There have been since last year albino killings in Tanzania as the albino organs, particularly genitals, limbs, breasts, fingers and the tongue are reportedly in high demand by people involved in mining and fishing activities in the Lake Victoria Zone, especially Mwanza, Shinyanga and Mara regions.
Besides the albino killings the three regions are also notorious for killing people believed to be witches or wizards. A mere rumour that one is a witch is often enough justification for an angry mob to kill a suspect of witchcraft. So, killings associated with superstition are not new in the country especially in rural areas.
Rumour has it that the albino organs possess mystical powers that can make a person fabulously rich within a short time. To show how serious the problem is, recently buried albino dead bodies are sometimes exhumed at night by unidentified people in search of the ‘magical organs’. Since the mining and fishing industries are currently enjoying an unprecedented boom, so the two sectors are attracting people from all walks of life and cultures and this factor has increased the albino risks.
Those who seek instant riches are by hook or by crook hunting for the albinos, who according to World Health Organisation (WHO) sources hardly exceed 170,000 people in the country.
Other sources say Tanzania has around 300,000 people with albinism. Although there is no research done by the Government to establish the number of the albinos who have been killed, some sources approximately put the number to be at least 50 people.
As the organs are still in high demand, so the killings are most likely to increase unless the Government and members of the public collaborate to fight against the beliefs that encourage the albino killings. Given their small number and vulnerability, Tanzanian albinos need adequate social and legal protection so that they too can fully enjoy their right to life and freedom to move freely without fear as other Tanzanians do. This is what needs to be urgently done.
Unfortunately, the mysterious killings have caused apprehension among the albino community as they now feel very insecure under the circumstances. They are even afraid of staying, walking or travelling alone to avoid potential risks. It is indeed astounding to see how some people can selfishly use others as means to their end and are, therefore, ready to kill anyone at anytime provided doing so increases their material wellbeing.
Obviously, individual people, human rights activists and civil societies have on different occasions condemned the killings and have particularly appealed to public order institutions to protect the albinos who have fallen prey to unscrupulous and money-hungry people. If the killing of albinos touches every Tanzanian personally ways of combating the despicable crime will be found. On the other hand, if we sit just down and think someone else will do it for us then the killings will continue as long as people believe to get rich one has to possess a few albino organs. What a strange belief!
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said recently during his monthly television address to the nation that the killings were shameful and distressing to the nation and he thus called on Tanzanians to crackdown on such an anti-social behaviour. Kikwete promised to put in place security arrangements that would reduce albino risks and directed Local Government Authorities to work hard towards that end.
He also instructed the police to hunt for traditional healers involved in the albino killings. “I call upon you to discard superstitious beliefs and shortcuts to getting wealth. They are wrong beliefs and we should abandon them,” he said.
Vice President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein, while addressing the audience on May 4 on the occasion of the National Albino Day in the Dar es Salaam City, termed the ongoing killing of albinos as disgraceful to the nation. He too urged Tanzanians to collectively fight against the depraved and wealth-related ritual killings.
The National Albino Day, apart from being attended by Tanzanian albinos and some legislators, it also drew representatives of people with albinism from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, Southern Africa and the United Kingdom.
While reading his speech to Dr Shein, the Albino Association of Tanzania (AAT) Secretary General, Samuel Mluge, said AAT had drafted a research proposal to establish the killings’ root causes and called upon the Government to declare the ongoing killings a national disaster. He also called on academicians, religious leaders and human rights activists to make members of the public aware that the killing of albinos was socially and morally unjustified.
The AAT General Secretary noted that another challenge the albinos faced in Tanzania was discrimination at the workplace by some employers because of what they were despite their qualifications and competence.
The Kenyan albinos sympathised with their Tanzanian counterparts and when talking to Tanzanian journalists in Dar es Salaam last Tuesday they expressed their great concern about the killings in the country. They wished the killings to stop and not spread to Kenya. "We are very concerned about the killings that could easily spread to our country, something we would not like to happen," said the Albino Association of Kenya Chairman, Alex Munyere. He said they were committed to protecting their rights and fighting against the perpetuators until things change.
So far, a total of 172 suspects had by last month been arrested in connection with the killing of albinos in the country, according to local media reports. Some of the suspects admitted to have been advised by traditional healers to have albino organs if they wanted to get rich in no time.
So, the albino killings are essentially associated with superstition and whenever people experience hardships in life they tend to consult traditional healers to find out what could be the cause for the hardships or misfortunes and how to redress them. The solution has been often to look for short-cuts that end up causing more problems in the society.
In the early 2000s similar incidents of trading in human organs were reported to have surfaced in the country. At that time six people were believed to have been killed and skinned in Mbeya Region, south-west of Tanzania.
There was, according to media reports, a high demand for human skin in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo and one human skin would sell at between Sh168,000 (approximately US$134.4) and Sh672,000 (approximately US$537.6) at the time.
Ever since independence in 1960, Tanzania has been known as a haven of peace and political stability. Yet, this fame is slowly fading away as rampant corruption, mismanagement of national resources, poverty, the cost of living and despicable crimes are also increasing.
Although superstitious beliefs may fall under the category of complex phenomena in the society, they are, however, about control and survival mechanisms. The more powerful one is the more influential and successful one is believed to become socially, economically and politically.
Thus, anything that is believed to lead to such material success is tried out by those who seek it even if it involves sacrificing human life. This cannot be justified. Let us always seek success that does not jeopardise other people’s dignity and material wellbeing and let us have the courage to cope with our pressing issues without resorting to short-cuts or simple solutions.