We must end brutal attacks (1)


It takes a “village” to raise a person with albinism: We must all act now to end brutal attacks on people with albinism in Malawi.

Through medical research and scientific iteration, we now conclusively know that albinism is a rare genetic condition present at birth. It manifests in absence of pigmentation in the eyes, skin and hair, a consequence of lack of melanin— the pigment that gives humans colour.

It is a game of probability—a toss from the laws of nature, genetics and heredity. The dice may fall anywhere and anyone may be born with this rare pigmentation commonly referred to as albinism.

The disappearance of Mark Masambuka—a 22-year-old man with albinism—- in Machinga on  March 9 and the subsequent discovery of his decomposing body on  April 1 is a chilling reminder of the problem that remains upon us.

Despite the existence of scientific evidence underpinning albinism, we still exist in a society where some bad people see something else not seen by the majority of us.

In people with albinism, they see fair game that can be hunted for body parts. The Masambuka case, among many others before it, is a ghastly reminder of the present-day abominations that cannot be tolerated by any right-thinking person.

The notion that a human being can be hunted, captured and killed for their body parts in 2018 is as shocking and abominable as the diabolical motives behind these gross attacks on human beings and humanity.

A study by Amnesty International, an organisation that has tirelessly worked on rights of people with albinism over the years, shows one of the key drivers of these attacks is a ready market of people that believe their body parts contain magical powers that bring good luck.

This retrogressive, anachronistic and primitive thinking is diabolical and inhumane, and there should be zero-tolerance in such beliefs in 2018.

The Masambuka case is not an isolated random case,  but exemplifies a wider problem in Malawi and across the continent. It reflects a broader systemic and systematic problem in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Research by Amnesty International indicates that targeted attacks on people with albinism in Malawi have increased since 2014. It is also estimated that about 200 killings and more than 600 attacks on people with albinism have been recorded across 27 sub-Saharan African countries in the past decade.

The numbers point to the fact that we are going in the wrong direction. The criminals are winning the battle. It should not be so. These findings should be treated as a clarion call for collective action.

The brutal acts against people with albinism go against and are an indictment on the values that we, as Africans and humanity, hold dear to our hearts—the principles of human rights, human dignity and the sanctity of the life of a human being.

The African principle of Ubuntu exhorts us to refuse to allow this problem to grow whilst we stand aside and watch. We are reminded of an old cross-cultural African proverb told by our forefathers: It takes a village to raise a child.

This is a popular African proverb that literally means that it takes the entire community to raise a child in a safe and conducive environment.

We can draw analogies from this proverb as we consider this pervasive problem steeped in deep cultural, ritualistic and mythical but outdated and retrogressive beliefs that a human being’s body parts are a source of luck charms.

It is high time the “village” comes together and say no to ritualistic killings, abductions and murders of persons with albinism. This “village” consists of many actors: the State; human rights organisations and activists; community and traditional leaders; the regional and international human rights bodies and the communities we all belong to. A holistic multipronged strategy involving all these actors is key to the solution we desire.

We must confront, debunk and fight the anachronistic, mythical, and ritualistic beliefs that are fuelling the attacks on people with albinism. n

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