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Human rights

The wrong skin colour

von Raphael Mweninguwe


Malawi’s government must face fierce criticism. Ikponwosa Ero, the UN’s independent expert on the rights of persons with albinism, and Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for southern Africa accuse it of failing to protect albinos from being killed.

Ero speaks of an “emergency”. She has called on the Malawi government to intervene. She wants it to change laws in order to protect people with albinism. Ero, who is an albino herself, warns that people like her face “systematic extinction” in Malawi and other places if nothing is done to protect them. She condemns widespread witchcraft beliefs and practices. It is believed,   for example, that rituals that involve albinos’ body parts make people rich.

According to the “Nyasa Times” newspaper, “there is no systematic documentation of crimes against people with albinism in Malawi.” It confirms, however, that there are serious problems. “They face discrimination and threats, both at school and in their communities. Myths about albinism abound, including the belief that having sex with an albino is a cure for HIV.” Some 10,000 Malawians out of a population of around 16.5 million are albinos.

The UN mission says 65 cases of attacks were recorded since 2014, 12 people were reported dead, and five remain missing. Amnesty International’s Mwananyanda insists that the Malawi government has “completely failed” to protect its citizens.

Jappie Mhango, the home minister, disagrees and claims that the government is doing everything possible to protect albinos. Recently, two men were sentenced to 25 years of prison for the murder of Fletcher Machinjiri, a 17-year-old boy with albinism. They confessed to the murder. The bones were used for rituals.

Boniface Massah, president of the Association of People with Albinism in Malawi (APAM) says he welcomes the sentencing, but more must happen because “the situation is getting out of hand.” According to Massah, albinos in Malawi are being “hunted like animals”, and body parts are “sold in neighbouring countries”.

The APAM leader told Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika that albinos live in permanent fear of being abducted and killed. “Some people call us ‘moving cash’ or ‘mobile money’, insinuating that if they could abduct us they could sell us very quickly and get a cut,” he reports. The president’s response was that this is “evil and a threat to the most fundamental human rights”. Mutharika promised: “We will deal with those involved in this barbaric acts accordingly.”

This problem is not limited to Malawi. In Tanzania, an estimated 70 albinos have been killed since 2000. The government of Tanzania has since banned witch doctors whom it accuses of fuelling the killings through rituals.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.
[email protected]



Association of People with Albinism (APAM) in Malawi:

World Albinism Alliance:


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