Concrete action needed to protect people with albinism.

By McLloyd Kudzingo

On 9th March this year, a 22 year old man with albinism, Mcdonald Masambuka, went missing in the Eastern part of Malawi. His was found dead on April 1 by police, who traced the body following confessions from suspects arrested in connection with the crime.

This is just one example of a number of persons with albinism who have been attacked and brutally killed in Malawi. The murder of Mcdonald brought to 22 the number of people with albinism killed in the country since 2014. The situation is obviously lamentable.

Albinism is a genetically inherited condition that prevents the body from producing melanin, the pigment that colours skin, hair and eyes. In some African countries, persons with albinism are not regarded as humans. They are killed for their body parts, which are considered essential ingredients for black magic potions. In Malawi, many people with albinism are living in abject fear since the story of abductions started making rounds in 2014.

Malawi, popularly known as the Warm Heart of Africa, has up to 10,000 people with albinism. The country is now slowly losing its warmness as it is no longer the best and safest place for the brothers and sisters with albinism.

What started like a rumor in neighbouring Tanzania and Mozambique remains a serious issue here in Malawi. While most people with albinism in Malawi had fears that what was happening in the neighbouring countries would spread to their own country, many in Malawi – including the government – were relaxing. However, they were to be awakened with news that some people with albinism have started disappearing in the country.

Today, people with albinism living in Malawi have been the victims of a surge of attacks by people seeking to use their body parts in ritual practices. This unprecedented wave of brutal attacks has created fear for those people with albinism, their parents and relatives.

This year, nine cases of abduction of people with albinism have already been reported. The latest was the above-mentioned abduction and killing of 22-year-old Masambuka. Police have so far arrested 11 people including one of their own, a clinician at Machinga District Hospital and most recently a Catholic priest, who is alleged to be behind the trade of albino body parts.

This is fourth case implicating a law enforcing officer and the second case implicating a medical officer in Malawi since 2014. It is indeed very sad to learn that some of the suspects are from the public service – the very same people entrusted with the duty of protecting Malawians and providing people with medical care. It is also is very shameful and devastating to hear that people who are supposed to be preaching the message of love are also in the forefront doing this illegal business. As a Catholic myself, I must admit that I learned with profound shock and shame about the recent arrest of the priest who was serving in Zomba diocese.

Soon after the arrest, Zomba Diocese suspended the priest, who is now being held at Zomba Maximum Prison. Though he is just a suspect, I would like to commend the Church for suspending him and for expressing its full cooperation with the arms of the law to see that truth and justice prevail in the case.

According to the Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi (APAM), the recent killing of Mcdonald Masambuka has revealed that the network of criminals perpetuating these murders is highly organised and more sophisticated than previously thought. I would like to agree with APAM president Overstone Kondowe who said “It is not ignorance driving the trade, but market forces of demand and supply.”

Let me commend government and other stakeholders for their effort to end this malpractice. Let me also commend Malawi police for making these arrests. However, concerns remain about the inadequacy of police investigations, and about some perpetrators getting sentences which are not in line with the gravity of the crime.

I also strongly feel that more needs to be done than arresting the suspects. Apart from the education and awareness programs, I think government needs to undertake serious research to understand and address the root causes of attacks and make sure that it appeals the light sentences for people found guilty of killing or abducting persons with albinism.

Concrete action is urgently required to protect people with albinism and address the root cause of the violence and discrimination they suffer. It is therefore my prayer that everyone who is involved in this despicable and heinous act must face the full force of the law, and that Almighty God may provide his justice to those who suffered injustices.