Persecuted Tanzanian Albinos Given Cell Phones for Protection

January 07, 2009 11:04 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Tanzanian police have started distributing mobile phones to albinos across the country, in an effort to protect them from killings linked to witchcraft.

Police Announce Campaign to End Killings

Dar es Salaam special zone police commander Suleiman Kova said at a press conference yesterday that local businessmen have donated more than 350 mobile phones to the police effort to put an end to the killing of albinos.

About 300 of the phones will be given to albino families in Dar es Salaam so that they can contact the police if endangered; the other 50 were given to the Inspector General of Police to distribute to other regions.

Practitioners of witchcraft in Tanzania believe that albinos have mystical powers that can be transferred through potions made from their body parts. As a result, Tanzania saw several attacks against albinos last year, including attacks on two mothers by machete-wielding gang members who were after their albino children. At least 30 people with albinism have were killed in the country beginning in March, reported the BBC.

Background: African Albinos Increasingly Under Attack for Body Parts

Belief in sorcery is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, where many believe that albinos have magical powers and that a potion made from their legs, hair, hands, and blood can lead to wealth.

The Guardian reported last year that interest in albino body parts had spread from their first location in northwestern Tanzania, as buyers in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Kenya and Uganda were starting to show an interest.

On Nov. 17, it was reported that a 6-year-old albino girl in Burundi was found killed, with her head and limbs missing, in the sixth attack on albinos in Burundi since September.

A BBC investigation in Tanzania in July found that at least 25 albinos had been murdered since March in what local officials called a growing trade in albino body parts for use in witchcraft. One of the victims was a seven-month-old baby who was ordered killed by a witch doctor.

Many albinos in Tanzania, where it is estimated that about one in 3,000 people suffer from the condition, have gone into hiding. “I feel as if I am being hunted,” said Samuel Mluge, a 49-year-old resident of Dar es Salaam, to the newspaper Scotland on Sunday.

People with albinism have long suffered persecution in many parts of the world and continue to be the victims of both ordinary discrimination and violent atrocities. In the past, they were often included in circus sideshows and associated with superstitions and magical powers. It has been reported that albinos in Zimbabwe are suffering widespread rapes, due to the belief that having sexual intercourse with an albino can cure HIV/AIDS.

Albinism occurs when a genetic defect prevents the body from producing melanin, which gives color to hair, skin and eyes. It affects about 1 in 20,000 worldwide, and about 1 in 17,000 people in the United States. The condition is believed to be more prevalent in Africa than in other continents, and some researchers believe that the albino gene originated on the east coast of Africa. African music star Salife Keita, who is from Mali, is one prominent albino from the continent.

Related Topics: Albinos in pop culture

Reference: The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation


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