As if the economic pain and biting poverty are not enough, Malawians are beginning to come into sharp global focus again for all the wrong reasons. The latest is the rising spate of albino killings, which have caught the global eye.
The debate is still raging and the verdict is apparently already out there about the real culprit fueling the rising spate of albino killings: The Malawi government! Of course, the blame game is particularly taking speed with finger-pointing from different quarters.
We have just witnessed a grouping of witchdoctors fighting off a blanket ban on their practice by Mzuzu High Court Judge, Dingiswayo Madise, apparently based on the belief that these ‘doctors’ are the ones fueling this sadistic practice through their ritualistic counsel to their clients.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Amnesty International (AI) Secretary General, Salil Shetty, cited several reasons why this country does not seem to be making any headway in as far as coming up with a solution to stop this practice is concerned. Among them, he mentioned poverty and lack of political will.
It is now a documented fact that this country is still flitting–around in the doldrums in the global development indexes. Poverty is still raging like bushfire and the majority of Malawians still live below the poverty line, without hope for a new day.
People are living desperate lives and can turn to anything, including unbelievable mythology, as long as it promises to bring them food on the table.
Despite the fact that the killings started way back, there has not been any coherent policy now from Capital Hill aimed at comprehensively stopping this social vice ‘once and for all’ to bring order to the scared albino communities. Government continues to flip-flop on major policy issues and generally lacks direction including on the issue of albino killings.
What we have seen are just reactive and disjointed measures (often coming late and after a person with albinism has been killed) by respective police stations that are also few and far between.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, for AI to point out that the lack of political will is one of the major reasons that albino killings seem to continue unabated in this country.
According to the organization, Tanzania faced a rising wave of albino killings not a long while ago but that country’s government was able to deal with the challenge owing to political will spearheaded by former President Jakaya Kikwete.
It is perplexing that the Malawi government does not seem to learn from its northern neighbor, especially when their predecessors attempted, successfully, to do it!
Does it have to come from an international organization for Malawi to wake up from its mediocrity and stop the wave of albino killings? It does not have to come from AI for government to realize that something drastic ought to be done about this obviously horrible situation.
President Peter Mutharika must go beyond just receiving petitions on albino killings on the balcony of State House. The country needs an urgent and workable policy; it needs laws that go down to the root of the problems, and he is the person to lead and articulate that policy solution to Malawians. Watching from afar, at State House, will not begin to cut it.
Over the past year and a half, a disturbing and violent trend has been growing in Malawi, a country often known by its nickname “the Warm Heart of Africa.” At least 18 people with albinism, a congenital condition resulting in a lack of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes, have been murdered, and many others have been raped or harassed. Four of the murders happened in April alone, and five more albinos have been abducted and are still missing.
A new report from Amnesty International accuses Malawian police of failing to protect the albino population, and the Malawian government of failing to educate its citizens about albinism’s natural causes.
Albinism is more common in sub-Saharan Africa than elsewhere in the world. Superstitions about the condition are rife, especially in Malawi and neighboring Tanzania and Mozambique.
Some people believe that having sex with an albino woman can cure HIV, which puts albino women at particular risk of being raped. Other evil-minded mortals believe that the bones of albino people contain gold, or have medicinal or even magical properties. That demand, stemming from a ritual medicine revival in Malawi, is fueling the spate of murders by gangs that, allegedly, can make as much as US$75,000 selling a “full set” of albino body parts, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross.
“Their bones are believed to be sold to practitioners of traditional medicine in Malawi and Mozambique for use in charms and magical potions in the belief that they bring wealth and good luck,” AI said, adding that the macabre trade is also fueled “by a belief that bones of people with albinism contain gold.”
Separately from AI, the United Nations recorded at least 65 cases of violence against albinos, including but not limited to killings and dismemberment, since the end of 2014.
Ikponwosa Ero, an independent expert who works with the United Nations on issues around albinism, told Al Jazeera that she thinks albinos in parts of southern Africa face extinction.
“I said that this will happen over time if nothing is done,” she said. “The situation is a potent mix of poverty, witchcraft beliefs and market forces which push people to do things for profit.”
In a vacuum of public knowledge about the causes of albinism, many albinos are shunned by their families, and parents are often baffled by giving birth to albino children. The abductions and killings, some of which have been particularly gruesome, have instilled a culture of fear in the albino population.
Whatever the arguments are about the intentions of the perpetrators of the brutal murders of albinos, I would want to agree with Amnesty international on three points: There seems to be no tangible action from the Malawi Government to deal with the same. It is called ‘the lack of political’.
But another dimension to this vice would be that there may be growing anxiety and hopelessness on the part of Malawians, which may turn some evil-minded citizens to take up evil as a form of economic redemption. Authorities have to decisively deal with the growing poverty as a matter of urgency. How they do it is to realize how they got themselves the echelons of power.
Finally, the police ought to find out who the ‘market’ is. It’s called “getting to the bottom of the matter”. Others say “getting to the root of the problem”. Malawians are watching!
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“The right to life is a moral principle based on the belief that a human being has the right to live and, in particular, should not be killed by another human being.”