Editorials and Opinions

Anas on the Spell of the Albino

Anas with albino in tanzania


Anas Aremeyaw Anas reports from Geita, Northern Tanzania, with additional files from Claudio Von Planta (United Kingdom) and Richard Mgamba (Tanzania).

It all happened in an instant. Eleven year-old Adam had finished eating dinner with his father and a male visitor who sat with the family through the meal.

Anas with albino in tanzania


Anas Aremeyaw Anas reports from Geita, Northern Tanzania, with additional files from Claudio Von Planta (United Kingdom) and Richard Mgamba (Tanzania).

It all happened in an instant. Eleven year-old Adam had finished eating dinner with his father and a male visitor who sat with the family through the meal. As Adam moved to wash his hands, the man grabbed him, drew a machete and began hacking away his fingers. Adam screamed for help; but his father and stepmother looked on as the man pulled him to the family hut and placed his hand on a wooden frame to ease the hacking. Before the man left Adam, he had chopped off three of his fingers.

After the attack, Adam’s father and stepmother sat idly, so unconcerned they didn’t even bother to get him medical attention. Their hut was filled with Adam’s screaming cries for three hours until his sister, Christina, came home with torchlight to see her brother writhing in pain. She sounded the alarm and helped take Adam to the hospital. Along with the emotional and physical trauma Adam has endured, Adam’s x-rays revealed his arm is also broken.

That same week, Kurwa, a 16-year-old albino girl, had 80 percent of her arm sawed off shortly after dinner. Her family was inside when they heard her yells. Unlike Adam’s case, Kurwa’s father dashed outside to protect her and suffered injuries after being hit with a hoe by her attackers. “This is very sad,” Dr. Leonard Subi, Chief Medical Officer of the Kahama District Hospital said of his teenage amputee patient. He continued, “Itsunacceptable because every human being has a right to live.”

These are just the most recent scenes of albino bashings near Geita in Northern Tanzania, a place where witchcraft has taken hold of communities and led to the widespread belief that possessing the bones of an albino can increase one’s monetary wealth. Investigations by The New Crusading GUIDE’s Anas Aremeyaw Anas, has revealed gross human rights violations perpetrated against albinos in some parts of Tanzania. The investigation forms part of the Africa Investigates series featured on Al Jazeera.

“I am very sad,” said Isaack Timothy, a fellow albino who rushed to Adam and Kurwa’s bedsides when he heard the news. Near tears he continued, “This witchcraft belief is taking us to a bad place. We are going to kill each other for no reason.”

Ace reporter, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, went undercover to expose some of these witchdoctors and the motives behind these acts of hate against albinos in Tanzania and some other parts of East Africa.

Witch Doctor: “We take it from Young People.”

“We take it from young people,” grimaced witch doctor Mashala Deus about the bones of albinos he crushes and then adds to herbal medicines in an attempt to boost people’s success. “Finding albino parts,” says Deus, “is very difficult. That’s why we get people to buy it.” Deus, whose name means God, is revered as such in his village because it is believed that he has inherited mystical powers from his grandparents.

“Please no. Please. Please father,” Deus squirmed in his seat, pale faced and withering like a leaf from fear. His begging followed a confrontation with a prosthetic albino arm that he thought was real, “sorry,” he pleaded louder.

“Sorry for what?” Asks Anas as he inched the life-like limb close to Deus. . Before the arm was unveiled, Deus had spent close to 30 minutes administering an in-depth sales pitch for black magic which involved the albino body parts of children. And now he was engaging in a glorious about-face.

“Please I will stop,” He said.

“Would you stop these albino things?!”

“I will definitely stop.”

Children in Tanzania are often told tales that albino children never die and as they age they will just disappear at a certain point. These propagandistic ideas concerning this marginalized population are often conjured up by witchdoctors like Deus whose fraudulent stories drive the albino body parts industry.

Of the three men arrested by police following Adam’s attack, all were witch doctors — Adam’s father, a man called Jesus, and another man who recently drew a huge crowd of fortune seekers. “Maybe it is poverty,” speculated Timothy about the motives of buyers, “but what kind of poverty makes parents sell their child?”, he asks.

Albinos: Tanzania’s Fastest Growing Cash Crop?

In Tanzania, body parts of albinos are a cash crop of sorts. A complete set of body parts – including limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose – can sell for $75,000. The surge in the use of albino body parts as a good luck charm is a result of the kind of marketing exercise by witch doctors who propagate the myth that spiritual potions made out of albino body parts bring good fortune. This has driven the demand among wealthy buyers and endangered the lives of Tanzanian albinos.

The answer to Timothy’s query is also partly rooted in the increase of gold production in Tanzania. Tanzania is the continent’s third largest producer of gold and according to a September, 2011 report by the Central bank, exports of the mineral increased from $1.5 billion in 2010 to $1.7 billion in 2011., . “Small miners,” explained Timothy of community members who dream of earning profits akin to AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. “believe in the witchcraft of using albino bones., “They take bones into the gold mines… claim it to be like good luck charms, which makes a person rich,” Continued Timothy.

“It’s true, it’s true!” exclaimed a miner who works near Geita of the notion that albino bones bring prosperity. He continued, “These things I heard from an old man who has wisdom.” When asked whether he would purchase these bones his answer was as clear as water,, “definitely, of course.”

Since 2008, 62 albinos have been the casualties of cash-hungry killing sprees that have become standard fare in Tanzania. Adam and Kurwa are among the 16 albinos who have been dismembered whilst the bodies of 12 albinos have been exhumed from their graves for the inhumane reason of chopping off their body parts for sale to witch doctors. Exhuming and dismembering a dead body for sale!

Don’t Play in the Sun

Right from birth, most albinos are presented with a pack of problems. Formally known as Oculocutaneous Albinism (OCA), the genetic disorder is caused by the inability of the body to produce and distribute melanin. Melanin is the substance that gives color to the skin, hair, and eyes. In its most severe forms, OCA can lead to skin cancers and eye problems.

The January 2011 Dermatalogic Clinics Journal published an article titled “Albinism in Africa: stigma, slaughter and awareness campaigns” which detailed the prevalence of OCA. Among the majority of the world’s population, about 1 in 20,000 people live with OCA. Sub-Saharan Africa has significantly higher rates of OCA. In Tanzania, 1 in 1429 people live with OCA.

Tanzanian albinos face significant challenges. Though recent reports have been more optimistic, 98 percent of Tanzanian albinos are not expected to reach their 40th birthday. There is no cure for OCA, and all the treatment centers solely on protecting albinos from the rays of the sun. This can be a daunting task for the Sub-Saharan African albino who lives in a continent where the sun’s potency can be unrelenting and where sunscreens can be cost prohibitive.

Employment, a crucial component in being able to afford treatment, can also be an issue. Most albinos are unemployed, as they face discrimination from employers. African albinos recall instances of being told that their presence as an employee could hurt the company’s reputation, despite their educational credentials. When albinos are lucky enough to be employed, it can be at great risk to their health. A recent study showed that 96 percent of employed albinos worked outdoors, posing grave risks to their health. But it seems that even more dangerous than the scorching sun is the albino hunter’s machete.

Ending the Albino Genocide

Despite the atrocities that Tanzanian albinos confront, they can draw some comfort from the fact that in the most recent cases, local police have been aggressive about apprehending attackers. In Adam’s case, three suspects, including the father, stepmother, and the man who severed his fingers have been arraigned before court. It is unclear what the verdict of the courts will be, but the evidence is overwhelming.

“There in the village everyone saw that he [Robert Tangawizi] had sold his child,” said Senior Police Superintendent Paulo Kasebago about Adam’s father. Kasebago continued on Tangawizi “He was giving dodgy answers, slipping and sliding. It didn’t make sense.”

Dotto Lushinge, Robert Tangawizi’s own mother, rendered her verdict, “I don’t think they are innocent. They came to kill.” She had this to say about Adam, “When I hear that my grandchild is recovering well I get hope.” In a final appeal she pleaded, “help us find a safe place for my grandchildren.”

It seems that organizations such as the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), have made an attempt to do just that. IFRC has built safe havens for albinos who have fled from home due to threats on their lives. The Kabanga School for the Disabled, shelters over 50 albino children and their mothers who are no longer safe in their hometowns.

While some organizations establish safe houses, others have proposed other solutions. In Kenya, advocates who also comprise albinos who have fled Tanzania, have proposed the idea of bodyguards for albinos. The Tanzanian government has also not been idle amidst the war against albinos. Just last month, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda announced that eight mercenaries have been sentenced to death for murdering albinos.

Still, despite the incontrovertible war being waged against albinos, it seems that the biggest battle must be fought against witchdoctors. These witchdoctors have managed to hold captive the hearts and minds of the average Tanzanian, fueling what the Tanzanian albino advocacy group Asante Mariamu, considers “a form of genocide.” Perhaps the legal conviction that fellow albino Isaack Timothy seemed most eager about was that of the town witch doctor. “There is no way that even a Tanzanian court could let them free because he admitted already to be involved. I’m really happy with this job.” Timothy said of the results of the undercover investigation, “Let it continue.” Stay tuned.

Africa Investigates can be seen each week on Al Jazeera at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 2230; Thursday: 0930; Friday: 0330; Saturday: 1630; Sunday: 2230; Monday: 0930; Tuesday: 0330; Wednesday: 1630.


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