Plight of Albinos calls for renewed attention

Sunday August 31 2014


Following the recent spate of brutal attacks and killings of people with albinism or albinos in Tanzania, the issue has once again occupied centre stage in the local and international media. Tanzanians must hold their heads in shame for having failed to establish a responsible system to make albinos safe and assured of a place in our society.

As recently as two months ago, the nation witnessed attacks on albinos happening with impunity. The latest attacks occurred in succession - on August 5, a 15 year-old girl had her right arm hacked in Tabora as parents watched helplessly; on August 14, the mutilated body of a young albino was uncovered in Dar es Salaam; and on August 16 two men severed the left hand of an albino woman in Tabora and killed her protective husband.

These are gruesome incidents informing the plight of albinism in the country; but it defies reason why we – law enforcement authorities, the political class, communities, the clergy, human rights activists and non-governmental organisations – have failed to arrest this carnage against albinos.

Some arrests have been made, including witch doctors, amid reports of money exchanged with supposedly known buyers. But that is the farthest these cases go, where prosecution to deter attacks has been scanty while those behind the trade in albino parts are never named.

What is albinism? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), albinism is a genetically inherited disorder resulting from lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes of those affected. It is a rare genetic condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity.


The figures

According to the albinism advocacy group Under the Same Sun, one out of every 1,400 citizens in Tanzania has albinism. By comparison, the global average is about one in 20,000 people.

This is the extent of albinism and Tanzania has the highest occurrence. The burden of responsibility to do more to save Tanzania albinos must be in line with claims to having a secure country, which is at peace with itself.

Foremost, we must educate ourselves out of old mindsets, replacing them with better informed public view of society. The lessons learned in 2007 when the wave of albino attacks and killings that resulted in about 43 killed or their body parts removed for witchcraft related purposes, appear lost in complacency.

We have failed to build on the otherwise sound initiatives started then by the government, egged on by the United Nations, international agencies and NGOs, to address the problem. It is time to renew attention on the plight of albinos.

The nomination into Parliament of an albino was a welcome political move that helped raise awareness about the problem. Well done. Nearly eight years on since 2007, it is unthinkable that little tangible is happening to fully address the question of albinos. Continued resort to albino body parts for witchcraft must de denounced and stopped.

One of the strategies that the government must pursue is cultivating the culture of seeking scientific answers to problems that people face. Standardising agencies like the media, schools and faith organisations must all make efforts to help Tanzanians work out their minds in solving their problems rather than seek simple answers from witchdoctors and the like.

Together, we can win against these heinous and barbaric attacks.