Tanzania's President Seeks Help in Nationwide Witch Hunt

March 12, 2009 02:28 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
President Jakaya Kikwete, having banned witchcraft in January, is asking for his people's help in anonymously reporting albino killers.

Naming the Killers

President Jakaya Kikwete is asking Tanzanians to help end the slaughter of albinos in their country. Thousands have complied by anonymously completing forms and identifying suspects.

Kikwete said in a speech reported by Reuters on March 10, “Even the officer in charge ... will not know who you named."

According to The BBC, “Some fear the nationwide exercise, which has begun in the Lake Zone area, could be used for personal vendettas.” To date, 45 albinos have been killed in Tanzania.

The East African reports that witches in Tanzania have help in neighboring Burundi, considered the poorest country in the world by the IMF; albinos are kidnapped there and taken across the border to Tanzania to be killed. 

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 has had several attacks against albinos since 2007, including attacks on two mothers by machete-wielding gang members who were after their albino children.

According to findingDulcinea, local businessmen have donated more than 350 mobile phones to the police effort to put an end to the killing of albinos. ABC reported that 90 suspects have been arrested in recent months, four of whom were policemen.

General Ban Ki-moon and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have denounced the attacks.

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Background: African albinos increasingly under attack for body parts

According to findingDulcinea, 300 cellphones were 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.

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, a 6-year-old boy was killed and dismembered in Burundi. “The young albino was assassinated by two men who cut him into pieces here in Kinyinya district near the border with Tanzania,” said Remy Nkengurutse, a local administrator, according to Reuters. Also 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 reported that one of the victims was a seven-month-old baby who was ordered killed by a witch doctor.

In Tanzania, where it is estimated that about one in 3,000 people suffer from the condition, many albinos 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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