In the past two years, 53 albinos have been killed in Tanzania. No one has been brought to justice for committing these murders. Until now.
Last Wednesday, a Tanzanian court sentenced three men to death for killing a 14-year-old albino boy, Matatizo Dunia from Shinyanga, in brutal fashion—they kidnapped him, then cut his body into pieces. An equally barbaric case is also garnering national attention: Mariam Emmanuel, a five-year-old girl, was butchered by a group of machete-wielding men in Mwanza. The culprits divided the girl’s body up among themselves and drank her blood while her siblings watched. Murdered albinos are usually sold at high prices to witch doctors, who grind up the body parts and brew them into potions that they believe carry magic powers.
Albinism—a genetic disorder characterized by a lack of skin, eye and/or hair pigment—has a significantly higher rate of incidence in Tanzania than in the rest of the world. Scientists do not fully understand why, although inbreeding may have played a role. Historically, some albinos were killed at birth by fearful parents. That threat is less present today, but many still die young, succumbing to skin cancer brought on by the blistering East African sun.
Peter Ash, founder of the B.C.-based not-for-profit albino support group Under the Same Sun, cautions that while last week’s verdict is a welcome first step toward curbing violence, Tanzania must do much more: “We continue to await the justice owed to the remaining 52 albino victims slaughtered since this genocide began in November 2007.” Officials have outlawed witch doctors, and several more cases are making their way through the courts. But thus far, progress has been sluggish—by comparison, neighbouring Burundi, where albino killings are also on the rise, has already convicted at least five people.
The Tanzania Albino Society, an advocacy group for the estimated 17,000 Tanzanian albinos, has called for the convicted men to be publicly hanged. It believes this would be an explicit indication of government resolve, and could thwart future attacks.