Albinism In Malawi
Malawi is a landlocked countries in the southeastern portion of Africa, and one that is populated with such major ethnic tribes as the Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuko, and other Bantu peoples from nearby areas of southern Africa. Statistics show that 3% of Malawi's population are 65 years or older, while 45% belong to the under 14 age group. Furthermore, in a country of 16.5 million people, 10,000 live with albinism, a condition that begins in the womb and causes a person to appear extremely white, sometimes almost pure white, in skin tone, with similarly light-colored hair and eyes. Gene mutation stops melanin production, a pigment that gives the skin its color, that leads to albinism. In recent years, a resurgence in the witchcraft trade of body parts of albino children has caused a spate of murders and kidnappings. In early 2016, five albino individuals went missing while two were murdered, presumably for their body parts.
Historical Use of Albino Body Parts In Medicine
Worse than "The Most Dangerous Game", this is real life, and these people are threatened with extinction. Albino persecution has its roots in ancient Africa, where child sacrifices and witchcraft were the norm as a way to appease the spirits of nature. Muti (medicine murder) is how this practice is known all over Africa, and not only in Malawi. Albino people were first thought to bring bad luck to the community and were killed to ward off that evil. But witch doctors in the African Great Lakes region started a superstition that body parts of albino persons possess magical powers and bring wealth. This resulted in the murder, dismemberment, and killings of many Albino persons. This problem has reached such a proportion so as to prospectively annihilate the entire albino population of Malawi if allowed to continue to fester. Even close relatives have participated in selling their own albino kin for as much as $75,000 for a complete set of bones. In Malawi, per capita Gross Domestic Product, however, is only $330 per person per year.
Frequency of Attacks Today
As early as the 17th Century, light-skinned Europeans were also murdered for body parts in South Africa. This was spurred by the belief that light-skinned people possessed strong medicine against illness. Not only in Malawi, but Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Burundi have, over the past decade and especially in 2007, had incidents where 150 body parts were decapitated from Albino persons, some of whom still manage to survive today as mutilated victims. However, 70 murders occurred in that year alone, with a total of more than 100 murders as of late. Tanzania alone has around 200,000 Albino persons. Tanzania today is the main market for albino body parts in Africa. Men, women, and, especially, children with albinism are at the most risk from these attacks which often earn human poachers thousands of dollars.
Fighting Back Against Cruelty
Tanzanian President Kikwete denounced and condemned the murders of people with albinism by witch doctors and their helpers. The current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, recently stated that, "People with albinism have the right to live without fear or bullying, discrimination, social exclusion, killing and dismemberment." Albinism activist Peter Ash, whose non-governmental organization Under the Same Sun is at the forefront of the issue, stated that the Human Rights Council of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders project (EHAHRDP) should condemn acts of violence against the albino population. Although punitive actions were ordered by the president of Tanzania in 2008 against witch doctors, similar killings continued. Prime Minister Pinda then ordered the revocation of witch doctors' licenses, and the arrest of about 170 witch doctors ensued.
Prospects for the Future
Future prospects for the complete termination of the abuse and killings of persons with albinism depend on the United Nations and individual African nations' commitment to stop these human rights violations as described in a resolution passed in the US House of Representatives on February 22nd, 2010. Furthermore, local populations and no-governmental organizations on the grassroots level must take the proper measures to stop these horrific practices in their own areas before they start. The cases have escalated in number, and reach into other African countries as well, such as Congo and Swaziland in 2008. Films about these atrocities have also been produced to advance the public's awareness, and educate them as to the cause and condition of albinism from the scientific perspective.