By Henry K. Mhango | The AfricaPaper
MALAWI – “Why killing us like goats or chicken?,” cries Emmie Chirwa a 32 year old albino, following the massive killings and abduction of persons with albinism in Malawi by some business operators and individuals.
The suspects are reported to be engaging in the malpractice following beliefs by witch doctors that albino’s body parts are used to make charms and spells that bring good luck and wealth, including success in politics or private gain in commercial business ventures.
Witch doctors are reportedly paying as much as $75,000 for a full set of albino body parts, and relatives have been implicated in the kidnapping and murder of children who have been snatched from their beds.
The Association of People with Albinism in Malawi says more than six people have been killed and several others missing since December last year, forcing the country’s President Peter Mutharika to order the police to arrest all people responsible for the malpractice and tighten security for albinos in order to curb the behavior.
“I am deeply shocked with continued reports of killings and abduction of people with albinism,” said Mutharika during an emergency press conference held in the capital, Lilongwe, in reaction to the killings of the 68 and 25 year old women in the southern districts of Zomba and Mulanje.
The Zomba victim was reported missing and later found dead with her head, arms and legs decapitated.
“We can no longer go out and do social and economic activities for fear of being killed,” expresses Chirwa. “We have become slaves in our own country.”
Fresh reports show that some business tycoons in Machinga district, home of Malawi’s first multiparty President Bakili Muluzi, have formed a special syndicate to kill and abduct albinos. The suspects are reportedly paying gangs to kill and hunt down albinos.
The situation is said to be worse in the areas of Chief Kawinga, Mkowola, Mchinguza, Ntaja, Ngokwe and other places bordering Mozambique, and the presence of the network has resulted in many children both living with albinism or not dropping out of school for fear of being abducted or killed.
The District Police Officer in Charge Gideon Nahumu, told The AfricaPaper that so far several children with albinism have been rescued; one is still missing while graves are being exhumed every week.
“We have so far committed 16 cases to Zomba High Court from this district only in connections with the killing, and abductions of the victims,” Nahumu explained. “We have also arrested five more people on Tuesday for exhuming the body of a person with albinism.”
Recently, President Mutharika swapped Muluzi’s son Atupele who was Minister of Mines and Natural resources, with Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Paul Chibingu, a development that some quarters believe is a deliberate move by the president so that the young Muluzi can tighten security for the victims in his home district and surrounding areas.
Shoot to Kill
Meanwhile, the Malawi Police Inspector General, Lexen Kachama has ordered the law enforcers to shoot anyone attacking or abducting albinos in an attempt to curb the malpractice, but local human rights activists say, the police chief’s directive – shoot to kill the suspects may conceal evidence about dealers who recruit the albinos’ killers.
President Mutharika has since asked the courts to render stiff sentences to offenders which include minimum of 10 years imprisonment with hard labour, and a special judge has been assigned to deal with albinos’ court cases to speed up trials.
“The perpetrators of this act are barbaric, and I call upon our colleagues in the judicial to seriously consider the need for speedy trials of all suspects arrested in connection with the attacks and killings so that we pull in one direction as government,” Mutharika said during the press conference.
Meanwhile, the UN officials have condemned the killing of albinos in Malawi, Burundi and Tanzania, and have warned of a sharp increase especially in the Malawi’s Machinga district.
“These attacks are often stunningly vicious, with children in particular being targeted,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement.
Copied from Neighbors
Malawian business men are reported to have copied the belief from neighboring Tanzanian witch doctors, and the Tanzanian government in January this year banned witch doctors from operating in the country, following reports that they were highly contributing to the malpractice.
Tanzania’s decision to sentence to death four people for the murder of an albino woman is “setting an example” amid a wave of albino killings, the country’s human rights commission said.
The Tanzanian High court on Thursday March 5, this year, sentenced to death four people for killing and hacking off legs and hands of an albino woman in 2008. The convicts include a husband to the deceased.
The AfricaPaper: Based in Malawi, Henry writes for The AfricaPaper. He has worked for various media organizations including the state Malawi News Agency, the Big Issue Malawi Magazine, Capital Radio Malawi, and International Network of Street News Service (UK). His work has also been published by The Guardian (UK). He covers politics, economy, human rights, environment and development for The AfricaPaper.