18 May 2014

Tanzania: Tougher Laws Needed to Punish Albino Killers

Photo: IRIN
Persecution of Albinos reported in Tanzania (file photo).

LAST week, both local and international media covered the killing of a 40-year-old woman with albinism, named Ms Munghu Lugata.

It is alleged that the woman was brutally murdered on Monday May 12, between midnight and seven o'clock in the morning, at Gasuma village in Bariadi district, Simiyu Region.

Simiyu Regional Police Commander (RPC) Charles Mkumbo was quoted saying that the attackers hacked off Lugata's left leg above the knee, chopped off the index and middle fingers of her left hand, as well as the upper section of her left thumb.

The life of yet another person with albinism was snuffed out. People who visited scene of the crime were horrified at the mutilation. Media reports that two witchdoctors were arrested by the police in connection to the murder.

They have been identified as Gudawa Yalema (a woman aged 52 years) and Shiwa Masalu, a 45-year-old man, known in the community as 'Uselengi.' A police manhunt is underway to find the man who had courted the deceased for a number of weeks before the murder took place.

It should be remembered that Lugata becomes the 73rd person living with albinism to be killed in cold blood in Tanzania since the year 2000.

A total of 67 others have suffered a variety of violent attacks during the same period and witchdoctors tell their clients that the skin, hair, blood and certain organs of people living with albinism when combined with potions guarantee success, wealth and victory in elections.

For years now, people with albinism have been persecuted, killed and dismembered and their graves dug up and desecrated.

At the same time, people living with albinism have also been ostracised and even killed for exactly the opposite reason, as some people presume that they bring about bad luck.

It is clear that the main driving forces underlying these profiling crimes are ignorance and superstition. Society should now look for ways to address them.

It should be remembered that the first ever conviction for the killing of a person living with albinism in Tanzania occurred on 23 September 2009 at the High Court in Kahama district, Simiyu region.

This landmark verdict was due to the fact that there have been more than 50 murders known at this time and this was the first actual conviction.

In this particular case a 14-year-old boy, Matatizo Dunia, who was mutilated and killed by three men in Bukombe district in Shinyanga Region in December 2008.

The men carried Dunia from his home late at night before chopping him into pieces. I more cases could be heard. Credit goes to the various organisations that protect and provide for people living with albinism.

Films have also been produced to educate and create an international understanding of the trials which people living with albinism face in a world still dealing with ancient rituals and practices.

It should be understood that people living with albinism face several major challenges including the horror of a rapidly growing industry in the sale of their body parts. It is believed that many of the attacks and killings remain undocumented and thus the numbers are likely to be much higher than what available records reveal.

There seems to be a sense of laxity when it comes to promulgating serious laws to punish people accused of killing people living with albinism. While Tanzanian police first started documenting the killings in 2006 the crime if I may call it so; has been around for ages.

Other reports indicate that their body parts are exported outside of Tanzania. In one instance, a Tanzanian trader was caught travelling to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with the head of an infant with albinism in his possession.

He told police that a businessman in Congo was going to pay him for the head. That businessman was brought to court but unfortunately his case is still pending in court.

In Tanzania today, there is a lack of public awareness on albinism and the media is not taking an active role in covering issues related to albinisms.

The media ought to stage 'war' against wrong beliefs surrounding albinism, including those that state that people with albinism never die, but simply vanish - Others believe that they are not human, but are ghosts.

The media needs to strongly paint a true picture that people with albinism are not born to women who have slept with Caucasians or ghosts of Caucasians. It is important to let people know that men can potentially carry the albinism gene.

Just as many families do not bother having healthy discussions on albinism some employers wrongfully fearing their customers and staff will catch the condition. These beliefs demystified by the media.

All in all, government deserves credit for taking steps in the wake of the killing spree, opening shelters for children living with albinism and for putting an effort to investigate these killings.

President Jakaya Kikwete should be commended for appointing a woman living with albinism as a member of parliament in 2008, specifically to present views of that vulnerable group in the national assembly.

It is encouraging to note that another Member of Parliament living with albinism was actually voted into Parliament. Unfortunately only five of the six dozen or so albinism related murders in Tanzania cited by a UN report have led to actual prosecutions.

Time has come for government to make sure that cases related to albino killings are swiftly brought before courts and heard in a timely manner. It should be remembered that justice delayed is justice denied.

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