Persecution of people with albinism

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A person with albinism

Persecution of people with albinism may occur for different reasons. One is based on the belief that certain body parts of albinistic people can transmit magical powers. Such superstition is present in some parts of the African Great Lakes region, it has been promulgated and exploited by witch doctors and others who use such body parts as ingredients in rituals, concoctions and potions with the claim that their magic will bring prosperity to the user ("muti" or medicine murder).[1]

As a result, people with albinism have been persecuted, killed and dismembered, and graves of albinos dug up and desecrated. At the same time, people with albinism have also been ostracised and even killed for exactly the opposite reason, because they are presumed to be cursed and bring bad luck.[2]


It is estimated that over 150,000 albinos live in Tanzania; 8,000 of whom are registered with the Tanzania Albino Society (TAS).[2] A number of albinos have fled to the Dar es Salaam area, as they feel safer in an urban setting. Tanzania is thought to have the largest population of albinos in Africa.[3]

In December 2007 the Tanzania Albino Society accused the government of inactivity in the face of four albino killings over the previous three months.[4] While older albino women with red eyes had been at risk for being murdered sporadically in the past as witches, this killing spree may have been the beginning of the ongoing persecution of albinos with the intent to harvest the victims' body parts.[2][4]

With escalating killings, President Kikwete publicly and repeatedly condemned witch doctors, their helpers and middlemen, and the clients, which include members of the police force, for these murders. Victims include children snatched or abducted from their parents. The killers and their accomplices use hair, arms, legs, skin, eyes, genitals, and blood in rituals or for witch potions.[1][5] Fishermen incorporate albino hair into their nets in their hope to catch more fish from Lake Victoria or to find gold in the belly of the fish that they catch.[1][6]

A number of steps were taken by the government to protect the albino population. The president ordered a crackdown on witchdoctors in the spring of 2008.[2] In addition, an albino woman, Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer, was named to become a member of the parliament, the first albino in such a position in the history of Tanzania. Police have also been advised to generate lists of albinos and provide special protection for them.[7]

To foil graverobbers, graves of the albinistic were to be sealed with concrete.[1] However, by October 2008, killings had not abated, and while some suspects had been apprehended, no convictions had taken place.[5] It was estimated that over 50 murders had taken place since March 2007, many of them in the mining and fishing communities near Lake Victoria, especially at Mwanza, Shinyanga and Mara.[8]

In January 2009, "Prime Minister Pinda had declared war on the albino hunters, and in an effort to stop the trade in albino body parts he had revoked the licenses of all the country's witch doctors who use the body parts in their black magic fetishes."[9]

First conviction[edit]

The first ever conviction for the killing of an albino in Tanzania occurred on 23 September 2009 at the High Court in Kahama.[10][11][12][13] The conviction came about following the murder and mutilation of a 14-year-old boy, Matatizo Dunia, who was attacked by three men in Bukombe district in Shinyanga Region in December 2008.[12][13][14][15] The men carried Dunia from his home late at night before chopping him into pieces.[3]

One of them was later found with Dunia's leg in his possession.[3] The rest of Dunia's body parts were located concealed in shrubbery.[3] The men confessed a desire to sell Dunia's parts to a witch doctor, yet despite this, their legal team had not anticipated the death sentence of hanging which the three men would receive.[3][14]

Canada's Under The Same Sun albino activist organisation praised the breakthrough but its founder Peter Ash remarked: "This is one conviction. There are 52 other families still awaiting justice".[16] The Tanzania Albino Society's chairman Ernest Kimaya called for the hanging to be made public to further demonstrate to others that the issue of killing albinos was to be taken seriously.[10][11][17]

Other African states[edit]

By June 2008 killings had been reported in neighboring Kenya and possibly also the Democratic Republic of Congo.[5][6]

In October 2008 AFP reported on the further expansion of killings of albinos to the Ruyigi region of Burundi. Body parts of the victims are then smuggled to Tanzania where they are used for witch doctor rituals and potions.[18] Albinos have become "a commercial good", commented Nicodeme Gahimbare in Ruyigi, who established a local safe haven in his fortified house.[18]

By 2010 cases had also been reported from Swaziland.[19]

International reaction[edit]

After events involving murders of albino humans by three Tanzanian men had been publicised by the BBC and others, the European Parliament strongly condemned the killing of albinos in Tanzania on 4 September 2008.[20] The U.S. House of Representatives passed H. Resolution 1088, introduced by Rep Gerry Connolly (D, VA), by a vote of 418-1 on February 22, 2010.[21] The resolution condemns the attacks and killings; categorizes them as human rights violations, and urges the governments of Tanzania and Burundi to vigorously prosecute such cases and to conduct educational campaigns to combat the superstitious beliefs that underlie the violent attacks.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d BBC (27 July 2008). "Tanzania Albinos Targeted Again". BBC News (online edition). Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  2. ^ a b c d BBC (3 April 2008). "Tanzania in witchdoctor crackdown". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Andrew Malone (2009-09-24). "The albino tribe butchered to feed a gruesome trade in 'magical' body parts". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  4. ^ a b BBC (17 December 2007). "Tanzania fear over albino killing". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  5. ^ a b c John Kulekana (21 October 2008). "Crackdown vowed after Tanzania albino girl killed, mutilated". Agence France-Presse. 
  6. ^ a b Gettleman, Jeffrey (June 8, 2008). "Albinos, Long Shunned, Face Threat in Tanzania". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ Karen Allen (21 July 2008). "Living in fear: Tanzania's albinos.". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  8. ^ Orton Kiishweko (20 October 2008). "Tanzania: JK Orders Crackdown to Stem Murder of Albinos.". The Citizen. Dar es Salaam. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b "Albinos call for public hanging of murderers". The Citizen. 2009-09-24. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  11. ^ a b "Albino killers 'should be hanged'". BBC. 2009-09-24. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  12. ^ a b Daniel Howden (2009-09-24). "Three sentenced to hang for murder of an African 'ghost'". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  13. ^ a b "Men severed albino boy's legs in ritual killing". Australian Broadcasting Company. 2009-09-23. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  14. ^ a b "Death for Tanzania albino killers". BBC. 2009-09-23. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  15. ^ "Tanzanian albino killers death sentence". BBC World Service (includes audio). 2009-09-23. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  16. ^ George Obulutsa (2009-09-23). "Three men to hang for Tanzania albino murder". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  17. ^ "Albino killers to be hanged". Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. 2009-09-25. Retrieved 2009-09-25. [dead link]
  18. ^ a b Esdras Ndikumanna (14 October 2008). "Burundi's albinos flee sorcerers and organ traders". Agence France-Presse. 
  19. ^ Chung J, Diaz J (August 26, 2010). "Africans With Albinism Hunted: Limbs Sold on Tanzania's Black Market". Retrieved November 29, 2010. 
  20. ^ European Parliament (4 September 2008). "European Parliament resolution on the killing of albinos in Tanzania.". 
  21. ^ H. Resolution 1088 at

External links[edit]

  • National Geographic photo article "Inside the Lives of Albinos in Tanzania" January 2013.
  • National Geographic article "As Tanzania's Albino Killings Continue, Unanswered Questions Raise Fears" October 2013.
  • Tanzania Albino Society website (archive from 2011)
  • ZERU ZERU The Ghosts- A documentary about the hunting of albino individuals in Tanzania by Small Planet Productions
  • [1]- RT Documentary about Josephat Torner, an activist for the Tanzania Albinism Society. He has overcome his fears and dedicated his life to campaigning against the discrimination of white Africans.