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Tanzania, where albinos are a commodity

200,000 inhabitants of this country have white skin, and the fanaticism of their compatriots means they are victims of a slaughter that is concerning general public opinion. Their bodies are valuable on the black market

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Tanzania, donde 5Ramón Alabau

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They are laughing as they return home, but their happiness vanishes in a matter of seconds. Mwigulu Magessa, a seven-year-old Tanzanian child, was retuning to his house together with four of his classmates when he was approached by three strangers who were gripping sharpened machetes.

Despite his young age, Mwigulu was aware that those men wanted something from him. The incident took place at the beginning of the month of March, but acts of these kinds are recurring throughout Africa, where there exists a real hunt for human beings.

Tanzania, donde 7The tragic encounter meant that the youngster lost one of his arms. Now he is recuperating in a hospital from what could have been his death. The country’s local authorities believe the limb of the youngster will be sold on the black market.

The story of Mwigulu forms part of the dramatic situation in which the albinos of the African continent live, where they are persecuted, kidnapped, mutilated or murdered for having a different colour of hair and skin to the rest: a pinkish white.

Their appearance makes them strangers in their own countries, and also creates a barrier to them conducting a normal life and being able to survive.

There exists a belief, above all in the countries of East Africa, like Kenya, Burundi or Tanzania itself, that certain parts of an albino’s body has magical powers capable of attracting good luck or of curing illnesses

A Curse

Tanzania, donde 1The persecution that these people suffer means that individuals with these genetic characteristics become ghosts. They live locked up and hidden in their houses, and the rejection from a large part of society forces many to live in extreme poverty as they are never able to find a job.

Many of them emigrate from their countries as the only solution to safely continue with their lives. Others on the other hand are forced to live in refugee shelters where there is a high level of security.

At the moment, nearly 200,000 albinos live in Tanzania, a hereditary condition characterised by the deficiency of pigmentation in the skin, eyes and hair. These genetic characteristics cause the sufferers to be vulnerable to sun exposure, suffering visibility problems and cancer due to the strength of the sun in the area.

The statistics show that for every 20,000 births in the USA or Europe, one albino child is born, while in Africa, the cases are multiplied, with one for every 5,000 births.

Valuable merchandise

Tanzania, donde 3Each year it is estimated that hundreds of people are murdered or mutilated in Africa because of the colour of their skin.

Despite the invisibility of the problem, since many cases go unnoticed by the public as they occur in remote villages, the non-government organisation Under The Same Sun has recorded 71 murders in Tanzania between 2006 and 2012, and an additional 31 people who were able to escape from their assailants.

But a large number of international critics point to the fact that many cases neither receive the necessary legal attention nor are they investigated. Up until now, only five people have been sentenced for murder.

The truth is that their skin and hair colour turn them into valuable goods on the illegal market, where their organs and limbs are sold at a high price.

A report by journalist Adolfo Zableh Durán told how on the illegal market a hand is valued at US$400, and for some US$65,000 you can acquire “the four limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose.”

Tanzania, donde 8Amulets are made from their bones and their flesh is used to prepare potions with magical powers that, according to witchdoctors, can attract luck to whoever consumes them.

In sub-Saharan Africa, there is the mistaken belief that albinos don’t die, that they are dealing with ghosts. Furthermore, having a pallid colour of skin is considered to be a divine punishment, or that the mother has slept with a European. Due to the existing myths, many children are abandoned and discriminated against.

Peter Ash, founder and CEO of Under The Same Sun, affirms that the high rate of murders is due to the “acceptance of violence against albinos, since they are seen as subhuman, a depiction of the devil or bearers of a curse”.

Therefore, Ash believes it is necessary that the African society initiates a change in perception to avoid the current massacre.

Persecuted and vulnerable

Tanzania, donde 6Due to their genetic characteristics and the meteorology of the African continent, albinos suffer different health problems. The strong sun radiation that illuminates the country affects the fragile tissue and vision of the sufferers. The Tanzania Albino Society estimates that a total of 17,000 albinos would be in danger of suffering from the skin illness.

With the goal to provide preventative help, Stichting Afrikaanse Albinos, an organisation with headquarters in Utrecht, Netherlands, send hundreds of sunglasses, sunscreen and lip balm, amongst other resources, to those affected. According to the organisation Under The Same Sun, African albinos have an inferior average life expectancy than that of their compatriots. Only 2% live beyond 40 years.

Tanzania, donde 10Measures against the slaughter

Children, adults, elderly or even the dead, once unearthed, have been the target of hunters. This reality has obliged international organisations to act.

Recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has forcefully condemned the violence that albinos endure in relation to beliefs and practices of witchcraft that is widespread throughout Tanzania.

Tanzania, donde 9Pillay has pointed to the fact that the country’s authorities are “those principally responsible for protecting people with albinism and fighting against impunity”, a key role in the “prevention and dissuasion of crimes directed at this extremely vulnerable community.”

As a matter of fact, under international pressure, the Tanzanian government has decided to outlaw witchcraft and suspend licences for all traditional healers, who attend to 40% of the population, and those who are in contact with magical potions made with the organs of albinos.

 

(Translated by Ollie Phelan – Email: oliverphelan@hotmail.co.uk)

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