HIGH FIVE: But hopes are low for their future

PEOPLE with albinism are an endangered species in Malawi. Traditional doctors are killing them at a rate that in a few years time could completely wipe them off the face of the land.

There are now only 10,000 persons living with albinism in Malawi, according to recent official statistics.

The numbers show that up to 20 of them have been killed over the past four years. Representatives of their communities say, however, many more are being killed.

The authorities need to take new, drastic measures to protect them, writes Mathews Kasanda.

Traditional, or witch doctors, as others prefer to call them, are behind the killings. They use the body parts to mix with mankhwala, or charms.

The mankhwala, according to my informants, is sold for large amounts of money to businessmen and politicians who mistakenly believe a myth that they would become very rich and wield powerful influence in Malawian society.

Albinism, according to medical experts, is a genetic condition, in which people lack pigments in their skin, hair and eyes.

People of other races are also affected by it, but the condition stands out much more starkly in people who would normally have dark skin. The condition affects one in 20,000 worldwide, but is more common in Africa.

The witch doctors use secret agents in their hunt for people with albinism. The hunters don’t care if their victim is a child or adult.

They prefer abduct their victims, according to the informants. They do not care if their victim is a baby or an adult.

When they fail to abduct their targeted person, they simply use a sharp knife such as a chikwanje or panga, to hack off arms, toes, fingers or gauge out the eyes of their victims.

The abductors are secret agents who are organised in a network in which very few know each other.

They report to and are paid by the witchdoctors in a lucrative trade that stretches from Malawi to neighbouring Tanzania, Mozambique and other southern African states.

The network is known to include traditional leaders, heads of villages, and persons in institutions such as churches, hospitals and even the police who protect the body parts hunters on their secretive missions.

Thesefacts have shocked Malawi following recent arrests of up to 20 people who are suspected of having been involved in the abduction and killing of McDonald Masambuka, a 22- year old man with albinism, in Machinga district.

A police officer, a medical assistant and a Roman Catholic priest are among those arrested so far.

The involvement of such persons in authority paints a rotten picture of our public service system.

They also provide ammunition to critics who said the calls by the United Nations and Amnesty International to President Peter Mutharika’s government todo more to halt the slaughter of persons with albinism were justified.

Mutharika, however, will probably describe these latest arrests as a significant breakthrough against abductors and killers of persons with albinism.

The real issue, however, is the embarrassing fact that officials in his government, who were supposed to end the horrific trade in human body parts, were instead promoting and gaining from it.

Then there is also the small matter that 2 files containing details of people allegedly implicated in the abductions and killings of persons with albinism, have gone missing from the offices of the police.

A Member of Parliament for Machinga South, Esther Jolobala, openly accused the police, who were supposed to handle the files with care, of being corrupt and suspiciously closing 15 uncompleted cases.

She reported to parliament that several other files have also been closed without any further investigations.

These are disquieting developments. They provide no comfort, or hope, for persons who are living with albinism.

Top say that they are an endangered species in Malawi is a shameful fact. Drastic measures need to be implemented and carried out to protect the remaining few.



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