comprises the security agencies and members of the albino community.

“The task force will also conduct campaigns and persuade the people to name those they suspect of practising witchcraft,” Mr Chikawe added.

The operation is due to start in two weeks and the team will start off with visits to the areas most affected, including Mwanza, Simiyu, Geita, Tabora and Shinyanga. The operation will eventually cover the entire country.

On December 27, armed people invaded a house and kidnapped a four-year-old girl from her home in Ndami Village at around 10pm.

According to Mwanza Regional Police Commander Valentino Mlowola, a gang armed with machetes and accompanied by a traditional healer raided the family home and fled into the night with her.

Neighbours reported the attack at Kwimba Police Station but the girl was still missing as of yesterday.

Mr Chikawe said the government had declared war on those practising witchcraft and their accomplices.

“We have had a long meeting with various stakeholders including the police and people from Tanzania Albinism Society (TAS),” Mr Chikawe said, “and agreed on several issues to make sure that the albino community enjoys peace and security.”

According to the Minister, the government is also seeking the support of religious leaders since the issue also involves faith and morality.