On the 23rd February the Telegraph reported on the discovery of the mutilated remains of a one year old child in Tanzania. One can only wonder what would drive anyone to kill a child in such a way? Why was Yohana Bahati’s life cut so tragically short?
The answer is, Yohana was an albino, and in Tanzania, that means constant discrimination and mortal danger. Due to the widespread propagation of witchcraft, albinos are looked upon not as human beings but as commodities to be exploited. An albino body part, it is believed can bring wealth and good fortune.
A Red Cross report on the subject states:
“Senior police officers in Dar es Salaam said a complete set of albino body parts – including all four limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose – was fetching the equivalent of 75,000 US dollars.”
In an extremely poor country this offers the incentive to disregard the stiff penalties for such action and engage in the hunting of other human beings. The United Nations states that since 2000 at least 75 albinos have been murdered as a result of these beliefs and practices, a further 58 brutally mutilated. Thousands of albinos and their families have been forced to flee as a result of this persecution. Schools and compounds founded by the Red Cross are subject to 24 hour armed guard, but they can’t take in everyone.
And, unfortunately, things only stand to get worse this year.
The Tanzanian elections are due to be held in October and the UN fear that many of the countries politicians will turn to witchcraft and witch doctors to improve their prospects. The Red Cross are currently pushing for current and future governments of Tanzania to increase legal protection for albinos, as well as conducting public anti-discrimination programs. Unfortunately as Vicky Ntetema, executive director of Under the Same Sun, a Canadian non-profit working to defend albinos, points out the response so far has been luke-warm at best:
“There’s absolutely no political will among leaders to end these macabre killings.”
She goes on to point out that often it is albino’s own families that are key in their murder and dismemberment. In the case mentioned above, the child’s father is currently being questioned, though no charges have yet been brought.
A UN representative said:
“These attacks are accompanied by a high degree of impunity, and while Tanzania has made efforts to combat the problem, much more must be done to put an end to these heinous crimes and to protect this vulnerable segment of the population,”
Those suspected of witch-craft are also the subject of brutality and murder, in October 2014, 23 people were arrested in Murufiti, a village in the western Kigoma region for burning 7 people alive. Such incidents are not rare. The legal and human rights centre in Tanzania estimates that over 600 elderly women were killed in such incidents in 2011 alone.
In 2010 the Pew Forum on Religious and Public life carried out a survey in several African nations, finding that belief in witchcraft in Tanzania was at a much greater incidence than bordering nations. Of the Tanzanians interviewed, over 60% held a belief in witch-craft and spirits, regardless of their underlying religion.
Anthropology professor at Dar Es Salaam University, Joachim Mwami suggests that such beliefs are rife in Tanzania because it was “Less colonised by European powers” than other African nations, resulting in the recourse to witch-craft to explain anything inexplicable.
So what is the answer here?
No one can argue that the Red Cross suggested method of reducing the discrimination toward albinos is crucial, but it seems like there is a different issue that is being avoided. The reason that albinos are seen as less than human, is the continuing propagation of superstition. It seems obvious that over-turning these beliefs, showing how fallacious they are, a difficult prospect, is the key to reducing these killings and, over time, ending them all together.
As long as these superstitions exist albinos will always be seen as a commodity. They will continue to die brutally until this belief system is legitimately challenged through better education regarding both science and critical thinking.