Albino: The Unfortunate European in Unfortunate Africa
Recently, the parents of a harmless two-year-old girl, Tiwonge Chisomo, in the Zomba district of Malawi have lived in perpetual fear after receiving threats from anonymous people. Last week, police in Tanzania rescued a six-year-old boy from aggressive attackers who wanted to hack him to death. How about Amali and Haima, who decided to withdraw their two kids from school – and most recently, from the public - for fear of being mercilessly slaughtered? One could go on with different graphic examples of instances like those above, but the one thing that the stories share in common is that the victims in those stories are not criminals. Nor have the kids committed atrocities. Neither have they broken any law. No, they are innocent. Their “crime” is their colour - the colour of their skin. Yes, they have albinism - a hereditary genetic condition that causes an absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. In Africa, where superstition is the order of the day, the myopic belief that expensive concoctions made from albino’s body parts bring good luck has made people with albinism vulnerable; the group has become victims of human rights abuse. Ironically, albinos’ vulnerability to medical complications makes them equally vulnerable to social discrimination. But that is not all. With albino body parts selling for around $600, with an entire corpse fetching $75,000 in Tanzania, a developing country struggling to put food daily on the table for its citizens, you begin to appreciate the precarious situation of people with albinism in such a country. Our societies are reflections of discriminatory discourses. From prejudice against women to unfortunate discrimination against other minorities, the mistreatment of people with albinism in Africa is far worse than even their medical complications. In Tanzania, for example, apart from being hunted for the myopic belief that their body parts bring “good luck,” - an act which has resulted in those body parts being sold not only in Tanzania, Burundi, Zaire and other places - many witch doctors make fortunate from the poor albinos and gullibility of their African customers. They believe in the power of the expensive albino concoctions. “Ironically, since you are told those body parts of albinos bring good luck and riches, instead of killing them, why don’t you keep or befriend albinos and hopefully benefit more abundantly from the whole body - rather than from the parts of the body alone?” Kata Kata’s reporter asked one Zanzige Nzumumbuka, under police custody for allegedly killing his albino neighbour for charms. Nzumumbuka looked at the reporter disrespectfully as if she had asked the silliest question. The reporter had to cross-check her question and wondered who was mental. – She or those believers in albino concoction fallacies. “It is not only the albino but the things mixed with the parts that make the charm work too good.” He responded sheepishly, albeit fully convinced of his belief. A combination of gullibility and superstition is a dangerous life path for any country trying to follow genuine developmental progress. In Africa, where many do, more often than none, not know the cause of albinism or the fact that it can be hereditary, people with albinism are still not only discriminated against, they are hunted by albino hunters and murdered, and their body parts sold to witch-doctors. Because of superstition, often, parents kill their own newly born albinos to “save them and the family” from discrimination in society. Other parents even go further by killing their innocent albinos because they are regarded as a taboo or bad omen. Those people with albinism who are lucky to survive the rat race still face insurmountable obstacles and challenges in their lives. Some of them are mercilessly raped or sodomized because of the superstition in Zimbabwe that sleeping with a person with albinism can cure diseases such as HIV/AIDS. In other words, people with albinism are often systematically infected with deadly HIV/AIDS by those who myopically believe that they are the cure for their AIDS. However, a little knowledge of the cause of albinism can reduce discrimination against people with albinism and save their lives. Albinism, a hereditary genetic condition that causes an absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair, and eyes, is limited to the human race. The animal kingdom is not free of albinism. It is not strange to see albino gorillas, snakes, birds, reindeers or even albino frogs. One might be tempted to ask why those African native doctors don’t try their concoctions with those animals - not that these animals do not have the right to live, anyway. When our reporter confronted one man who gave his name as Nzama over albino killings, he insisted heartlessly that a well known native doctor advised him to sleep with a person with albinism to become rich. Furthermore, he narrated that his rich neighbour did the same. The following day when our reporter gave him an albino frog and gorilla to sleep with, Nzama was visibly shocked and bitter. “Eeee they have an albino gorilla too? Me, I don’t do any nyafu- nyafu with gorilla. Me, I am a gentleman.” Nzama screamed at our reporter angrily. However, the reporter reminded him that albino is the same – whether human or animal albino. Unfortunately, Nzame seemed to pay little attention to the explanations of the reporter but retaliated that he wanted to get rich, “just like our politicians.” Then he looked steadily at the reporter and added as if to remind her the obvious truth: ‘You think those rich politicians don’t do the same?’ Unfortunately, it is challenging to ascertain Nzame’s claims. However, what is apparent is that many African countries often display a lukewarm attitude towards stamping out the barbaric albino killings. With the nonchalant attitude, would one be blamed for suspecting that the politician and government official are part of the albino problems? The appointment of an albino minister, as in the case of Tanzania, without making strong legislation to ban the illicit trade or without enforcing the law by the law enforcement agents would do little to stop the barbaric practice. Education, enlightenment, strong law backed up by zero tolerance of the law enforcement agents against those who engage – directly or indirectly - in albino killings are the best way to eradicate this inhuman practice and make people with albinism in Africa not only feel safe. The measures will give albino victims some sense of belonging, identity and peace, which they badly need. The unfortunate European would soon be fortunate in Africa with such decisive actions. The above story is a parody. It is entirely fictitious; therefore, none of the characters mentioned in the report is real.