Albinos in Tanzania – refugees on the run!

In the UK, it’s the Euromillions jackpot. In Australia, Oz Lotto. In Hong Kong, it’s the Mark Six Lottery. The unceasing lure of instant and unimaginable wealth can be mistakenly thought to be the scourge of  western industrialised nations. Not so.

Do you know that albino body parts can fetch thousands of dollars in Tanzania? Do you know that last year, more than forty albinos were slaughtered in that country, so their limbs and organs could be sold to witchdoctors, and turned into medicines and potions for attracting material wealth and success?

Albinism is a congenital lack of melanin pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. As a result, people born with this condition are much more vulnerable to the sun’s ultraviolet rays and the resulting medical complications.

In Tanzania, though, an albino’s enemies are no longer stigma and sun cancer.

Albinos are, because of superstition and the culture of witchcraft and occultism, regarded as a commercial commodity and are being literally hunted to death. Fishermen are promised increased catches if they weave albino hair into their nets. Small scale miners are being told by witchdoctors that if they bury an albino body part on their site they will hit a gold reef.

As I read the article that was left on my desk several weeks ago, describing the ongoing murders of albinos for the harvesting of their limbs and organs, I thought, not for the first time, How come I’ve never heard about this? Why isn’t this in the international, front page news? How is it that daily I am reminded of the multiple effects of the economic crisis in Hong Kong and globally, but have had not the slightest clue about a group of people who are being targeted and killed because of a genetic malfunction, and because of the lure of acquiring wealth and status?

Is this simply another TIA – This Is Africa – scenario? Should we somehow be used to hearing about horrendous desecration of human rights and lack of accountability and justice because it is Africa, or India or Afghanistan?

The increasing number of albino murders in Tanzania, and now also Burundi and Kenya, has moved the President of Tanzania to declare what amounts to a national emergency. Albinos are seeking protection in safe houses, and parents are keeping their albino children behind locked doors at home. Locks and bars, however, are not guaranteeing safety.

In February of this year, gang members broke into the home of a six- year- old albino boy in Burundi, tied up his parents, and then chopped off his arms and legs before escaping. In the words of a local man, Pierre Chanel Ntarabaganyi, “The child was dismembered alive and his screaming woke up the entire neighbourhood.”

I had to read the above statement several times, and still my mind can’t wrap itself around such horror and amorality.

One journalist has commented that the removal of albino body parts from corpses, to sell to witchdoctors for the making of potions and lucky charms, is gruesome enough. Recent murders, however, are evidence that the albino hunters are not waiting for albinos to die before removing their body parts.
He writes, ‘This concept is an evil of its own, precisely because the attainment of materialistic possessions and positions of power in our society, appears to override even the sanctity of life. Rising food prices are also making people desperate, according to one police source in Mwanza region, Tanzania.

One father of an albino boy in Ruyigi province said, “My son is in a constant state of terror. When he walks in the street, some people say things like, ‘Our fortune goes by.’

Are you shocked as you read this? Can this really be happening to people in our ‘enlightened’ 2009?

But wait a minute. The methods may be abhorrent and alien to us, but if we are honest, can we perhaps identify, just a little, with the motives behind such cruel and merciless killings?

The promise of quick riches, and the resulting better status and lifestyle, is also a lure and a motivator for all of us who do not happen to live in Tanzania or Kenya or Burundi. And whether we gamble, or do drugs, or pursue the latest and best investment strategies,  or simply expend our days, weeks, years and life in making more money, so we can get more stuff and pad our existence with more security – aren’t we all actually, to one degree or another, living out the same ideals of materialism and social status as those that the witchdoctors in East Africa espouse?

None of us would kill someone for a body part or organ, but I think we have become very adept at destroying or compromising other things like our integrity, our time, our relationships  our soul?

And one question I believe we all need to ask ourselves is – today it’s albinos who are being hunted in parts of Africa. What will it be next week or next year?

And what are we hunting in the places where we live?

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