Killings Highlight Albinos’ Plight in Africa

Trials for 18 people accused in gruesome murders of albinos got underway this week in Tanzania and Burundi, leading to calls for greater efforts to end widespread discrimination against those with the condition.

While it might sound like the plot of a Dan Brown novel, the murder of albinos and sale of their body parts to witch doctors is very real — and a booming business on the continent.

Dead albinos as young as 8 years old have been discovered with their organs removed, and heads and/or limbs removed. The body parts are worth thousands of dollars to witch doctors, who use them to concoct potions and charms designed to bring love or money.

“There is a lot of myth going around, with people saying that you can actually get rich by eating an arm or private parts or legs of people with albinism. There is desperation and a lot of poverty, lack of knowledge and ignorance,” Josephine Wangeci of the Albinism Foundation of East Africa told VOA this week.

Dozens of albinos have been brutally murdered in East Africa in the last two years as part of what investigators believe is an organized criminal market for body parts that is supported by wealthy businessmen in the region. Despite dozens of arrests, there have been no convictions thus far.

Albinism, a congenital lack of melanin pigment in the skin, has traditionally been viewed with suspicion by huge swathes of African society, and discrimination against albinos is widespread. Mothers who give birth to children with albinism are often encouraged to abandon them, or else to confine them to the family home to avoid bringing shame on their family.

Tanzanian authorities have launched a countrywide appeal for citizens to come forward with names of those involved in the murderous trade and are seeking to register albino citizens to protect them.

In Uganda, albinos have asked the government to reserve one parliamentary seat for someone with the condition, in an effort to increase respect for albinos. Supporters are petitioning regional government bodies to step up efforts as well.