Albinism is a genetically condition in which people lack pigmentation. While it is very rare in most parts of the world (1 person out of 20000), it is quite common in sub-Saharan Africa. In Tanzania, 1 out of 1400 people is born with this condition. Nowadays there are around 35000 albinos in Tanzania.
Being an Albino in east-Africa can seriously endanger your life.
Africans with albinism generally suffer alienating in communities where their neighbors and relatives believe them to be cursed and deviant. In some regions of West Africa, they face constant threat of violence.
Everything arises from well-rooted tribal superstitions (around 80% of Tanzania believe in superstition). Body parts of persons with albinism are used to create witchcraft tools. There is this belief that these body parts have magical powers and, if used in potions produced by witch-doctors, they will bring wealth and power.
In most of the cases documented, the attacks involved dismembering the victim arms or hands, which resulted in permanent mutilation or in a painful death. In a few horrific cases, the victims were beheaded. Even genitals, ears, and skin are used. Tongues were cut out and the eyes and the heart pulled out.
Some miners from the Tanzania regions are known to use albino body parts as talismans, burying them where they are drilling for gold. In their ideas this would help them to find gold but also to protect them from the cave collapse. Some fishermen put albino hair into their nets in order to catch more fishes and do not sink.
There are examples of HIV/AIDS men that have raped albino girls in thinking that, by raping them, the disease would have disappeared.
Even the death of an albino does not save him from being stolen from its grave. There are numerous cases in which the albino’ tombs are profaned even months after the death.
Finally, even where the albinos can find a safe home where to live in peace, they are endangered by another enemy: the sun. Their white and not-pigmented skin can be easily attacked by the cancer cells. The skin-cancer mortality rate for those affected by albinism is incredibly high, especially in those countries in which is not easy to get a solar cream or because it is expensive or because there is ignorance about how important it is.
Albino body parts represent a very profitable business. People pay entire salary to get one of those potions. On the other hand there are unscrupulous witch-doctors ready to persecute, beat, cut and kill an albino. Everything happens for the money.
Since 1998, Under the Same Sun (an African based NGO for the protection of albinos’ rights) has documented 332 attacks on people with albinism in 24 African countries. Tanzania included 147 of these attacks, around 45% of all the violence in the continent. The NGO states that the data does not truly represent this horrific phenomenon. In fact most of the violence takes place in rural areas, where is almost impossible to report and investigate these violence.
In September 2013, a United Nations Report on albino persecution put Tanzania at the top of a list of African nations where albinos are targeted for murder. The government of Tanzania has taken some steps to protect these people: opening shelters for albino children and commissioning special police corps to investigate on these atrocious events.
Moreover it has launched a campaign to raise funds to help persuade communities to abandon old superstition and stop targeting albino people. However, the campaign focuses on urban areas, not in rural areas where albinos face the biggest threat.
There is still a long way to go before superstition, witch-doctor and albinism persecution will be eradicated. However, NGOs such as Under the Same Sun are doing their best to protect, cure and save albinos.