Tanzania bans witchdoctors to stem grisly albino murders

Ephrem Rugiririza
At least 76 albinos have been murdered since 2000 with their dismembered body parts selling for around $600 (528 euros) and entire bodies fetching $75,000, according to United Nations experts (AFP Photo/Tony Karumba)

Arusha (Tanzania) (AFP) - Tanzania has banned witchdoctors to try and stem a surge in murders of albinos, whose body parts are sold for witchcraft, officials said Wednesday.

The ban follows the kidnapping last month of a four-year-old girl by men armed with machetes, who took her from her home in the northern Mwanza region. Police have since arrested 15 people, including the girl's father and two uncles, but she remains missing.

"These so-called witches bear responsibility for the attacks against albinos," interior ministry spokesman Isaac Nantanga told AFP Wednesday.

At least 74 albinos have been murdered in the east African country since 2000, according to United Nations experts. After a spike in killings in 2009, the government placed youngsters with albinism in children's homes to protect them.

Albino body parts sell for around $600 in Tanzania, with an entire corpse fetching $75,000, a fortune in the impoverished country.

As well as the ban, the government has launched an education campaign to end the killings.

"We are keen on addressing the issue of abductions and killings of people with albinism once and for all," Home Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe said.

However, the ban does not cover traditional healers who use herbs to help the sick.

Chikawe said the government and the Tanzania Albino Society (TAS) agreed on Tuesday to form a task force for conducting special operations against the kidnap, abduction and murder of albinos.

"We are against those who cheat people (telling them) that they will be rich by possessing charms, as well as fortune tellers and those distributing talismans," Chikawe said.

"People should also be repeatedly told that the only way of becoming rich is through hard work and not possessing charms."

A hereditary genetic condition which causes an absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes, albinism affects one Tanzanian in 1,400, experts say. In the West, it affects just one person in 20,000.


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In August, a UN rights expert warned that attacks against albinos were increasing as Tanzania's October 2015 national elections loomed, encouraging political campaigners to turn to witchdoctors for good luck.

The Malian singer Salif Keita, himself an albino, has led an international campaign against the trade hoping to change attitudes.

Tanzania's Daily News newspaper, in an editorial earlier this month, condemned the "disgusting" trade and said it had brought "shame to the nation". The attackers "stalk unsuspecting people with albinism, pounce on them, hack off their body parts and run away with them."

Teams will launch the education campaign this month in Tanzania's northern regions of Geita, Mwanza, Simiyu, Shinyanga and Tabora, areas notorious for attacks, abductions and killings of albinos.

Mwanza region TAS chairman Alfred Kapole welcomed the decision but said it needed to be applied countrywide to ensure success.

"It needs people from all parts of the country to get maximum cooperation," he told AFP, complaining that discrimination was still rampant in the east African country.

"Politicians are giving us lip service... they are not serious," he added.

Albino Kenyan MP Isaac Mwaura said Tanzanian gangs were even crossing into neighbouring Kenya to carry out abductions.

"You can clearly see people in politics going for these concoctions. People will kill people with albinism in return for what they believe is this good fortune, and that is totally wrong," he told the BBC.

"This problem has now become a regional problem because of Tanzania not having taken strong measures to curb it."

Mwaura, who said he had to provide protection to two Kenyan albino children in border regions with Tanzania, said the ban was "a step in the right direction, although it may not be enough."