Persons with albinism count

Previous estimates have suggested that Malawi has approximately 17 000 persons with albinism, but the 2018 Population and Housing census report indicates that there are almost 135 000.

The new count represents approximately 0.8 percent of the total population of 17.6 million.

Given the rate of attacks, some parents of children with albinism in the country are so afraid and they have gone to foreign embassies in Malawi to seek asylum. So have some adults who fear for their safety in Malawi.

While seeking asylum might seem over-the-top, the reality is that there appears to be no tangible way out for victims and potential targets of attacks on persons with albinism in countries such as Malawi.

For example, Heatherwick Ntaba, the chairperson of the presidential task force on albinism, has often wondered whether the banning of witchcraft as did Tanzania might be an answer to ending attacks.

This thought is informed by the belief that that attackers usually act consistently with instructions from witchdoctors.

This, in itself, is a body of work that the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa) is beginning to explore.

There are several other challenges though.

For example, the death of potential witnesses and at times suspects at the hands of the police and prison authorities is proving to be of significant concern in countries like Malawi.

Recently, reports emerged of one witness who is said to be gravely ill after suspected poisoning. Another witness died in custody under suspicious circumstances. Yet another witness has made some sensational claims about the possible complicity of high-ranking officials in the killings.

The President of Malawi [Peter Mutharika] has come under heavy criticism, particularly from Malawian civil society, for being too quiet at times when it really matters.

It did not help matters that the then minister of Homeland Security Nicholas Dausi once publicly stated that not enough people with albinism have died in Malawi to warrant the type of reaction that the Association of Persons with Albinism and other civil society actors are calling for.

Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania are not the only sites of concern across southern Africa.

In Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), for example, judgement is still awaited in the matter involving the killing of Sipho Mahlalela, in which his wife is the principal suspect along with two other men. 

South Africa is currently awaiting the extradition of an Eswatini traditional healer who, in concert with others, is accused of having had a hand in the killing of a South African citizen with albinism.

And, although Mozambique has also adopted a national action plan, not much has been heard about its roll-out and challenges therein.

Curiously, Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) heads of State and government have not been quite as engaged on this matter. One wonders why.

Perhaps the inaction also explains the lack of funding towards national action plans. The failure to apportion sufficient resources by the various States that have crafted national action plans suggests that they are not sufficiently appalled by what is happening.

As Osisa, we remain committed to ensuring that this matter remains on the radar until all Sadc citizens with albinism are safe from attacks.

It is for this reason that, on the occasion of International Albinism Awareness Day, we call for deeper reflection on the issue of albinism in Africa.

Share This Post